Ellen McGruder

Quick Facts
Leader of prominent Sully County African American family
Place of Birth:
Shelby County, Missouri
Date of Birth:
Circa 1852-1857
Place of Death:
Sully County, South Dakota
Date of Death:
January 1937
Place of Burial:
Onida, South Dakota
Cemetery Name:
Onida Cemetery

Ellen McGruder was the matriarch of the McGruder family. The family was prominent in Sully County, South Dakota’s black homesteader community. 

Ellen and her husband, John, had been enslaved in Missouri. They became successful entrepreneurs after emancipation. Even purchasing some land on the plantation on which John had been enslaved. However, they were attracted to the opportunities for owning land in the Great Plains.

In 1908 Ellen and John arrived in Sully County. They possessed considerable wealth saved from their enterprises in Missouri. They purchased 1,200 acres of land for $1 and “other valuable considerations” (not specified). And soon they were running three hundred head of cattle, three thousand sheep, and thirty race and work horses. In 1916, when John died, Ellen lost the land, unable to pay back their mortgage.

Despite the setback, Ellen persisted and filed a homestead claim for 160 acres. She received her patent for the land in 1920. She worked tirelessly on her homestead with her son William.

Ellen helped lead the McGruder family from Missouri to South Dakota and homestead sucessfully. In her lifetime she went from being owned as a slave to owning her own land. She remained in Sully County until her death in 1937.

Learn more about Black Homesteading in America.

Homestead National Historical Park

Last updated: November 2, 2021