James C. Schaap

A few scrappy, three-foot cuttings, no bigger than buggy whips, are coming up from the front yards of a half-dozen houses thought itself to be a town. That's it--the only trees for miles around. Mr. Taylor, a school board member who lived in the back of his own shop, sends his hired man around to take you to the Talbot's sod house, about a mile out of town. You don’t know the Talbot’s.

It's 1888, and you’d never been on a perfectly endless landscape like the one you’re on. It's hot, very hot, but there's a breeze--feel it?--the only thing keeping you from sweaty suffocation. 

You might have missed a Mormon monument not all that far from here, just down the road from Niobrara, Nebraska. It’s easy to pass by.

In the middle years of the 19th century, the Poncas were here, the Santees were here, even some Pawnees--and occasional Sioux bands never far away. That meant cavalry and agents and suppliers and draymen, not to mention swells of dreamers when anyone out west claimed to find gold in them thar’ hills. Simply said, there were more people coming and going.

Seems downright amazing today, but in the years just following the Civil War, two activist groups determined to get women the right to vote, went toe-to-toe for reasons that, in retrospect, seem as lightweight as their skirmishing. The National Women’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) actually opposed the passing of the 15th amendment to the U. S. Constitution (prohibiting states from denying male citizens the right to vote, thus admitting African-American men). The NWSA was not the least bit racist.

What the sad young man saw was a path up the hill. He had no idea where it went. It seemed to go nowhere at all, but he’d been all over the country looking for his love.

A thousand stories and as many legends begin at the foot of a path that has no visible end, but not this story. This story ends with a lonely road that leads to a deadly somewhere. And it’s set here, not that far away, at the foot of a path now long gone, a path from the banks of the Missouri to the top of Blackbird Hill, a path that exists only in some folks’ imagination.

Not Even The Past

Oct 9, 2016

Not everyone believes the Homestead Act of 1862 worth celebrating. If I were Native American, I wouldn’t be thrilled to know the government gave away land they considered vacant.

Lighting candles for the Homestead Act is like making Columbus Day a holiday: isn't it wonderful that Columbus "discovered" the Americas?”—as if nothing was here before the Nina, Pinta, and the Sante Maria beached.

Jim Schaap
Ally Karsyn

Wilma walked with an odd aluminum cane, a clear plastic handle grip like a tricycle’s and a four-pronged base for stability. She was old and had always been too heavy. To pull through our front door—left foot up, then the cane, then right foot—was a major undertaking.

Her visits sometimes lingered a half-hour or so beyond “long enough” because once she had to think about pulling herself up from the kitchen chair she threatened, leaving seemed like too much work. So she sat there as if just getting in through the door merited an audience.

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