Roy W. Meyer's studies of the Dakota and United States policies dealing with them brought about thoughtful public conversation during the late 1960s and 1970s, a time of social turmoil in the country.
Roy Willard Meyer was born on January 20, 1925, near Zumbrota. He earned a B.A. degree from Northfield's St. Olaf College in 1948, following World War II army service. Meyer then attended the University of Iowa. He earned a master's degree in 1949 and a doctorate in 1957.
Meyer first taught at North Dakota's Teachers College in Valley City. He returned to Minnesota in 1957 to teach English at Mankato State. Yet his interest in history led to a study of topics he felt deserved attention. Dr. Meyer focused on the eastern Dakota, known commonly at the time as the Santee Sioux. The result was an important book, History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial, published in 1967.
Meyer's scholarly work ranked among the first to present a balanced view of how America's west was won. At the time of Meyer's study, histories of American Indians had generally halted with their subjugation. Scholar Francis Paul Prucha, who later wrote a definitive study of American Indian–U.S. relations, applauded Meyer's work. He noted its exceptionally full research and judicious tone.
History of the Santee Sioux led readers to a greater understanding of the Santee. It also detailed injustices they suffered in their interactions with the United States. After Meyer's, more such studies were written. For example, Dee Brown's history Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee came out three years later. It became a best seller. Aimed at a broader audience, Brown's work brought more attention to U.S. government dealings with American Indians.
Meyer's history, and other studies that soon followed, were written during a time of social turmoil in the United States. By the late 1960s, American Indians, women's rights groups, and those concerned with gay rights had built on the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s led by African Americans and gained new national prominence.
Roy Meyer kept writing. Among his later works was The Village Indians of the Upper Missouri (1977). His articles "The Canadian Sioux: Refugees from Minnesota" and "The Prairie Island Community" earned praise. He received two awards for his writing from the Minnesota Historical Society. The Western History Association also honored him.
Scholars of Minnesota history studied other works by Meyer. He wrote papers that expanded upon his earlier writing. Once again, Meyer displayed skill in telling stories other historians had overlooked. His examination of these topics brought them to the attention of other scholars in a new way, giving them prominence they did not have before.
Meyer retired from Minnesota State University in 1990 and began work on a new book. His interest in Minnesota state parks led him to write Everyone's Country Estate: A History of Minnesota State Parks (1991), his last published work. He and his wife, Betty, were avid hikers and campers, and Meyer greatly admired the state park system. He died at age eighty-two on July 6, 2007.
Council of Minnesota Parks and Trails. "In Memoriam: Roy W. Meyer, 82, Professor and Author of Everyone's Country Estate: A History of Minnesota State Parks." The Council, July 7, 2007.
Hodge, Frederick W., ed. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office, 1907.
Meyer, Roy W. Everyone's Country Estate: A History of Minnesota State Parks. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1991.
—— . History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
—— ."The Prairie Island Community: A Remnant of Minnesota Sioux." Minnesota History 37, no. 7 (September 1961): 271-282.
—— . "The Story of Forest Mills: A Midwest Milling Community." Minnesota History 35, no. 1 (March 1956): 11-21. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/35/v35i01p011-021.pdf
—— . The Village Indians of the Upper Missouri: The Mandans, Hidatsas, and Arikaras. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1977.
Prucha, Francis Paul. "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee Review." American Historical Review 77 (April 1972): 589-590.
—— . "Off the Press." Minnesota History 41, no. 2 (Summer 1968): 95-96.
Sheppard, R.Z. "The Forked-Tongue Syndrome." TIME, February 1, 1971.
Roy Meyer returns to his home state to teach English at Mankato State College (present-day Minnesota State University, Mankato) in 1957. While there, he begins research that results in his important narrative, History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial.