Written by Rex Ennis
posted on October 13, 2010 22:45
Tuesday 3 May 1898 the First National Bank of Carthage did not open its doors for business. Why had the directors posted a closed sign on the door?
Round Island and the Dakota Territory are seldom mentioned in the same sentence, but there is a connection. It happens that many Dakota Settlers were from Northern New York. Watertown, South Dakota is named after Watertown, New York. “In 1861, the Dakota Territory was formally established. Once the railroad line made South Dakota more accessible, settlers began to pour in, causing the Great Dakota Boom of 1878-1887. Rapid growth ceased when droughts struck throughout South Dakota, bringing the period of prosperity to a quick end. On February 22, 1889, South Dakota entered the union as the 40th state.”
Northern New Yorkers founded towns, banks, businesses, and newspapers in the developing territory. One was Ephraim H. Myers who lived in of Carthage, NY, and lived in a cottage on Round Island Lot #174.
Ephraim H. Myers was born in South New Berlin, Chenango County, NY. In 1894, The Boston History Company published Our County and Its People by Gates Curtis, included was this glowing biography of Myers.
“Myers, Ephraim H., whose active business life in Carthage began in 1871, when he became partner with Holcomb & Horr, bankers, is a native of Rome, N. Y., born in 1848. His father, Samuel Myers, came to Carthage about 1850, and is remembered as a dealer in real estate and other property, a man of means and highly respected in the town. He died in Carthage in 1870. Ephraim H. first came to Carthage in 1865 and for a time worked in Elijah Horr's store, then went to Watertown. where for several years he was engaged in business as cashier, bookkeeper or accountant. In 1871 he returned to Carthage and became a member of the firm as has been stated. In 1874 the partnership was dissolved and Mr. Myers, in company with De Witt Rogers, formed the banking firm of Myers & Rogers. They did a successful business until 1880, when Mr. Myers organized the First National Bank of Carthage and was appointed its first cashier. In 1887 he was elected president of the bank and has since had entire control of its affairs and business. More than this, Mr. Myers has been an interested factor in bringing to Carthage several very desirable public improvements, especially the water supply system, which was built during his term as president of the village, for he was three times elected to that office. In many other directions he has shown the same interest in local affairs and it is no fulsome compliment to say that he is regarded as a generous and public spirited citizen. June 29, 1871, Mr. Myers married Ada, daughter of Dr. Spencer of Watertown, and they had eight children, five of whom are now living.” [Sic]
The Curtis biography did not include Myers’ activities in the Dakota Territory. Allen E. Kilby, who later became a New York Assemblyman in Jefferson County , 1885-86 and Myers’ neighbor on Round Island, traveled with Myers to Vilas, Dakota Territory in 1879. Kibly and Myers had invested heavily in Dakota Territory real estate for resale to settlers from Northern New York.
Frank Ward, of Carthage, NY, founded Carthage, Dakota Territory in 1882. Ward and Myers pushed for the construction of an opera house in Vilas. In October 1883, Myers and his father-in-law, Watertown physician Dr. Spencer, were in Dakota Territory with the objective of forming a national bank. However, all of Myers good works in Cartage, NY and in Vilas; Dakota Territory would not spare him from the ravages of the burst of the Dakota boom. Several years of severe drought ended the boom.
Myers, short of money, began embezzling funds from the First National Bank of Carthage. On 3 May 1898 he left a note on his desk and vanished with the bank’s cash. Over a period of years he embezzled $110,000, from a bank with assets of just under $280,000! He had falsified documents according to bank examiners, including fake loans to his friends and Dr. Spencer. No record, so far, has been found of him being caught.
Vilas, South Dakota, today is a wide spot in the road with a population of 19. Carthage, SD today is famous as the home of the only museum in the country built from bales of straw! Both communities are located in Miner County, SD. Watertown, South Dakota is in Codington County and has been more successful. It is now the fourth largest city in the state.
- Rome Citizen, 6 May 1898
- Jefferson County Journal, 24 October 1883
- Carthage Republican, 1879
- Watertown photo: Wikipedia
By Rexford M. Ennis, Grindstone Island
© Copyright Rexford M. Ennis 2010, All Rights Reserved
Rex Ennis has written several articles for TI Life. He has also contributed to our History Page which can be found under the Tag: “The Place”. Re’s bio is recorded in Contributors in December, 2008. He is a well known volunteer in the region as a member of the Grindstone Island Research and Heritage Center and compiles genealogy material on the island. He is also a volunteer with the Thousand Islands Museum in Clayton NY. He recently completed a biography of Charles G. Emery entitled: Toujours Jeune Always Young which was reviewed in TI Life, June 2010.