There are several small presses in the West that publish interesting books about South Dakota and the Plains. Two of the best include the South Dakota Historical Society Press (605/773-6009, www.sdshspress.com) in Pierre and the University of Nebraska Press (402/472-3581, www.nebraskapress.unl.edu).
The Internet has made it possible for just about anyone to find just about any book, even if it is out of print. A few of the books listed here have gone out of print, but are still readily available online, either new or used. If a book is out of print or hard to find, it’s noted.
Hiking and Mountain Biking
Gildart, Bert and Jane Gildart. Best Easy Day Hikes Black Hills Country. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot (Falcon), 2006. A pocket-sized, compact guide to some very nice hiking in the hills.
Gildart, Bert. Hiking the Black Hills Country: A Guide to More Than 50 Hikes in South Dakota and Wyoming (Hiking the Black Hills Country). Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot (Falcon), 2006. Even more hikes in the Black Hills, for the avid fan.
Knapp, Andy. Mountain Biking the Great Plains States. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot (Falcon), 1996. Included in this guide are 12 Black Hills mountain biking trails with good maps to the trailheads. The book is currently out of print but easily obtained online.
Junek, Bruce. Rock Climbing Guide, Spearfish Canyon Limestone. Boulder, CO: Sharp End Publishing, 2003. This book outlines 308 climbing routes in Spearfish Canyon.
Stephens, Lindsay. South Dakota Needles: Adventure Climbs of Herb and Jan Conn. Boulder, CO: Sharp End Publishing, 2008. Herb and Jan Conn were East Coast visitors who fell in love with rock climbing in the Needles. This book includes more than 240 climbing routes in the Needles area. Note that after the Conns conquered the rocks, they headed for the caves, and were instrumental in expanding the known area of Jewel Cave.
Jennings, Bob. Birds of the Great Plains. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing, 2005. Though smaller than the North American Birds Guide, 325 different birds are listed.
Kirkpatrick, Zoe. Wildflowers of the Western Plains. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books), 2008. A great little guide to wildflowers, organized by color for easy identification.
Larson, Gary and James Johnson. Plants of the Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University Publications, 2007. The definitive guide to plants in the Black Hills region, with over 600 listings.
Ode, David. Dakota Flora: A Seasonal Sampler. Pierre, SD: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2006. A beautiful and lyrical look at wildflowers through the seasons of South Dakota. Full color illustrations and wonderful prose.
Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. The Black Hills region is the western outpost of Eastern birds and the eastern outpost of Western birds. To find them all, you’ll need this guide.
Tekiela, Stan. Birds of the Dakotas. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2003. This is a great little compact guide that will fit in a jacket pocket and has good color photos for identifying most of the common birds of the region.
Wassink, Jan. Watchable Birds of the Black Hills, Badlands, and Northern Great Plains. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2006. With great pictures and information about some of the more common birds of the Black Hills and surrounding plains, it’s a good guide for beginning bird-watchers.
Ambrose, Stephen. Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors. New York: Random House, 1996. From boyhood to manhood, Ambrose compares the lives of two military leaders of the Indian Wars of 1876.
Federal Writers Project. The WPA Guide to South Dakota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006. Originally published in 1938, this is a fascinating combination history and road-trip guide, written by out-of-work writers during the Great Depression.
Grafe, Ernest and Paul Horsted. Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition. Custer, SD: Golden Valley Press, 2005. Follow in the final footsteps of Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer as he explored the Black Hills of South Dakota with 1,000 men, a band, miners, and newspaper correspondents. The book traces the expedition and is illustrated with fascinating then and now photographs. The hills haven’t changed that much!
Hasselstrom, Linda. Roadside History of South Dakota. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1998. Instead of being organized on a timeline, this history book is geographically oriented and offers a little history and a tale or two about smaller communities frequently overlooked in other history books.
Laskin, David. Children’s Blizzard. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005. In January 1888, a late-afternoon blizzard struck the eastern plains of South Dakota and Nebraska, catching children headed home. The blizzard killed over 500 settlers. The story is told through interviews and journals of the people who lived through it.
Nester, William. The Arikara War. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2001. A detailed history on the first of the Indian Wars, with a lot of information on the culture of Native American tribes of the Missouri River Basin, including the Teton Sioux, who played a major part in the history of the Black Hills.
Schell, Herbert. History of South Dakota. Pierre, SD: University of South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2004. A great overview of the history of the state and of the early years of the Black Hills.
Native American History and Culture
Flood, Renee Sansom. Lost Bird of Wounded Knee. New York: Perseus Press (Da Capo Press), 1998. This is the story of the only survivor of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Lost Bird was an infant when the massacre occurred and she was found alive underneath the frozen body of her mother.
Lazarus, Edward. Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation Versus the United States, 1775 to the Present. New York: HarperCollins Press, 1991. When Native Americans were forced to sign a new treaty after the Indian Wars of 1876, the Black Hills were taken illegally from the Great Sioux Nation. This book traces the history of an event that ended up being one of the longest-running court cases to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. You’d think it would be on the dry side? It’s not. It’s a head-shaking tale of treachery. Out of print, but available used.
Marshall III, Joseph. The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. A wonderful book of storytelling and philosophy of the Lakota culture. The book focuses on the 12 core qualities crucial to the Lakota way of living: bravery, fortitude, generosity, wisdom, respect, honor, perseverance, love, humility, sacrifice, truth, and compassion.
Niehardt, John. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008. A powerful story of the life of Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk and the tragic history of his people as told to John Niehardt.
Sandoz, Marie. Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008. An in-depth look at one of the Lakota’s greatest warriors, who knew that signing a treaty with the white man was an exercise in meaninglessness.
St. Pierre, Mark. Madonna Swan: A Lakota Woman’s Story. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003. Written by a current-day resident of the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, the book combines traditional culture with contemporary problems when a Lakota woman is diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Welch, James. Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. The Battle of Little Bighorn from the tribal perspective.
Ranchers and Pioneers
Blasingame, Ike. Dakota Cowboy. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1964. Every South Dakota cowboy I’ve talked to cites this as the best true story of ranchers to be found.
Griffith, Tom. Outlaw Tales of South Dakota. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2008. A fun look at some of the disreputable characters of the Black Hills.
Hasselstron, Linda. Feels Like Far: A Rancher’s Life on the Great Plains. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. An insightful look at ranch life on the plains, written by one of South Dakota’s best and most prolific writers.
O’Brien, Dan. Buffalo for the Broken Heart. New York: Random House, 2002. A self-disclosing and fascinating look at one rancher’s attempt to convert his cattle ranch to a buffalo ranch in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Fiction of the Plains and the West
Looking for the flavor of the West or just looking for a great read? I can’t help myself. I own a bookstore, my specialty is fiction. Here’s a list of some absolutely wonderful Western reads.
Adams, Andy. Log of a Cowboy. New York: Penguin, 2006. This book, originally published in 1903, is a fictional tale of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It is said that this book was the inspiration for Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
Doig, Ivan. The Whistling Season. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. A man, assigned the task of deciding whether or not to close Montana one-room schools, thinks back to his student days in a one-room school, taught by two of the most eccentric characters you’d ever hope to meet.
Gloss, Molly. The Hearts of Horses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. An awkward young woman captures the hearts of a small community with her honesty and fortitude as she works to train wild horses.
Haruf, Kent. Plainsong. New York: Random House (Vintage), 1999. Written with the rhythm of the plains, this book explores how a place, a region, or a town can affect a life, a relationship, a family.
Johnson, Craig. The Cold Dish. New York: Penguin, 2005. The first in the sheriff Walt Longmire series. This is an absolutely wonderful series about a small-town Wyoming sheriff. This flawed, good-hearted, honest man is a character you just have to love.
Meyers, Kent. The Work of Wolves. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004. I don’t think anyone could better depict small-town South Dakota, ranch life, and local humor better than Kent Meyers. Read this one before you visit.
Spragg, Mark. An Unfinished Life. New York: Random House (Vintage), 2005. A story of family, friendship, and forgiveness on a Wyoming ranch.
Anderson, William. M Is for Mount Rushmore: A South Dakota Alphabet. Florence, KY: Gale–Cengage Learning (Sleeping Bear Press), 2005. A cute alphabet book and souvenir for the little ones…or the grandkids left at home.
Bruchac, Joseph. A Boy Called Slow: The True Story of Sitting Bull. New York: Penguin (Paperstar Books), 1998. The story of how Sitting Bull got his name. Ages 4–8.
Horner, Jack. Digging Up Dinosaurs. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2007. Written by Montana’s state paleontologist, the book is beautifully illustrated and is a fun introduction to fossil finding for kids.
Montileaux, Don. Tatanka and the Lakota People. Pierre, SD: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2009. A beautifully illustrated children’s book about the creation story of the Lakota people.
Robson, Gary. Who Pooped in the Black Hills?: Scats and Tracks for Kids. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2006. This one is a big hit with the kids.
Scenery and Photography
Kettlewell, Dick. Black Hills Impressions. Helena, MT: FarCountry Press, 2004. This is a book to look for once you arrive. It’s a great souvenir book for every visitor.
Magazines and Journals
There aren’t very many magazines published in the Black Hills, but the statewide South Dakota Magazine (www.southdakotamagazine.com) contains interesting specialty articles on the towns and people of South Dakota. The magazine is published bimonthly.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition