Biography of William H. H. Beadle

William H. H. Beadle, born on January 1, 1838, in Liberty Township, Parke County, Indiana, had a distinguished career as a scholar, educator, legislator, soldier, and lawyer. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he served as a Union officer in the Civil War, earning several promotions and honors. After the war, he practiced law and was appointed surveyor general of Dakota Territory by President Grant in 1869. As president of the State Normal School in Madison, South Dakota, from 1889, Beadle played a crucial role in shaping the state’s educational system, particularly in preserving school lands. A dedicated public servant, he was instrumental in drafting Dakota’s legal codes and championing education throughout his career. Married to Ellen S. Chapman in 1863, Beadle had one daughter, Mae Beadle Frink. He was a member of the Loyal Legion and a 33rd-degree Mason. His contributions to education and public service were recognized with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from his alma mater in 1902.

William H. H. Beadle, A. M., LL. D. The honored subject of this sketch has lent dignity and distinction to his state as a scholar, an educator, a legislator, a soldier, and a lawyer. He has continued since 1889 as president of the State Normal School, at Madison, Lake county, which has become a school of influence and power.

Dr. Beadle is a native of the state of Indiana and was named in honor of its most eminent men, General William Henry Harrison. He was born in Liberty township, Parke county, Indiana, on January 1, 1838, in a log house built by the hands of his father, and the date implies that he is a representative of one of the pioneer families of the Hoosier commonwealth. He is a son of James Ward and Elizabeth (Bright) Beadle, the former of whom was born in Kentucky and the latter in Maryland. The ancestry in the agnatic line is traced back through the states of Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York to an English origin, mingled somewhat with the Dutch and Scotch, while the name has been identified with the annals of American history since the colonial period. The maternal great-grandfather came from Scotland to St. Mary’s, Maryland, in the middle of the eighteenth century and the family became one of prominence in that state.

Dr. Beadle was reared amid the scenes and trials of the pioneer era in Indiana, early contributing his quota to the work of the homestead in the field and the forest, while his rudimentary education was secured in the primitive log schoolhouse in his native township. To one of the teachers there, Miss Lavinia Tucker, one of the earliest women teachers in western Indiana, he loyally attributes helpful incentives that remain with him yet. His father was elected sheriff and this gave him four years in the schools of Rockville, which he continued to attend from the farm near town that became his home. In 1857 he was matriculated in the literary department of the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, which had attained a high standing even in that early day. He was graduated as Bachelor of Arts with the class of 1861. In 1864 his alma mater conferred on him the degree of Master of Arts. The history of the class of ’61 of the University of Michigan says of him: “It was only by the most persistent effort that he gained his father’s consent to go away to college; but he finally prevailed, and with his brother, John Hanson Beadle, conditionally entered the class of 1861. As their preparation in Greek had been defective they were carried the first years as ‘students in the partial course,’ but studied with such diligence and success that before the end of the freshman year they were admitted to full and unconditional standing in the classical section, and soon took high rank in the class. He was an active member of the Alpha Nu, and during his senior year its president. He assisted in founding in the university the chapter of the Zeta Psi fraternity, and during his senior year was also a charter member of the ‘Owls.’ He was one of the speakers at the Junior Exhibition and likewise one of the twenty-four members of the class who spoke at the commencement. It will be seen therefore that he was one of the most active members of the class. In a little more than one month after graduation, Classmate Beadle enlisted in the service of the United States and became first lieutenant of Company A, Thirty-first Indiana Volunteer Infantry, September 5, 1861, and was promoted captain of the same November 9, 1861, but resigned February 8, 1862, on account of ill health. He continued with the command by permission of the general commanding and participated in the campaign in west Tennessee, until the surrender of Corinth, Mississippi. He then came to Michigan and aided in organizing and drilling the Twenty-sixth Michigan Infantry at Jackson. He was tendered the post of adjutant of this regiment, but in the autumn of 1862 was commissioned to recruit for the First Michigan Sharpshooters and was commissioned lieutenant colonel of that regiment.”

He continued with that regiment until June 13, 1864, when, after a severe illness, he was appointed major in the Veteran Reserve Corps. He served in northern Virginia, in the defenses south of the Potomac, where he commanded a brigade for a time; served in defense of Washington against Early and received a brevet as lieutenant colonel; served in Washington City, where on President Lincoln’s second inauguration he was detailed by special orders from the war department to command the military guard in and about the capitol on that critical occasion. He was brevetted colonel United States volunteers, and March 13, 1865, received the brevet of brigadier general United States volunteers “for gallant and meritorious services during the war.” General Beadle was mustered out and honorably discharged March 26, 1866, while in command of the southern district of North Carolina, at Wilmington. He entered the law department of Michigan University and was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Laws.

General Beadle practiced law in Evansville, Indiana, in 1867, and at Boscobel, Wisconsin, in 1868 and 1869. Early in the latter year President Grant appointed him surveyor general of the territory of Dakota and he continued in that capacity until 1873, when he resigned. For many years he from time to time executed important and sometimes difficult surveys. In 1876, as secretary of the commission to revise the codes, he wrote nearly all the codes of Dakota, and Judges P. C. Shannon and Granville G. Bennett, with whom he worked, declared him “learned in the law.” He has done other work in drafting statutes, in which he is highly skilled. In 1877 he was a member of the house of representatives of the territorial legislature and chairman of the judiciary committee, which had charge of the codes, and secured their complete adoption, a most valuable service to the new commonwealth.

General Beadle’s great familiarity with the territory, its people and its laws enabled him to be of great service to Governor William A. Howard, who induced him to accept for some time the position as private secretary. From 1879 to 1885, over six years, General Beadle was superintendent of public instruction of Dakota and thoroughly laid the foundation for the system of public schools that is the highest pride of the state. To him has been due in a large measure the upbuilding and success of the State Normal School at Madison.

But all of General Beadle’s honorable and useful services to his state otherwise are less than the successful labor he gave toward saving the school and endowment lands of the state. This must be regarded as his most enduring monument. He is one of those men who happily find their work. By every talent, experience and inclination he was fitted for it. In college he won position not only as a scholar, but as a writer and speaker. In his early life questions of vital moment concerning public education were subjects of popular and legislative concern. He has often said that Miss Tucker called attention to the pride every pupil should have in banishing illiteracy from Indiana. The school lands of that state were important in the plans. In Michigan he met and heard the pioneers of education, like Pierce. In Wisconsin also he saw the reckless waste of school lands. Coming to Dakota and seeing its vast fertile area, he was from the first impressed with the importance and the possibilities of the future of this great gift by the nation. He began immediately to draw public attention to this matter and in private conversation and public he sought to create a sentiment which was slowly accomplished. To the intelligent and earnest people who settled the territory, who saw the reserved lands lying near them, a common interest soon appeared. Early in his service as superintendent of public instruction he visited the capital of every one of the old northwestern states as well as of Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, and consulted the older men of experience and records concerning the school lands. Thus every point in the history of such lands in these states was brought to the attention of Dakota to guide it in shaping the future.

When the movement for division and statehood began, the vital opportunity came. Many leaders in that movement adopted the policy for which Dr. Beadle had long stood almost alone, and an organized party struggling for statehood made its own his appeal that no school lands should be sold for less than ten dollars an acre. It is said that he delivered not less than two hundred addresses throughout the territory (now North and South Dakota) in which this appeal was a leading if not the sole topic. When in 1885 the constitutional convention met at Sioux Falls, the issue was in a balance. The members were divided and in doubt. The committee on school and public lands was divided. Its chairman, Rev. J. H. Moore, strongly favored the plan, as did Rev. Joseph Ward. Near the close of the session Dr. Beadle appeared before the committee, presented the draft of the article upon education and the school lands practically as it stands in the constitution. After an earnest session, a majority consented to report it favorably and on the last working day of the convention, when Dr. Beadle had personally urged most members, a majority adopted it. The sentiment then rapidly increased and this article became a center of interest. The people adopted the constitution. The crisis was passed. So prominent did the subject become that it was strongly urged before the committees of congress and when the enabling acts for South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming were passed the provision limiting the price at which school lands might be sold for not less than ten dollars per acre was included in every one, and that policy is in force in all. “How far that little candle throws its beams.”

Even prior to the convention of 1885 General Beadle had advanced the claim that no school or endowment lands should be sold, but that all should be permanently held and leased, using the rentals to support the schools instead of interest upon the invested funds. He has continued to urge this until now a constitutional amendment has been submitted substantially adopting this policy. Thus has his struggle gone on for over thirty years, while he has not sought political office or fortune. This great public service in and for the cause of education will endure to bless the commonwealth as long as any political service possible to anyone at any time. With it his name must be forever connected.

General Beadle’s life has been one of intense activity and hard work. For thirty-five years he has been engaged in the work of a state builder on the frontier. He retains the same erect carriage and dignified bearing that marked him as a young man and during his army life. He has found time in his busy and strenuous life for much literary work, mostly connected with his professional life. He collaborated, with his brother, John Hanson Beadle, in writing “Life in Utah,” and is the author of “Geography, History and Resources of Dakota,” 1888, of “The Natural Method of Teaching Geography,” 1899, and of many pamphlets, reports and addresses, mostly upon educational subjects. His articles in the “Michigan Alumnus” have attracted attention.

General Beadle is a companion of the Loyal Legion and a member of the Masonic fraternity, having attained the thirty-third degree in the Scottish Rite. A lifelong Republican, he has preferred educational work to the possibilities of ordinary political office. He was married May 18, 1863, to Ellen S. Chapman, who died in 1897. She was descended from Moses Rich, a Massachusetts soldier in the Revolutionary army. They have one child, Mrs. Mae Beadle Frink, the wife of Fred A. Frink, A. M., an instructor in the engineering department of Michigan University.

On the 19th of June, 1902, in recognition of his college record and of his able services in the field of educational work and in his profession, his alma mater most consistently conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.


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

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