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 Marvelous Hundred Square Miles, part 9

Here is the ninth installment of the SDSHS Press serialization of A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880-1941 by Suzanne Julin.

In 1905, a visitor complained to the secretary of the interior that his party had arrived at Wind Cave in the morning, but Rankin would not allow them to enter the cave until afternoon. To delay entry, Rankin had cited regulations, but the tourist suspected he was trying to coerce them into buying his wife’s lunches. Seth Bullock, chief forester of the Black Hills National Forest with jurisdiction over the park, told the secretary he believed the disagreement was instigated by a Hot Springs “hack driver” who was disgruntled by the disruption of his former monopoly. In 1908, the Interior Department’s acting secretary reassured Congressman Martin that the department intended “to improve this reservation so as to make it a pleasuring ground for the people and carry out the spirit of the act establishing it.” In 1914, however, Acting Superintendent Frederick M. Dille informed the secretary that despite the intention of the law, the park had not been operated in a manner that served the public well. He reported that unqualified guides were collecting exorbitant fees, that the numbers of visitors had been inflated, and that, despite the fact that most of the visitors were women, “the ladies room has been a joke.” The national park was not fulfilling its promise as a tourist attraction.

In addition to lack of money, inconsistent administration and staffing contributed to the problems. Between 1903 and 1919, Wind Cave National Park had seven superintendents. The men were area residents, and most of the appointments were politically motivated. As an example, Rufus Pilcher served as superintendent from March 1910 to May 1911. He succeeded his father, who died while holding the post. Rufus Pilcher later wrote that he resigned after one of the senators succeeded in taking the patronage for the superintendency away from Congressman Martin. The use of the position as a source of political patronage contributed to the rapid turnover and retarded long-term planning. Politics and resulting policy governed the administration of Wind Cave National Park.

The establishment of the National Park Service in 1916 did not appreciably improve conditions at Wind Cave. By mid-1918, Superintendent Thomas Brazell was the only regular employee at the park. Two or three rangers were hired on a seasonal basis, mainly to guide tourists through the cave. The buildings consisted of the superintendent’s residence, a small administration building, the structure over the cave entrance, a barn, auto shelter, camp pavilion, and blacksmith shop; all except the auto shelter needed repair. Most of those who came to the cave were from South Dakota or nearby states. Nine thousand people reportedly visited Wind Cave in 1916, but two years later the superintendent noted a decline in visitors, which he attributed to wet conditions, bad roads, and war activities. At the end of World War I, the park remained ill-equipped and sparsely staffed.