Politics, airshows, Wounded Knee headline latest State Historical Society journal

4601 cover imageAgitator Henry L. Loucks, World War I military air shows and events at Wounded Knee are chronicled in the Spring 2016 issue of “South Dakota History,” the quarterly journal of the South Dakota State Historical Society.


“‘Equal Opportunity for All, That’s All’: South Dakota’s Henry L. Loucks and the Fight for Reform, 1885–1928,” profiles the Deuel County farmer who rose to national prominence as a leader in the Farmers’ Alliance movement of the 1880s and 1890s. Although Loucks and his fellow reformers failed to create a viable third party in South Dakota, they left a lasting legacy with the initiative and referendum process now enshrined in the state constitution. The article’s author, Jeffrey A. Johnson, is an associate professor at Providence College in Rhode Island. 


In his article, “Flying Machines and War Bonds: The Victory Loan Flying Circus in South Dakota,” Alan L. Roesler documents the South Dakota performances of a military aircraft demonstration team that toured the Midwest to promote the sale of bonds to finance World War I. The air shows entertained large crowds in Aberdeen, Redfield and Sioux Falls in April 1919. Roesler, a retired geologist in Mesa, Ariz., is a member of the League of World War I Aviation Historians. 


Jerome A. Greene, a retired National Park Service historian, presents a never-before-published account of Wounded Knee and its aftermath in “An Artilleryman at Wounded Knee and White Clay Creek, 1890: The Reminiscence of Private John W. Comfort.”


Comfort’s memoir is the only known enlisted artilleryman’s perspective of the turmoil that left at least 200 Lakotas dead, with many more injured, and resulted in 66 army casualties. Greene provides explanatory notes and maps to help readers follow events.


Former State Historical Society director Dayton W. Canaday is highlighted in the “Dakota Images” biographical sketch that is a feature of each issue of “South Dakota History.” 


“South Dakota History” is a benefit of membership in the South Dakota State Historical Society. For information on membership, call (605) 773-6000. Individual issues may be purchased for $10 plus tax and shipping by calling (605) 773-6009.



State Historical Society Publishes Story of South Dakota Aviation

4502 front cover onlyFrom the barnstorming era to the Space Age, the state’s colorful aviation heritage is the focus of the latest issue of “South Dakota History,” the quarterly journal of the South Dakota State Historical Society.

The centerpiece of the Summer 2015 issue is an article by Steven J. Bucklin, professor of history at the University of South Dakota, titled “Fly-over Country?: A Glimpse of South Dakota through Its Aviation History.”

South Dakotans had their first experience with “flying machines” at the 1911 South Dakota Stock Growers Association convention in Rapid City, where the Curtiss Exhibition Company, owned by aviation pioneer Glenn H. Curtiss, provided thrilling entertainment. Later, in the wake of Charles A. Lindbergh’s visits to Sioux Falls and Pierre after his heroic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, entrepreneurs looked to aviation as a means to stimulate South Dakota’s economy. By the mid-1930s, federal, state and local officials saw the need to regulate and promote the new industry along with providing essential aviation infrastructure.

Bucklin consulted state government records, interviewed notable figures such as former Gov. William J. Janklow (a licensed pilot), and read extensively in historic newspapers in the course of his research. Much of the author’s source material and most of the article’s illustrations were found in the State Historical Society’s archival collection at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

01 HuronStateFair

Some of the earliest flights in South Dakota took place during the 1911 and 1912 state fairs held at Huron. This postcard commemorates the appearance of a flying machine at the 1912 fair. South Dakota State Historical Society

“We enjoyed the opportunity to provide Professor Bucklin with some of the resources he needed to write an insightful article on such a fascinating topic,” said Matthew T. Reitzel, manuscript and photo archivist for the State Historical Society-Archives.

Bucklin holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of South Dakota and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. He is the author of several books and articles on South Dakota and on United States diplomatic history.

A subscription to “South Dakota History” is a benefit of membership in the South Dakota State Historical Society. For information on membership, call (605) 773-6000. Individual issues may be purchased for $10 plus tax and shipping by calling (605) 773-6009 or by visiting the South Dakota Historical Society Press website.

British Author Receives State Historical Society Award


The South Dakota State Historical Society’s press release was featured in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan.

PIERRE — Fraser Harrison, author of the award-winning travel memoir “Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota,” has earned the Herbert S. Schell Award for the best article in Volume 44 of “South Dakota History.” The quarterly journal of the South Dakota State Historical Society, “South Dakota History” publishes materials that contribute to the historical and cultural knowledge of the state and surrounding region.


The award committee presented the Herbert S. Schell Award for best article in last year’s volume of South Dakota History to Fraser Harrison (not pictured).

This year’s Schell Award was presented at the Governor’s Awards for History luncheon on Saturday, May 30, during the South Dakota State Historical Society Annual History Conference at the Ramkota RiverCentre in Pierre. Nathan Johnson of Yankton, a friend of Harrison’s, accepted the award on Harrison’s behalf.

Harrison’s article, “Yankton: Portrait of a River City,” appeared in the Spring 2014 issue and is a modern look at the historic capital of Dakota Territory. It begins with the author’s confession that his initial visit to the town did not result in “love at first sight.” His first impression was formed during a short stay while he researched “Infinite West,” published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press in 2012. On that trip, he did not find the “gem-like historic town” his guidebook had promised. Determined to discover the real Yankton, he returned for a six-week visit in the summer of 2013. The result was his award-winning article.

“Fraser Harrison is not afraid to re-examine initial impressions, and by crafting an interesting article based in the history and people of Yankton, he looks at how the past influences our present,” says Jeanne Ode, managing editor of “South Dakota History.”

Harrison’s chance to reconsider his earlier impressions came about thanks to a conversation with a Yankton resident who offered him a place to stay and to a grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council. When he is not travelling, Harrison resides in England, where he has published several books, worked as a freelance broadcaster for the BBC and contributed to major newspapers throughout the United Kingdom.

“With his usual wit and insight, Harrison has contributed a thought-provoking testament of modern Yankton,” says Jay D. Vogt, director of the South Dakota State Historical Society. “His article delves into present-day people and places, while showing Yankton’s continued connection to its rough-and-tumble past as a frontier town known as ‘Mother City of the Dakotas.’”

The Herbert S. Schell Award, one of the Governor’s Awards for History, is named for a longtime University of South Dakota history professor who became a leading authority on South Dakota history. Each year, a committee judges the major articles in “South Dakota History” according to depth of scholarly research, readability and significance to the history of South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains. Along with an award plaque, the winner receives $250.

The Spring 2014 issue of “South Dakota History” containing Harrison’s award-winning article is available for $10.00 plus shipping and tax and can be purchased through most bookstores or ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press. Visit www.sdshspress.com or call (605) 773-6009. “Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota” is available for $17.95 plus shipping and tax.

Back to School

School opens this week in Pierre. Like so many other parents in town, I’ve been shopping for school supplies, filling out forms, and meeting teachers these past few days. My son Jacob has been looking forward to his first day of school in our new hometown, and he was happy to find the names of some friends from summer day camp on his second-grade class list. This morning, Jacob was telling me how much he likes to read—music to the ears of a parent who works in publishing! It looks like Jacob is ready for another year of learning, but he isn’t the only one in our house who’s learning new things.

I’ve been with the Press for almost two months now, and I’ve learned a couple of key lessons already. Lesson number one: there is a lot more to learn. Lesson number two: learning is one of this job’s best perks! Since my arrival, I’ve had the chance to evaluate a few book manuscripts and help out with the editing of articles that will be appearing in future issues of South Dakota History. Each manuscript is different, and you never know what you might learn while in the process of checking an author’s references. My disaster preparedness has surely improved since I started working here. I’ve studied droughts, rattlesnakes, locusts, and anthrax spores. I’m better at geography, too. I now know what “East River” and “West River” mean—not to be confused with “Jim River,” of course! I was born in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and now I can carry on an intelligent conversation about the life and times of my birthplace’s namesake. All this knowledge comes courtesy of the authors who publish their work with us. And unlike Jacob, I won’t have any tests to take.


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.


A Dispatch from the Illustration Trail

Coming up with images to illustrate our books or journal articles can pose something of a dilemma at times. Take, for instance, the latest issue of South Dakota History. For starters, it was a bit unusual in that the entire issue consisted of one long piece, a previously unpublished narrative by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge detailing a scouting expedition sent out from Fort Fred Steele in Wyoming Territory in 1868. Dodge had been charged with locating a supply of wood for constructing buildings at the post, created to protect workers on the Union Pacific railroad as the line advanced westward.  His scout took place over a fairly nondescript expanse of land, and he notes countless creeks, mountains, draws, dead-end canyons, and the problems he and his men encountered in navigating the little-known territory.  Unfortunately, he took no camera along on his journey to document the scenery or wildlife he describes or to give us images of the men who accompanied him. There was the colorful post sutler Beall, a tenderfoot who begged to be included and then neglected to bring along even the most basic supplies, such as a coat. Then there were the conniving soldiers who hoarded the expedition’s bacon so that they could abscond with it when they went AWOL shortly before the group was to return to post. Finally, there was Dodge’s faithful orderly, Private Freilinger, who overheard the malcontents talking about the plot and fearfully informed his superior.

South Dakota History, vol. 43, no. 1

Colonel Richard Irving Dodge reminds you to pack a camera.

Dodge painted great word pictures, but in order to create a visually pleasing layout, we always look for interesting images to draw in those who might just be skimming the issue, as well as to break up long passages of monotonous-looking type. The Denver Public Library, Library of Congress, and other sources supplied good historical photographs of the military men and posts described by the editor of the narrative, Wayne R. Kime, in his introduction, but illustrating Dodge’s work itself was more challenging. In this case, we were lucky to have the resources of the South Dakota State Historical Society’s research library. Thanks to our predecessors who began a hundred or more years ago building a collection of books related to the history of the state and region, we have a good number of obscure volumes whose copyright is no longer active that we can scour for little-seen and often desperately needed illustrations.  One such work is one of Dodge’s own books, Our Wild Indians (1882), whose frontispiece supplied the engraving used on the journal’s cover. Another is his The Plains of the Great West and Their Inhabitants (1877), which carried an image of the Laramie Plains. A search of our library records for items pertaining to the Union Pacific Railroad quickly brought up several railroad travel guides published not long after the transcontinental line was completed. Designed to promote western tourism through descriptions of the region’s majestic scenery and superb sporting opportunities, one of these books, published in 1886, yielded engravings of a few of the geographical places and some hunting scenes that meshed nicely with what Dodge described. Lucky finds—but they also made me wonder just what we should be collecting today that will come in handy for whoever is here fifty or one hundred years from now.


Talk about the weather

Earlier this week, state agencies were shut down for half a day after two nights of heavy snowfall, and the possibility of more looming ahead. Such a thing is almost unheard of in Pierre. In my youth, in the long-ago 1990s, I could count the number of snow days we received on the fingers of one hand, or so it seemed. The roads have to be pretty treacherous before we throw in the towel for even a few hours.

The weather is proverbially the thing you talk about when you have nothing else to talk about. But sometimes, and particularly in a state whose two most important industries are agriculture and tourism, the weather is much more than conversation filler. As we were not-so-gently reminded this week, sometimes the weather can really have a large-scale effect on daily life as people go about their business—or are prevented from going about it.

The winter of 1880–1881

These guys had it so much worse.

But how bad does the weather have to be before it becomes a historical event? This week, appropriately, Carol Olson has been checking quotations from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, which took place in the winter of 1880–1881. It’s one thing when you’re annoyed because you’re running out of toilet paper and the landlord hasn’t arrived with his skid loader to clear the parking lot; it’s another when the trains can’t get through and you have to twist hay into knots to keep the fire going. For my part, I’ve been looking at meteorological data from Wilder’s time in Minnesota. Particularly chilling were the records for the winter of 1874–1875, when the average temperature in St. Paul in January and February was below zero degrees Fahrenheit. This is not average daily low, mind you, but absolute average temperature, sustained over two months. It kind of puts things in perspective.

Summer is surely coming; our frozen April showers are already beginning to melt. It won’t be long before we all are complaining about the Dakota summer heat. When you find yourself doing that, go online and read this article from South Dakota History. Then pour yourself a lemonade and enjoy the weather.