On March 15, 1904, the State Convention of the Socialist Party in South Dakota gathered in Sioux Falls to elect individuals to represent the party in the upcoming state elections. One of these individuals was Freeman Knowles of Deadwood, who was chosen to run for governor as a socialist. Freeman Knowles, originally from Maine, was a Civil War veteran and a newspaper publisher who moved to the plains after the war and published multiple newspapers before settling in the Black Hills in 1888 and creating the Meade County Times, the Evening Independent, and The Lantern.
Knowles had some success as a politician in South Dakota, but was an infamous newspaper publisher in the state. While running under the populist banner, he was elected to represent South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1897 to 1899. Given his previous success, the convention elected him to run for governor under the socialist ticket in 1904 as well as 1906, but to no avail. With around 3,000 votes in both elections, Knowles came in a distant third place. Despite the losses, Knowles continued to spread his socialist ideologies in his newspapers, especially The Lantern, until he was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison in 1908 for “sending obscene materials through the mails.” He would die only one year later.
Far-left politics had considerable influence in the Black Hills and the rest of South Dakota around the turn of the twentieth century. The left-leaning ideologies of populism and socialism gained ground in the state, especially around the mining areas of the hills, and became strong enough to present their own officials to run for office with some success. The most active left-leaning organization in the hills was the Lead City Miner’s Union which took an active part in caring for the mine workers and their families. The union won the fight for eight-hour work days and provided entertainment and even sick pay to some workers. After a lockout in 1909-1910 broke the Lead City Miner’s Union, most socialist sympathies were also crushed or moved elsewhere.
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