James C. Schaap

Contributor

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa. 

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The Algona Nativity

Dec 23, 2019

The first one was twelve feet wide, still quite a production because Jesus, Mary, and the babe were mud-sculptured, then baked, then painstakingly painted. Back in Germany, Eduard Kaib had been an architect. That’s not to say his hand-made Nativity–all of twelve feet wide–required architectural expertise. It was Christmas, 1944, and Kaib was a long, long way from home. Things just got to him; so he decided to create this most famous barnyard scene, a fully manned–and animal-ed–nativity.

James C. Schaap / Siouxland Blogspot

One of the cement plates standing in the park holds an image of the house she lived in here in Earlville, a little white house now long gone. What's here is a little commemorative park someone keeps up. Doesn't require much, I suppose. 

An old-fashioned merry-go-round stands just beyond the picnic tables, the kind of machine that scared me long ago, when some big kid would push and push until we'd sail around so fast I started to believe if I didn't fly off, my stomach would. 

Keystone/Second Roberts Commission [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons

It's 1944. Otto Steinke is too old to be drafted, his son just a few months too young. Besides, both are needed because the Allied cause requires mountains of food, food the Steinkes can produce on their Iowa farm. Not everyone can be a soldier, even some who really, really want to be. 

James C. Schaap

On August 17, 1962, President John F. Kennedy stood behind a podium just north of Pierre, South Dakota. The President of the United States was here for the dedication of Oahe Dam, an earthen monster that created the fourth largest man-made reservoir in the world. 

Seven mighty Oahe turbines create enough electricity to power whole regions of the country. Oahe Dam stands 245 feet above the river bottom and required 92 million cubic yards of fill dirt, plus well over a million cubic yards of concrete.

LeMars Semi-Weekly Sentinel Tuesday, October 1, 1929

You can know a ton about this story just by knowing the guy who robbed the bank, was driving a Graham-Page, an showroom vehicle in October, 1929, sure to draw a crowd when it was parked right there on Main in Sioux Center. 

If you're going to rob a bank in 1929, in a burg like Orange City or Sioux Center, it's not a good idea to leave a shiny Graham-Page a block down. There lies the tale. 

A Family Plot

Sep 30, 2019
Jim Schaap

There's no fort there anymore. Unlike Laramie or Robinson or Scott or Wingate, where you can still almost hear the history, Ft. Randall has only a busted-up chapel and a long, thin graveyard. If a state highway didn't run right by, no one would ever stop and only a few would remember. 

Fort Randall's claim to fame is having held Sitting Bull and his people when they returned, entirely diminished, from Canada some few years after Little Big Horn. Once upon a time, the legendary Sitting Bull was incarcerated right here. 

Jim Schaap

There’s some debate about exactly why Chief Black Hawk left Iowa in 1832 and crossed the mighty Mississippi. He claimed that he and his band had been robbed of their homeland, and all he ever wanted was to return to the land where his ancestors were buried.

That claim may have been deceptive. Some historians believe he wanted to build a Native Confederacy. More and more white faces were showing up on land that once belonged to the tribes who trapped and hunted the lush woodlands along the Rock, the Pecatonica, and the mighty Mississipi.

Pinkerton's Detective Agency / Wikimedia Commons

For the record, the Rock Island Express the boys hit that night was eight cars long--four coaches, two sleepers, and two baggage and express cars. It left Council Bluffs at five, on a run to Chicago. Oddly enough, the last sleeper was full of Chinese students on their way to colleges out east. The date was July 21, 1873.

Thomas Tran / National Resources Conservation Service

Hattie says that just before her mother got married, she’d left the farm to start working in a grocery in Springfield, SD, where some young men “seemed suddenly to have a greater hunger for candy and cigars.” One of those young men would become Hattie’s father, who, she says, in all candor, “had need of a girl like this." 

A century ago, when a man got to a certain age, and he came to know he’d better get somebody to help with chores--a man needed to get a wife like he needed to get a haircut. 

Ron Sterling / Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you've heard. As unlikely as it seems, trees may be our saviors. Researchers have determined we could plant 2.5 billion acres of new trees without losing an inch of farmland or cutting back at all on urban sprawl. Those billions of trees—take a deep breath here--can sweep up and away 200 gigatons of the carbon that's warming us dangerously. As Margaret Renkl said in a recent Times Opinion piece, "Planting trees. . .could go a long way toward saving us from ourselves."

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