South Dakota Stories

Travel to Another Time, Place

Travel to another time with stories about, and written by, South Dakotans.

The South Dakota Humanities Council published five collections of stories written by and about your friends, family and neighbors who call South Dakota home. The most recent edition, What Makes A South Dakotan?, was published in the fall of 2012 and released at the 2012 South Dakota Festival of Books.

The stories in these books were born in various chapters of our state's history, and each collection documents a large theme of life in South Dakota.

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'Country Congregations' is part of the South Dakota Stories series.
'Country Congregations' is part of the South Dakota Stories series.
'Life on the Farm and Ranch' is part of the South Dakota Stories series.

Read More About the South Dakota Stories Below

One-Room Country School

1998. 146 pp. Edited by Norma C. Wilson & Charles L. Woodard

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Rural life is the legacy of the state of South Dakota, and at the foundation of this legacy is the one-room country school, the theme of the first book in the "South Dakota Stories" series. The one-room school, long after its disappearance from our culture, is an enduring symbol of education and the traditional values of Euro-American society.

The history of these schools and what was left behind when they disappeared is explored through anecdotes from schoolteachers, students and parents who recall the "One-Room Country School."

The popularity and overwhelming flood of responses to the request for submissions for this book inspired the companion "Country Congregations." Schools in the Dakotas started small, with the first settlers teaching their children at home before cooperating to build schools and hire teachers. The first public school in Dakota Territory was a 14-by-16-foot building built with rough logs in Bon Homme County in 1860. It had nine students with Emma Bradford as the teacher. 

The Bon Homme school would ignite growth statewide, with a total of nearly 5,000 rural schools in South Dakota in 1916.The numbers eventually dwindled, as South Dakota lost more than 1,000 schools during the Great Depression.

"One-Room Country School" captures stories from the buildings that have disappeared from the landscape.

Country Congregations

2002. 150 pp. Edited by Charles L. Woodard.

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The affection for and nostalgia about the rural country church has many parallels to people's feelings about the rural school, which made for a logical sequel exploring churches. "Country Congregations" were a bond that held the community together. As urban sprawl continues, we become increasingly nostalgic about rural settings of the past. For historians, the rural settings of pioneer days are difficult to imagine without the large, prominent church, often rivaled in size only by the grain elevator. Early pioneer churches, or "immigrant" churches, were often the "dominant structure on the landscape," according to author Robert C. Ostergen.

"With its white clapboard siding and gleaming spire, it was visible for miles."

The rural church models the lifestyle of small local community, people "congregating" in intimate, mutually supportive ways. "Country Congregations" explores the comforting rural church idea of ongoing, meaningful connection and relationship.

It features as its central ingredient "anecdotes, little stories, which are emblems of hopes, beliefs, values, possibilities," writes editor Charles Woodard in the introduction. The book provides a sampling of the numerous Christian denominations in this region (though it does not cover all denominations, which would have been beyond its scope), as well as the perspectives and stories of tribal descendants of the original inhabitants of this area. These tribal perspectives have been and continue to be influential in Christian traditions. The book covers a broad range of traditions and perspectives.

On the Homefront

2007. 111 pp. Edited by Charles L. Woodard

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"On the Homefront," the third in the South Dakota Stories series, explores the boundaries of the definition of a "war story."

"I believe that idea of what constitutes a war story is far too narrow. As a veteran of combat, I believe that there are many more veterans of war than there are people who have worn uniforms," writes editor Charles Woodard in the introduction. "I also believe that there are more casualties of war than there are names on memorial walls."

Tim O'Brien, who appeared at the South Dakota Humanities Council's 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books, spoke of the "homefront effect" both during the Festival of Books and in an interview before the event. A National Book Award winner, Pulitzer Prize finalist and one of the foremost authors on the Vietnam War, O'Brien receives thousands of letters from relatives of Vietnam veterans who thank him for telling a story they hadn't heard.

"That's the kind of casualty we're talking about that war has always caused," O'Brien explained.

"On the Homefront" is made up of the types of stories shared by those who write to the nationally-recognized author.

"On the Homefront" asserts that "a war story is a story about anyone who has been affected by war, whether or not that person has served in the military," according to Woodard. "It can be a story about anyone who has been or is in relationship with anyone involved in war, during war or in its aftermath. Therefore, it can even be a story about the effects of war many years after the war has ended. Its setting can be anywhere, including 'on the homefront.'"

Life on the Farm & Ranch 

2009. 2015 pp. Edited by John E. Miller

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"There is nothing more American than the stories of South Dakota farms and ranches. A book that gathers those stories is a document for all times. In these pages, you will find most of what really matters in the lives of all Americans."
- Dan O'Brien, Rancher & Author, Hermosa

"Life on the Farm and Ranch" tells the stories of ranchers and farmers – and their families - who made their homes and livings from sprawling ranches and farmsteads in South Dakota.

But rather than focus on the practice of agriculture, the stories focus upon "the everyday lives of people living on South Dakota ranches and farms and the memories they retain of their immensely variegated experiences from childhood through adulthood," according to editor John E. Miller.

"Life on South Dakota's farms and ranches by no means constitutes a utopia, nor has it done so. But living there confers its compensations, why else would so many people enjoy telling the kinds of stories collected in this volume? South Dakota residents are like their counterparts in every time and place: bundles of contradictions—a little lower than the angels, on the one hand, and scamps, gossips, and busybodies, on the other. But the advantages of living on the land are many: communion with nature, human scale, connection with neighbors, physical exertion, a sense of accomplishment, and closeness to the infinite."

"Tales of wintry weather, legendary coffee shop debates and more can be found within the pages of "Life on the Farm and Ranch."


What Makes A South Dakotan? 

2012. 297 pp. Edited by John E. Miller and Lenora Hudson

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To commemorate 40 years of humanities programming in South Dakota, we collected stories from South Dakota natives and residents for the fifth book in our "South Dakota Stories" Series.

The resulting publication won a prestigious national award for preserving history for its 200 stories, poems and photos from current and former South Dakotans who shared their definition of what it takes to be a real South Dakotan. The 2013 American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Award of Merit-winning publication tells the story of our state.

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards were created to "establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collections, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. By publicly recognizing excellent achievements, the association strives to inspire others to give care, thought, and effort to their own projects."

In the words of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, "The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor. Everyone loves a good story; every culture bathes its children in stories."

"'What Makes A South Dakotan' is replete with such stories about ordinary South Dakotans, as well as several about more noted ones, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, George S. Mickelson, Robert Lusk, George McGovern, and Karl Mundt," write editors John E. Miller and Lenora Hudson in the book intro.

"Heartfelt emotions of admiration and respect, joy and heartbreak, inspiration and loss also run through the book's various depictions of environmental features, weather disasters, fires, concerts, celebrations, ball games, travels, family happenings, community gatherings, wartime, peacetime, buildings constructed, and buildings demolished."

The contributors and editors of the publication put great care and effort into the award-winning book, making it an excellent representation of our state that includes Lakota, Dakota and Nakota perspectives.

Selected Excerpts:

From What Makes A South Dakotan?:

"Ideally, this sense of being a South Dakotan isn't tied to a street address or occupation.

It stems from a succession of experiences that foster familiarity and make you feel right at home, regardless of where you started." - Stu Whitney (Sioux Falls Argus Leader)

From One Room Country School:

"The School Board should have warned me that I needed to come to my job with an axe because one was not provided. They did well to fill the coal bin with good, big chunks of coal and scrap lumber for kindling. But neither coal nor wood would fit in the stove. I solved this problem by taking the coal out to huge rocks in the yard and dropping it on the rocks and ducking quickly so I wouldn’t get coal splinters in my eyes. I propped the wood against the cement step and jumped on it several times to get it small enough for kindling. I tried banking the fire to keep a little heat in the stove till morning, but oh, oh, those cold, cold Monday mornings."   - Winifred Bertrand Fawcett

From Country Congregations:

"The wedding service I recall the most was the one that had to be delayed a half hour because a herd of sheep was being moved. The bride lived across the street from the church and she was unable to get through the flock moving slowly down Main Street. The bride and groom who were married that day are still together after 70 years, so I guess it was worth the wait!"  - Pearl Lundquist

From On the Homefront:

"My buddy from home and I, stationed in different places, wrote letters to the same girl, each not knowing the other was writing. One day I got letters from each of them, wrote responses, and put the letters in the wrong envelopes, mistakenly sending her letter to him and his letter to her. When I got home to Pine Ridge, I saw my buddy, who said: "Hello, Sweetheart""  - Syd Byrd

From Life on the Farm & Ranch:

"The birds and their singing, the curious cows and new calves in an adjacent pasture, distant farm noises riding the breeze, and the sun's warmth all conspire to transform the moment. I experience an epiphany; I "get it."...I comprehend that [the Pasque flowers] are emblematic of spring and the end of a long, dark, cold winter. They are new growth, claiming victory for what will be another season of abundant growth. These flowers are a link between a hardy and trusting people to a land that is both harsh and gracious."  - John T. Capone