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. 

Ways to Connect

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."

George Caleb Bingham / The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202.

It's morning, mid-summer. A haze lies over everything. The river valley seems veiled, the horizon indiscernible. What shrouds everything isn't fog, but a glowing wet glaze you can feel against your face. Likely as not it's August. George Caleb Bingham's style of painting is called luminist, the landscape ever so tranquil, yellow-y in the generous morning light. 

H. Bullock Webster / University of British Columbia

Don't know whether he actually carried the Good Book through the west in those early years. The story goes he took carried a copy of the Journals of Lewis and Clark, but whether or not he lugged the scriptures along may not be all that important. What nobody doubts was that Jedidiah Smith forever carried the Good Book in his heart, which made him peculiar among fur-trappers who traveled the Great River Trail, circa 1820. 

He didn't carp about religion, didn't hound people like some old parson. He just kind of lived it, selfless. Everybody knew it.

Dreamers

Jul 22, 2019
Antonio Saltini / History of Agricultural Sciences , Vol. II p. 673. The sun 24 hours Edagricole, Bologna 1987. ISBN: 8820624133

It’s gone now, but the recent Somalia exhibit at St. Paul's Minnesota History Center featured a Somali plow, a wooden contraption, the ox-drawn ancestor of, well, what we might see out here in Siouxland, some huge 21-bottom plow pulled along a Big Bud behemoth, 900 horsepower.

Imagine coming from a Somalian mud hut to the agri-world we live in. That massive tractor could open up more prairie in an hour than you could hope to see in a decade behind a sweaty team of oxen and that old wooden one-share doohickey.

Welcome to America.

Albert Colgrave [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons

I was tired. Not sure why, but I was; and even though we'd been gone for little more than a day, I was anxious to get home. Besides, it was July-hot, thick and humid. We were alone on a two-lane highway, coming back from a small-town Fourth fest. Hardly anybody else was out on the road, which made driving nice, so nice I didn't want to stop.

I had planned to. I knew the old battlefield lay there right along the highway. I could have been in and out in a quarter hour, if I wanted to; but we just drove right on by. It was hot, too--not in the car, but outside.

Library of Congress

In the Bible, when Job’s friends handed out their opinions of his suffering, they had his health in mind; but none of them, nor their arguments, could satisfy the emptiness in his soul. He'd lost his family, his land, his enterprise, even his health in a tsunami of bad times. Job likely numbered his days as "the worst hard times,"  the title of Timothy Egan's masterful portrayal of an American time and a place we've commonly become to describe as "the Dust Bowl."

Tall, dark, and handsome? --all of that. Virgil Earp and his brothers were big buffalo-shouldered guys who could make every man bellied up to the bar feel prune-ish. The Earps were Iowans, did some growing up here, anyway, their father a gold-digger forever looking west.

I’m talking Wyatt Earp here of OK Corral fame. He was an Iowan. Raised here, in Pella, tulips and wooden shoes down a straight-and-narrow path of Calvinist righteousness. Once upon a time, law-bible-toting, Dutch-speaking Pella was home to the Earp brothers of shelf full of dime novels.

Tony Webster / Flickr

When white settlers moved into northwest Iowa in the late 19th century, they squared the landscape with mud roads that make the flat land a grid. Of 23 townships of Sioux County, 19 are cut out into perfect squares.

Alfred Jacob Miller / Wikimedia Commons

Some call it the West's "golden age." I got to be convinced. Back then there was no Sioux City, no Iowa, no South Dakota, no Nebraska--what was here was the confluence of three rivers, one of them named after a young white adventurer who happened to die in a camp just off these hills. 

One of those river, the Missouri, was a I-29, an interstate that carried just about everybody who was anybody in our world. Those who didn't ride on water, walked or rode horseback. Few who passed here stayed back then. Those who did tried hard to get along. 

The Sioux City Boy Scouts were there to lead the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance. And the school band from Central High offered some fitting selections. The Sioux City Journal claims there were 300 folks in attendance at the dedication that Sunday afternoon, a goodly crowd of citizenry in 1929. 

Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region [Public domain]

Sunday, October 15, we went to church. The wind was then blowing wildly, but this became worse further along in the day. When we got out of church, we saw smoke in the distance, because the prairie was on fire. 

 

It is November, 1871, and Harmen Jan te Selle, a homesteader from Lancaster County, Nebraska, is writing home to the old country from a sod house amid grasslands he his family back home could never have imagined, an immense, roiling sea of grass.

Arnz and Company [Public domain]

There's a town there, a small one that likely grows a bit during summer vacation. It’s right on the river, Wisconsin side, just across the mighty Mississippi, which is not channeled right there at all and therefore, even today, streaked with cottonwood islands. 

Visitor7 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)] / Wikimedia Commons

I'd never heard of 3.2 beer until I got to college. Never was much of a drinker either. I had my first real beer the summer before coming to Iowa for school. Pulled one from an old refrigerator in the basement office of the state park where I worked, a fridge we kept stocked with six packs we’d confiscated from under-agers on the beach. If that fridge got short, we'd go on patrol some Saturday afternoon to restock.

Wikimedia Commons

Let me do the math. Were she born a century later, she might have just now concluded a stellar basketball career at USD. Why cut her short?--think of her as a Hawkeye. Wherever she played, she scored because even now, a century later, Hope Emerson would still tower over much of the opposition.

Hope Emerson was born 1897, when the game of basketball was a five-year-old. It would take another decade to put young women in uniform, even here in Iowa, where girls basketball went big-time decades before it did elsewhere. 

Pure Celebrity

Mar 25, 2019
Loomis Dean / Flickr

[Editor's note: Larry the Cable Guy has canceled his appearance in Sioux City.]

Henry Simpson Johnston came to Perry, Indian Territory, in 1895. He wasn't born in Oklahoma, but then most white men in Indian Territory--Oklahoma didn't become a state until 1907--weren't natives. But then, in Oklahoma even the Natives weren't native. Like so many others, Henry Simpson Johnston came west looking for America's last frontier. 

The Keeley Cure

Mar 21, 2019
Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr

When Carry A. Nation, as tough an hombre as any Kansas outlaw, married her second husband, they lived in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, just down the road from Dodge City, Main Street of "the wild west.”

Carry Nation wasn’t shy about her calling—she was out to enforce a law banning the sale of liquor, a law prodigiously scorned by small-town constables who, often enough, looked the other way before slamming down a drink or two themselves.

Benjamin F. Gue / Wikimedia Commons

Long, long ago a massive chunk of pink quartzite was left behind in the immense wash of a turbulent inland sea. It's impossible to imagine a rock 20-feet high, 40-feet wide, 60-feet long--getting carted anywhere, but that's what happened. An ocean swept that massive thing south and east from its moorings on the outcropping of Gitche Manitou or Pipestone. In its fingers, the glacier picked it up and unceremoniously left it behind.

This old Native story, at its start anyway, is all about beauty, and its attraction, about a woman, an Arikara woman, or so the legend says, a young woman so beautiful she attracted breathless warriors from all around, each of them bargaining with gifts—fine horses and other beautiful presents, whatever they could give--in return for this young woman’s hand.

Sounds like Shakespeare, doesn’t it?—a comely young maiden with too many suitors, all of whom will do absolutely anything to cut a deal she rejects, time after time after time.

Vern Wigfield / RRPictureArchives.NET

Started out as a trading post named after the man who decided, right then and there, to do some business, Antoine LeBeau, a Frenchman, like so many other trappers of his time. In 1875, he put up his business on the east side of the Missouri, just across from the Cheyenne River Reservation, and started trading furs, pots, pans, and whatever his customers, white and red, thought worth buying and selling in LeBeau, South Dakota.

The archive office of the town Spillville in Iowa / Wikimedia Commons

Could have been different. Could have been a whole lot different. Anton Dvorak wasn't just the neighbor's distant cousin house guest. He'd already spent a year as the head of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, where he taught composition and led the choir and orchestra. The year was 1892, and the conservatory was celebrating four hundred years of European/American history with a true European at its head.

A Winter's Tale

Jan 29, 2019
Wikimedia Commons

If the tale is true, the immigrant Menning family had some significant bucks when they left the Netherlands for America. Most pioneers didn’t, of course. But some did. What it didn’t get them, however, was plush accommodations on the steamer they took across the ocean, a trip which was, for them, no piece of cake.  In the North Sea already, their ship collided with another. Both sunk, sadly enough. Down into the cold went healthy chunk of the Menning’s worldly possessions.

Randy OHC

Donald Jackson is the Queen's scribe, the man--the artist--responsible for the creating England's most important state documents. He's the royal calligrapher, an artist, a past chair of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators, a word so rare my spellcheck red-lines it.

Donald Jackson is a Brit of course, and he carries levels of sophistication capable of leaving Yanks like me stuttering in envy, despite our 250-year-old revolutionary history. 

Oddly, however, the story Donald Jackson relishes telling is of a morning walk to a place where the St. John's 

SDPB

If Oscar Howe’s Wounded Knee Massacre (1960) is rarely seen these days, it’s because Dwight David Eisenhower’s Presidential Museum is seldom visited. The place is undergoing a major renovation right now, so having a look at Howe’s memorable work is likely impossible. But even if that masterpiece wasn’t presently under wraps, Abilene, Kansas, hasn’t seen much traffic since the Chisholm Trail Days, more than a century ago.

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

People I know have tipi rings on their South Dakota ranch, circles of stones visible only in summer, and then, only when cattle keep the grass down. But they're there, broad circles of half-submerged stones that mark the spots where, years ago our indigenous ancestors pitched tents, footprints of a different time.

Pixabay

The miracle of Christmas reveals itself to a father and his teenaged daughter in "First Cry in a Stable" by James Schaap, originally published in Finding Christmas: Stories of Startling Joy and Perfect Peace.  

Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time, his name was a household word, so great was his fame. He gave us a headless horseman and bearded old man with a rusty shotgun who appeared in town after an absence of umpteen years—tales like “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Yesteryear Once More

Old Elizabeth--she picked up a white woman's name--never heard of Susan B. Anthony. Couldn't have. She didn't know English, knew nothing about a right to vote. But that didn't mean she wasn't a feminist. No sir and no ma'am.

Old Elizabeth had little to do with men, but a lot to say. Outspoken? Yes, on all things gender-related. Opinionated?—you bet. She flat out didn't like men.

State Historical Society of North Dakota

Teddy Roosevelt’s ego is legendary, his ambition quite amply illustrated by his unsuccessful run for a third Presidential term, backed as he was by a political organization with the goofiest name in American political history, the Bull Moose Party.

Wikimedia Commons

Robert J. Casey: from The Cannoneers Have Hairy Ears

In cities and towns around the nation, Armistice Day was a joy. In France, the engine of war was difficult to slow or stop. Robert J. Casey remembered exactly—almost to the minute—how the armistice went on the battlefield.

And this is the end of it. In three hours the war will be over. It seems incredible even as I write it. I suppose I ought to be thrilled and cheering. I am merely apathetic and incredulous.

We got the word about 5:30 this morning amid a scene of great anticlimax.

Wikimedia Commons

Almost a year passed before she heard anything at all from her brother. Not that she didn't try. She did, hard and often, writing letters that would return stamped, "Addressee Transferred" or "Return to Writer." One has a note penciled-in: "wounded 8/7/18. We have no further record of this man," then a date "4-2-19," six months after the First World War ended. 

She must have been worried sick. The war, people claimed joyfully, was over. But what did she know of her brother? Nothing. A profound, inconsolable emptiness must have left her sleepless in a nightmare.

Pages