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.



Come into the Water

Merlyn Magner’s fascinating new book, Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story has just arrived in the SDSHS Press warehouse!

This incredible book details the horrific night of the Rapid City Flood in June 1972, Merlyn’s personal survival but incredible loss, and her life’s journey to find meaning in the tragedy of that night. Her memoir is powerfully written, engrossing, and engaging. Not to sound the trumpets too loudly, but this really is a book that you can’t put down!

Interested? Check out a short excerpt from the book.

What it Means to Write a Memoir

This June 9, Rapid City, South Dakota, and all those involved will take a moment to remember the 39th anniversary of the terrible flood that destroyed much of the city and killed 238 people and left 5 missing. Merlyn Magner witnessed the flood first hand, swept from her childhood home and left clinging to a rooftop, desperate to find her family, all of whom had lost their lives that dreadful night. In her forthcoming book from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, entitled Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story, Merlyn describes the events of that night and the effect it had on her life as she strove to find meaning in the tragedy. Her incredibly personal story recounts every aspect of her fascinating life from that moment up to the recent past, the stress the flood and her family’s deaths put on her, the years of roaming, searching for something that felt right, and her eventual path to understanding and peace. The book will be out in May, 2011, but in the meantime, Merlyn has taken a moment to pen some thoughts about what it meant to write her story so that others could share in it:

It would seem my whole life has brought me to this precise winter of my life; the 58th. The winter I never thought I would or imagined I could realize in a thousand of them.

It has taken 39 winters to find the words. Writing down the bones of my life story as a writing teacher (Natalie Goldberg) once encouraged me to do and all those who dreamed writers dreams, carried notions of actually publishing something of their own one day as I had was akin to a moonwalk. I was a dabbler then and always, not to be taken seriously or so I thought and so I skimmed just the surface of words, an admirer of them, I looked at them, revered and contemplated them, but I had nothing to say, . . yet.

And what I penned only existed in the adolescent diaries of a young girl not yet seasoned by or with an acute awareness of life. I was an unscathed, unfettered girl from a small town, who didn’t carry much around in my head at all, but songs, always the music of longing, for what I cannot say, but this was all before, when I was innocent and life felt safe. Before, when I was sheltered and wrote down these mysterious longings as poems in journals for my eyes only. I knew there was something out there for me to discover.

Ironically, all these years later as I relive my past on pages that will soon be public, I wonder that the journey was never going to take me further than the distance I could travel to a place deep within. But I say this with great hindsight now. I have struggled with words that hardly seem to exist in a language I need to describe a time that may be important to remember only because against great odds I survived a night of untold terror and I will never know why. A night where all was lost to me literally; home and family along with my own soul it seemed . . . I was the “girl with no eyes” looking for myself, somewhere out there in the night, when everything changed. I could no longer describe home. I no longer felt safe on earth. And so I traveled as far as I could go geographically, thinking I could make a dramatic shift of some kind, a start . . . put pen to paper and begin with words to tell others something worth sharing.