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Joseph Mills Hanson papers

Identifier: MS-068

Content Description

The Joseph Mills Hanson Papers include papers which come from Hanson’s time as an author and historian, as well as papers belonging to his parents, Annie M. Hanson and John R. Hanson, some of which pre-date his birth.

The papers are organized into seven series: Correspondence, Diaries, Manuscripts, Legal Documents, Photographs, Printed Material and Ephemera.

The Correspondence series includes letters primarily to and from Joseph Mills Hanson’s mother, Annie Mills Hanson. Letters from Mrs. Hanson to her son date from approximately 1903, and primarily concern daily matters of housekeeping and community items of interest. Likewise, three handwritten letters addressed to Mrs. J. R. Hanson from Joseph Mills Hanson are undated but seem to be from the time Hanson spent in Manlius, New York, at the St. John’s Military Academy. One typed letter is dated 1919 and comes from Chaumont, The. Marne, when Hanson was serving overseas. The miscellaneous correspondence is a mix of letters to Annie and John R. Hanson, and letters to others. One letter, dated October, 1866, is from Abraham, Annie’s brother, to his mother concerning his potential marriage.

The Diaries series contains two small pocket diaries belonging to Annie M. Hanson. One is dated 1873, and the second was presented to her in 1905 and seems to have been kept sporadically until 1912. The diaries are handwritten in pencil, with several years’ notes kept on the same page (one page per day). The diaries detail major events, the weather and daily life.

The Manuscripts series contains the typewritten drafts of several of Joseph Mills Hanson’s writings. Some may not have been published (for example, “The Enlightenment of Cadet Whitney”). Others may have been drafts for Hanson’s major works. There is, for example, a typescript entitles “The Missouri: A Giant Unemployed,” which may have contributed to his work “The Conquest of the Missouri.” Typescripts include historical writings, poetry, and drama. Many have holograph editorial markings.

The Legal Documents series contains business agreements, deeds and leases, receipts, insurance policies and stock certificates, and three documents from the South Dakota Supreme Court, signed by J. R. Hanson. Also included is J. M. Hanson’s Cadet Certificate from St. John’s School in Manlius.

The Photographs series includes one photograph of Joseph Mills Hanson during his tenure at the Otis Elevator Company, as well as a postcard that likely dates from his service in the military during World War I, specifically from the time he was on the Mexican border. Also included is a photograph of “A. G. (?) Mills,” presumably Abraham, Annie’s brother, which was taken in Rome in 1872. There are three unidentified photographs, one of a young girl perhaps taken in the 1920’s, one of a young man perhaps taken in the late 1800’s, and one of an elderly man from the same time period.

Printed Material contains a single article from the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan about Joseph Mills Hanson that was removed from the Chilson Collection edition of his book, “Frontier Ballads.”

The Ephemera series contains a small amount of material, including miscellaneous pamphlets, a notebook and tickets to the SD State Fair for 1897.


  • Creation: 1876 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research without restriction. Researchers are advised to contact the Archives and Special Collections prior to visiting. Advance notice may be needed to retrieve items for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers must obtain a signed Permission to Publish Form if they wish to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information from published and unpublished works held by ASC. Permission to reproduce, broadcast, or otherwise disseminate information materials from ASC does not constitute permission from the holder of copyright or literary rights. The researcher is responsible for securing permission from the copyright holder to publish or reproduce content from materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

Joseph Mills Hanson was the son of Annie Mills and John R. Hanson. John R. Hanson, a native of New Hampshire, arrived in Nebraska in 1858, and lived opposite Strike-the-Ree’s camp. He befriended the Sioux chief and was one of the first to stake claim on the land when the Sioux were forced out in 1860. John R. Hanson played a key role in the development of the city of Yankton. He served as a clerk of the first territorial legislature, territorial auditor, and judge advocate. In 1865, President Lincoln appointed him Indian Agent for the Upper Missouri region. Hanson also dealt in real estate and successfully landed a grading contract for the Dakota Southern Railroad from Sioux City to Yankton. He married Annie Mills in 1872, and they lived just outside of Yankton in a house (which ultimately burned down) known as Prospect Place. J. R. Hanson died in 1912. Hanson County is named in his honor. Annie M. Hanson died in 1923.

Joseph Mills Hanson was born in Yankton, Dakota Territory, in 1876. He attended school in the east and was a student at Chauncey-Hall School in Boston and a cadet at St. John’s School in Manlius, New York. After his schooling, he went to work for the Otis Elevator Company as a salesman. This undoubtedly was the result of his uncle’s influence, since his mother’s brother was a ranking officer in the company. Hanson stayed in the position for eight years before turning to writing.

Hanson’s most successful writing was his 1909 publication of “The Conquest of the Missouri.” In that same year he married Frances Lee Johnson. She died in 1912.

During World War I, Hanson became a commissioned officer in the South Dakota National Guard. He was Captain of Yankton’s Company M, which served on the Mexican border in 1916 and then was activated for overseas service. Hanson left field duty to take a staff position with the American Expeditionary Force in France and began to write a chronological history of American involvement in the war for the “Stars and Stripes,” a paper for enlisted personnel.

Hanson returned to Yankton after the war and married Rosamond Brightman Wellington in 1926. In 1930, they left Yankton to reside in the east, abandoning his efforts to cultivate the Hanson family farm. Hanson worked as a Civil War historian, and an Assistant Historian for the National Park Service. He became Superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park in 1942 and served in this position until his retirement in 1947. He died on February 11, 1960.

During his lifetime, Hanson published several historical works, pageants, poetry, and the marching song for the state’s Young Citizen’s League. In addition to “The Conquest of the Missouri,” he published many other works including “Frontier Ballads,” “With Sully into the Sioux Land,” “With Carrington on the Bozeman Road,” “Pilot Knob,” “South Dakota in the World War, 1917 – 1919,” “The World War through the Stereoscope,” and “The Trail to El Dorado.” He also published historical articles and poetry in various journals and papers.


0.75 Linear Feet (2 document boxes)

Language of Materials



The Joseph Mills Hanson Papers include papers which come from Hanson’s time as an author and historian, as well as papers belonging to his parents, Annie M. Hanson and John R. Hanson, some of which pre-date his birth.


The Joseph Mills Hanson papers are organized into 7 series: Correspondence, Diaries, Manuscripts, Legal Documents, Photographs, Printed Material and Ephemera.

Joseph Mills Hanson papers
Amy Cooper
2000 May
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USD Archives and Special Collections Repository