South Dakota Themed Books

The following titles are books that have themes related to South Dakota life and history. Each title has a full study guide that includes information to provide more background and context for the book. Study guide notebooks are also available at the Circulation Desk for use in the library.

Black Elk Speaks / Black Elk and John G. Neihardt
This is a classic account of the last decades of the Lakota Sioux in western South Dakota before the end of the Indian wars in 1890.  The book is based upon extensive interviews conducted by scholar John G. Neihardt.  Black Elk (1863-1950), an Oglala Lakota holy man and a Catholic convert who witnessed the Battle of the Little Big Horn, was wounded at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, and was a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show when it traveled in England, tells his own story and that of his compatriots in this hugely important (and controversial) narrative.

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CONQUEST BOOK COVERThe Conquest / Oscar Micheaux
This semi-autobiographical novel of a black homesteader in Gregory County during the early 1900’s provides a compelling story of individual bravery and creativity, the last frontier of settlement, the rise and fall of small towns, business competition, weather disasters, unrequited love, and social interaction.  Micheaux, who grew up in southern Illinois and worked out of Chicago as a sleeping-car porter, made the unusual decision to become a black homesteader in South Dakota.  His fiction-writing career morphed into film-making, and he emerged as the first great black film-maker in United States history.

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ResourcesDakota : A Spiritual Geography / Kathleen Norris
No book about Dakota life and culture written during the last several decades has generated more interest outside the state and region than Dakota:  A Spiritual Geography.  Norris’s literary friends in New York thought she was crazy in 1974 to move out to Lemmon, South Dakota, where her family had roots and she inherited a house after her grandmother’s death.  Staying longer than she had anticipated, Norris wrote a book casting a bright light upon Dakota life and culture, ranging from religion, values, social interaction, and group behavior to weather, gossip, economic dependence, and the importance of place.

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Going Over East : Reflections of a Woman Rancher / Linda Hasselstrom
Poet and essayist Linda Hasselstrom (born 1943) has become nationally known for her evocative descriptions of the ranching life and small town milieu in western South Dakota.  This volume, organized around a trip which took her in and out of twelve gates on the land east of her ranch home near Hermosa, provides everyday — and often profound — reflections on what it means to be a rancher, a woman, an environmentalist, a citizen, and a neighbor.  Topics include agriculture, corporate behavior, the vagaries of weather, values like frugality, community, memory, history, privacy, story-telling, names, water, politics, time, efficiency, technology, and junk.

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Resources GOLD BOWL COVERThe Golden Bowl / Frederick Feikema Manfred
Written under the pen name of Feike Feikema, The Golden Bowl — Manfred’s first novel — established his reputation as a regional author and remains perhaps the best of his almost two-dozen novels.  Based upon his own hitch-hiking journey across South Dakota in 1934, after graduating from college, the book narrates the story of Maury Grant who is a “tumbling tumbleweed,” always looking for a job on the distant horizon until he settles down to establish roots on the land in the area just east of the Badlands.  Similar in tone to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Manfred’s dust bowl saga stands as one of the most iconic books ever written about South Dakota life and culture.

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GROW UP WITH TOWN Growing Up with the Town:  Family and Community on the Great Plains / Dorothy Hubbard Schwieder
The town is Presho and the families were the Hubbards and the Andersons.  The family the author grew up in consisted of ten children, of whom she was the ninth.  Born in 1933, she relies on local histories, newspaper accounts, interviews, and other evidence to describe the early history of the town.  For the period during which she was growing up, the 1940’s and 1950’s, she is more reliant upon her own memories and those of her nine siblings.  Her father ran a farm machinery store on Main Street, and all of the kids worked there for a time, so Dorothy got to see the working of the town from the inside.  This is a compelling account of a single family and life in a small town, as it moved into the modern era.

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A Harvest of Words : Contemporary South Dakota Poetry / Patrick Hicks, editor
In this collection put together by Patrick Hicks, a poet and writer-in-residence at Augustana College, a dozen of South Dakota’s best poets — Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Leo Dangel, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, Jeanne Emmons, David Allen Evans, Linda Hasselstrom, Allison Hedge Coke, Patrick Hicks, Debra Nystrom, Jim Reese, Lee Ann Roripaugh, Dennis Sampson, Christine Stewart-Nunez, and Lydia Whirlwind Soldier — put some of their best work on display.  This is the most important such collection of South Dakota poetry published in years.

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LONG WAY FROM HOME A Long Way From Home / Tom Brokaw 
Brokaw, long-time NBC Nightly News anchor, narrates the story of his boyhood in Bristol, Igloo, Pickstown, Yankton, and Vermillion up to the time of his graduation from college in 1962.  In the process of learning about an “All-American boy” who was athletic, popular, smart but not always studious, ambitious, and active, the reader also discovers a great deal about the context of small-town South Dakota during a hugely important transitional period — post-World War II America.

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ResourcesLooking for History on Highway 14 / John E. Miller
In this engaging volume, a long-time professor of history at South Dakota State University provides a “historical-journalistic travelogue” along Highway 14 in South Dakota from the Minnesota border to Wall, where the highway merges with I-90, with a final chapter on Mount Rushmore, which originated with an idea presented at a meeting of the highway association in 1924.  Not a history of the towns per se, this book highlights a variety of methods and sources for doing local history:  buildings and material culture, transportation routes, fiction, biography, historical accounts, art, photography, rituals and celebrations, “tourist traps,” and oral history.

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Resources   MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS Main-Travelled Roads / Hamlin Garland
Garland (1860-1940) stands as one of the most acclaimed and respected writers about rural America in U.S. history.  Born on a farm near La Crosse, Wisconsin, he grew up on homesteads in Iowa and near Aberdeen, Dakota Territory, before leaving for Boston in his early twenties to pursue a literary career.  The original stories constituting Main-Travelled Roads were inspired by a visit home when he was in his late twenties.  Chronicling the day-to-day lives and emotions of prairie settlers in the region, these stories rocketed him to literary fame in 1891 and remain his foremost fictional legacy.

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  Peril and Promise : Essays on Community in South Dakota and Beyond / Charles L. Woodward, editor
“Community” is one of the most salient and significant topics of interest for any caring South Dakotan.  This volume is the result of a unique collaboration of a dozen SDSU professors and several other writers and academics who gathered together to write a series of essays about the subject.  Disciplinary perspectives involved include literature, history, philosophy, sociology, political science, biology, Indian studies, and education.  Poetry selections include one by a former poet laureate of the United States.  A photographic essay enhances the volume, and an annotated list of 56 books for further reading provides, in effect, an entire curriculum for the deeper study of the subject.

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Peter Norbeck : Prairie Statesman / Gilbert Fite
Fite (born 1918), one of America’s finest agricultural historians, grew up in Wessington Springs, received his master’s degree in history at the University of South Dakota, and maintained ties with his native state until his death in 2010.  His biography of Peter Norbeck, one of South Dakota’s two or three most important governors, stands among the best biographies ever written about a South Dakota politician.  Norbeck’s career as state senator, lieutenant governor, governor, and U.S. Senator from 1909 to 1936 spanned the progressive period, World War I, and the New Deal.

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Resources   POWER OF HORSES Power of Horses and Other Stories / Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
Cook-Lynn, an enrolled member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, became one of the leading Indian Studies scholars in the world with her teaching and writing.  Her storytelling is at its best in this collection of short stories, which together provide a panoramic picture of her Dakota people and their struggles to adapt to changing times and often tragic circumstances.  An especially accessible and engaging text, this book constitutes an important part of the history of the plains.

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Resources  Prairie Winnows Out Its Own :  The West River Country of South Dakota in the Years of Depression and Dust / Paula M. Nelson
This, the second of two volumes about the historical development of West River South Dakota during the early twentieth century, provides a hugely interesting and instructive explanation of the economic and environmental cycles of the twenties and thirties and people’s efforts — both successful and unsuccessful — to respond to these imposing challenges.  Nelson, a professor of history in Wisconsin, is highly qualified to discuss agricultural practices, economic developments, weather and environmental hazards, town life, social and cultural practices, and political negotiation.  This is one of the best historical accounts ever written about South Dakota.

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Resources Seth Bullock : Black Hills Lawman / David A. Wolff
David Wolff, a professor of history at Black Hills State University, draws upon his vast knowledge of the Black Hills region and intensive research in the historical sources to write a fascinating and highly readable account of Deadwood’s first sheriff, a legendary figure of the gold-mining era.  The author cuts through the legends and myths surrounding Bullock to draw a detailed and multi-faceted account of his many activities in the business realm, politics, law enforcement, town boosterism, tourism promotion, and family matters.  A much more complex figure than is generally known, Bullock became a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, which gave him an inside track on several of his appointments.

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Shaping Survival : Essays by Four American Indian Tribal Women / Jack W. Marken and Charles L. Woodard, editors
In four illuminating essays, women writers discuss the bi-cultural educations of tribal people in South Dakota, each written from a different geographical, tribal, and experiential perspective.  Education at every level, from elementary to university, and in various venues, from reservation schools to public schools and boarding schools, is made understandable and emotionally resonant.  The stories are inspirational accounts of survival and ultimately, therefore, pathways to light.

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Resources  The Trickster and the Troll /  Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve
Sneve, born and raised on the Rosebud Reservation, is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the National Endowment for the Humanities Medalist Award from the President of the United States.  Her 25 books and many short stories and essays provide a wide-ranging picture of Indian life and culture in the state and region.  The Trickster and the Troll, written especially for young people, is a book for people of all ages.  Sneve adds imaginative plotting to well-known stories about the Lakota trickster figure Iktomi and Norwegian trolls and other myth figures to create a very thought-provoking narrative.

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Uphill Against Water : The Great Dakota Water War / Peter Carrels
Aberdeen journalist Peter Carrels has written a fascinating account about the rise and fall of the Oahe Irrigation Project during the 1970’s.  An irrigation plan to transport water by a series of canals from the Missouri River to the James River Valley as compensation for the loss of 500,000 acres of prime bottomland when the main-stem dams were built after World War II, the project had the support of virtually every prominent political group and office-holder, regardless of party.  But a determined collection of farmers, scientists, and journalists finally derailed the hugely controversial project by showing that it made little economic or ecological sense.

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Resources  Waterlily / Ella Cara Deloria
Deloria (1888-1971), who was born on the Yankton Sioux Reservation and whose Dakota name was Anpetu Waste, studied cultural anthropology at Columbia in New York City under the famed scholar Franz Boas.  These stories, reflecting her training as an anthropologist, provide a lucid analysis of kinship relationships among the Dakota Sioux, but, just as importantly, they present fundamental ethical lessons that are applicable to all people at all times.  Waterlily remains an enduring masterpiece of the real Dakota life.

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The Work of Wolves / Kent Meyers
Meyers, an award-winning novelist, essayist, and short story writer, grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and is a long-time professor of English at Black Hills State University.  With The Work of Wolves and the more recently published Twisted Tree, he has emerged as one of the region’s most acclaimed writers.  Set in West River South Dakota, this novel features memorable and evocative settings, excellent characterizations, interesting and engaging conflicts, dramatic action, and a believable and satisfying conclusion.

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