Native

Wikimedia Commons

On the night of April 23, 1865, eight days after President Abraham Lincoln met his end in the Ford Theater, a young man named Silas Soule, a Civil War and Indian Wars veteran and a constable in a frontier town called Denver, Colorado, ran into two cavalrymen, late, who, presumably drunk, were shooting their handguns irresponsibly.  No one knows what was said, but in a matter of minutes, Charles Squier, a ne'er-do-well with a rap sheet and a venomous hatred for Abraham Lincoln, shot Silas Soule in the head.  Soule died almost instantly.

Joel Emmons Whitney (1822-1886) / Public domain / Minnesota Historical Society

There was a war in 1862, and it wasn't all that far away. As wars go, this one was short, over and done with in little more than a month. But it was very bloody. In no other war in U. S. history were as many civilians killed in such a short time.

James C. Schaap

"What places do I really have to see when I'm here?" I asked her. 

"Oh, you have to see our church," she told me from behind the desk at the Osage visitor's center. She was clearly herself at least part Osage. I liked the way she had pushed the church at me, as if it was simply not to be missed--"our church," she said. I knew she meant the tribe's. 

"Our church," is Immaculate Conception, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, a red-brick cruciform built in 1910 and 

  added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Thomas M. Easterly

Had I gone to school in Iowa, perhaps, I’d have known a headman, a chief, named No Heart; after all, his people left their name behind when they travelled west and south. We're Iowans because of him--and them. They left their name behind, but little more we design to remember.

Nonetheless, you should know that No Heart’s descendants are a proud people who live in Oklahoma and have for years, despite their name. They call home just outside the town where my son's family lives, just across the Cimarron. 

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.

Jan Polack [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons

To the Lakota people, they were the "black robes," those insanely-overdressed white men who, in flat, black hats, moved in as if out of nowhere to bring the basics of the white man's religion.

The Benedictines among them were led by Father Martin Marty, who would become the Vicar Apostolic of Dakota Territory and eventually Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Paul. The Benedictines wore black robes long before they came to America; in fact, they identified themselves thereby and wore those monster cloaks, well, religiously.

Mostly.

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 Bighorn. Once upon a time, the legendary Sitting Bull was incarcerated right here. 

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

James C Schaap

We were standing atop a miniature mountain, looking out over the Big Sioux River from a statuesque bluff not all that far from the confluence of the Missouri and the Big Sioux, over the prairie land of Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve, 3000 acres of sheer beauty.  No one else was there.

Lully Lullay

Dec 31, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Coventry, an English city of 250,00 in the West Midlands, was home to significant industrial power when World War II began, a line of industries Hitler wouldn’t and didn’t miss. When the Battle of Britain began, a specific Coventry blitz started immediately and didn’t end for three long months--198 tons of bombs killed 176 people and injured almost 700.

But the worst was to come. On November 14, 1940, 515 Nazi bombers unloaded on Coventry’s industrial region, leaving the city in ruins. Its own air defenses fired 67 hundred rounds, but brought down only one bomber. It was a rout.

Ames Historical Society

It’s the summer of 1971, on Highway 34, southwest Iowa. Some big digger, a lumbering monster doing the dirt work for road construction--maybe they were going to widen the highway—chewed up ground as such monsters do so well. But it stopped, politely, at the graves of 28 people it found in the way.

You can’t just go charging through. Some kind of recovery had to be done.

One of the men running the show, a man named John Pearson, came home that night after work with the news.

Wikimedia Commons

Rarely has the first meeting between white folks and Native people been as richly visualized as it is in Terrance Malick's The New World (2005), when, in the middle of a tall-grass field, an Englishman named Capt. John Smith meets the Powhatan princess Pocahontas. Not only did neither know either, neither had ever seen anything quite like each other either. They stand and stare in awe. Both of them. 

History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century Volume 1

To call it a “rogue’s gallery” just might be understatement.

But first, let’s admit that distinguishing history from myth or legend is not only difficult but impossible, witnesses long gone, histories copywrited years ago.  So exactly how evil these bad guys were is answerable, truthfully, only by saying they were inspiringly bad.

Jim Schaap

What’s there today is more of a grave than a memorial. Once upon a time—well, for more than 100 years—an obelisk stood mightily atop that chunk of granite, rose twenty feet into the air above the Missouri River.

But the obelisk is gone. A naked steel bolt reminds you that something once stood there. But then, maybe that’s okay. The issues aren’t mine to determine.

Remember Sacagawea

Apr 10, 2017

What happened to her when she was a kid wasn't all that unusual among nomadic, war-faring Great Plains tribes. When her people--the Shoshones--started into a bloody fight with another--the Hidatsas--she got herself kidnapped, lost her home, then got another she surely hadn’t asked for, and was eventually--sad but true--sold into slavery. At the time, she was only ten years old. 

Alex Waters

The state legislature has been in session seven weeks and a lot has happened.  Lawmakers passed the controversial Chapter 20 measure that largely ended collective bargaining for public employees in Iowa, changing the way their healthcare will be managed and might eventually affect their pension system.