WOSTER: SD’s short history worth re-reportingNever before in history has man stood with one foot in his primitive origins and the other poised on the moon.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
One of the things I really enjoyed as a daily newspaper reporter was digging into history and writing about events from the past, especially South Dakota’s past.
In his unorthodox history book, “South Dakota: A Bicentennial History,” the late John Milton, of Vermillion, remarked on how “new” is the history of this state. We became a state in 1889, and Milton’s book was published in 1976 or perhaps 1977. Either way, it was less than 90 years from statehood to publication of his history, and that isn’t such a very long time compared to many of the states of the eastern part of the country — or the European nations.
“In other words, we are living so close to our past that its primitivism almost collides with the space age,” Milton wrote. And shortly after, “Never before in history has man stood with one foot in his primitive origins and the other poised on the moon.”
Perhaps because our history is so new, we don’t often give it the weight of, you know, the History of Civilization course many people took early in their college years. It isn’t history, it’s just stuff that happened when we were kids, or when our parents or grandparents were kids. When history is new enough, the young people reading or hearing it may be inclined to think of it in the same way they do any of the stories an old guy tells, especially the ones that start, “Now, back when I was your age . . .”
I worked for six or seven years with an older gentleman named Bob Hipple. He published the daily newspaper in Pierre for decades, and he didn’t retire as publisher until he was 90 years old. He wrote a daily editorial for each edition of the paper for all the time I worked for him, as he had done for decades before I was hired on, and as he did for years and years after I resigned. From time to time, after the paper had been put to bed for the day, I’d wander up to Mr. Hipple’s office and talk a bit. I say talk, but mostly I listened.
Bob Hipple had experienced the most amazing events in South Dakota’s history. He sold papers as a school boy, he picked rocks from a hilltop east of town so Charles Lindbergh could land an airplane, and he was there when the Pick-Sloan Plan was crafted to move forward the series of dams on the upper Missouri River. I was awed by some of his stories. They were first-person histories. He thought they were just reminiscences of a guy who’d been around a long time.
Anyway, partly as a result of the conversations with Mr. Hipple, I developed a fondness for quick history lessons. Even if a news story of an event from South Dakota’s past were permitted to extend to no more than 600 words, we would have 600 words more about that bit of history than existed if no story were written.
One of the truly rewarding projects I was able to work on was a thing called “South Dakota 99.” It was the brainchild of David Kranz, longtime former Argus Leader editor, reporter and columnist. Preceding the state’s centennial year, Kranz assigned all the reporters on staff to write short, hopefully lively, histories of men and women who had made a difference in the first century of South Dakota. We were encouraged to read anything written about them, but to go well beyond that and find folks who had known the difference-makers or who had made a deep study of the person and his or her impact on the state and its development. It was hard work, researching and backgrounding and writing to a newspaper deadline.
I had just finished the last of my profiles when Kranz called. He had decided to divide the project into six or seven sections, each covering several years of the century, and he needed me to write tight, sparkling introductions to the sections. He needed the work in his hands by the close of business that day.
I found that work on a basement shelf the other evening. It may not be deep history, but it’s there for all to read.