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Archer Gilfillan papers

Identifier: Mss051

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists primarily of coded diaries maintained during his time as a sheepherder in South Dakota, from 1924 to 1933, and include transcripts of this diary by his sister, Emily, and the former Special Collections Curator in the Univeresity of Minnesota Libraries, John Jensen. In addition, the collection contains correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, publications, clippings, reviews and personal papers.


  • Creation: 1904-1970

Language of Materials


Restrictions on Access

The collection is open and available for use by researchers in the Andersen Library Reading Room.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright is retained by the copyright holder.

Biographical Note

Archer Gilfillan was born February 2, 1886 on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, where his father served as the Episcopal minister. Gilfillan and his siblings were sent to Minneapolis for schooling but spent summers on the Reservation until 1898, when the family moved to Washington, D.C. following his father's nervous breakdown. Gilfillan graduated from high school in Washington, D.C. and attended Amherst before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania and graduated from that institution in 1910.

Having always wanted to live in the outdoors, he travelled west immediately after graduation, taking up a homestead claim in South Dakota, buying sheep, and working them for a year with Almon Dean, a nearby ranch owner. In 1913 Gilfillan returned east to attend the Western Theololgical Seminary in Chicago, graduating in 1916. After graduation he returned to South Dakota and spent the next 17 years herding sheep, his own and others'. It was during this time that he began his coded diary, and wrote many articles and columns about his sheepherding experiences. The book Sheepis a product of this time, as are the essays that form the foundation of the small book A Goats' Eye View of the Black Hills.

Shepherding and owning the land on which they grazed was, for Gilfillan, a financial disaster and in 1936 he was assigned to the Federal Writers Project as Assistant State Director for South Dakota. He held the job until 1942 when the project was abolished. In August, 1942 he was hired by the Black Hills Ordnance Department outpost at Igloo, South Dakota (first called Provo) as librarian and newsletter editor, a job he held for seven years. The balance of his life was spent primarily in Deadwood, South Dakota. He wrote weekly columns for a host of local journals, was invited to speak at wool growers' and others' conventions, and continued to write articles and essays about South Dakota history and about his experiences as a shepherd. In 1950 he won the University of Minnesota Regional Writing Fellowship.

Gilfillan died in Deadwood, S.D. on December 16, 1955.


15 boxes (14 linear feet)


Personal papers of Archer Gilfillan, a writer, consisting primarily of coded diaries maintained during his time as a sheepherder in South Dakota, from 1924 to 1933, along with correspondence and publications.


The collection is organized into the following series:

  1. Diaries
  2. Clippings
  3. Personal Papers
  4. Correspondence
  5. Manuscripts
  6. Reviews
  7. Publications
  8. Photographs

Physical Location

Mezz (R79, D4, S7; D5 S1-2 S7; R77, D10, S6) [additions unprocessed])


Gift of Emily Gilfillan Dean Heilman, sister, 1966

Processing Information

The collection was processed and the finding aid written by Barbara Bezat.

Archer Gilfillan papers
Barbara Bezat
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Upper Midwest Literary Archives Collecting Area