Naming Freeman: What's in a Name?

Many communities in South Dakota were named because of natural landmarks, like Sioux Falls. Others were named through American Indian heritage, like Yankton. Freeman, on the other hand, has a different story behind its name.

In fact, there are several.

The following is an excerpt from an article by the Freeman Courier.

Nearly every story involves the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific Railway Company, whose station was constructed in Freeman in 1888 and retired in 1974.

Many sources say a railroad officer mistakingly put up the "Freeman" sign here and took the "Menno" sign to the next town 11 miles down the line, which happened to be Menno. According to that story, Freeman was supposed to be called "Menno" because of the large Mennonite population in the area, which still exists today.

The railroad built its branch line from Marion to Running Water in 1879, and in the fall that same year, the first train pulled into Freeman. This transformed Freeman from more than a settlement and into a town. Freeman was first thought of as a city in 1893, five years after the railroad dropped off the "wrong sign".

Early Main St 2.jpg

But there are other stories regarding the city's name heritage.

J.J. Mendel, an early publisher of the Freeman Courier, claimed both Menno and Freeman were named for the men from whom the railroad bought plots of land. Fred Reiser was from Menno and was a miller in one of the Mennonite colonies near Menno. The railroad officials decided to name the city "Menno" because of Reiser and the number of Mennonites in the area.

Mendel said Freeman was named after Fred Waldner, who sold land to the railroad. Freeman was supposed to be "Fredman", but the "d" was inadvertently changed to an "e", and the city became "Freeman".

There is still a third version in which Fred Waldner, who was in debt before selling his land to the railroad, exclaimed "Jetzt bin ich ein freier Mann" when the railroad paid him for the land. This translated to "Now I am a free man" and a railroad official reportedly said, "Free man - why not call this place Freeman?"