‘Lincoln Journal Star’ reviews ‘Natives of a Dry Place’

This is a book of stories about a North Dakota town before the oil boom changed everything, about the virtues displayed in the place the author grew up. This may not seem like much of a promising premise for a memoir, but the book is surprising, inspiring, deeply personal—and a page-turner.

Edwards - Natives of a Dry Place (CI)

Edwards grew up in Stanley, North Dakota, one county south of the Canadian border and smack dab in the Bakken oil deposits that transformed western North Dakota in the past few years into an overpopulated, industrialized, polluted area with all the ills of a fast-moving oil boom that now seems to be dying down. This is all covered in the introductory chapter in which the old and new Stanleys are contrasted.

The heart of the story of Old Stanley is in a series of eight virtues inherent in a small Great Plains farming community that are illustrated with the lives and actions of the town’s inhabitants. The stories are unique to Stanley but similar to the history and culture of many such places on the Plains. Each virtue has its own main characters and stories, often daunting and all providing their own kind of heroes.

The virtues are resoluteness, steadfastness, devotion to community, pluck, commitment, dauntless optimism, spirit of adventure and modesty. That residents of a small North Dakota town can so supremely exemplify these universal qualities of hope and life is a tribute to Plains culture in America.

Richard Edwards is the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a longtime professor of economics with a Ph.D. from Harvard and has served as chairman of the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


R Edwards photo a 3.27.15


Find Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom at sdhspress.com for $16.95, plus shipping and handling.


Pre-order “Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom”

Edwards - Natives of a Dry Place (CI)“As a child, I thought of my town—as most children probably do—as just an ordinary place. . . . Yet I have come to think that there were exceptional things in the lives of its people and especially in the values and virtues that they believed in and aspired to.”—Richard Edwards

Before the oil industry transformed western North Dakota, the natives of Stanley went about their normal, everyday lives. Postmen, farmers, housewives, doctors, and other residents of the bustling town held certain qualities close as they cultivated the cultural fabric of the Great Plains. For generations, inhabitants of this wheat-growing region developed a combination of resoluteness, steadfastness, devotion to the community, and ever-present modesty.

Contrasting these values with the trials of the modern oil-boom community, author Richard Edwards examines the old town’s virtues through the stories of those who built and sustained a community on the dry, open plains in the twentieth century. A deeply personal look at a small North Dakota town, Natives of a Dry Place focuses on a not-so-distant past and takes readers on a journey of reflection to a time before big oil. Edwards uses his experience as both a historian and an economist to delve into the overarching questions of what makes a community and how it survives during times of upheaval.

R Edwards photo a 3.27.15Richard Edwards is director of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of
Nebraska–Lincoln. He has written twelve books and numerous articles and has spent a lifetime working in academia. Edwards received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and also served as chair of the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom will be released at the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood on September 25, 2015. It will be available for $16.95, plus shipping and tax.

Pre-order Natives of a Dry Place at www.sdhspress.com or by calling (605) 773-6009.

Contact Jennifer.mcintyre@state.sd.us for publicity information, a review copy, or to schedule an interview or event with Richard Edwards.

Playing with Cowboys

The South Dakota State Historical Society Press spent a few days last week at the Western Writers of America (WWA) Conference in Bismarck, ND.

We’re fortunate enough to attend various conferences throughout the year as part of our efforts to learn more about the book business, meet industry peers, chat with authors, acquire new books, and sell some if possible! The WWA is always a fun conference as well as a working one. The members of that group are truly inspired by the West, both as a place and as a myth, and they take great pride in writing nonfiction and fiction that encompasses all the myriad aspects of the Western genre.

While cowboy hats and other outfits are not mandatory they are certainly encouraged, and there is a certain swagger to the attendees that one doesn’t normally see at history or writing conferences, almost as if the personalities that are written about rub off on those doing the writing. SDSHS Press staff did not have cowboy hats to tip, but had we, we would certainly have raised a finger, western style, to the brim to all the enthusiastic participants at this year’s event. We met some great people, some old friends, and made new contacts that might lead to exciting book projects in the future. I’m not sure what the Duke might have said, but I’m pretty sure he’d have been pleased to see so many people writing about the West.

One of the most important historical events…

Dammed Indians Revisited

“The development of the Pick-Sloan dams in the Missouri River Basin was one of the most important historical events that took place on the Northern Great Plains in the twentieth century. When I stood with President John F. Kennedy at the dedication of the Oahe Dam in August 1962, we shared with those gathered at the dam site a great sense of accomplishment. We felt that federally funded engineering has at last succeeded in harnessing the Missouri River’s water resources to meet the critical needs for flood control, hydropower deveopment, irrigation, navigation, and water supply for municipal, rural, and industrial purposes.

By the early 1980s, however, it became apparent that irrigation on the scale we had imagined was unlikely, as it was neither economically feasible nor politically viable. In other words, the upper basin states were never going to see their big payoff. I do not mean to convey the idea that South Dakota and North Dakota have noe benefited from the Pick-Sloan projects. The projects have, without doubt, reduced the risk of catastrophic floods while greatly enhancing the availability of relatively inexpensive electricity and water for every purpose. South Dakota now realizes a greater financial return from reservoir-based tourism, fishing, and other forms of recreation than does any other Missouri Basin state. The development of the WEB, Mni Wiconi, and other rural water systems has alson been an enormous success. However, in measuring the historic trade-offs, one still cannot escape the conclusion that South Dakota and North Dakota paid more dearly for these benefits than did Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas, the states that now realize the greatest overall benefits from Pick-Sloan.”
–Senator George McGovern, taken from the foreword to Dammed Indians Revisited: The Continuing History of the Pick-Sloan Plan and the Missouri River Sioux by Michael Lawson and published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2010.