Small Wonders

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.

Wikimedia Commons

  

By the time American troops got to Europe in 1917, African-Americans had an established, but not celebrated history in military service of our country. In 1862, under the direction of Thomas Wentworth Higgenson, the sworn abolitionist and literary heartthrob of Emily Dickinson, the first federally authorized Black military unit, the First South Carolina Volunteers, went to war.

The Great Killer

Oct 15, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

When Edgar Hartman came down with the mumps, it laid him up for a month. That may seem unlikely. Mumps? Hartman was a 26-year-old soldier who'd just completed basic training and was actually aboard the ship and awaiting departure when he got hit with what most of us think of a simple childhood disease. 

Hennessey Public Library

Like just about every other town from sea to shining sea, Hennesey, Oklahoma, will celebrate its own pioneer days this summer--parades and burgers, gospel quartets, and a mud bog full of slippery pigs. There’ll be more horses and cattle than your ordinary burg, because Main Street, Hennessey is the Chisolm Trail. In the 1870s, downtown Hennessey was the world's largest cattle yard.

Wikimedia Commons

We don't know much about the boy. Maybe he was everyone else's last choice. Could be. Not much of a warrior, maybe his parents set him up with this girl, or there'd never have been a marriage at all. 

The girl wore some scars from the smallpox that rampaged through her village. Her Huron father and Mohawk mother both died, as did a host of others. The truth? --the girl, Tekakwitha, was forever sickly thereafter. She couldn't have been a doll, but her adoptive father was the village headman. 

Wikimedia Commons

Seems easy enough, simple and true: once you're free, that’s it--no going back. Free at last. Makes sense.

Well, not so. In the case of more than one slave and former slave, being free for a time, or having been free for months or even years, was not a ticket to ride because by law in these United States it was altogether possible and perfectly legal for a free man or woman to be returned to an owner and thus chained up once more, improbable as that may seem.

Wikimedia Commons

I was a boy in the 1950s, forty long years after November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, when the unimaginable carnage of the First World War finally ended. As a kid, I knew very little about my great uncle, who, by way of a grenade thrown 100 years ago next month, met his death in some battlefield gully in France. What I knew is that he'd been killed in the Great War, and that my parents had better attend Decoration Day rallies in the cemetery south of town.

Wikimedia Commons

Seems to me that houses these days have no attics, and I think that’s sad.

In what might be his most famous book, Curtis Harnack, born and reared just outside Remsen, spends an entire essay on the attics he explored as a kid in his ancient Iowa farm house, one complete chapter of his celebrated We Have All Gone Away. 

That wasn’t enough. A few years later he followed up with yet another memoir of the farm, The Attic, proving thereby that attics are actually treasure troves.

Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

Those in the know were not particularly surprised to see Kaitlin Bennett come on campus around graduation dolled up as she was--her mortar board darlingly decorated with a dare, and her brother's assault rifle, with scope, slung over her shoulder. News stories claim that she was an outspoken 2nd Amendment advocate during her tenure as a student and that she wasn't at all shy about shooting off her mouth about guns.   

Battle of the Spurs

Aug 13, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

There's something vintage Old Testament about the whole story, something that feels like myth. But it happened; and just a bit north of Topeka, an unkept highway marker up on a hill tells part of the story that can't be doubted. What can is far more fascinating.

Wikimedia Commons

It's like a movie, a set piece from a show like The Music Man, set right here in Iowa. Pioneer days, 1865: a steam engine belching a plume so thick you can hike on it pulls a string of cars through eastern Iowa's rolling hills. Aboard a flat car sits a church bell, sturdily strapped to prevent carnage. 

That bell attracts a crowd, so whenever the engine blasts out a warning to a town down the pike, people gather to gawk--and listen. A whole crowd of rubber-neckers have heard about that bell, so it's rung in every hamlet.

Internet Archive Book Images

It's a stretch to think of Robin Hood on the Great Plains. Dakota warriors could do magic tricks with a bow and arrow, but somehow the hero of the Sherwood Forest would be a foreigner in a landscape without trees. The plains just ain't the place for Robin Hood.

But let’s try. Think of him emerging, angel-like, from a broad field of 12-foot hybrid corn in yet another Field of Dreams. Suddenly, there he is in green leotards. Friar Tuck is with him, and Little John, and his entire merry band.

Don't remember where I heard it, but the conversation wasn't directed at me.  I must have been sitting somewhere among a whole group of people when I overheard a mom telling someone else about her boy, how he was really into his own music, how he was in three or four bands and had already produced his own CDs, how he was going to make music his career, wanted to be a singer/songwriter.

Sure, I thought. He and a half million others. Maybe more.

"That's all he lives for these days," she was saying, or something to that effect. She was proud of him, and I was cynical.

When it killed, cholera did so with astonishing quickness. From the moment symptoms appeared --excessive diarrhea and vomiting, sunken eyes in a blueish face--till the moment those eyes closed forever was often a matter of hours.

Once the contagion was recognized, a steamer named St. Ange pulled over just south of here at the mouth of the Little Sioux River.

Two Roman Catholic priests, Black Robes, were aboard, holy men, Belgian born but dedicated to missions here. Both had notable records of selflessness, but only one would do good any longer.

Amy Meredith

You've probably never heard of Hermann the German and likely never stopped to greet him in New Ulm, Minnesota. Then again, you could have driven through town and not seen him at all. You've got to go south and up into the wooded hills.

But once you're there, he's a can't-miss. Hermann the German stands 32-feet tall--you heard that right. What's more, his statue stands 102 feet above town--way up there. Hermann the German ain't no "small wonder"--he's huge.

Howard Chandler Christy

Willa Cather’s My Antonia is 100 years old, published the same year tens of thousands of doughboys were killed in France and Belgium, thousands more dying of epidemic influenza even before they arrived in Europe. Cather’s classic novel brings the region alive, just as does “Roll Call on the Prairie,” an essay she published in the Red Cross magazine.

Today, Willa Cather’s tall-grass people are the “small wonders.” Here’s what she wrote.

You got to love Carry A. Nation, a woman who listened when the Lord God almighty told her to uphold the law in Kansas and bring to an glorious end the miserable indecency of those who pedaled booze in utter disregard of the law.

US Bureau of Land Management

You have to hunt to find it, but here and there along the way you’ll find stone markers, set down a century ago to memorialize a highway that for a couple of rowdy decades swept through the land not so far away, on its way to nothing less than the promise of the good life. It’s the Oregon Trail.

The first white folks to "do" the trail were the Whitmans, a couple of newlywed missionaries bound for eastern Washington. It was 1836. Mrs. Whitman's letters home were a marvel when they were published out east, sparking a romance for the west in hearts and minds all over this nation.

Caroline Fraser says that what Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote down about Kansas, long ago, says a great deal about her, even though the Kansas prairie was home to her very first memories. She wrote those memories down on "Big Chief" tablets and never intended them for publication, unlike so much else she put to writing. Just for the record, Caroline Fraser's Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, just won the Pulitzer. It's a great read.

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