Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

June 18, 2011

IN HISTORY: President Taft Visits the Black Hills

Seeks Support for Embattled Administration
Dates covered:
President William Howard Taft reaches down from his rail car to shake hands with constituents in South Dakota during his first presidential campaign in 1908.
Bain Collection. Prints and Photographs. Library of Congress.
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Crowds turned out to catch a glimpse or shake the hand of President William Howard Taft when he came to the Black Hills in 1911 seeking support for his embattled administration.

Seeking to drum up support within his own party, President William Howard Taft arrived in the Black Hills in October, 1911. In Edgemont, Custer City, Deadwood, Lead, Sturgis and Rapid City,  crowds of 500 to 600 people appeared, many of them from the countryside, to catch a glimpse of the 27th President of the United States.

In Lead, with snowflurries blowing at the surface of the mine, the big man braved a steel cage and was lowered to the 1,100-foot level in the Homestake Mine. Following one of the drifts, he and his entourage encountered miners working in a cave with 15-foot high ceilings. Smoldering calcium paper attached to the sides of the cavern illuminated the room. 

"How are you, Bill?" one miner called down to the President.

"Pretty good," Taft responded from the shadows. "How are you away up there?"

"Fine, old boy," yelled the miner. "Glad to see you."

Taft spent 45 minutes in the mine before he reappeared at the surface and stepped out of the elevator cage. He gave a speech in Lead explaining his controversial vetoes of the tariff bills. Congressman E. W. Martin, on behalf of the citizens, presented the President with a small gold brick worth over $300 ($6,765 in 2011 dollars). 

Journalists thought the trip helped strengthen the President's support in South Dakota against an insurgent movement in his own Republican Party led by Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette and former President Theodore Rooselvelt. In 1912, however, the state turned against Taft. After he was renominated by the national Republican Party, local operatives managed to keep him off the ballot in South Dakota. Taft's supporters were furious, but their anger made little difference.

In November 1912, Taft was overwhelmingly defeated by Woodrow Wilson in a race that included Roosevelt as the nominee of the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party and Eugene V. Debs as the candidate of the Socialist Party. Roosevelt won South Dakota with 52.3 percent of the vote.

"Taft Making Gains," Washington Post, October 22, 1911, p. 3.

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