I first printed copies of my book, The Governors of South Dakota, in 2014. I continue to research and add to the book, and to keep it up to date, and just about every year I order a few more copies for those who are interested.
My cost for these books is about $25. If you would like to have one, email me.
Below, I have copied the introduction to the book that I wrote several years ago.
This book began on November 4, 2011. On that day, former governor Bill Janklow announced that he had terminal brain cancer. Following that announcement, Janklow requested that his gubernatorial papers be housed at the University of South Dakota. I drafted the necessary agreement, and Dusty Johnson and I visited Janklow at his law office in Sioux Falls on November 14 to go over the agreement with him and get his signature.
Ten minutes of business turned into over two hours of conversation as Janklow held forth about his life and career: his time as a Rosebud legal aid attorney, his negotiations to purchase the rails in the 1980s, his argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the cement plant case, and his early groundwork for the underground laboratory at Homestake shortly before he left office.
Sharing that memorable experience with my co-workers in the governor’s office led to a discussion of Janklow’s place in history. With sixteen years in office, a case could be made for Janklow as the best governor of all. We quickly concluded, however, that none of us knew enough about the state’s governors to have an informed opinion.
Most South Dakotans do not know the names Coe Crawford, M. Q. Sharpe, or Nils Boe. Although more recognize Arthur Mellette, Peter Norbeck, and Joe Foss, details about their administrations are often not be familiar. As for myself, I passed the portraits of the governors every day, but knew very little about many of them. I set forth to learn more.
The first draft of this book is dated November 23, 2011 and it is twenty-three pages. I did not intend to write a book. I was creating the “crib notes” version of each governor’s time in office. Each entry included a photograph, years of service, political party, city and county of residence, and a short, bulleted list of major accomplishments or historical milestones.
So began what is now a seven-year project that has led to a document of nearly 400 pages. Although the book can be read straight through, it is designed like an almanac, organizing each governor’s chapter in a uniform way so that information can be easily located. I expanded the book’s scope to recount each governor’s entire life, rather than limiting it to achievements while in office. Inspired by several books about the U.S. Presidents, I included an appendix with “cumulative data” that sorts governors into various categories and lists. I also added an appendix of shorter sections on each of the territorial governors.
For the governors prior to Janklow, that first draft relied heavily on Over a Century of Leadership: South Dakota Territorial and State Governors, a book of short biographies that was edited by Dr. Lynwood Oyos of Augustana College and was published for the state centennial. This book is nearly the only published biographical source for some early governors. For Janklow and those that followed him, I began with materials that had been complied by governors’ staffers. In the years that followed, I have obsessively sought out additional sources, with considerable aid from the staffs at the State Library and State Archives. In March 2017, Newspapers.com posted word-searchable back issues of the Argus Leader from 1886 to present, as well as several other South Dakota newspapers, making these primary sources significantly more accessible and allowing me to expand the information offered about elections for governor.
This book greatly benefited from my time in the governor’s office, where I have served as chief of staff and in other senior roles. In addition to Governor Janklow, I’ve had the privilege of knowing six other governors, each of whom has been kind enough to offer feedback and answer questions as I have worked. I have also met former first ladies, lieutenant governors, family members, and governors’ staffers – in some cases through my involvement with the Trail of Governors project – and they have been very helpful as well.
In July 2014, I had one copy of the book printed by an online print-on-demand service, using my mother’s oil painting of the State Capitol as the cover image. I was pleased with the quality of the printed book and I have ordered a few every year for friends and others who are interested. In 2015, I began to add photographs of each Trail of Governors statue to the appropriate chapters.
As my work on this book continued, Dr. John E. Miller and Dr. Jon K. Lauck invited me to contribute an essay on the history of South Dakota’s governors to their book, The Plains Political Tradition: Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, Vol. 2, which was printed in 2014. My essay began:
Since statehood, thirty-one men have served as South Dakota’s governor. Their personal biographies reflect the history of the state, even as their political careers directed it. A few left an indelible mark on South Dakota. Others are nearly forgotten by history. Taken together, the stories of South Dakota’s thirty-one governors create a cumulative portrait of the state’s first 125 years.
Since I wrote those words, our state has elected its first female governor, but that passage still captures my hope for this book: to be not only a reference, but also to create a cumulative portrait of South Dakota’s history through the lives and careers of those who have led our state.