SDSU alumna thesis ties South Dakota to the big screen


The thesis of a South Dakota State University alumna is gaining notable attention for its connection to a recent award-winning film. 

Carol Blackford wrote her thesis as a comparative study over “Lord Grizzly” and “The Big Sky” in 1984. In 2015, “Lord Grizzly” was adapted into the award-winning movie “The Revenant.”

“Lord Grizzly,” by Frederick Manfred, is a biographical novel written in 1954 about the survival of mountain man Hugh Glass. Glass was mauled by a bear near present-day Lemmon, South Dakota and abandoned by his fellow travelers who assumed he wouldn’t survive. 

Emmeline Elliott, library operations manager, was familiar with the story of Hugh Glass and, after seeing “The Revenant,” had an interest sparked in learning more about this piece of South Dakota history. 

“It’s interesting to have that connection between the ‘big screen’ and SDSU,” Elliott said. “Carol Blackford’s thesis has gained attention because of public interest in the movie and the story.”

Despite all the awards and praise for “The Revenant,” Blackford said the sensationalism of Hollywood changed the integrity of what happened to Glass.

“I thought it was visually stunning. It was filmed exceptionally well as far as the lighting, the scenery, the costumes,” Blackford said. “But I felt it was full of gratuitous violence and wasn’t true to the story of Hugh Glass.”

One of the reasons Blackford felt compelled to write about both “Lord Grizzly” and “The Big Sky” was because of the feelings each story left her with.

“The Big Sky,” whose film version was also “massacred” in Hollywood, left her with no hope or feelings of compassion after reading. While “Lord Grizzly,” she felt rejuvenated and full of spirit.

“If forgiveness was easy it wouldn’t be a big deal,” Blackford said. “[‘Lord Grizzly’] has the themes of learning to forgive other people’s shortcomings.”

This, she said, is another way the movie veers from the true story. In “The Revenant,” Glass becomes a character seeking revenge rather than giving forgiveness. 

Even so, Blackford said she hopes “The Revenant” wins the top honor at the upcoming Academy Awards. 

“I hope it does [win Best Picture],” Blackford said. “This will make people aware of what took place and put Hugh Glass on the map.”

She said she wishes South Dakota was given more credit, but the movie will allow people an insight into both the myth and the truth of Glass, who she believes was marginalized by society. 

“His story should have been enough,” Blackford said. “Some things are perfect … and don’t need anymore spice.”


Her thesis, which took about a year to write, is now available on South Dakota State’s new institutional repository where all theses and dissertations written at the university will be posted and available to download for research amongst other things.

“Scholarship is built upon scholarship,” said Michael Biondo, the institutional repository coordinator. “The bread and butter of any university is electronic thesis and dissertation.”

Blackford’s thesis was brought to the attention of those working in the library archives and repository when KSFY interviewed her about it in the library. 

SDSU’s repository is the first of its kind available in South Dakota, and it’s not limited to only graduate-level student work.

Faculty research, papers, data and any sort of scholarly or creative output can and will be posted on the site.

Blackford’s interview with KSFY will air following the Academy Awards Feb. 28.