Sioux Falls American Courthouse celebrates 125 years of service
The United States Courthouse in downtown Sioux Falls celebrated 125 years of service last Friday, delivering what Roberto Lange, the Chief Justice of the United States District Court, described as “stability and justice. in this region “.
A large crowd of lawyers, judges and history buffs stood outside the courthouse in the square between the imposing building and Fernson’s to hear the history of the building and the cases that have been tried there.
The courthouse land was purchased by the U.S. government in 1891, but it will be a few years before the courthouse, constructed entirely from Sioux quartzite mined from nearby Jasper, Minnesota, is ready. to start hearing about business.
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But the court had to continue, said Lawrence Piersol, a U.S. District Court judge. One of the first cases heard concerned Plenty Horses, a young man from Brulé Lakota who killed Lieutenant Edward Casey days after the Wounded Knee massacre.
Plenty Horses was tried for murder, but the case ended with a suspended jury, Piersol said. The case was then tried again in Sioux Falls at the Masonic Hall which served as the American courthouse.
The prosecution assembled witnesses who they hoped would tell the jury that the United States was not at war with the Lakota at the time and therefore Plenty Horses was guilty of murder, Piersol said. But the opposite ended up happening.
“They called a captain to the bar, and normally you would check your witnesses beforehand, the captain said of course it was a war,” Piersol said. “The judges turned to each other in surprise, then ordered the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.”
While Plenty Horses was free, construction of the American courthouse began in earnest.
David Brechtelsbauer, board member of the Minnehaha County Historical Society, accompanied the crowd through the construction and design process, which began in 1892.
Richard Pettigrew, the state’s first senator, drafted the bill to fund the courthouse and may have seriously influenced the building’s design, Brechtelsbauer said.
“However, Pettigrew’s suggestion to use Sioux quartzite may have influenced the decision as it is obviously a perfect material for Romanesque style buildings,” he said.
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The Romanesque-style buildings are characterized by their arches, which can be seen in the windows of the courthouse, Brechtelsbauer said.
It took three years for the building to be completed and cost $ 152,000, which, when adjusted for inflation, would cost $ 4.2 million in 2021, Brechtelsbauer said.
Additions were added in the 1910s and 1930s, and by the 1960s the courthouse was quite a busy place.
Roger Wollman, a judge of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, began working at the courthouse in the early 1960s at the age of 28 and recalled how judges, like George Mickelson, walked in same halls as the FBI agents, since their office was also in the building.
“No Hollywood casting company could have come up with a better Federal District Judge figure,” Wollman said, describing Mickelson. “He was tall, handsome, the black hair was beginning to be streaked with white. He was worthy both in character and in personality.
Towards the end of his speech, which drew a few laughs from the crowd as Wollman admitted he was running over time but deserved some leeway because of his position, he reminded the audience not to lose faith in the future of the country after what happened on Capitol Hill. January 6th.
“Above all, let us have and act with the courage and foresight of those who had the vision to erect the building that we recognize and honor exists this afternoon,” said Wollman.