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.



A Surveyor’s Journal

Long after he retired, former South Dakota State Historical Society director Dayton Canaday remained on the scout for historical treasures. One day, he brought several small leather-bound notebooks into my office at the SDSHS Press, saying, “Jeanne, you should read these.” I did, and so did archivist Carol Jennings, who took on the project of introducing and annotating one of the notebooks. Now, the readers of South Dakota History will be able to enjoy a selection from them in the upcoming Spring issue.

Dayton had come across the notebooks at the bottom of a box he bid on at an auction in Yankton, and they contained the journal entries of David D. Keeler, who traveled with several crews as they surveyed eastern Dakota Territory between 1871 and 1874. Nearly every day, Keeler noted the progress of the group as it literally inched its way from south to north, measuring, recording, and dividing the prairie into a precise grid.

Keeler participated as a surveyor, but he also helped to move camp, hunt and fish for food, cook, search for water, and cut marker stakes. As a result, his journals are filled with descriptions of the flora and fauna of eastern Dakota that form a stark contrast to the technical data of the surveyors’ official field notes. Readers also get a sense of Keeler himself, a young man with a keen wit who could turn a sharp phrase.

Sportsmen will find Keeler’s journal entries fascinating for their descriptions of the wildlife seen and bagged for the supper pot, and those who love the prairie pothole area of northeastern South Dakota will appreciate Keeler’s breathless enthusiasm for the “splendid” views and “beautifull” waters he found there. He even mentions a visit to Windy Mound, which those familiar with the Prairie Coteau will know and perhaps have visited. Finally, Keeler’s journals are filled with the type of antics and practical joking that one might expect to go on amongst a group of twenty-something men who were “stuck” with each other for weeks on end.

Here’s an entertaining sample from Keeler’s writings, which was among a portion that had to be cut from the published version due to length:

Oct 8th [1872]
Joe got up this morning hunting fore antelope by daylight. Started south depending on us to over take him on the way. The water in the keg this morning smelled fearful. It would gag a person to smell it but we had no other and had to come to it. Could not eat the stew that was made or drink the coffee, and there was but a few biscuits[to]eat. So before we started I proposed to dump the water and run the risk of getting some more during the day, which was agreed to. While so doing I saw something hanging out of the hole and what do you think it was a rotten mouse with all the hair off. I thought I could stand most any thing but this was to much fore me. Up come my breakfast and the Boys started right and left to gagging and it made me sick all the forenoon. I had a lively chase after a badger shortly after we started out. Chased him most a mile. He run to fast fore me and he would not turn and show fight so I had to give him up. Came to a nice Lake two miles long and one mile wide and here we found Joe. We got some good water and camped fore dinner. There was a lot of ducks and geese but we could not get a shot at them. After dinner we started on and camped on a beautifull creek formed by springs with plenty of timber. The beaver had the creek damned up just where we camped. We camped in the same place when we was out last year. Joe and myself caught a fine mess of fish in the beaver dam. We had a fire to keep us warm and we fished until nine o’clock and then went to bed.

Look for the rest of David Keeler’s 1872 survey journal in the Spring issue of South Dakota History, arriving in mailboxes in April.