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.