Needles in Haystacks: South Dakota’s History in Random Collections

It is hard to find archival materials about South Dakota when they’re not in South Dakota collections… or major national collections like the Library of Congress… but such is the way of archives. Sometimes, there is good stuff tucked away in strange corners.

One example I found recently, with great thanks to WorldCat.org, is the set of images from the Goodyear Co. in the university libraries of the University of Akron, mostly from Pickstown and Mitchell in 1951, including images of the dealerships/service stations in those communities, as well as images of the Fort Randall dam under construction.

In the past, I have come across these others as well:

I’ll add others here as I find them:

What are others that you have used??

My Many Favorites of the Gustav Johnson Glass Plate Collection, SD State Archives

Below are some (quite a few) of the 2,038 digital images from the Gustav Johnson glass plate collection at the South Dakota State Archives that caught my eye or peaked my interest.  There are so many wonderful images in this collection, both for historical reasons and photographic – some beautiful portraits…  And there were a surprising number of humorous images, a lot of smiles and some down-right hilarious, like the ‘breaking out of jail’ image or the series of “Deadman Valley Ranch.”

The images are scanned at a high-resolution, which is wonderful for looking at details of a farmyard, or a street scene, or the expression of a person’s face.  There are also a lot of unlabeled people/places, so I’m sure the Archives would accept additional information about images.

As 100-year-old glass plate images, many of the images are full of glorious imperfections that I’m sure are frustrating in cases (like this one that had distortion right over a couple’s faces, 2013-04-17-317), but I think they are kind of beautiful in their own way–and in some cases add beauty to the image: like the cracks on this image, 2013-07-19-312 or these that frame their subject 2013-07-01-347 and 2013-04-25-304.

A lot of the images are of Philip.  I made a section for wider views of the town of Philip, but there are lines in other categories that are also clearly or ostensibly also the Philip area.  And, there are many in the collection that I did not pull out for my list here.

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Haakon Horizons (Philip, SD: E.H. Baye, 1982), 296.

Gustav Johnson was a photographer who lived in Philip, Haakon County.  “Johnson was a familiar figure on the prairies surrounding Philip…. Johnson spent many days wandering from homestead to homestead in search of customers for his postcard art.  Frequently trailing in his shadow was his eldest daughter, Evelyn, her father’s able assistant… For several years he operated a small photography studio.  It was common for a Philip resident to pass the shop and find framed glass negatives sitting in the sun exposing light sensitive paper” [Haakon Horizons (Philip SD: E.H. Baye, 1982), 297].  His daughter, Evelyn Haberly, worked to “[preserve] the photographer’s contributions for future generations” [Haakon Horizons (Philip SD: E.H. Baye, 1982), 297].  From the State Archives’ photo description: “Information about Gustav Johnson’s photographs can be found in “Haakon Horizons” by Elsie Hey Baye, 1982 and “A Pictorial History of the Philip Area Featuring the photographic art of Gustav Johnson” by the Taylor Publishing Company, 1987.”

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Songs of Suffrage in South Dakota

In researching the suffrage movement around South Dakota, I have come across several examples of the use of music and songs for the campaigns.  I get the sense that it was a fairly common part of political campaigning in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century.  There is at least one book about suffrage songs nationally, Danny O. Crew’s Suffragist Sheet Music: An Illustrated Catalog [2002] (Google Books and WorldCat), and Smithsonian Folkways put out an album in 1958 called “Songs of the Suffragettes.”

These South Dakota examples tell us about our piece of that history…

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Places of Care and Science: Hospital Buildings in South Dakota

I recently ran a search for South Dakota hospitals that have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places for a Facebook post for our office (below), which led me to wonder about what historic photographs of hospitals are in the SD Digital Archives, and what they tell me about that slice of our built history.

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The earliest hospitals in the territory were built with early military installations.  Once permanent settlement started, many of the early local hospitals were operated in conjunction with doctor’s clinics and often housed in buildings that were large houses in appearance.  In days before strict regulations, community health care was also undertaken by pharmacists, osteopaths, homeopaths, and others.  The Yankton State Hospital for mental health care was one of the earliest public institutions, followed by the state and federal veteran’s hospitals in Hot Springs and the state tuberculosis sanitarium in Custer.  As the profession changed near the turn-of-the-century, larger specialized buildings were erected, looking similar in style to the consolidated schools that were built at the same time.  In the 1910s-1930s, even larger facilities were built with wings for different care specialties.

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Snow in South Dakota, SD Digital Archives

Outside my window is a lot of snow that’s fallen in the last week, so I was curious what South Dakota State Archives’ digital archives had for the best and most interesting historic photographs of snow and snow removal in South Dakota.  There were nearly 1,600 results in a search for the word ‘snow’ (although admittedly, many are Preservation Office photographs of historic buildings that just happened to have been taken in the winter).

Snow is a big part of life on the Plains–beautiful, dangerous, and apparently a popular photography subject over the years.  I do know it generally makes for good building photographs — no leaves on nearby trees to block anything and a high contrast background.  From these historic photos, it looked like heavy snowfalls could be fun in their way, but they also required hard work and ingenuity to clear travel routes.  And of course we have our share of winter sports, especially in the recreation and ski areas of the Black Hills.

Here is a list of my favorites from the state digital archives…

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Germans from Russia Resources in South Dakota

A notable ethnic heritage in north-central and south-central South Dakota is that of the Germans from Russia.  Immigrants from Russia with German heritage had a distinct historical path to the Midwestern prairies that has been of special interest to their descendants as well as historians and architectural historians.  Here are some of the resources about the German from Russia experience in South Dakota and beyond that I’ve come across.  I’ll add to the list as I go, but please feel welcome to comment with your tips and suggestions!


A while back I got to visit the Ludwig Deckert House at the Heritage Hall Museum in Freeman.  The house is pretty awesome, especially because it has a central pyramidal brick chimney that encompassed the kitchen in its base and had smoking racks on the second story portion.  It sometimes takes a detailed eye to distinguish “folk” architecture of different ethnic groups from general vernacular architecture, or between ethnic groups, i.e. between Norwegian and Swedish… but the Deckert House is such a strong example of Germans from Russia folk architecture preserved to museum quality Continue reading

Teaching South Dakota History

I’ve recently come across a few people concerned with the availability of teacher resources and continuing education for South Dakota history.  One was particularly looking for digital and primary digital resources to use with an existing curriculum plan.  I have only moderate experience with planning and hosting youth programs and no professional experience with curriculum development, but I do love research and learning about history.  Their conversations made me think about whether the digital research sources I use on a regular basis, or come across randomly, could help teach significant South Dakota stories.  So this post is thinking out loud about this question…  Let me know if anything here is helpful and please do comment with other ideas or great examples of teaching SD history!

There are a lot of great digital archives and some local digital resources in South Dakota, some of which I’ve covered in previous posts, but here is a starting list at least:

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