Bye, Bye Borders

Today’s front page of the Rapid City Journal sent shivers through the offices of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press. Borders, the dying megalith of the bricks-and-mortar book world, is closing its store in South Dakota’s second-largest city. For a publisher that has just a handful of bona fide bookstores in its home state, losing its second largest bookstore is not a particularly positive development.

We’re sad to see Borders go. Many within the small press world will choose to denigrate Borders as a chain store, picking an independent store over it every time. We love independent bookstores as well, but Borders buys a lot of books! Rapid City has seen its bookstore numbers dwindle to the point that when Borders closes only Prairie Edge (which is really a gallery, but has a great book selection) will remain. During that times the SDSHS Press has always known that we will sell a good number of books to Borders. This knowledge was comforting, particularly when book sales are down, so we’ll definitely miss it in purely financial terms, but we’ll also miss Borders because it was a bookstore. Regardless of whether a super-chain or a mom-and-pop outfit, a bookstore is a bookstore, and to hear of another one biting the dust is an oh-too-sad moment.

Maybe someone will pick up the mantle and open a new, independent bookstore. I can’t see Barnes & Noble taking the risk, but perhaps someone will see that a locally oriented bookstore might just work. Examples of successful, independent bookstores exist in Pierre (Prairie Pages), Mitchell (Readers’ Den), and Aberdeen (The Little Professor), so there is precedent for a smaller bookstore with a regional/local ethos to do well in South Dakota.

Whatever happens in Rapid City, you can rest assured that the SDSHS Press will continue to publish great books on South Dakota history, and that you will be able to find them in various (perhaps less traditional) places throughout the city and the state. We wish all the employees at Borders the best of luck in locating new jobs, and we’re grateful that they were there for so long, telling people about our books and sharing their love of the printed word.

Merlyn Magner’s Book Tour

From Wednesday 8 to Monday 13 June, South Dakota State Historical Society Press author Merlyn Magner has been touring South Dakota for her new book, Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story.

During that time, she has given three presentations, signed books in four locations, and been interviewed by television, radio, and print media a combined twelve times. In other words, Merlyn’s been quite busy! She started the tour soon after arriving in Rapid City, SD, from her home in the Ozarks last Wednesday. By that time, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Rapid City Journal had already interviewed her, but South Dakota Public Television had not yet had the chance. She unpacked her bags at the hotel and drove out to where her house stood before the flood washed it away to meet Charles Michael Ray of SDPB TV. The interview went well, and the footage will be used in an SDPB special for the 40th anniversary of the flood in 2012.

June 9th dawned and, with it, so did the anniversary of the 1972 Rapid City Flood. A jam-packed day awaited Merlyn, which started bright and early with a radio interview conducted by Don Grant for KOTA-Radio out of Rapid City. From there, she whisked over to SDPB’s radio studio to chat with Dakota Midday host Paul Guggenheimer, and from there, she hurried straight over to KOTA-TV studios in order to appear on the noon news show with Cindy Davis. Don, Paul, and Cindy asked some great questions, gave Merlyn the chance to answer in depth, and conducted flawless interviews.

Not content with a few minutes on the live show, Cindy asked Merlyn to partake in a longer feature piece for the evening news. So, we all headed over to Merlyn’s former home, where Cindy filmed and questioned Merlyn further. At the end of the filming, we finally had a moment to catch our breath before the next appointment: an oral-history interview at the Journey Museum for their comprehensive exhibit on the flood. An hour or so flew by quickly, which left enough time for dinner before returning to the Journey for a presentation, book signing, and reception that evening. Having hoped for seventy-five or attendees, it became apparent by about 6:30pm that we had underestimated rather considerably. The official count ended up at 296 audience members, 3 TV news crews (including Tessa Thomas from Black Hills Fox, as well as a reporter from KNBN in RC), 2 presenters, and a number of pleased-as-punch Journey Museum staff and this SDSHS Press marketing director! Merlyn and Don Barnett (the other presenter) engaged the audience during their presentations, while answering questions, and as they signed books, and when we finally left at almost 10pm, it is safe to say that although rather tired, we were all pleased with the outcome.

Friday, we headed back to Pierre. Merlyn had interviews with the Capital Journal and with KSOO radio to carry out prior to a presentation and signing at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre, and, once again, both interviews went well. The presentation and signing attracted more than thirty attendees, including some who had their own recollections of the events of 1972. Saturday, we all jumped back in the car and took off for Sioux Falls.

Again, media responsibilities drew us, as did a signing at Zandbroz Bookstore. Both KDLT and KELO TV (two of South Dakota’s biggest news outlets) welcomed Merlyn into their studios for in-depth interviews. With a slightly different target audience, Maren Larson or KDLT and Angela Kennecke of KELO had some slightly different questions to those Merlyn had answered in Rapid City, and as such drew out some new thoughts from our author. The signing at Zandbroz was also well-attended, and as usual, Jeff, Jamie, and their crew at Zandbroz made us all feel right at home.

A long trip back to Rapid City awaited Merlyn, along with a date at the Adams Museum in Deadwood and an interview with the Mitchell Daily Republic today, by which time, I’m fairly certain our most-obliging author will be just about ready for a nap!

Come into the Water

Merlyn Magner’s fascinating new book, Come into the Water: A Survivor’s Story has just arrived in the SDSHS Press warehouse!

This incredible book details the horrific night of the Rapid City Flood in June 1972, Merlyn’s personal survival but incredible loss, and her life’s journey to find meaning in the tragedy of that night. Her memoir is powerfully written, engrossing, and engaging. Not to sound the trumpets too loudly, but this really is a book that you can’t put down!

Interested? Check out a short excerpt from the book.


Our headlines today speak of the terrible flooding in eastern South Dakota. Roads closed, many homeowners having to find alternate routes home – and then only being able to get there by tractor. Counties are supplying sandbags and sand for people to shore up their homes and protect from the rising rivers. Last week, there was news of one homeowner losing everything from his trailer home to cattle and six horses.

Flooding is not new here, although we do have the benefit of technology to warn us and help us to prepare.

In April 1881, Alice Bower records events that could be recorded today. She says “Oh, Journal, last night at about 5 o’clock I watched from the top of the hill, the last timber of our house go floating on towards the Missouri. It was the worst sight I ever saw; first the kitchen went, then the other part.”

You can read more of her story in the SDSHS Press book Sunshine Always.


Why I Love History, part 12!

Continuing our series of posts from South Dakota State Historical Society Press authors and illustrators, Paula M. Nelson, editor of the award-winning Sunshine Always: The Courtship Letters of Alice Bower and Joseph Gossage has added her thoughts. Thanks, Paula!

It was my father’s interest in history that sparked my own. My father was the high school music teacher in our town, but his second love was history. He had a large collection of books, some of them oversized coffee table books that featured photographs, paintings or maps. Long before I could read, my mother would wash my hands and sit me down with one of those books; I was transfixed by all that I saw there, the things that looked so different from what I saw around me. When I learned to read, my favorite books were historical fiction, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, and biographies. Our elementary school library had a set of biographies of famous people, mostly born in the 17th through 19th centuries, and I devoured them all. I was fascinated by other people’s stories, their triumphs and their disasters.

My father also nurtured my love of the west. Most of our vacations were spent camping in the west. To get there from our south central Minnesota home we drove through South Dakota or Nebraska and I fell in love with the Plains. To this day it is the sweep of the Great Plains and especially the lay of South Dakota lands that feed my imagination. We also stopped at nearly every historical marker, monument or museum on our trips. Vacations filled with history would disappoint many children. Not me. I could “see” the people of the past in their original haunts; they moved, they spoke, they lived again in my mind. Those trips taught me the importance of place, the power of human agency and that time moves forward, sweeping everything in its path. If I tried really hard, however, I realized that I could reach out and touch the people who inhabited that world now gone, and make them live again, if just in my mind or, later, on the page.

My father died when I was seventeen. He knew that we shared a love of history and books. I like to think that he would be proud of the historian that I have become.

Alex Johnson Hotel

So, the grand, old Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City is reopening to fanfare and pomp. It has been rehabbed and updated, and is, apparently, much the better as a result.

These old hotels can be found in many South Dakota cities. Often built by the railroads they became luxurious oases in the plains. The Alex Johnson, which Suzanne Julin described as “imposing” and a “significant exception to the unassuming quarters” to be found elsewhere in the Black Hills in the first third of the twentieth century, opened in 1928 with 200 rooms.

Suzanne’s book, A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880-1941 describes the Johnson and the other efforts that were made to build tourism and leisure opportunities in the Black Hills.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day, 1880’s-style!

Love and romance feature heavily at this time of the year. (Gentlemen, just in case you have forgotten, it is less than 2 weeks until Valentine’s Day.)

So, in the spirit of this celebration of red hearts, chocolates, flowers, puppies, etc., oh and love and romance, the South Dakota State Historical Society Press is offering Sunshine Always: The Courtship Letters of Alice Bower and Joseph Gossage at a special price!

“Good night, Dear Alice, a good night kiss to the one I am soon to call my own, my little wife . . .”–Sunshine Always

“Our correspondence, Dear Joe, has been pleasant to me from the first. There has never been written anything for us to regret–honest & true from the first, and loving & true to the last. May it be typical of our life.”–Sunshine Always

This book is a tale long-distance romance between the founders of the Rapid City Journal, and should warm the hearts of even the biggest love-sceptic!

Take a chance on love and order this book for your favorite reader this Valentine’s Day.

A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles continued…

Yesterday, we started a short serialization of A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880-1941 by Suzanne Julin. Today, the SDSHS Press continues the serialization, and we hope that these glimpses give you a fair idea of the book. If you wish to purchase a copy, either visit a local bookstore or our website.

Black Hills tourism began soon after the 1875-1876 gold rush brought permanent white settlement to the area. In 1879, several people claimed land near a group of warm-water springs in a scneic canyon at the southern end of the Hills. After one local man, Joe Larive, found relief from his rheumatism by bathing in the warm water, he and two other settlers began offering baths to the public. In 1881, five residents of Deadwood, in the northern Black Hills, formed a company to take advantage of this natural resource. Rudolphus D. Jennings, Alexander S. Stewart, Erving G. Dudley, L. R. Graves, and Fred T. Evans formed the Hot Springs Town-Site Company, dedicated to the goal of developing a health resort in the warm-water area of the southern Hills. Members of the new enterprise purchased one of the original claims and filed others, and Jennings and Stewart moved to the site.

Jennings and his wife Mattie established a crude resort facility in a four-room log cabin next to one of the springs. They boarded customers, mostly local people who traveled there by stage or on horseback. Another settler, John Kohler, built a small hotel and provided services in competition with the Jennings. In 1883, the community of Hot Springs became the county seat of the newly created Fall River County, and two years later the Fremont, Elkhorn, & Missouri Valley Railroad reached Buffalo Gap, thirteen miles to the east. The county-seat designation gave the settlement an air of permanence, and the proximity of the train terminus enabled travelers to reach Hot Springs with greater ease. This stability and accessibility initiated a burst of development of resort-related amenities.

More to come tomorrow!

Sunshine Always, part 11

After Alice’s long diary entry, the correspondence between her and Joseph picks up again in May 1881.

Vermillion, Dak.
May 15th ’81
Jos. B. Gossage
My Dear Sir:
Yours of some time ago received. Since its receipt I have passed through so many varied scenes that not until today have I felt that I might obey the last injunction of your note, which, if I remember rightly, asked me to “keep you posted as to my whereabouts.”
I am thankful to be able to say I am alive.
To one visiting Vermillion for the first time the sight would be peculiarly interesting. In Vermillion-under-the-hill one can see nothing but desolation and ruin. Of the few buildings left there are but two or three which can be made at all comfortable for summer weather even. In Vermillion-on-the-hill everything is different. On every hand there are being erected buildings for temporary use and many substantial ones also. Business is good and in a very short space of time we will have a city of which we may well be proud. There couuld be no finer site for a city and great hopes are entertained for its growth and welfare.
But although there is perhaps a bright future ahead it is hard to know that most of us have lost our homes. The numberless little treasures that people gather about them in their homes have been destroyed. As long as I live I know I shall feel the icy water as it came pouring in on the floors; shall see the acres of moving ice as it rushed on carrying before it the house in which I have lived so many years, carrying with everything we had but the bedding and some clothes. We saved our stock which is more than many others did and we do not feel as badly as might.
If everything went well with all of there would be no need to show the stuff of which we are mae, so I say send along your floods, tornadoes, etc. and we’ll put up with them the best we can. I greatly miss my organ–coming home from church today I saw the only remaining part of the organ-stool lying where the waters had left it as they subsided. I haven’t cried over the flood yet and I am as ambitious as ever so I don’t think the flood did me much harm.
I have received your paper quite regularly of late, for which favor accept my thanks.
If you don’t approve of this size of writing paper blame the flood. If you still think of sometime visiting Vermillion don’t neglect calling on me–my residence is West Upper Vine Street, Junction of High Water and Side-of-the-Bluff–(not down on gude book). Getting to the end of my paper so nothing more from
Yours, etc.,
Alice Bower

Sunshine Always, part 10

Alice’s long diary entry from Sunshine Always: The Courtship Letters of Alice Bower and Joseph Gossage of Dakota Territory continues:

May 13th. I had no idea it was so long since I wrote in my Journal. Since my last writing we were drivem from the log house for three days but after much trial and anxious waiting we at last are somewhat settled. The floor is fixed in the large part and I made a partition for me, a small room downstairs. I have been to Sarah’s several times and we have had grand times. She takes lesson of me. Maston’s district wants me to teach there but I don’t want to for I hate teaching and they don’t give very good wages. I think Father will do well this summer. The twon is rapidly rebuilding and good times are coming. As I said somewhere back, I intended to write on the 11th inst., it being six months on that day since the Doctor and I became engaged. To look back it hardly seems possible. We have been so very cool and he has not been down to see me. Yet the whole six months have been passed with scarcely a doubt in my mind but that all would be right. I dread Father some. The strange part is to come. Yesterday, just the day after the 11th, I learned accidentally that he went to or started for the Pacific Coast the first of this week. I knew that he intended to go some time this spring but in his letters he has often mentioned that he was coming to visit me before he went. It is very strange and I do not like it at all. If it proved impossible for him to come now he might easily have dropped me word that he was going but instead of that he went without giving me the least intimation that he was going. It may be that he will drop me word at Yankton or Sioux City or he may come unexpectedly to call on his way there. If he does it is all right but if not I am very angry about it. I am no little fool. He may do just what he sees fit. If he goes he may go forever and if he comes, all right. I do not expect him but surely I will hear soon. If not, very well. I am not one to wear my heart on my sleeve and no affair of the heart will ever bring a tear to my eye. There is much of trouble and deceit in the world and I begin to think I am to be made a target block for wholesale shooting. It is well that I have been selected for I can stand it. I do not deny that I am sorry, but if he is that kind of man it is better that I have found him out now. I hope I may be wrong in my thoughts of him now but it may be that I am not.