PIERRE, S.D. — On Friday, June 11, Mitchell's Gov. Carl Gunderson returned to Pierre -- embronzed.
The latest addition to the statuesque chief executives scattered throughout the capital known as the Trail of Governors, Gunderson served for two years as South Dakota's governor from 1925 to 1927, and his likeness now occupies a treasured spot on the northeast corner of the Governor's Mansion in Pierre.
But the man born into a log cabin in Clay County who came north to Mitchell to harvest wheat quietly served one, two-year term in an era of internal struggle within the Republican Party, says historian and political advisor Tony Venhuizen.
"At that time the state Republican Party was kind of internally split between the more progressives and conservatives," Venhuizen said on Wednesday, June 9. "And there'd been a run there more than 15 years, say, where the progressives were kind of in the lead."
Gunderson, known as a conservative and "exceptionally close-mouthed," according to a biography written by Venhuizen, came to Mitchell in 1918 after operating a mercantile business in Vermillion. While Mitchell has counted political statesmen among its children, including George McGovern and the state's current congressman, Dusty Johnson, Gunderson is the city's only resident-turned-governor.
His victory in the 1924 gubernatorial election came, partly, because his opponent -- Andrew Anderson -- was trampled to death by a bull in rural Beresford three months prior to Election Day.
The Pierre governor's walk enters its second decade in 2021, having raised nearly $2 million. Venhuizen says the early entrants included more recent or iconic governors for whom the fundraising came more easily. But that doesn't mean the later governors were necessarily any less consequential.
Gunderson repealed some progressive-era state subsidies for farmers and also increased spending on education, while also seeking to close the then-School of Mines in Rapid City. Gunderson was defeated in the 1926 election by Beresford-native William J. Bulow, the state's first Democratic governor.