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John E. Miller Papers

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Collection Summary


UA 53.15


John E. Miller Papers




Miller, John E., 1945-2020


77.0 linear feet [70 record boxes, 3 oversize flat boxes]
231 audiocassettes, 10 digital recorders, 17 CDs, 18 USB Flash Drives, 18 SD Cards, 1 DVD




South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, Hilton M. Briggs Library, Brookings, South Dakota.

Access note

This collection is open to researchers without restrictions. The materials in the Archives do not circulate and may be used in-house only.

Preferred Citation

Name of item . John E. Miller Papers. UA 53.15. South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, Hilton M .Briggs Library, Brookings, South Dakota.


John E. Miller was a professor of history at South Dakota State University, where he taught courses in recent American history, South Dakota history and historical methods since 1974. He was the author of many books and articles on Midwestern politics, creativity, Laura Ingalls Wilder, small town culture and other American history topics. Material consists of course material, oral history interviews, talks, presentations, workshops, Laura Ingalls Wilder, writings and research.

Biographical Note

John E. Miller was born March 28, 1945, in Beloit, Kansas to Channing and Mildred Miller. As the son of a Lutheran minister, he grew up in several towns in Kansas, Illinois, and Missouri. Miller received a B.A. in history from the University of Missouri (1966) along with an M.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1973) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While pursuing his education, he also& served as a court reporter in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and taught for the University of Maryland Overseas Program (1969-1970).

After receiving his Ph.D., Miller spent a year as a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa (1973-1974). In 1974, Miller accepted the position of assistant professor of history at South Dakota State University. He was promoted to associate professor in 1978 and full professor in 1984. He taught courses in historical methods, South Dakota history and U.S. history focusing on the 20th-century. He retired in 2003, however, he remained on staff as an adjunct professor for a short time to teach the South Dakota history course. In October 2003, the South Dakota Board of Regents bestowed Miller with the title of Professor Emeritus of History. After retirement, he taught numerous Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI) courses.

Miller was a prolific historian; he authored, edited and reviewed numerous books and articles, mainly on history, but also on politics, creativity, literature and small-town life. His most noteworthy books included: Looking for History on Highway 14 (1993), Small Town Dreams: Stories of Midwestern Boys Who Shaped America (2014), Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind
the Legend (1998) and Democracy’s Troubles: Twelve Threats to the American Ideal and How We Can Overcome Them (2020). He also wrote South Dakota State University: A Pictorial History 1881-2006 for South Dakota State's 125th anniversary in 2006.

In addition, Miller also conducted hundreds of hours of oral history interviews with national and local individuals. He interviewed World War II veterans; South Dakota State University administrators, faculty and staff; and residents of small towns in South Dakota, including Miller, Bruce and Harrold. He also interviewed people such as George McGovern, Philip La Follette, Rollie Samp, Theodore Schultz, Frank Denholm, John Bibbey and Frank Farrar. In addition, he directed the Department of History's Brookings Oral History Project in the 1970s.

He was involved with many professional organizations such as the South Dakota Humanities Council, the South Dakota State Historical Society, Phi Kappa Phi, the Midwestern History Association and the Dakota History Conference. He also served on many church and community committees.

During his impressive career, Miller received several awards. These include the Burlington Northern Foundation Award for Excellence in Research (1988), the Mountain Plains Library Association Literary Contribution Award (1993), the South Dakota Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Research (2000) and the Herbert S. Schell Award for the most outstanding article in South Dakota History (2001). For his book, Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend, Miller won the WILLA Award in 1999 for the best scholarly non-fiction book on North American West women writers. He was also a finalist for the WILLA Award in 2009. In 2003, he was presented with the Robinson Award, the highest and most prestigious honor given by the South Dakota State Historical Society. In 2015, Miller was awarded the Frederick Jackson Tuner Award for a lifetime achievement in the field of Midwestern history by the Midwestern History Association.

John and Kathy Miller married in 1972 and raised two children, Ann and Tom. John Edward Miller died May 1, 2020, at his home in Brookings, South Dakota.


The collection is organized into series:

  • General Material
  • Course Material
  • Friends and Colleagues
  • Interviews
  • Talks, Presentations, etc.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Writings
  • Research
  • Audiovisual and Electronic Media

Contents Note

The John E. Miller Papers are composed of course materials, correspondence with colleagues and friends, writings and research materials collected and created by Miller during his career. The bulk of the collection consists of his research on Laura Ingalls Wilder and other topics, such as politics, culture and South Dakota history and people. The papers have been arranged into nine series: general material, course material, friends and colleagues, interviews, talks and presentations, Laura Ingalls Wilder, writings, research and audiovisual and electronic media.

General Material

The general material series contains files related to Miller’s life outside of teaching and writing. He was involved with many organizations, such as the South Dakota Humanities Council, the South Dakota State Historical Society, Phi Kappa Phi, the Midwestern History Association, and the Dakota History Conference. Included in the files are correspondence, photographs, awards, and articles about Miller.

Course Material

Miller taught many courses during his tenure on the faculty of the Department of History at South Dakota State University. Courses include U.S. history, South Dakota history, American economic history, and methods and philosophy of history. After his retirement, he taught Osher Lifetime Learning Institute [OLLI] courses on many topics such as the Great Depression, U.S. presidents and legislators and democracy. This series is comprised of course notes, exams and other material related to his teaching career.

Friends and Colleagues

This series is composed of material gathered on friends and colleagues, such as Chuck Cecil, Paula M. Nelson and Gilbert Fite. Included in the files are correspondence, articles, news clippings and photographs.


Miller conducted many oral history interviews throughout his career. The collection includes interviews with important historical figures, including George McGovern and John Wooden, as well as prominent members of the South Dakota State University community. Some of these interviews include transcripts and permission forms, but not all. He recorded his early interviews on audiocassettes and later recorded them on digital recorders.

See the audiovisual and electronic media series for listings of the recordings.

Talks and Presentations

This series contains documentation on talks, presentations and workshops given by Miller throughout his career. He also served on panels at conferences, including the Dakota History Conference and LauraPalooza.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Miller was one of America's leading authorities on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, having written numerous books and articles on the Wilders. The collection contains 16 boxes of research on Wilder, her work and her life. Specifically, the series includes Miller's writings, handwritten notebooks, critiques of other authors' works on Wilder, articles and news clippings and annotated photocopies of collected research related to Wilder.


Miller wrote many articles, chapters, books, encyclopedia entries and reviews during his career. The files contain his manuscripts, books, articles, book proposals, notes and correspondence with other authors and publishers.


The largest series in the collection consists of research material created and collected by Miller for various projects. Included in the 40 boxes are handwritten notebooks, writings, publications, books and photographs. In addition, there are handwritten annotated notes on photocopies of articles and clippings from newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, books and research gathered during his many trips to archives, historical societies and libraries. Topics found in the files include politics, elections, democracy, U.S. and South Dakota history, sports, small towns and creativity. There are also documents regarding individuals such as Johnny Carson, Lawrence Welk, Sam Walton, John Wooden, Walt Disney, George McGovern, Karl Mundt and Alvin Hanson. Of particular interest are documents relating to Brookings County history, Hubert B. Mathews and Hubert Jean Mathieu, the Brookings County Democratic Party, South Dakota State University and other files from his book projects. Miller used these documents for his writings and in teaching his courses at South Dakota State University.

Audiovisual and Electronic Media

This series consists of 231 audiocassettes and electronic files on 10 digital recorders, 17 CDs, one DVD, 18 USB flash drives and 24 SD cards. These materials are comprised of oral history interviews, recordings of events Miller participated in and attended, images, manuscripts and notes from his writings and research.



“100 Years in Grant County, South Dakota, 1878-1978,” Editor and author of parts (Grant County Historical Society, Pierre: State Publishing Co., 1979).

“American Indians in the Fiction of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” South Dakota History, Vol. 30 (Fall 2000), pp. 303-320.

“Bruce, South Dakota: 1883-1983,” Co-editor and co-author (Bruce Centennial Committee, July, 1983).

“A Different Sort of Place on Your Way to the Black Hills,” Dakota West, Vol. 13 (March, 1987), pp. 13-15.

Early Settlements” and Chapters on Brookings County development from 1879 to 1960, Brookings County History Book, Brookings County History Book Committee, (Freeman, SD: Pine Hill Press, 1989), pp. 25-118, 214-29.

“End of an Era: The De Smet High School Class of 1912,” South Dakota History, Vol. 20 (Fall, 1990), pp. 185-206.

“Epistemology in Flux: Embattled Truth in an Information Age,” South Dakota Review, Vol. 24 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 7-20.

“Facts and Interpretation in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little Town’ Novels,” in Semiotics 1991, John Deely and Terry Prewitt, eds., (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1993), pp. 158-164.

“Fighting Bob La Follette: The Righteous Reformer” by Nancy C. Unger, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) in South Dakota History, Vol. 32 (Winter, 2002), pp. 363-364.

“Fighting for the cause: the rhetoric and symbolism of the Wisconsin progressive movement,” in Wisconsin Magazine of History. Vol. 87, no. 4 (Summer 2004)

“Fighting for the Cause: The Rhetoric and Symbolism of the Wisconsin Progressive Movement,” Wisconsin Magazine of History, circa 2002.

“Freedom and Control in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s De Smet,” Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 9 (Winter 1989), pp. 27-35.

“From South Dakota Farm to Harvard Seminar: Alvin H. Hansen, America’s Prophet of Keynesianism,” in The Historian, Vol. 64 (Spring/Summer, 2002): pp. 603-622.

“Globalization and Its Metaphors,” Minnesota Journal of Global Trade, Vol. 9 (Summer 2000), pp. 594-601.

“Gold Rush: The Black Hills Story.” John D. McDermott, comp., Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2001. In Great Plains Quarterly (2003).

“Governor Philip F. La Follette’s Shifting Priorities during the 1930s: From Redistribution to Expansion,” Mid-America, Vol. 58 (April-July, 1976), pp. 119-126.

“Growing Up with the Town: Family and Community on the Great Plains (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002) in Annals of Iowa, 2002.

“Highway 14 Offers History: Travelers Need to Stop, Look, and Listen,” South Dakota Hall of Fame, Vol. 19 (June 199), pp. 12-14.

“History Carved on a Mountain,” South Dakota Heritage, Centennial Series 7 (1989), pp. 2-5.

“Hubert Mathieu: South Dakota’s Other Outstanding Illustrator,” South Dakota History, Vol 25 (Spring, 1995), pp. 49-63.

“Inspired by Manchester: Artist Harvey Dunn Found Inspiration by Returning to His Prairie Hometown,” South Dakota Magazine, Vol. 9 (July-August 1993), pp. 20-25.

“Lake Wobegon, Minnesota: Investing in the Heartland,” Small Town, Vol. 16 (May-June, 1986), pp. 23-28.

“Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Perspective from 1932, the Year of Publication of Her First ‘Little House’ Book,” Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, Vol 2, No. 1 (2002), pp. 38-54.

“Making It in Indianapolis: The Rise of Calvin Fletcher,” The Old Northwest, Vol. 13 (Summer 1987), pp. 163-189.

“McCarthyism before McCarthy: The 1938 Election in South Dakota, The 1938 Election in South Dakota,” Heritage of the Great Plains, Vol. 15, Summer, 1982, pp. 1-21.

“Medary, Capital of Dakota,” South Dakota Magazine, Vol. 5 (may-June 1989), pp. 24-25.

“Meredith Willson, Iowa’s ‘Music Man’ and “Ambassador to All the World,’” Iowa Heritage Illustrated, Vol 82 (Winter 2001), p. 182-191.

“Midwestern Regionalism during the 1930s: A Democratic Art with Continuing Appeal,” Mid-America: An Historical Review, Vol. 83 (Summer 2001), pp. 71-93.

“More Than Statehood on their Minds South Dakota Joins the Union, 1889,” Great Plains Quarterly, Vol. 10 (Fall 1990), pp. 206-217.

“Notes From a Trip Down Highway 15 in South Dakota,” Small Town, Vol. 26:5 (March-April, 1994), pp. 20-23.

“Our Cowboy Governor,” South Dakota Magazine, Vol. 2 (November 1986), pp. 6-11.

“Philip La Follette: Rhetoric and Reality,” The Historian, Vol. 45 (November 1982, pp. 65-83.

“Place and community in the ‘Little town on the prairie’: De Smet in 1883,” South Dakota history. Vol. 16 (winter 1986), Pierre, S.D.: South Dakota State Historical Society, 1987, pp. 351-372.F659.D45 M54 1987/978.305 So86.

“Politics and Government,” chapter in Brookings Centennial, 1879-1979, Commemorative Book (Centennial Book Committee, locally printed 1979), pp. 35-38.

“Progressivism and the New Deal: the Wisconsin Works Bill,” in Wisconsin magazine of history. Vol. 62, no. 1 (Autumn 1978) pp. 25-40.

“Railroad Deports on the Dakota Central in Eastern South Dakota: Functions, Activities, and Meanings,” Locus: Regional and Local History of the Americas, Vol. 7 (Spring 1995), pp. 151-169.

“Restrained, respectable radicals: the South Dakota Farm Holiday,” in Agricultural history (Microfiche).Vol. 59, no. 3 (July 1985), pp. 429-447.

“Rose Wilder Lane and Thomas Hart Benton: A Turn Toward History during the 1930s,” American Studies, Vol. 37 (Fall 1996), pp. 83-101.

“Saturday Nights in Small Towns,” Chronicle of Higher Education, (August 11, 1993) p. B40.

“Social Indicators and Statistical Literacy,” The Social Studies, Vol. 71, (September-October, 1980) pp. 226-229.

“South Dakota Elementary and Secondary Education since World War II: A Statistical Portrait,” South Dakota History, 2003.

“South Dakota’s Other Outstanding Illustrator: Hubert Mathieu,” South Dakota History, Vol. 25 (Spring 1995), pp. 49-63.

“The City of White,” White, S.D., 1884-1984, Charles Woodard, Editor (White History Book Committee, 1984), pp. 3-6.

“The Distance between Gopher Prairie and Lake Wobegon: Sinclair Lewis and Garrison Keillor on the Small Town Experience,” The Centennial Review, Vol.31 (Fall 1987), pp. 432-446.

“The Failure to Realign: The 1936 Election in South Dakota,” Journal of the West, circa 2002.

“The funeral of beloved Hoosier poet, James Whitcomb Riley,” in Studies in Midwestern history. Vol. 2, no. 6 (January, 2016).

“The Making of Theodore H. White’s ‘The Making of the President 1960,’” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29 (June 1999), pp. 389-406.

“The Old-fashioned Fourth of July: A Photographic Essay on Small-town Celebrations prior to 1930,” South Dakota History, Vol. 17 (Summer 1987), pp. 118-139.

“The Railroad Comes to Harrold, South Dakota,” chapter in Harrold Centennial History Book, 1986.

“The Search for Meaning in the History of Small Towns,” in The Prairie Frontier, Sandra Looney, Arthur R. Huseboe, and Geoffrey Hunt, eds., (Sioux Falls, SD: Nordland Heritage Foundation, 1984) pp. 153-166.

“The South Dakota State University Campanile and the Symbolic Dimensions of Place,” South Dakota History, Vol. 23:4 (Winter 1993), pp. 321-345.

“The Way They Saw Us: Dakota Territory in the Illustrated News,” South Dakota History, Vol. 18 (Winter 1988), pp. 214-244.

“Two Visions of the Great Plains: ‘The Plow That Broke the Plains’ and “South Dakotans’ Reactions to It,” Upper Midwest History, Vol. 2, 1982, pp. 1-12.


“Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: the woman behind the legend,” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998, PS3545.I342 Z769 1998

“Democracy and the informed citizen: a South Dakota Perspective,” Brookings, South Dakota: Prairie View Press, 2018, JA75.7.M54 2018

“Democracy’s troubles: twelve threats to the American ideal and how we can overcome them,” Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, [2020], JK1726.M576 2020

“First we imagine: 22 creative South Dakotans speak on the subject of creativity,” Brookings, South Dakota: Brookings Arts Council, 2014, BF408.F57 2014

“Governor Philip F. La Follette, the Wisconsin Progressives, and the New Deal,” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982, F586.L3 M54

“History of South Dakota,” Herbert S. Schell and John and Miller, Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, ©2004, F651.S29 2004

“Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane: authorship, place, time, and culture,” Columbia: University of Missouri Press, ©2008, PS3545.I342 Z7695 2008

“Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little town: where history and literature meet,” Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of Kansas, ©1994, PS3545.I342 Z77 1994.

“Life on the farm & ranch: South Dakota stories,” Brookings, S.D.: South Dakota Humanities Council, ©2009, S521.5.S8 L53 2009

“Looking for history on Highway 14,” Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, [2001], ©1993, F651.M47 2001

“Small-town dreams: stories of Midwestern boys who shaped America,” Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, [2014], F350.5.M55 2014.

“South Dakota: a journey through time,” [book and music cassette], Pierre, SD: South Dakota Literacy Council, [1999], 978.3.M5 1998/F651.M48 1998

“South Dakota State University: a pictorial history, 1881-2006,” Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Co., ©2005, S537.S6 M54 2005.

“The boomer list: Sioux Falls,” Rod Evans (Rodney L.) (Photographer), John E Miller 1945-2020, (Author), American Association of Retired Persons. KELO-LAND TV Stations (Firm) Washington Pavilion (Sioux Falls, S.D.), [Sioux Falls, South Dakota]: [AARP in Sioux Falls], [2015], F659.S6 E92 2015.

“The plains political tradition: essays on South Dakota political culture,” edited by Jon K. Lauck, John E. Miller, and Donald C. Simmons, Jr., Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, [2011]-, F651.P53 2011.

“The WPA guide to South Dakota,” South Dakota Federal Writers Project, St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, ©2006, F656.F45 2006.

“What makes a South Dakotan? South Dakota stories,” John E. Miller, Lenora Hudson, Brookings, SD: South Dakota Humanities Council, ©2012, F651.6.W42 2012.


Miller also wrote many book reviews, book chapters, newspaper columns, encyclopedia articles and conference papers. He also did many radio interviews.

Subject Headings

  • Agriculture
  • Authors, American
  • Brookings County (S.D.)
  • Citizenship
  • Clear Lake (S.D.)
  • Course materials
  • Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.)
  • Dakota Territory -- History
  • De Smet (SD) – History
  • Democracy – United States
  • Democratic Party {South Dakota)
  • Farm life
  • Farmers – Political activity – South Dakota
  • Frontier and pioneer life
  • Local history
  • Middle West -- Biographies
  • Missouri – United States – Biographies
  • New Deal – 1933-1969
  • Political culture
  • Politics and government
  • Ranch life
  • Small cities
  • Social life and customs -- Anecdotes
  • South Dakota -- History
  • South Dakota – History, Local
  • South Dakota State University – History
  • Tourism—South Dakota
  • United States Highway 14
  • Women pioneers
  • Works Progress Administration

Name Authorities

  • Miller, John E., 1945-2020
  • Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925
  • Carson, Johnny, 1925-2005
  • Carver, George Washington, 1864?-1943
  • Dean, James, 1931-1955
  • Disney, Walt, 1901-1966
  • Dunn, Harvey, 1884-1952
  • Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
  • Farber, W.O. (William Ogden), 1910-2007
  • Ford, Henry, 1863-1947
  • Hansen, Alvin H. (Alvin Harvey), 1887-1975
  • La Follette, Philip Fox, 1897-1965
  • Lane, Rose Wilder, 1886-1968
  • Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951
  • Lindbergh, Charles A. (Charles Augustus), 1902-1974
  • Loriks, Emil, 1895-1985
  • Mathews, Hubert B.
  • Mathieu, Hubert
  • McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922-2012
  • McKinley, William, 1834-1901
  • Mundt, Karl E. (Karl Earl), 1900-1974
  • Pyle, Ernie, 1900-1945
  • Riley, James Whitcomb, 1849-1916
  • Riley, James Whitcomb, 1849-1916
  • Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967
  • Schultz, Theodore W. (Theodore William), 1902-1998
  • Turner, Frederick Jackson, 1861-1932
  • Walton, Sam, 1918-1992
  • Welk, Lawrence, 1903-1992
  • White, Theodore H. (Theodore Harold), 1915-1986
  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls, 1867-1957
  • Wilson, Meredith, 1902-1984
  • Wooden, John, 1910-2010

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers without restrictions. The materials in the archives do not circulate and may be used in-house only.

Researchers conducting extensive research are asked to make an advance appointment to access archival material. Please call or e-mail prior to visiting the collection and indicate as much detail as possible about a particular topic and intended use.

South Dakota State University supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted as a result of their fragile condition or by contractual agreements with donors.

Copyright note

Copyright restrictions apply in different ways to different materials. Many of the documents and other historical materials in the archives are in the public domain and may be reproduced and used in any way. There are other materials in the archives carrying a copyright interest and must be used according to the provisions of Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The archives will issue a warning concerning copyright restrictions to every researcher who requests copies of documents. Although the copyright law is under constant redefinition in the courts, it is ultimately the responsibility of the researcher to properly use copyrighted material.

Container List