John E. Miller Papers

Dr. John E. Miller at work in his office in the basement of his home.

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Reference code

UA 053.015

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Level of description



John E. Miller Papers


  • 1865-2020 (Creation)


79.0 linear feet [72 record boxes, 4 oversize flat boxes]

Name of creator


Biographical history

Dr. John E. Miller was born March 28, 1945 in Beloit, KS to Channing and Mildred. He received a B.A. in history from the University of Missouri and an M.A. and Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin. Following graduation, he spent one year as a visiting professor at the University of Tulsa. He grew up in several town in Missouri, Illinois, and Missouri. He also served as a court reporter in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.
Dr. Miller taught recent American history for 30 years. He taught for one years at the University of Tulsa before moving to South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota in 1974. He also taught while serving in the Army in Vietnam. Upon retirement he taught Osher Lifetime Learning Institute courses.

John authored, edited, and reviewed multiple books and numerous articles, most on history, but also on politics, creativity, literature, and small town culture. Notable books he wrote included: Looking for History on Highway 14, Small Town Dreams: Stories of Midwestern Boys who Shaped America, three influential books on Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Democracy’s Troubles: Twelve Threats to the American Ideal and How we Can Overcome Them.

John enjoyed golf, baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals, visits to Briggs Library, biking, and finding libraries and bookstores wherever he went. He combined research trips and conferences with family visits and vacations. He served on many church, community, and professional committees. He was also the winner of numerous scholarly awards, including the South Dakota Board of Regents Research Award, 2000; and the Herbert Schell Governor's Award for History, in 2001.

John Edward Miller died suddenly in his home in Brookings, SD on May 1, 2020 at the age of 75.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

The John E. Miller papers are composed of materials collected by Dr. Miller during his career. Included is course material, interviews, talks, writings, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and friends and colleagues. The bulk of the material is Laura Ingalls Wilder and research for his many other writings.

The general material consists of files related to Dr. Miller’s personal 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, and history conferences, such as the Midwestern History Association and the Dakota History Conference. Included are correspondence, photographs, awards, articles about Miller, SDSU material, and family files.

Dr. Miller taught many courses during his tenure as a faculty member of the History Department 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. president and legislators, and democracy. Included are course notes, exams, and other material related to teaching history.

This material is composed of material gathered on friends and colleagues. Included is correspondence, articles, clippings, and photographs.

Dr. Miller conducted many oral history interviews during the course of his career. The recordings include many important historical figures, such as George McGovern and John Wooden, as well as prominent members of the South Dakota State University community, and SDSU faculty, staff, and administrators. His early interviews were recorded on audiocassettes, and eventually upgraded to digital recorders. There are some transcripts and permission forms for these recordings, but not all.
See the audiovisual and electronic media series for the recordings.

This series consists of many talks, presentations, and workshops given by Dr. Miller throughout his career. He also served on panels at conferences, including the Dakota History Conference and Laurapalooza. Included are notes used articles, journals, books, and research material.

Dr. Miller is one of America's leading authorities on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, having written many books and articles on the Wilder’s. Material consists of 16 boxes of research on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, the Ingalls-Wilder family, places where Wilder lived, notebooks of handwritten notes, critiques of other authors works on Wilder, articles and clippings on related to Wilder, research gathered from manuscript collections related to Wilder, other authors works, and Dr. Miller’s writings.

Dr. Miller wrote many articles, books, and reviews during his career. He also wrote book chapters, collaborated with other authors, and encyclopedia entries. He was a very prolific writer and it is difficult to know whether everything he ever wrote is included in the collection. Included are manuscripts, books, articles, book proposals, notes, and correspondence with other authors and publishers.

The research material is composed of material collected by Dr. Miller for various projects. Researchers will find material on topics such as politics, elections, democracy, U.S. and South Dakota history, sports, small towns, and creativity; and historical figures such as Johnny Carson, Lawrence Welk, Sam Walton, John Wooden, Walt Disney, George McGovern, Karl Mundt, Alvin Hanson and many others too numerous to list. This material was used in his writings and in teaching his courses at SDSU.

Included are 40 boxes of articles and clippings from newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, books, and online research gathered during his many trips to archives, historical societies and libraries. The material consists of notebooks and handwritten notes, writings, publications, books, and photographs. The majority of the material is photocopies, but some books, magazines, and journals are also included.

The Brookings County research is composed of research gathered by John E. Miller from the Donald D. Parker Collection held at the Center for Western Studies, Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Donald D. Parker was Head of the History Department at South Dakota State University from 1943-1965. Folders consist mainly of research on early Brookings County, South Dakota and covers the years from circa 1870-1930.

The Hubert B. Mathews and Hubert Jean Mathieu Hubert B. Mathews attended Dakota Agricultural College in Brookings in 1888 and accepted a position on the college staff in 1893. He became head of the physics Department, and was the first acting dean of the Division of Engineering. He was Vice President at South Dakota State College. H.B. Mathews coordinated much of the building work on the campus during the first half of the 20th century. Mathews Hall, a dormitory on campus, is named in his honor. Professor Mathews served twice as the Mayor of Brookings from 1907-1910 and again from 1915-1917. Hubert Jean Mathieu, son of Hubert B. Mathews, graduated from South Dakota State College in 1919. He then studied painting under Harvey Dunn. He is known for his Our Democracy editorial cartoons that appeared in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s and Cosmopolitan in the 1940s. He changed the spelling of the family name back to the original French spelling of Mathieu, supposedly for art reasons. He used the name "Mat" as his signature on many of his works.

Because of their relationship as father and son and their similar names, researchers should look at each folder carefully to ensure the correct information is gathered as material for both men is interfiled. Included are drawing of the campus of South Dakota State University by Hubert J. Mathieu as well as several of the Our Democracy editorial cartoons. The notes file was compiled by Dr. Miller and includes a notebook and several homemade note cards. The photograph file consists only of one photocopied page of three photographs of both Hubert B. and Hubert J.

The Brookings County Democratic Party records are composed of material given to John E. Miller by Ruby Mershon. Her father, Paul, was county chairman of the Brookings Democratic Party during the 1950s. Folders contain clippings, campaign material, newsletters, financial material, programs, and sample ballots. Some items of note include an official program and souvenir banner commemorating the visit of President John F. Kennedy to St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1962.

The South Dakota State University: A pictorial history, 1881-2006 research consists mainly of photocopies of clippings, articles, and yearbooks etc. Researchers will find material related to all areas of the history of South Dakota State University, from activities, athletics and administration to buildings, Hobo Day, and alumni, students and faculty.

The Looking for History of Highway 14 series is composed of research gathered by John E. Miller for this book. The book highlights fifteen towns and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Folders consist of research gathered while compiling chapters for this book and include newspapers, county history books, photographs, and notes by Miller.

This series consists of 231 audiocassettes, 10 digital recorders, 17 CDs, 1 DVD, 18 USB flash drives, 24 SD Cards as well as some born digital material.

System of arrangement

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

Conditions of access and use elements

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.

Physical access

Technical access

Conditions governing reproduction

Researchers should be advised that a substantial amount of this material came from other archival institutions, libraries, and historical societies. Permission to reproduce this material will need to contact the institutions that hold the original material.
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.

Languages of the material

  • English

Scripts of the material

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Related archival materials


Dr. Miller was a very prolific author and wrote many books, book reviews, book chapters, newspaper columns, encyclopedia articles, and conference papers. This is not a complete list.

“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 Depots 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.

“What You Didn’t Know about Laura Ingalls Wilder, The World & I (

“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.

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

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