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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.

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We’ve taken that razor-straight county road east and west often enough to have stopped, but never did. Last week, with time to kill, I pulled off where a bleached sign announced a historical marker with the headline Fort Brule.

When Sven Johnson, his wife and two children, left their native Norway, they spent the next eight weeks crossing the choleric Atlantic in a sailboat. Impossible to imagine.

A brother lived here in this new land, 100 miles from a place called Omaha, where that brother promised to meet Sven and his family, and did, although a couple days later than he'd said. If the Johnsons worried for a couple of homeless days, Sven doesn't mention it in his pioneer memoir.

When he was a kid, his father was killed when a rifle somehow discharged. A bloody fight for leadership ensued between him and his brother, and Little Crow was wounded in both wrists, scarring his arms so badly he kept them covered for his entire life. But he became the leader of the band of Dakota into which he was born. 

They were all wooden-shoe clad. I’m told klompen are wonderful insulators and they had to be because that morning the temperature was --22, if you can believe the stories, which is risky.

Snow quilted everything, and there was no road, nothing really but experience to guide those sleighs all from Orange City west to Calliope, 23 miles in insufferable cold. It was January 22, 1872.

Jeanne Reynal

  

A January thaw is what all of us look forward to right now, a breath of warmth that reopens our hope that someday soon April will return. Two cold-of-winter days, maybe three, of forty degrees. No wind.

Heaven comes to Siouxland.

That’s the relief people felt early on January 12, 1888, when most of those who’d put down homesteads had just arrived.

Here’s how David Laskin describes that morning:

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.

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