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February 18th, 1884 – On This Day in Sioux Falls History, the climax of the dramatic Sioux Falls Telephone Wars bursts onto the scene. By order of the Mayor and City Council, city marshal Charles T. Jeffers (we wished him a Happy Birthday back on January 18th!) arrested 3 employees of the telephone company for digging in the public street, a local judge ordered the men pay a $3 fine plus damages each, before being released from jail, and a district judge threatened to hold the Mayor, Marshal, and leading city Alderman in contempt of court for carrying out these actions after a previous judge had issued an injunction!

It is all very dramatic!!! Let’s start at the beginning.  The Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company purchased rights from a smaller local company to oversee telephone communications in Sioux Falls.  They immediately began putting up additional telephone poles throughout town looking to expand their service.

Seeing the additional poles as a nuisance the Mayor and City Council passed legislation making it illegal to erect additional telephone poles on Phillips and Main avenues and gave the telephone company 10 days to remove existing poles!

The telephone company completely ignores the directive of the city council and continues adding more poles.  The city hires construction crews to CUT DOWN ALL OF THE POLES ON PHILLIPS AND MAIN AVENUES!

The telephone company files for an injunction and which is granted, essentially overstepping the new city ordinance and making it legal for the company to continue to erect poles without interference.  The city tries to stay the injunction, but after a short but bitter legal battle the city looses and the judge grants the telephone company permission to continue their work.

That leads to our dramatic encounter on this day in Sioux Falls History… when the telephone company sends a 3 man crew to erect a new pole, the city sends the Marshal and the three men are arrested for violating an older city ordinance declaring it illegal to dig in a city street (very clever!).

Local Judge Hawkins overlooks the preceding declaration by Judge Edgerton and fines the men.  However upon appeal the newly seated Supreme Court Justice Palmer, overseeing this area in district court, demands the Mayor, Marshal, and City Council members explain why they shouldn’t be charged with contempt for knowingly overstepping Judge Edgerton’s ruling.

It all wraps up in a very un-dramatic fashion.  A closed door settlement is reached at the contempt hearing. Less than $25 changes hands in payment of fines, damages, and penalties, the city officials are not held in contempt, and no telephone poles are erected on Phillips or Main ave. for many years to come!

Who said you couldn’t have drama in a small prairie town!