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Monday, February 11, 2013

South Dakota Outlaws & Scofflaws

Last month I posted about the History & Heritage Book club that featured The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I hadn't had a chance to (re)read that one before the meeting, but I decided that I would read the next book and attend the February meeting. The book for February is South Dakota Outlaws & Scofflaws by John Andrews, Bernie Hunhoff, Roger Holtzman and Katie Hunhoff, published by South Dakota Magazine.  This is a slim book, only 140 pages long, and written in a very accessible style. This is not a heavy duty history tome and reads quite a bit like a series of magazine articles.

Since I am not a South Dakota native, many of these stories were completely new to me. The old west culture, cattle rustling, saloons and ranching are not things you hear about much in Alabama. Due to the HBO show Deadwood from a few years ago, I was familiar with a few of the characters- Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock, Calamity Jane, and Charlie Utter. While I expected that HBO took some liberties (duh) it was interesting to get an introduction to the true story for many of them.  The book also covers quite a few figures from East River (for those not in the know, South Dakota is divided neatly in half by the Missouri River; culture and geography is definitely different on either side.)

The book is very readable. The tone and writing level is that of a magazine, without a lot of heavy facts or footnotes.  This is a great introduction to this aspect of South Dakota history, but I don't feel like I've learned more than a passing bit about each entry. The easy readability is also the book's downfall, in that each chapter seems to exist independently of the rest of the book. For example, Al Swearengen is mentioned in more than one chapter, but each time is a written as a whole new introduction. This would work great in a series of magazine articles, or if I were picking and choosing chapters, but for reading it straight through it was a bit awkward.

I'm interested to see what the other book club members thought, and to see what other book suggestions they may have to follow up on some of the topics in Outlaws & Scofflaws. In particular, I found Jack Sully and Poker Alice  interesting, and will have to see if I can find other books about the two of them.

This book is not available on Amazon, and I had to add the entry on Goodreads myself, but if you're interested you can pick up a copy through the South Dakota Magazine website.

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