‘Oz’ writer’s South Dakota years

It’s a little-known fact that L. Frank Baum, who wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” resided for a time in South Dakota.

Here’s some recently released information about that from the state Office of Tourism:

PIERRE, S.D. – Although L. Frank Baum only lived in South Dakota for three years, the footprint he left behind makes him one of South Dakota’s Great Faces. His most famous work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has connections to South Dakota.

Baum, who did not like his first name, Lyman, was born in 1856, in New York. Early in his life, Baum was interested in reading, printing, writing, and acting.

In 1888, Baum moved to Aberdeen, Dakota Territory. Here, Baum owned a novelty store called Baum’s Bazaar and a weekly newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer. He lived in Aberdeen until 1891, when he moved his family to Chicago, Ill.

Director of the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, Nancy Tystad Koupal, notes that the local people, places, and wildlife impressed Baum as he honed his writing techniques as editor of the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.

Koupal went on to say that during his brief stay in South Dakota, Baum witnessed poverty and hardship, especially in farm life. It is probable that Baum’s description of Kansas in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was based on his drought-ridden experiences in South Dakota. It is also likely that his first encounters with cyclones, as Baum called tornadoes, was in South Dakota.

In 1900, Baum and illustrator William W. Denslow published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was originally a collection of stories and tales Baum used to entertain his four sons. The book was one of the fifteen best sellers of the twentieth century. He adapted The Wizard of Oz into a musical show in 1902, which toured the country for nine years.

Baum’s final years were spent turning his books into motion pictures and writing at least a book a year for young readers. He died in Hollywood on May 6, 1919.

Of course, the Office of Tourism left out a very unflattering part of Baum’s South Dakota sojourn. While in Aberdeen — which today has a Storybook Land attraction inspired partially by “Oz” — he wrote two editorials about Native Americans that tainted his legacy. One of those editorials contained this sentence:

The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.

For more about Baum, including his controversial editorials, check out his Wikipedia entry.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association's Better Newspapers Contest. Seth's day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota's state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

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