Settlers

It's romanticized into sheer silliness. The only painting I’ve ever seen that concerns the massacre just up the road at Lake Shetek, Minnesota, features fancy white horses pulling an ornate wagon packed full of ladies in Sunday-go-to-meetin' dresses, while three gentlemen in suits and fedoras are running alongside. It’s Downton Abbey in rural Minnesota, circa 1862. There are no smiles, and the woman driving is switching every bit of speed she can from the steeds. Their hurry is concerning, as is the fear on all of their faces.

James C. Schaap

Years ago, my grandma blessed me with a cache of ancient sepia photographs, cardboard-backed, studio shots. She wrote some things on those old pix because, Lord knows, she knew some day neither me nor anyone else on the face of the earth would have a clue who those old-timers are or were.

The prairie grass was very tall, spread wide as the eye could see, an immense, shaggy hide over undulating hills, grass so tall and thick that it was a hazard for those white folks who determined to settle the land here. The only way to be sure you knew where you were going, should you want to walk with the family, was to hold hands and not let the kiddos get lost in the mess. Such things happened. In those first weeks and months, the only way to be neighborly was to dig trenches between the soddies.  

Wright, Robert Marr (1840-1915) / Wikimedia Commons

  

So give me a home where the buffalo roam

Just get me the heck out of this sod house.

 

You know, I used to say there weren't any great songs about sod houses because no one went all rhapsodic about living in thick dirt. A sod house kept out heat and cold in remarkably efficient ways and likely never blew away. Let it be said—or sung—that sure as anything a soddie was a shelter in the time of storm. But far as I knew, nobody ever picked out a song about a sod house that found its way into the American soul. No siree.

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.

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.

Wikimedia Commons

When James Fennimore Cooper complained about the novel he was reading, his wife told him to put up or shut up, to write a better one himself. That tiff launched the Cooper’s career, a man considered America’s first novelist. His output was huge, even though Mark Twain claimed, “his English is a crime against the language.” That's an unsettling review. 

Good Samaritans on the Prairie

Aug 23, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Okay, at least the man in the ditch in the famous New Testament parable, put upon by robbers, says the gospel of Luke, wasn't alone. What passed along the road above as he lay there was hardly a freeway, but at least there were passers-by, even if neither of the first two paid him the time of day in his suffering.

But the third one helped the guy out and up. What I'm saying is, at least the poor guy in the ditch wasn't alone.

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.

White Buffalo of the Omaha Chiefs

Jan 2, 2017

According to an old Omaha history, the Omahas first saw a white man somewhere close to where today they would find Homer, Nebraska. Those strange white people carried with them “blankets, cloths, trinkets, and guns,” all of which made that first meeting historic—deathly-looking white folks were one thing, but guns—that was amazing.

It was the late 18th century, and that first sighting was reciprocal—it was the fur traders’ first sight of the Omahas as well. There are no reports of those trappers being equally awed.