William Henry Harrison Beadle, born in a log cabin in Parke County, Indiana, on January 1, 1838, grew up on the frontier. Refusing his father's offer of a farm, he accepted instead $1000 for an education. He studied civil engineering at the University of Michigan. Shortly after graduating in 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army and by the end of the war had risen to the rank of brigadier general. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1867 and practiced briefly.
In 1869 President Grant appointed him surveyor-general of Dakota Territory. His journeys through the territory and his previous frontier experience convinced him that school lands were a trust for future generations and should be sold at their appraised value and never for less than $10 an acre. This effort dominated his life. He served as secretary of the 1877 commission to codify the territorial laws and as chairman of the judiciary committee in the territorial House. In 1879 he became superintendent of public instruction. Beadle drafted the school lands provision at the South Dakota constitutional convention of 1885. When Congress accepted the state constitution in 1889, it was so impressed that similar provisions were required for North Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. This preserved 22 million acres for schools.
Beadle served as president of the Madison State Normal School from 1889 to 1906, and as a professor of history until his retirement in 1912. He died on November 15, 1915, in San Francisco while visiting his daughter.