Amy’s South Dakota/Life in the West Recommended Reads

by Amy on August 8, 2010

I’m open to reading a variety of different books, but am most drawn to non-fiction. I’ve read some excellent fiction, but if it’s a really good story, it’s disappointing to me in the end if I have to remind myself that it’s not true. I enjoy history, especially about women, but overall, I just enjoy the kind of book that captures my thoughts for days; ones that sometimes make me experience withdrawals when I’ve finished a really good book.

I’ve compiled a variety of recommended reading in no particular order, for nearly every type of reader; young, old, male, female, avid, and seldom. These are all books I’ve read at one time or another and enjoyed and are specifically about South Dakota, by South Dakota writers or about living in the west.

 1. The Ranch Woman’s Manual by Gwen Petersen. When I got engaged, my grandmother, who was a hard-working, dedicated and loyal farmwife, gave me this book. I loved it because it was true-to-life and funny. Gwen has a great way of telling her readers what it’s really like. It’s hysterical and something especially farm and ranch wives can relate to. Those not familiar with the lifestyle will find it entertaining and fascinating. My husband also laughed just as heartily in agreement to many of the situations Gwen described.

 2. Dakota Cowboy by Ike Blasingame. Ike’s wife wrote down his stories while he talked. I loved this book because Ike was a South Dakota cowboy and he ranched not far north of here. He had some fascinating experiences and I enjoy true accounts of the old cowboy way. My copy included an illustrated map of places mentioned in the book.

 3. Sun and Saddle Leather by Badger Clark. Badger Clark is a poet laureate who had a cabin in the Black Hills where he did a lot of his writing.  The cabin is now a place visitors can tour, just inside Custer State Park. Every September, Hot Springs, SD (where Badger is buried) annually hosts a cowboy poetry gathering honoring Badger Clark. Sun and Saddle Leather is a collection of cowboy poetry, but I think his poems read like a cowboy’s story or thoughts put into rhyme. They’re not “deep.”  I can understand them and get the meaning of his poems. Probably his most famous poem is The Cowboy’s Prayer, which has been printed in numerous funeral bulletins at funerals I’ve attended. Also, in a later hard cover edition, my mother was commissioned to incorporate some of her artwork to go along with the poems in the book, so I’m also partial to this book for that reason. Even if poetry isn’t your thing, these are worth reading for the best exposure to this type of writing. They’re enjoyable and easy to read and understand.

 4. Cowboy Country by Ann Herbert Scott. This is a children’s book, and was one story I didn’t mind reading repeatedly to my son when he was a tike. It’s about a young cowboy and an old timer who head out into Cowboy Country on horseback with a Blue Healer dog named Matilda. It’s a good story but what I love the most are the watercolor illustrations that go along with the story. Every page’s picture captures cowboying really well in today’s world. Each page is a beautiful work of art about cowboy country.

5.  Life on the Farm and Ranch is a collection of stories contributed by South Dakota farmers, ranchers, farm wives, and ranch wives. My grandmother has two stories that made the book. It was compiled by the South Dakota Humanities Council and the cover photo was taken by South Dakota photographer, Greg Latza. This is a great book for readers who don’t have a lot of time to read but enjoy a fascinating short story about farm and ranch life. The book is great when you’ve only got five minutes to read something.

6.  Gold Buckle Dreams by David G. Brown. This is the story of the late singer and the 1976 bareback world champion, Chris LeDoux. Rodeo is my favorite sport and I have always liked the sound of Chris’ voice as a singer. I admired the man for the husband, father, and cowboy that he was. This is the amazing story of his rodeo career.

7.  Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. As an animal handler, I thought this was a very good book that gave insight on the view of the world from an animal’s perspective. I learned a lot about how animals think. It also gave me the basis for a column I wrote called “Spouses in Translation.”

 8.  Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel and Women of the West by Cathy Luchetti and Carol Olwell. We really have no idea what it was like and what it took (or took out of people) in order to settle in the west. These two books were written around the diaries that women kept as they moved west and homesteaded. The school history textbooks about this time period do not cover the true accounts of what settlers endured like these books have. Some of the events these women described gripped me and I thought about their stories for months afterwards as I would do my own work as a wife, mother and homemaker.

9.  Why Cowboys Sleep with Their Boots On by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton. This is another children’s book I used to read to my kids. It was a favorite of my son especially and is funny. Slim Jim Watkins has a tough time sleeping out on the range because articles of his clothing keep disappearing.

10. Woven on the Wind and Leaning into the Wind edited by Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, and Nancy Curtis. The first book, which is my favorite of the two, is a collection of women all over the west who contributed their stories and poems of friendship with other women. The second book is also a collection of stories, reflections and poems contributed by women all over “sage brush country” about their life in the west.

11. South Dakota magazine. South Dakota is lucky to have such a wonderful bimonthly magazine that depicts our state with great stories and exceptional photographs. Each issue features different communities in ways visitors might not see. It’s hard for me to pass on all of my past issues because each issue  has great tidbits and unique photos that show me way more of my state’s towns, landscapes, and people than I could discover on my own. At the beginning of each issue is an illustration of the state and shows where on the map the issue’s features are located. It’s worth picking up if you’ve never thumbed through it.

12. Someday Rider by Ann Herbert Scott. This is another favorite children’s book of mine by Ann. I love this one because it reminds me of my boy when he was a little guy. Kenny wants to be able to ride with his dad and the other cowboys but he’s too young  yet and tries to prove he’s old enough to go with them by attempting to ride the different animals around the yard.

13. Going Over East; Reflections of a Woman Rancher, Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land, and Windbreak, by Linda Hasselstrom. I like reading about other people’s ranching experiences. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Linda and attended a workshop she put on as part of the Badger Clark Poetry Gathering. I enjoyed reading her books because her ranch is just on the other side of the county. She gives true accounts of what it’s like to ranch in the Black Hills.

14. First White Woman in the Black Hills by Annie D. Talent. Annie was the first white woman to come here, and since she was writing about places that I grew up around, I loved reading about them when they were new and first settled. When I drive by or visit them, I’m taken back to the stories Annie told in her book about them. A replica of the stockade where the first settlers settled in the Black Hills has been erected east of Custer, by Stockade Lake.

15. Hometown, SD and Back on the Farm by Greg Latza. If you’d rather look at the pictures than read descriptions of places in rural South Dakota, this Sioux Falls photographer’s books are a good fit for you. They are both full of photography taken exclusively around South Dakota’s landscape, places, and people. If they don’t take you back there, you will want to go there.

I specifically picked books about South Dakota and the west for reading recommendations. If you can’t experience life in the west or visit South Dakota, these reads are great alternatives. I have many favorite reads I’m saving to share another time.

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