Historic moments in Dakotas by former SDSU professor
Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 declaration that settlement of the frontier had put a unique stamp on America's character was one of the most debated historical works of the 20th century.
Some later historians would mock Turner for romanticizing the frontier, for downplaying the greed and violence that they said accompanied the westward movement and destroyed native civilizations in their way.
In a new book, "Prairie Republic - The Political Culture of Dakota Territory, 1879-1889," South Dakota native and historian Jon K. Lauck comes to Turner's defense by chronicling what he calls the "genuine democratic moments" of thousands of settlers that he said were the seed and soil of statehood.
In doing so, Lauck attempts to balance and challenge the themes of Yale historian Howard R. Lamar's 1956 "Dakota Territory - 1860-1889, a Study of Frontier Politics." Lamar's work remains a seminal piece of American history, part of a critical examination of the American West during the mid- to late 20th century.
Lauck argues that Lamar's book reflected a period when many historians viewed the frontier as a repository for American ills from genocide to boom- and-bust economics, and that it was time for a new look. He argues that the "middle border" connections to the Midwest made eastern South Dakota different from West River's identification with the Wild West frontier.
In the end, Lauck makes a compelling, if incomplete, case for the "forces of republicanism and C hristianity" that he says still exist on the prairie.
Lauck, 38, is a native of Madison, a former assistant professor of history at South Dakota State University and now a senior adviser to U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
"Prairie Republic," due out in April, focuses on eastern Dakota Territory in the 1880s, years that included three constitutional conventions and a decade-long struggle that finally culminated in statehood on Nov. 2, 1889.
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