New Hugh Glass Biography Coming in May from State Historical Society

Mclaird - Hugh Glass (CI)PIERRE, S.D.—This spring, readers will be able to learn the true story behind frontiersman Hugh Glass, who is currently portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Revenant.” As Oscar buzz continues to mount for the movie, the South Dakota State Historical Society is getting ready to release “Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor”by James D. McLaird in May.


The most famous grizzly bear attack in the history of the American West took place in 1823 and left Glass struggling for life. Setting out on a journey of revenge and forgiveness, he eventually crawled 200 miles across the plains back to civilization. The story of Hugh Glass has provided fertile ground for articles, books and film, but the real man remains much a mystery.


“Hugh Glass continues to be a larger-than-life character who occupies a significant place in American folklore,” says Nancy Tystad Koupal, director of the South Dakota Historical Society Press. “However, little has been done to create an accurate historical biography that looks at the other narratives written about him.”


McLaird, a Mitchell historian, traces the few existing threads of Glass’ life and delves into the role of popular history in making a legend. He also looks at the grizzly bear itself, examining popular sentiments towards the creature that led to its near extinction.


“Had it not been for a chance encounter with a grizzly bear along the Grand River in what is now northwestern South Dakota,” says McLaird, “Hugh Glass would barely warrant a passing note in fur trade history. That fact made researching him a challenge.”


McLaird is professor emeritus of history at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. He is the author of the second South Dakota Biography Series book “Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends” and numerous articles on the Black Hills and American West. 


“Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor”is the latest addition to the South Dakota Biography Series published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press. The book will be available in May for $14.95, plus shipping and tax. It can be preordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press at or by calling (605) 773-6009. Follow the South Dakota Historical Society Press on Facebook (SDHS Press) and Twitter (@sdhspress) for more information.




Editor’s Note:Email for publicity information and to contact the author.


About the South Dakota State Historical Society

The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.


The Travels of Mr. Schell

We gathered around, opened the box, and welcomed the returning travelers. Some were fresh and hale, some the worse for wear, and in mute chorus they reminded us of the first truth: even Coach Welsh couldn’t win them all.

It was a box of returns, gentle reader, from a major distributor. Just as you might return a product that you find you can’t use, so it goes in the book business. Bookstores return slow-moving stock to the distributors who provide it, and distributors return it to the publishers. Only a tiny percentage of the books that we send out are returned, but in this case, the distributor had apparently been saving up returns for a while, and we got a box the size of a goat.

Is it frustrating to get returns? Of course, but in a way it can be kind of fun. Every once in a while you get something like this.

Welcome home, Mr. Schell.

Steve Witte wonders if this book is as well-traveled as Prince Maximilian.

You see that? That copy of History of South Dakota by Herbert S. Schell is still shrinkwrapped! So it’s in good condition—you say—that’s lucky. True, but that’s not what I’m getting at. We first published this edition in 2004, and we haven’t shrinkwrapped it since before we converted it to print-on-demand technology early in 2011. Which means that Mr. Schell has been wandering the earth at least two years, and who can say how much longer?

We do impose limits on the amount of time during which buyers can return a book, but now and then somebody makes a mistake, and we get a book that has been out for longer—or even a book that is no longer available in our own warehouse. And it’s kind of a kick to see an old friend return.

Where has Mr. Schell been, I wonder? What has this book seen on its travels? From the way the wrap clings to its back cover, I’d like to think it’s sweated in torrid climes. From the slightest discoloration where the wrap has been pulled away at the bottom, I infer that it has basked on rugged slopes. And since this title is a bit erudite, I’d guess it has spent time on the shelves of some classy bookstores before a sophisticated clientele. The likelier possibility, I suppose, is that this particular copy has spent two years lost in a warehouse. But surely you can sympathize; who has not spent some (or all) of their long-anticipated vacation trapped in an airport?

For sale: possibly well-traveled copy of History of South Dakota, 4th ed., rev. John E. Miller, 1st printing, very good condition, shrinkwrapped. We’ll give you a deal. Call Lisa at 605.773.6009. Give a world-weary book a forever home.


Looking back to move ahead

While most people typically spend the beginning of the year looking forward to the months ahead, we have spent part of 2013 looking back to the year just past. Early January is deadline time for the yearly summaries that each director of the South Dakota State Historical Society’s five program areas submits for us to use in creating the annual report issue of the History Notes newsletter. It’s a chore, for sure, but a useful one, giving both the staff and society members a chance to stop and take a look at the big picture of what we do together.

History Notes

Distilling a full twelve months of work into 600 words or less is an exercise in critical thinking, in looking back and judging what was truly important during the past year. While not easy, the task is satisfying, offering a chance to become unmired from the day-to-day details of our jobs and recognize just what those efforts have accomplished for preserving and interpreting the state’s history. It also gives us a focus point from which to look ahead at our goals for the next twelve months. Taken together, each program’s collected summaries constitute a history of the society itself and its progress over the long haul.

Another challenge comes in making the reports more than a collection of dry statistics. We get to work with some of the most fascinating artifacts and documents anywhere, so in addition to letting our members know the number of dollars spent and official reports generated, we want to highlight and communicate our enthusiasm for the discoveries made at archaeological digs, the good books that came off the press, or the fascinating photographs that some gracious donor brought in.

Finally, the annual report is where we recognize those individuals and institutions who help to make our accomplishments possible through their donations of artifacts, volunteer time, or funds. The list of donors published in the annual report is cumulative, giving us all a chance to look at the names of those, familiar and new, who have considered our endeavors important enough to support in some way. It is good to be reminded that the society and its programs are a partnership among many, and that the present is built on the past. So give the annual report issue of History Notes more than a passing glance when it arrives in your mailbox later this month—you’re sure to find something interesting.



Congratulations go this week to our sister program, the Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society, which has just been made an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.  The formal announcement was made last Thursday at the State Historical Society’s annual legislative reception, with Governor Dennis Daugaard and a representative of the Smithsonian in attendance.

Smithsonian Affiliates logo

This gala reception featured a big event for the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, too: we released our latest publication, The Governors’ Portraits.  Dan Brosz was there in a double capacity: he is the Curator of Collections for the museum, and he is also the author of our chapbook, so he was able to sign attendees’ copies.

Governors Portraits cover

We are excited for the museum as it begins its Smithsonian affiliation, which will give it access to training programs and exhibits offered through the Washington, D.C. institution.  And as part of the South Dakota State Historical Society, we are proud of the closer association of two long traditions of excellence in research and education.


Ladies First

A year ago we published First Lady Inaugural Gowns, a small chapbook highlighting the lives of each of South Dakota’s first ladies and the gown they wore to their husband’s inauguration. Ladies first is an old tradition, but we thought it might be appropriate to also draw some attention to the men behind those ladies: the governors of South Dakota.

The title page from the forthcoming chapbook, The Governors' Portraits.

The title page from the forthcoming chapbook, The Governors’ Portraits.

In the next week or so, we’ll be publishing our third chapbook, this one entitled, The Governors’ Portraits. Dan Brosz, Curator of Collections at the Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society, penned a short biography of each of the state’s governors to accompany a photograph of that governor’s portrait that hangs on the walls of the State Capitol in Pierre.

It is tradition that a leaving governor sits for his portrait and leaves the painting so that there is a reminder to all of those who served their state and fellow South Dakotans. Brosz’s short biographies provide the highlights of that governor’s life, but they also shine a little light on the history of the time in which that governor served. It is the nature of a biography that it will indicate to a greater or lesser degree the nature of a particular era because that person, particularly a governor, will most likely be a barometer of the time itself.

Chapbooks are, in their own way, a reflection of history as well. They were first published about five hundred years ago in England and gained their name from the Chapmen who sold them on street corners. Often, chapbooks contained treaties or commentaries on current events, but over time they passed out of favor. In the last twenty years or so, however, there has been a small revival in the popularity of this small, often elegant, definitely effective form of book publishing. We’ve done a few now, and we find that they serve best as an inexpensive method of delivering interesting tidbits of information to our audience.

Stones with Stories

Every article in South Dakota History comes with its own puzzles to solve and decisions to make. Curtis A. Dahlin’s article in the upcoming Winter 2012 issue presented an interesting choice. In his article, “Stories in Stone: The Final Resting Places of Dakota War Participants on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation,” Dahlin takes readers on a tour of nine cemeteries in northeastern South Dakota containing the graves of individuals who played roles in the United States-Dakota War of 1862. All of these Sisseton, Wahpeton, or mixed-blood men and women had acted on behalf of those who desired a negotiated peace, many of them placing themselves at risk to aid others in fleeing the violence that erupted in Minnesota in August of 1862. They went on to settle in the wooded coulees of the Sisseton-Wahpeton, or Lake Traverse, Indian Reservation, created in 1867, and to live out their lives there.

Wamdiupta's grave marker. Courtesy Curtis A. Dahlin

Wamdiupta’s grave marker. Courtesy Curtis A. Dahlin

In his article, Dahlin presents a brief biography and an account of each individual’s role in the Dakota War, along with a photograph of his or her gravestone. The stories truly transform each grave marker from a mere block of stone into a memorial. In effect, the gravestones come to life, hinting that there is much more to be learned. Dahlin’s article, we thought, was especially well suited to include in the journal’s annual historic preservation issue.

In looking at the sources the author used in compiling his information, we came across photographs of a number of the people whose gravestones are pictured, taken around the time of the events that played such a pivotal role in so many lives. They are young, handsome, and dressed in traditional or period clothing. It was tempting to search for an image of each one to pair with the photograph of his or her gravestone. In the end, though, we stayed with the author’s approach and kept the focus on the gravestones themselves. Perhaps these “stones with stories” will inspire readers to look at some of the sources Curt Dahlin consulted writing his article to discover more about the real people they memorialize.


Reflections on 2012

As the year draws to a close, it’s good to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in the past twelve months, the 15th anniversary of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

The year opened with the exciting news that Michael Lawson’s Dammed Indians Revisited had been selected as the One Book South Dakota selection by the South Dakota Humanities Council. Throughout the year, book clubs, students, and interested citizens all across the state read this study of the Missouri River dams and their impact on the tribes, culminating in a series of appearances by Lawson, including the South Dakota Festival of Books in Sioux Falls in September. In Pierre, he guided a boat tour of the area below Oahe Dam on a beautiful early October afternoon. At the end of his appearances, Lawson claimed that it was the closest a historian could come to being treated like a rock star!

R. Alton Lee’s Principle over Party was named a finalist for the 2012 Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize. In May, S. D. Nelson’s gorgeous paean to Lakota lifestyles, Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way, appeared for young readers. “Nelson skillfully melds modern and traditional images of people in lush acrylics,” Kirkus raved. In November, the book received a silver Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for outstanding illustration.

In June, we publicly announced that we had been granted the rights to publish Laura Ingalls Wilder’s previously unpublished autobiography, Pioneer Girl. Scheduled for release in 2013, the book will be a fully annotated edition. To keep people informed of the book’s progress, we instituted a website,, replete with videos, photos, interviews, and other commentary.

The summer of 2012 saw the release of Paul L. Hedren’s Ho! For the Black Hills. Jack Crawford, a correspondent for the Omaha Bee, was on the frontlines of the gold rush to the Black Hills in 1875–1876 and the resultant war with the Sioux. His letters about those events are a wonderful primary resource for anyone with a passion for the history of western South Dakota.

The late summer also featured the website release of the first thirty-two years of South Dakota History, our award-winning journal. These older issues are fully searchable on the site. The quarterly journal, now in its forty-second year, has published more than six hundred articles exploring the breadth and depth of history on the Northern Great Plains. Four new issues of the journal featured articles on women lawyers, on cattleman Cap Mossman, and on the Espionage Act of 1917, among many other topics.

In September, the Press unveiled three new titles. Tom Dempster’s North of Twelfth Street: The Changing Face of Sioux Falls Neighborhoods features breathtaking panoramas and details of the state’s largest city. A talented photographer, Dempster recorded the changing architecture and culture of his hometown. Retired Augustana College professor Gary D. Olson provided a historical overview, offering insight into the immigration that created Sioux Falls, past and present.

Fraser Harrison’s Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota provided a glimpse of the state’s towns and tourist spots through the eyes of an Englishman who had grown up on tales of the Wild West. “Everyone has, or should have, a place on their western horizon where possibility seems infinite; not an El Dorado, but a place where the imagination gets rich,” Harrison wrote. “For me, that place has become South Dakota.” Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes when this book arrived in our warehouse!

The real nail-biter of the year turned out to be Mark Meierhenry and David Volk’s latest in their natural history series. Slated to arrive on the first of September, delays in shipping caused it to be alarmingly late, but it debuted as planned on the very morning that the Festival of Books opened (September 27). We all heaved a sigh of relief when we unpacked The Mystery of the Pheasants, illustrated by Susan Turnbull, for festival attendants to pore over. The book celebrates South Dakota’s state bird and its hunting traditions.

We also completed three issues of the History Notes newsletter and a book catalog, wrote many letters and emails, published a number of ebooks, including our first children’s book for tablets such as the iPad or Kindle Fire HD, read manuscripts for future publications, and worked with our wonderful authors to ensure more publications in the years to come.

Here’s to another successful year–our sixteenth (in books) and counting. Oh, and look for the videos hidden within some of the linked text!