Biographies of South Dakota governors admittedly fill a niche-market. They are unlikely to sell millions of copies like John Adams, win a Pulitzer Prize like The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, or inspire a hit Broadway musical like Hamilton.
Yet, over the years, several books have been written about South Dakota’s governors. This post is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of those biographies. Not included are shorter articles or biographical sketches, general histories of the state, or books that compile sketches of every governor (such as Lynwood Oyos’ Over a Century of Leadership, or this blogger’s own humble efforts).
One clear takeaway from this list is that there is room for more work in this area. Many South Dakota governors would be good subjects. Of particular urgency are biographies of Richard F. Kneip and William J. Janklow, both major figures for whom first-hand sources are still living.
(If a reader is aware of a biography that has been overlooked, please let me know on this blog’s contact page.)
Arthur C. Mellette
Arthur C. Mellette, The Civil War Diary of Arthur Calvin Mellette (Codington County Historical Society, 1983).
John Timm, And the Last Shall Be First: South Dakota’s First, First Family (Pine Hill Press, 2008).
C. Perry Armin, “Coe I. Crawford and the Progressive Movement in South Dakota,” South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections, Vol. XXXII, pp. 23-231 (South Dakota State Historical Society, Argus Printers, 1964). This is technically an article in the SD State Historical Society’s annual journal, but at 209 pages it is longer than many of the books included in this list.
Gilbert Courtland Fite, Peter Norbeck: Prairie Statesman (South Dakota State Historical Society Press, revised edition, 2005).
Peter Norbeck and George Norbeck, The Norbecks of South Dakota (1938). This is a history of Norbeck’s ancestors, written by Gov. Norbeck and his brother, although it also includes some information about Gov. Norbeck’s early life.
Lydia Norbeck and Nancy Tystad Koupal (ed.), “Recollections of the Years,” South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections, Vol. XXXIX, pp. 1-147 (State Publishing Co., 1979). As with the Crawford biography above, this was technically an article in the SD State Historical Society’s annual journal, but at 147 pages is comparable in length to the books on this list. Nancy Tystad Koupal of SDSHS edited Mrs. Norbeck’s recollections and added some explanatory materials.
W. J. Bulow
W. J. Bulow, “Three Score Years and Ten: Selections from the Autobiography of William J. Bulow, Sr.,” South Dakota History, Vol. 51, No. 1, pp. 2-72 (South Dakota State Historical Society Press, Spring 2021). This is a 20,000 word set of excerpts from Bulow’s otherwise unpublished autobiography, which took up the entirety of the Spring 2021 edition of the journal. This blogger edited Bulow’s original manuscript and added annotations for publication, as I wrote about at this post.
Paul Higbee, South Dakota’s Cowboy Governor Tom Berry: Leadership During the Great Depression (History Press, 2017).
Walter Simmons, Joe Foss: Flying Marine (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1943). This book was first published during World War II, before Foss’ political career, and therefore focuses entirely on his war record.
Joe Foss with Donna Wild Foss, A Proud American: The Autobiography of Joe Foss (Pocket Books, 1992).
Hector Curriel, American Ace: Joe Foss, Fighter Pilot (South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2022). This is a graphic biography of Foss’s early life and war years.
George S. Mickelson
James O. Hansen, Creating the Future for South Dakota: The Mickelson Legacy (South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 1994).
Kristi Noem, Not My First Rodeo: Lessons from the Heartland (Twelve, 2022).
This post was originally written in 2017 and was updated in 2021 to add the newly published excerpts from W. J. Bulow’s autobiography, and in 2022 to add the Joe Foss graphic biography and Kristi Noem’s autobiography.