Myth

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.

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.

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.

Bad Village

Jun 29, 2017
Smithsonian Institute

Her father doesn’t ask her consent, but promises his greatly-admired daughter to the old warrior anyway, despite her silent protest. Many years separate the girl from the man she is bound to marry, and secretly—her parents know nothing of it—she had promised herself already to a young warrior from the village.

All of that is the first act of this somehow familiar drama. What it clearly suggests is an ancient human conflict: love versus community, tradition, and family. This version belongs to Omaha lore.

Clear as a friend's heart, 'twas, and seeming cool--

A crystal bowl whence skyey deeps looked up.

So might a god set down his drinking cup

Charged with a distillation of haut skies.

As famished horses, thrusting to the eyes

Parched muzzles, take a long-south water-hole,

Hugh plunged his head into the brimming bowl

as though to share the joy with every sense. 

And lo, the tang of that wide insolence 

Of sky and plain was acrid in the draught!

How ripplingly the lying water laughed!