Malvin Miller, the youngest son of early Mercer County blacksmith Sam Miller Sr., stands by the iron cross for Johanna Entzie in the Beulah cemetery, one of nine made by his father.

Iron Crosses Mark the Prairie With Tradition

Tandberg, Kathy. "Iron Crosses Mark the Prairie With Tradition." Hazen Star, 5 June 2008.

There is something to be said about the craftsmanship of the old country.  Most are a lost art that began as a way to make a living, to shelter the family and put food on the table.

In today’s modern world, while many of these arts have been lost, some, like the work of the old time blacksmith shop, still remain.

It is a rare talent, someone who is able to forge his way through life with hot metal and fire.  Talents such as this are fortunately not completely lost in Mercer County, for iron has a lasting life of its own and many exhibits of this still stand today. 

The exhibits are the work of Golden Valley blacksmith Sam Miller Sr., one of the early Mercer County blacksmiths who ran his own shop for many years.

This is perhaps one of the first iron crosses Sam created in America, that of his first wife, Maria, who passed away in 1917.

It is sure that as works of iron, there may be many exhibits of Sam’s work throughout the county.  But the work that stands out the most is special.

The exhibits aren’t horseshoes or iron tools or the like.  They are something more meaningful, more sentimental and they mean the most to Sam’s family, like youngest son Malvin Miller – these are the iron crosses that now mark the graves of seven family members and one family friend.

Malvin was a young man of 26 when his father passed away at the age of 80.  He doesn’t know where his father came up with his designs or what set him to work on this particular item.  One can only imagine that it was love for the people and for his art.

The designs of Sam’s iron crosses tell the story of his heritage and that of the many Germans from Russia immigrants who have since been laid to rest in prairie cemeteries.

The nine crosses were each forged by Sam’s own hands in his own design.  Each bears a similarity to the others yet each still shows individuality. 

Sam’s iron crosses bear tradition, but yet a modern touch for those times  As his ironworks feature low metal fences that surround each grave.  At the head lies an ornate iron cross.  At the foot the name of the deceased is crafted in large metal letters.

One iron cross was created for his first wife, Maria Miller, laid to rest at St. Mathias (Neusatz), 16 miles north of Golden Valley.

Sam Miller’s blacksmith shop in Zap in 1938.  From left is Christ Teske, George Miller, Sam Miller Jr. and Sam Miller Sr. 

In no particular order, the next is for a son, Emil Miller, who died in 1934.  Then there is the cross for Edwin Kruckenberg, buried at St. John’s Cemetery north of Zap.  Another was made for Martin Wiedner.  This cross can be seen on the front lawn of the Mercer County Museum in Beulah.

A fifth is for Maria Knittel also buried at St. John’s Cemetery north of Zap.  The sixth is of a Rehling, first name not given, buried at St. Luke’s Cemetery, also north of Zap.  A seventh cross is that of Johanna Entzie who is buried in the Beulah Cemetery.

The eighth cross is for Malvin’s mother, Louisa Harsch Miller, who passed away in 1991 and is buried at St. James Cemetery north of Golden Valley.

The ninth is a large stand alone cross several feet tall that marks the St. John’s Cemetery.
Born in Kronenthal Crimea, Russia, Sam learned his trade after a four-year apprenticeship under Sam Stern.  When he immigrated to America in 1910, he brought his bride of three years, Maria, and his trade.

He began working for another blacksmith in 1911 at Kasmer, north of Beulah.  He set up his own shop on his homestead.  He continued his work there until Maria’s early death in 1917.  He later married Louisa and the couple had four children, of which Malvin is the youngest.

Sam operated blacksmith shops in Dodge, Isabel, S.D., and then in 1926 returned to Mercer County where he operated a shop in Zap until it burned down in 1949.

There is one final marker, the 10th iron marker.  This one was not created by the old blacksmith but for him.  It is the iron cross that marks Sam’s grave, made by Robert Greenshields, Dodge.  His grave was first marked by stone but Malvin knew that the proper way to honor his father, would be by iron and had the work commissioned later.

Sam lies to rest next to Louisa at the St. James Cemetery and there his grave will remain marked forever with the talents of his own trade created by the hands of a blacksmith.

Sam’s grave: Sam’s grave was first marked by stone,
then son Malvin commissioned this iron cross in his fathe’s honor.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller