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Prairie Homestead celebrates 100 years July 28

It all started in 1909 when Edgar and Alice Brown moved from Pierce, NE, to the Badlands and filed a claim for a homestead.

They lived on their claim for 18 months, and through the Homestead Act, paid 50 cents an acre and received a patent on the 160 acres. The Brown's built a sod house before the winter would set in, this is now known as the Prairie Homestead.

In 1910, Ed and Lucy Crew and their son Leslie, homesteaded next to Edgar and Alice Brown, as well as many others who homesteaded in the area.

Edgar Brown passed away at the sod house in April, 1920. Alice remained on the place with their son, Charles until 1934, when she moved to Long Beach, CA, to live with her daughter.

In 1935, George Carr who was working with the county road maintenance, moved in with Charles at the place. Charles sold the household and farm equipment in 1936, and moved to Long Beach to be close to his mother. Charles retained ownership of the place until 1946, when Leslie Crew bought the 160 acres. Carr remained at the sod house until January 1949, and he was the last person who lived in the house on the Prairie Homestead.

In the next generation Keith Crew, who was born and raised in that area, never lived more than a mile and a half from the Prairie Homestead. Keith married Dorothy Regas in 1956. They bought the homestead in the early '60s and soon after that they were looking for a supplemental means of income and they set out to fix up the homestead.

The homestead had been grazed for years, but there was potential. The house still had the original stove, dining room table and washstand. They replaced some of sod bricks and with a little tender loving care and help from the neighbors, the sod house was ready for show, complete with authentic artifacts.

The Crews put up a small 8'x10' entrance booth, charged $1.00 per car load and the rest is history. Being such a success they built a larger parking lot in 1992, and put up a log-type entrance booth. In 1974, the Prairie Homestead was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are numerous pictures, postcards and newspaper clippings which tell the history of the historic place. Travelers may also purchase a wide variety of history books, which Keith Crew said is their biggest seller - next to the Prairie Homestead t-shirts.

Each year young chickens, ducks or maybe some geese are ordered to live on the premises, but they are not as popular as the white prairie dogs.

The Prairie Homestead claims to have the only white prairie dog town in the world. This all started in 1966 when the Oglala Sioux Tribe was going to poison out a large area of prairie dogs which contained two or three white dogs.

Because the park service was unable to introduce the dogs in the park, Keith was given the opportunity to take whatever he could catch.

With the help of family and friends and several pickups loaded with tanks of water, water pumps and cages they went in pursuit of the rare animals. They were able to flush out one male. The rest had to be poisoned.

Through the next 30 years of breeding the white prairie dogs and weeding out the brown pups, the Prairie Homestead had a famous variation of the prairie dog. In earlier years, Crew said he sold a lot of white prairie dogs. "They make good pets. In fact, one female went to Japan," he said. Crew went on to say that he often hears from that particular buyer; she sends him pictures.

Now it is illegal to sell them after the outbreak of monkey pox in 2004. The disease was never found in the dogs at the homestead.

While moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas enjoy the history of the homestead, children have been fascinated trying to get close enough to feed the prairie dogs kernels of corn or peanuts.

"By the end of the summer they are tamed down a little," Crew laughed, saying that some tourists are then able to move in closer. If you stay on the walkway you can get closer to the white prairie dogs, but if you set out onto the sod, then you are in their territory.

"The people we meet are the most special," said Crew with a smile. He said they get a different class of people - those interested in history.

He is at the homestead every morning when it opens and is back again in the evening. People like to visit and recall history of their days, Crew said. "We need to treasure the history," Crew noted.

Teachers, he said are especially interested in the homestead. They take a lot back to their classrooms, and for locals, many students have gone to the Prairie Homestead on their spring field trip. "You can generally pick out the homeschooled children," Crew added. They are fascinated with history and enjoy asking questions, he added.

Keith and Dorothy had three children, Grady, Casey and Shane. Grady and wife, Bernice, live on a nearby ranch, and Casey and her husband, Gary, live in Yankton. Shane died as a result of a horse accident in 1985. Dorothy passed away in 1992 after a lingering battle with cancer.

Everyone is invited to the 100th birthday party of the Prairie Homestead on Wednesday, July 29, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Refreshments will be served from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m. Admission is free to local residents.