Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


One of the first two U.S. senators from South Dakota and a successful businessman, Richard Franklin Pettigrew was born July 23, 1848, in Ludlow, Vermont, to abolitionist parents who maintained a station on the Underground Railroad. When he was young his family moved to Wisconsin, where he graduated from Evansville Academy in 1864, attended Beloit College for two years, and studied law at the University of Wisconsin.

In 1870 Pettigrew settled in Sioux Falls, Dakota Territory, where he earned his living as a surveyor and lawyer before establishing himself as a prominent real estate broker. During the next twenty years his business interests expanded to include railroads, mining, and agriculture. Politically astute, he was first elected to the territory's legislature in 1872 as a Republican and later served on the territorial council before winning the position of delegate to the U.S. Congress in 1880.

After South Dakota achieved statehood in 1889, Pettigrew served twelve years in the U.S. Senate. During his first term in office, the Panic of 1893 ruined his business investments, which caused him to abandon his Republican principles for the lure of populism. He advocated the issues of free silver and government regulation of large businesses while personally attacking Republicans and their positions on the gold standard and the annexation of Hawaii and the Philippines. These views eventually doomed his reelection efforts for a third term in the Senate. Disgruntled, he moved to New York City, where he lived for ten years and amassed another personal fortune before returning to Sioux Falls. He died on October 5, 1926, leaving to the community his home to be used as a museum that would preserve the Pettigrew legacy.

Kermit L. Staggers University of Sioux Falls

Hendrickson, Kenneth E., Jr. "The Public Career of Richard F. Pettigrew of South Dakota, 1848–1926." South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections 34 (1968): 143–311.

Pettigrew, Richard Franklin. Papers. Siouxland Heritage Museums, Sioux Falls SD.

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