Remembering George Blair

During a 2017 visit to the HPWHC George Blair is see in front of a John Sogge carving of his father, Harry Blair, on his favorite horse Sam. George is also wearing his father’s hat which is a size too small. “His head was smaller but his ideas were big!” Blair said.

   The High Plains Western Heritage Center (HPWHC) lost a significant part of its living legacy as George Blair passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 98. George was the son of HPWHC founder Harry Blair.

   Blair was a WWII veteran having flown 47 missions as the pilot of a B-25 over the Pacific. He was once resuced by a U.S. submarine after his plane was shot down over the South China Sea.

   Governor Noem ordered flags at the capitol be flown at half mast on January 6th in his honor.

   George was also a rancher near Sturgis and a four-term member of the South Dakota State Legislature. His father also served in Pierre as State Senator and Harry was instrumental in the founding of the HPWHC.

   During an interview in March of 2017 while on a visit to the HPWHC George recounted his family history going back to the late 1800’s and also how his father drew inspiration for the HPWHC.

   “Dad belonged to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame as a trustee,” Blair said. “That gave him the idea. I think he thought the way of life of those pioneers was something that will never happen again and it was worth preserving some of that.”

   Blair remembered some old cattle drives, moving several hundred head for 4 or 5 days to market. “Those things are mostly gone now, there have been some big changes,” he said. “But I think that past way of life is something that should be preserved.”

   “Dad was the most positive person I ever knew,” George recalls. “And like the homesteaders that came always said, (like) dad you know, if it was a dry year and crops didn’t amount to anything- it was ‘wait ‘til next year.’ They called western South Dakota ‘next year country.’ If things were bad, next year was going to make it up.”

   George remembered the day of the groundbreaking for the HPWHC back in 1977 with his father Harry Blair in attendance. “Well I remember a bunch of old guys took a plow and plowed a furrow in the ground. I guess I didn’t think too much of it at the time,” George said with a grin. “But my dad was real proud that day. He was a man with big ideas.”    

   George said one of his favorite pieces at the HPWHC is the authentic Spearfish- Deadwood stagecoach. He remembered how his father along with others removed it from its “resting place” in the city park, renovated and restored it to be used in various parades. Eventually it ended up on display here at the Center.

   Another of his favorites is the John Sogge carving of his father on one of his favorite horses, Sam. “Dad had a lot of horses but I remember that one,” George said.

   George brought along his sense of humor that day, remembering old stories about sheep farming, the weather, rodeo events and even singing a couple of songs. One song was the story of the bucking horse Tipperary. But his favorite, when asked, was My Harding County Home, which he promptly sang to the camera before he left for the day.

“Not so may years ago, I left old Buffalo,

The place that I will always love the best.

And the lights of Buffalo

Will guide me back I know

To my Harding County home out in the west.”

“Oh I can see a Mustang band

Grazing by the River Grand,

See the range where white-faced cattle roam,

And the lights in Buffalo

Will guide me back I know

To my Harding County home out in the west.”

During an interview in 2017 the late George Blair sings one of his favorite songs- “My Harding County Home” made famous by western singer Tex Fletcher, a New York native but resident of Buffalo, SD, in Harding County. Blair passed away Jan. 1, 2020.