PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Author and retired professor David Wolff of Spearfish has been recognized for his lifetime of service by the South Dakota State Historical Society.

David Wolff of Spearfish (center) on Saturday received the Robinson Memorial Award for his lifetime of service to the South Dakota State Historical Society and the Schell Award for the best article of the past year in the society’s quarterly journal.

Wolff was honored Saturday at the annual awards luncheon that wrapped up the society’s 2023 conference.

The retired professor of history at Black Hills State University received the society’s top honor, the Robinson Memorial Award, for his outstanding contributions to the field, including 18 years as a trustee on the society’s governing board.

He also received the society’s Schell Award for best article in the society’s quarterly journal, South Dakota History, during the past year.

Wolff has written several books, including a biography of Deadwood lawman and hotelier Seth Bullock and The Savior of Deadwood: James K.P. Miller on the Gold Frontier.

“Thank you,” he said, as he received the Robinson plaque from trustee Peggy Sanders of Oral.

Wolff told KELOLAND News that he’s currently working on a book about violence in the Black Hills.

Awards for preserving history went to Brian Gevik of Volin, Rick Mills of Hermosa and the National Weather Service of South Dakota, while the 2023 history teacher of the year award has two recipients, Maxwell Schaffer of Mount Vernon and Bob Wilbur of Sioux Falls.

The luncheon speech came from Dakota State University faculty member Jody Bottum, who said history requires “a healthy skepticism.”

The two-day conference included presentations Saturday morning on three indigenous figures: feminist Zitkala-Ša, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin; painter Oscar Howe; and South Dakota’s first and so far only Indian elected to Congress, former U.S. Rep. Ben Reifel.

Keith Braveheart of Kyle delivered a presentation about South Dakota artist Oscar Howe at the State Historical Society conference Saturday.

Keith Braveheart said Howe’s art changed from a flat studio style in his early years to the Native American modernism of his better-known works. Slowed by Parkinson’s disease, Howe ventured into pure abstraction late in life, Braveheart said.

Dakota Modern, a traveling retrospective of Howe’s work, opens June 10 at the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings and runs through September 17.

Sean Flynn, a Dakota Wesleyan University faculty member who’s written a biography about Reifel, said the long-time Bureau of Indian Affairs employee and 10-year House member who won his first run in 1960 was “an integrationist” who urged Indians to move to urban areas for job opportunities.

Sean Flynn from Dakota Wesleyan University at Mitchell spoke to the State Historical Society conference audience Saturday about Ben Reifel, South Dakota’s first and so far only Indian to serve in Congress.

“His vision was a world without reservations,” Flynn said, explaining that Reifel saw Indian reservations as “psychologically confining” and described himself publicly as an “Indian-American.”

“Ben Reifel,” Flynn said, “referred to Lakota as a dead language.” Reifel didn’t want tribal languages taught in schools, according to Flynn, so that time could be better used for teaching math and science necessary to function in an increasingly technological society. “When I read it the first time,” Flynn said, “it stunned me.”