Biography of Philip H. Risling

Philip H. Risling, born June 16, 1825, in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and deceased May 14, 1893, was a notable settler and community member. Son of German immigrants Lewis and Mary Risling, he moved to Iowa in 1856 and then to South Dakota in 1862, where he homesteaded 320 acres. Despite hardships such as floods and crop destruction, he built a successful market garden business. He was married to Elmira Oldham in 1852, and they had eleven children. Philip was active in politics, transitioning from the Whig to Republican and later Populist parties, and was a member of the Lutheran Church.

Philip H. Risling, now deceased, was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, June 16, 1825, and died on the 14th of May, 1893. His life record covered sixty-eight years—a period in which he wrought much good and in which he gained creditable success so that he left to his family a comfortable competence and an honorable name. He was a son of Lewis and Mary (Holler) Risling, both of whom were natives of Germany, whence they crossed the Atlantic to America, settling in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where they spent their remaining days. The father was a farmer and also conducted a woolen factory. Unto him and his wife were born eleven children, two of whom are yet living.

Under the parental roof, Philip H. Risling spent his boyhood days, and in the public schools nearby, he acquired his education. He was married in 1852 to Elmira Oldham, a daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Bowen) Oldham, of Bedford County. In 1855, the parents removed to Clayton County, Iowa, where both died. Her father was a gunsmith by trade but became a farmer and owned a well-improved tract of land. In his family were five children: Mrs. Risling, Mary, Enoch P., Omer B., and Uriah W. In his political views, Mr. Risling was a Whig until the dissolution of the party, when he joined the ranks of the Republican Party. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Risling was blessed with eleven children: Truman S., Loretta H., Mary E., Celia, Florence, Juliet, George W., Frank P., Nellie P., Daniel W., and Lucinda. Of this number, five are yet living.

In 1856, Philip H. Risling went from Clayton County, Iowa, to Spirit Lake in the same state, being one of its first settlers, and helped to build the first cabin there. After completing preparations for winter, he returned to his family in Clayton County, the snow being so deep he was unable to use a team and was compelled to walk the entire distance, over two hundred miles. In March of the following spring, the Indians perpetrated the terrible massacre at Spirit Lake, and, upon receipt of the news, Mr. Risling, with others, purchased coffins and gave the victims decent burials. In 1862, Mr. Risling removed from Spirit Lake, Iowa, to South Dakota, and secured a homestead claim of one hundred and sixty acres of land, while later he entered another one hundred and sixty acres. It was covered with tall prairie grass, but not a furrow had been turned or an improvement made upon the place. He lost almost everything in the great flood which caused damage of seven thousand dollars to his property. The grasshoppers, too, destroyed his crops, and the drought on another occasion burned up all that he had, but he persevered and would not allow discouragements to crush out his enterprising spirit. He worked on year after year, making excellent improvements upon his property, and in course of time, he triumphed over the disadvantages which had attended his work. For thirteen years, he conducted a market garden, doing a very extensive business in this way. He had a vegetable wagon in Yankton and enjoyed a large business which proved very profitable. In his political affairs, he was a Republican, afterward became a Populist, and later was an independent voter. He belonged to the Lutheran Church and in that faith, he died. Mr. Risling came to Yankton County during the days when Indians lived here, and he often fed many of them. He found them friendly, having no trouble with the red men. There is in his life history much that is worthy of emulation and commendation. He worked hard and though he had no special advantages at the outset of his career, he progressed as time passed by and as the result of his earnest, persistent labors, he accumulated a handsome competence, thus leaving his family in very comfortable circumstances. He was also honorable in his dealings with his fellow men, his life being in harmony with his professions as a Christian. Mrs. Risling and her son Daniel now own three hundred and ninety-five acres of valuable land, a part of which is cultivated while the remainder is used for pastorage purposes. They carry on general farming and Daniel also follows blacksmithing to some extent. The family has long been a prominent and influential one of the community, well meriting mention in this volume.


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

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