Biography of Fred Rilling

Fred Rilling, born March 20, 1859, in West Bend, Wisconsin, is a notable farmer and stock grower in Brookings County, South Dakota. A son of German immigrants George and Elizabeth Rilling, Fred relocated to South Dakota in 1879, where he claimed land in Brookings County. Initially struggling, he eventually expanded his holdings to 320 acres and acquired additional land in Deuel County for livestock. He married Hannah Smith in 1883, and they have four surviving children: Benjamin, Earl, Harry, and Elsie. A dedicated Republican and Methodist, Fred is active in his community, serving as a church trustee and Sunday school superintendent.

Fred Rilling is known as one of the prominent and progressive farmers and stock growers of Brookings County and is one of its honored and influential citizens, his success standing in evidence of his energy and ability. He was born in West Bend, Washington County, Wisconsin, on the 20th of March, 1859, being a son of George and Elizabeth (Sibert) Rilling, both of whom were born in Germany. As a boy, George Rilling accompanied his parents on their emigration to America, the family locating in the state of New York, where he was reared to maturity, becoming a successful farmer and contractor. His wife likewise came with her parents to America when she was a child, and in the Empire State of the Union, her marriage was solemnized. Within a few years after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Rilling removed to Wisconsin, locating in West Bend, where they resided for five years, at the expiration of which they took up their residence on a farm of one hundred and forty-five acres in Barton Township, Washington County, that state, where Mr. Rilling was engaged in agricultural pursuits until 1895, when they removed to Naperville, Illinois, where they still maintain their home. Of their children, we record that George, Jr., is a resident of New Albany, Indiana, being a carpenter by vocation; Albert and Charles died in early childhood; Fred is the immediate subject of this sketch; Edward died in 1895; James, who is a clergyman of the Evangelical church, is located at Wabash, Indiana, at the time of this writing; William is pastor of the Evangelical church at Naperville, Illinois; Caroline is the wife of Rev. Louis Siewert, Seymour, Wisconsin; Emma is the wife of Louis Heidner, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and John is likewise a resident of that city.

Fred Rilling, whose name introduces this sketch, was reared on the homestead farm near Barton, Wisconsin, and there attended the public schools until he had reached the age of twenty years. Upon attaining his legal majority, he left the homestead farm in 1879 and came as a pioneer to South Dakota, imbued with the enthusiasm and characteristic energy which have so signally conserved the development of our great commonwealth. He entered a claim to a quarter section of land in Brookings County, the same being a portion of his present fine landed estate, and he forthwith instituted such improvements as to enable him to hold the claim. Within the first two years, he broke ten acres of ground and placed it under cultivation, while the first residence he erected on the farm was a sod house of the primitive type so familiar to the early settlers. When he left home, his cash capital was but twenty dollars, and he borrowed the money with which to file a claim to his land. During the first year of his residence in South Dakota, he worked at Big Stone, while the second year he worked by the day at such employment as came to hand. His wages for the first summer he found it impossible to collect, but he was not disheartened and ever held the goal of success and prosperity in view, having faith in the future of the state with whose interests he had thus identified himself. The third year Mr. Rilling purchased a yoke of oxen, paying one-half in cash and assuming an indebtedness for the balance. He then turned his attention to the cultivation of his own farm, in the meanwhile keeping “bachelor’s hall” in his little cabin. The fourth year he bought another yoke of oxen, on credit, and with the added facilities thus afforded, he succeeded in putting in thirty-five acres of grain. That his struggle was a somewhat strenuous one in the early days is evident when we recall further that in purchasing his first breaking plow, he was compelled to mortgage his yoke of oxen to secure the same. By the end of six years, he had accumulated three horses, a cow, a wagon, and other requisite farming implements. In 1883, he was married, bringing his wife to the farm and turning with renewed fervor and diligence to the work of improving his place and causing the earth to bring forth its increase. Prosperity attended his efforts and in the valuable farm of three hundred and twenty acres which is now his, there is little trace of the untrammeled tract upon which his efforts were inaugurated in the pioneer days. The farm is all in one body and is in a good state of cultivation and improved with substantial and attractive buildings, good fences, etc. In addition to this home place, Mr. Rilling owns a section of land near Clear Lake, Deuel County, the same being well fenced and devoted principally to the raising of livestock, in which department of his enterprise our subject has met with gratifying success. Of the homestead place, two hundred and forty acres are given over to the cultivation of grain, and in addition to this, Mr. Rilling also rents a quarter section of land which is mainly devoted to grain. His stock of cattle had its nucleus in the one cow to which reference has been made, and at the present time, he has a fine herd of about seventy cattle, while it is his aim to breed at least a carload of hogs each year, and his average number of horses is about twenty head. His present commodious and attractive residence was erected in the summer of 1883, and on the home farm, he has constructed one of the best barns to be found in the county, the same having been erected in 1896. It is pleasing to note the prosperity which has come to our subject as the result of his good judgment and indefatigable application, and he has at all times so ordered his course as to retain the confidence and esteem of all who know him, being one of the popular and honored citizens of the county. He has done no little to improve the grade of cattle raised in this section, breeding the full-blood shorthorn type and having for sale at all times excellent specimens at reasonable prices, so that recourse is had to his stock by those who wish to improve the grade of their cattle. In politics, Mr. Rilling is found staunchly arrayed as a supporter of the principles and policies of the Republican Party and while he takes a proper and helpful interest in public affairs of a local nature, he has never been a seeker of political office. Fraternally he holds membership in the Ancient Order of United Workmen, being affiliated with the lodge at White, and he is also a member of the lodge of Yeomen at Brookings. He and his family are consistent members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in whose work he and his wife take an active part. They are members of the church at Prairie Home, of which the subject is a trustee and steward, while he is also superintendent of its Sunday school. His wife is a teacher in the Sunday school, having taught the same class for the past ten years and being known for her gentle and noble character, while she has proved a true wife and helpmeet and has ably assisted her husband in his earnest efforts to attain a position of independence and definite prosperity through honest and earnest endeavor.

In conclusion, we will revert somewhat in detail to the domestic chapter in the life history of the subject. On the 3rd of October, 1883, Mr. Rilling was united in marriage to Miss Hannah Smith, who was born in Belmont, Wisconsin, on the 4th of March, 1865, a daughter of Stephen and Martha (Lincoln) Smith, both of whom were born in the province of New Brunswick, Canada, whence they removed to Wisconsin in the pioneer epoch, the father being there engaged in farming until his death, which occurred in 1869. His widow is still living and resides in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. This worthy couple became the parents of twelve children, of whom eight are still living. Mary is the wife of Sardis Turner, of Willow Springs, Missouri; Thomas is deceased; John is a resident of Stevens Point, Wisconsin; Theodore is located in the city of Chicago; Dorinda is the wife of Robert Sutherland, of Mapleton, Minnesota; Anna is deceased; Anjarona and Annetta were twins, the latter being now deceased, while the former is the wife of William Plank, of Almond, Wisconsin; Cordelia is the wife of Joseph McKnight, of White, South Dakota; Washington resides in Duluth, Minnesota; Amanda is the wife of William Soule, a clergyman of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and they reside in Wisconsin; and Hannah is the wife of the subject of this review. Of the six children born to Mr. and Mrs. Rilling, four are living at the present time. Benjamin was born on the 27th of August, 1884; Earl was born on the 27th of May, 1886; Harry was born on the 21st of January, 1891; Laura died at the age of one month; Elsie was born on the 4th of February, 1894; and Everett died at birth.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top