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.


Recapping the 2011 McGovern Conference

The SDSHS Press attended the 2011 George McGovern Conference at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD this past Monday. The annual conference had, this year, taken the theme of political culture in South Dakota, and had filled the schedule with historians and political scientists from South Dakota and the surrounding states. That topic and those scholars all came from the same place: The Plains Political Tradition: Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, our most recently published book.

The conference was well-attended, and those who had made the journey to Mitchell were treated with the presence of, and a talk from, George McGovern, himself. As the presenters stood and spoke, those in the audience received a crash course in the elements of South Dakota’s political culture, it’s morays, habits, beliefs, and cultural systems and histories that give the state it’s particular brand of political culture.

The topics of the talks held fast to the topics of each presenter’s chapter in the book, but each scholar elucidated further upon their interpretation of political culture, and they fielded pertinent and perceptive questions from the audience.

The thanks of the SDSHS Press go to Donald Simmons and Dakota Wesleyan University for organizing and hosting the conference, to the presenters who spoke, and to all those who attended. We certainly spent an enjoyable day expanding our understanding of this fascinating area of study, as well as conversing with friends old and new.

The conference is held each year in mid-November, and the book, of course, is available should anyone be interested in delving into this subject in more detail!

South Dakota’s Political Culture

Politics can sometimes be a tricky subject to bring up in polite conversation. Fortunately, here at the SDSHS Press, we have a worldly readership and audience, so we’re less hesitant to start such a discussion. And that is exactly what we’ve done in our latest book, The Plains Political Tradition: Essays on South Dakota Political Culture edited by Jon K. Lauck, John E. Miller, and Donald C. Simmons, Jr.

Throughout the state’s history there has been a Republican dominance in state politics, but that doesn’t mean the political culture of the state is monochromatic. In fact, when you start to dig below the surface you find that there is a varied and colorful political culture. The twelve essays in the book look at a wide range of topics, from early Dakota Territory political culture, to immigrants and their effect on our politics; from the political parties themselves to the oft-hidden but still there political left; from women and literature to war, peace, and missiles; from environmentalism and the American Indian Movement to local government and the politics of defeat.

The topics are diverse, but then that is the point: South Dakota’s political culture is as varied as the people who live in the state, as different as East River and West River, and as opposite as right and left.

If you are in Mitchell, SD, November 14, there is going to be conference at the George McGovern Center at Dakota Wesleyan University where historians, politicians, journalists, and academics will discuss the ideas raised in The Plains Political Tradition.

Why I Love History, part 13!

Professor Emeritus James D. McLaird, award-winning author of numerous works of history including the South Dakota State Historical Society Press’s Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends has written today’s post in the ongoing “Why I Love History” series.

For variety, I like driving different routes when I travel. Once, when crossing the sandhills region of Nebraska, I turned south from Gordon. About thirty miles later, I stopped at a historic marker explaining that only a few miles east was the Sandoz homestead site. I had enjoyed reading Mari Sandoz’s Crazy Horse and Old Jules, so headed east. The road quickly changed from gravel to two dirt tire tracks through the grass, but I kept driving, watching curlews fly up and swans swim in nearby ponds. Finally, the orchard planted by the Sandoz family appeared before me. However, I didn’t remain long, nervous about dark storm clouds approaching.

For me, history enriches life experiences. Having read Sandoz’s books helped me appreciate the beauty of the sandhills, and experiencing that bleak landscape allowed me to more deeply appreciate Sandoz’s books. When I meet a person or visit a place, I want to know about the past of that individual or that locality. I appreciate people most when I learn what experiences molded them. I enjoy a community more when I find why it was founded and what changes have occurred in its development. These are among the reasons I find studying history a fulfilling experience.

Can’t see out of the window

Blizzard conditions outside at the moment, but we’ll perservere and keep working on our forthcoming books.

Dakota Wesleyan University is hosting Betti VanEpps-Taylor, author of Forgotten Lives: African Americans in South Dakota.

We’re working on a big book signing tour for Jerry Wilson, author of Waiting for Coyote’s Call. At this time, the intention is to have Jerry appear in Aberdeen, Mitchell, and Watertown in South Dakota, Omaha, Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa. We’ll let you know as soon as we get confirmed dates, times, and locations for the appearances.

The ongoing Newbery discussion continues apace, with a defence of the award published in the Los Angeles Times.