Some Thoughts from Ephriam D. Dickson III

The SDSHS Press recently chatted with Ephriam D. Dickson III, who is the author and editor of the forthcoming Sitting Bull Surrender Census: The Lakotas at Standing Rock, 1881. We asked him to give us a little insight into what it was like to work on this extensive project. Here are his thoughts:

Research at the National Archives is like a treasure hunt. Combing through boxes of old records, you can occasionally stumble across a new document, a forgotten source that offers new insights about the past. I have certainly felt that excitement working on the Sitting Bull Surrender Census. As a historian interested in American-Lakota relations, I was ecstatic when I first found this stack of brittle pages. The earliest known complete census from any Lakota reservation, the document listed Sitting Bull and over a thousand other families of Hunkpapa, Sihasapa, Sans Arc, Oglala, Brule, and Yanktonai from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 1881, even recording how many buffalo they had hunted during the past year, and how many horses and dogs each family owned. Now as the Sitting Bull Surrender Censusfinally comes to print, I am especially excited that this important new source will be available to Lakota scholars and to the public.

As often happens, each new discovery raises new questions. The Sitting Bull Surrender Census was the result of a pioneering effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to enumerate for the first time every Indian within the continental United States. For many years, historians believed that this census effort largely failed, resulting in just a small handful of documents. But while researching the background of the census, I found an old ledger book at the National Archives buried within the records of the Census Bureau showing that enumerations were completed for nearly every reservation in the U.S. While some of these may have been lost in an 1897 fire at the census office, this book offers hope that more of these census records still survive, buried somewhere in similar archival boxes waiting to be discovered. The hunt continues!

I hope that you enjoy the Sitting Bull Surrender Census. It has been a pleasure to work on the project, and I am deeply grateful to the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in seeing the value in helping this document become more widely accessible.

Time for an update

It’s that time of the year, so the South Dakota State Historical Society Press has been sending out greetings cards for the season just like everyone else. That annual act got me to thinking that it’s also probably about time that I updated you all on how our books on South Dakota history are coming along.

The last book of the current season (Fall/Winter 2010) comes out at the very end of this year or, perhaps, the beginning of next. The Sitting Bull Surrender Census: The Lakotas at Standing Rock Agency, 1881 by Ephriam D. Dickson III is with the designer who is making final changes and then off it goes to the printer.

Our first book of next year, Umpire in a Skirt: The Amanda Clement Story by Marilyn Kratz with illustrations by Hector Curriel is also in design and should go to press early in 2011. Amanda Clement hailed from South Dakota and was the first paid female baseball umpire in the US. The book is aimed at kids in the 2nd-4th grade age range.

Editing is in full-swing on Merlyn Magner’s book about her survival of the infamous Rapid City flood of 1972 and her subsequent life. It’s a fascinating memoir and will be out in time for the anniversary of the event in June.

Just to remind you that we have a great special offer on at the moment where you can save 30% off all orders, but the offer ends in early January, so make sure you take advantage. I’m sure there is at least one history fan on your gift list this year, so how about a little bit of South Dakota history to fill their stocking.

The Census, 1881 and 2010!

If you pay any attention at all to the media you will probably have noticed that there is a census going on. At the South Dakota State Historical Society Press we all appreciate how important it is to fill in the census and return it. I won’t put a percentage on this, but I’m guessing that nearly all the books we have published and certainly many of the articles in South Dakota History have used past censuses in one way or another to help flesh out the story being told.

In fact we’re working with an old census right at this moment for two separate but related projects. The Summer issue of South Dakota History will feature an article on the Sitting Bull Surrender Census that was conducted in 1881, while a book about the two years Sitting Bull spent in Fort Randall in Dakota Territory also needs the census to help us corroborate the narrative. This particular census is, naturally, slightly different to that of the one we are all supposed to be filling out at this time in that it was not voluntary and was not of the whole population. However, the end result will be much the same; people in the future will have another research tool with which to examine our culture, society, and time.

We’re certainly grateful that every ten years a new census is compiled because of what it does for our research efforts at the SDSHS Press whenever we publish a new book or article. We pride ourselves on our accuracy and censuses go a long way towards ensuring that pride remains in tact. So, make sure you fill out the current census, not just for the reasons that the advertising mentions, but also because in 100 years time, your answers might just help someone reflect a little more accurately on how we lived our lives!