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Horace J. Austin papers

Identifier: MS-012

Content Description

This collection depicts the life of a prominent resident of early Vermillion, South Dakota. Most of the material is family related, some is business related, and a few letters are from the beginning of his political career as both a territorial and state legislature.

The Horace J. Austin papers are organized in five series, Correspondence, Diaries, Manuscripts, Printed Materials and Ephemera.

The Correspondence series comprises the bulk of the collection and holds not only letters to and from Horace Austin, but also several letters from other family members. Incoming Correspondence is primarily made up of letters to Austin from family members. Also present are letters from Issac Higbee, who was a part of the Surveyor General's office and Silas Palmer, Austin's friend. Palmer’s letters indicate his intention to move west, and he frequently asks Austin for advice on the potentials for business. Correspondence from Austin's wife, Rachael, details daily affairs and gives news of their daughter, Pansy. All letters sent from Austin's mother, Rosannah, are undated.

Horace Austin’s Outging Correspondence is entirely devoted to letters he wrote to family members. Letters to Rosannah Austin and family make up the bulk of this sub-series. Organized chronologically, the folders roughly represent different time periods of Austin's life, each of which is also associated with a particular location. The first folder, from September, 1857 - August 1860 chronicles Austin’s time in Dubuque and Jefferson, Iowa, where he seems to be working in lead mines. The letters from February 1861 through March 1862 are addressed from Yankton, where Austin has set up a farming homestead. Letters from September, 1862 - August of 1864 document Austin's time in the military, with letters from Fort Randall and other military installments. In these letters, Austin speaks of the hardships of the life of a soldier and of his dislike for the Indians. Letters from April, 1865 through January 1873 encompass Austin's election to the legislature in Yankton and move to Vermillion, and his beginning political career.

Other Correspondence includes letters to and from other members of the Austin family. Among the most interesting items here are the letters from Henry Austin, Horace’s brother. All of Henry’s letters are addressed to his mother, Rosannah, and include accounts of his involvement in the Civil War. Henry belonged to Company I, in the 16th Michigan Infantry. His letters are addressed from Washington, Lynchburg and Petersburg. He returns to Michigan after the war, and later letters detail his life on the farm in Freesoil in Mason County, Michigan. In addition to these letters, Henry’s wife Jane Austin frequently writes to “mother,” which may possibly be to Rosannah Austin, calling her mother or to her own mother. The folder of Single Letters includes letters of condolence addressed to Rachael Austin upon Horace Austin’s death, and letters addressed to Hon. J. A. Williamson in support of Austin.

The Diaries series includes two diaries of the years 1868 and 1887. During this time, Horace Austin had already established himself in South Dakota’s political picture. The diaries are typical daily registers, usually recounting specific events, weather and daily happenings. The diary of 1868 is re-printed in the Printed Materials series, as “The Year 1868 from the Diary of Horace J. Austin.” It is during the later part of 1868 that Austin meets Rachael and begins his courtship of her.

The Manuscripts series includes various legal documents such as leases between Austin and others for land. Also included are three legal documents surrounding the will of Job Stafford.

In the Ephemera series, there is a child’s letter written by Charley Austin, Henry’s son, and a lock of hair that can be presumed to be Charley’s. Envelopes that belonged to the Correspondence are also included in this series.


  • Creation: 1840 - 1891
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1864 - 1891


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research without restriction. Researchers are advised to contact the Archives and Special Collections prior to visiting. Advance notice may be needed to retrieve items for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers must obtain a signed Permission to Publish Form if they wish to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information from published and unpublished works held by ASC. Permission to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information materials from ASC does not constitute permission from the holder of copyright or literary rights. The researcher is responsible for securing permission from the copyright holder to publish or reproduce content from materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Horace J. Austin was born in Washington County, New York in 1837. He moved west to seek out business opportunities. He traveled to Iowa and eventually moved to Dakota Territory where he gained employment as a land surveyor. He originally settled in Yankton and later relocated to Vermillion. In 1863, Austin served as a sergeant in Company A of the First Dakota Cavalry. Austin was elected a Territorial Legislator in the House in 1865 and continued to serve in the South Dakota legislature until his death on February 27, 1891, in Pierre, South Dakota.

Relations to Horace J. Austin as they appear in this collection:

Henry Austin -- his brother

Jane Austin -- Henry's wife

Charley Austin -- Henry and Jane's son

Rosannah Austin -- Horace's mother

Rachael Austin -- Horace's wife

Helen Pansy Austin -- Horace and Rachel's daughter

Angelina Austin -- Horace's sister

Clark -- Angelina's husband

Silas Palmer -- Horace's friend

Hattie Palmer -- Silas' wife

Roy Stevens -- Nephew

Mary E. Stafford -- Aunt

Harriet Sykes -- Aunt


1.0 Linear Feet (2 document boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection depicts the life of a prominent resident of early Vermillion, South Dakota. Most of the material is family related, some is business related, and a few letters are from the beginning of his political career as both a territorial and state legislature.


The Horace J. Austin papers are organized in five series: Correspondence, Diaries, Manuscripts, Printed Materials, and Ephemera.

Horace J. Austin papers
Amy Cooper
2000 December
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USD Archives and Special Collections Repository