Join our publisher, Bernie Hunhoff, as he offers stories, quips & travel tips gathered as he roams South Dakota. Other magazine staffers may contribute here or there as well. Enjoy the South Dakota miscellanea.
September 5, 2014
Here at South Dakota Magazine, we've always felt at affinity for Amanda Pennington. She helped her husband, John, built the big brick house that has been our publishing headquarters since 1987. She cooked here, raised children here. Gazed out the same windows that we do.
She was sad here, we know that. And she was sickly. But we hope she also had good times.
She and her husband John lost two of their five children in Alabama. They headed to Dakota Territory when he was named territorial governor in 1874. The Penningtons started a new life in Yankton, raising their three surviving children while John became immersed in controversial issues like gold in the Black Hills, development of the railroads and establishing counties and cities.
They built a big brick house and several smaller houses at 3rd and Pearl in downtown Yankton. When John left the governorship, he also constructed a commercial structure on Third Street and started a weekly newspaper.
But Amanda grew ill and died in the winter of 1884. She was just 47. “She conversed freely with her husband and children up to within a few hours of her death, expressing willingness to go and her unswerving confidence in blessed immortality,” according to the obituary in the Yankton Press & Dakotian. “The few intimate friends present were deeply moved by her perfect resignation and her expressions of hope for the life to come.”
A final wish was that she be buried beside the two little children who’d preceded her in death. The family had bought six plots in the Yankton Cemetery, and she was buried there. But no marker was put up, probably because her husband intended to respect his wife’s wishes and eventually return the body to Alabama.
John Pennington remained in Yankton for seven more years before returning to the South. He was buried in Oxford Memorial Gardens Cemetery at Oxford, Alabama upon his death in 1901.
Mrs. Pennington, first lady of the Dakota Territory, remains in the Yankton Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But that will change on Wednesday (Sept. 10) when local citizens plan to unveil a new gravestone designed and donated by Luken Memorials of Yankton.
Rt. Rev. John Tarrant, the Episcopal Bishop of South Dakota, will preside at a dedication service, assisted by Father Jim Pearson, pastor of the very same Episcopal Church in Yankton that was attended by the Penningtons and in which her funeral was held 130 years ago.
The public is invited to attend the brief service at the gravesite in Yankton Cemetery. It starts at 3 p.m. Immediately following the service, everyone is invited to the Pennington house for refreshments and a short discussion with local historians about the Pennington family.
September 2, 2014
Forty years ago, I landed a writing job with the Watertown Public Opinion. Just in time, as it turned out, because our son Chris was born a few months later.
Well, I’ve been writing and poking about in South Dakota ever since — along with raising Chris and his sister Katie, some political tomfoolery and so on. Myrna has been a pretty and nice partner every step of the way.
After a few years of writing for the Watertown and Madison newspapers, we started a weekly newspaper. And then, 30 years ago, we started this magazine with the simple idea that South Dakota’s stories deserved telling.
I’m at that awkward time where I’m old enough to know that I probably can’t do this forever, and yet I’m good for a few more years.
I do believe that South Dakota Magazine needs a new generation of leadership and we have it in Katie Hunhoff and Heidi Marsh. Those young ladies became friends 25 years ago as horse-crazy kids in Yankton County’s 4-H program. They’ve been working together here at the magazine for several years (Katie for 12 and Heidi for 6). Now they’re creating a partnership to be your new publishers.
They’re smart and enthusiastic, and they understand something important that I learned through the years: South Dakota Magazine really belongs to you and the other 180,000 readers. Still, somebody needs to see that the postage is paid and the stories have good pictures, and Heidi and Katie are taking on that responsibility. I’m sure their family style of leadership will better serve our readers than the corporate alternatives that are swallowing up most of today’s media.
They are also blessed with a wonderful and talented staff of 10 here at the magazine that cares deeply about South Dakota. We’ve all come to learn that the magazine helps readers establish a sense of place, and to more greatly appreciate and enjoy life in South Dakota. That makes our hard work feel very worthwhile.
Katie and Heidi assure me that they’ll let me do some writing, which is all I wanted to do when I started working for the Watertown paper in 1974. So I’ll see you along a South Dakota road.
Meanwhile, if you have a complaint about a story or photo, call Katie or Heidi. Unless it’s something I wrote. Then please don’t tell the bosses. They seem nice enough, but at my age I don’t want to give them any reason to take away my keys.
— Bernie Hunhoff
August 29, 2014
Travelers were arriving in Yankton by train, horse and steamboat 125 years ago when South Dakota gained statehood.
Steamboats and passenger trains are long gone, but visitors will be coming with horses next week in the old Missouri River city, where a quasquicentennial wagon train will begin on Thursday (Sept. 4). The public is welcome to join the wagoneers for a celebration of statehood on Wednesday afternoon and evening (Sept. 3). Headquarters for the festivities is the rodeo grounds, a half-mile west of the intersection of Highways 50 and 81 on the far northside of Yankton.
From noon to 5 p.m., tours will be offered of a museum-in-progress — the restoration of the historic Mead Building as a new home for Yankton’s old Territorial Museum. Wagon rides will be provided from the rodeo grounds to the nearby museum (pulled by an old tractor, not a horse.) A chicken dinner will be served from 5-7 p.m., with proceeds going to the museum project. Tickets may be obtained in advance at the Territorial Museum. Tickets may also be purchased at the event on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A program of music and history also begins at 5 p.m., hosted by Terry Crandall. The agenda includes singer Mike McDonald, a re-enactment of the first governor by actor John Timm, songs by the Beadle School first-graders, more music by country singers Rachel Wood and Ashley Schweitzer, a speech by wagonmaster Gerald Kessler and remarks by Governor Dennis Daugaard.
A concert and dance will ensue from 7 to 10 p.m., featuring the country/folk songs of Poker Alice. All the activities except the meal are free. No beer or alcohol will be served at the program or dance, so bring the kids and grandkids. This is an opportunity for them to get a sense of the spirit of challenge and adventure that has marked the history of their home state.
Everyone is encouraged to dress in western wear, contemporary or historic. Commemorative t-shirts are available at the Chamber of Commerce for $12. They will also be sold at the event on Wednesday. The t-shirt slogan reads, “Happy Trails to You, Until We Meet Again in Yankton.”
August 22, 2014
The border between the two Dakotas is unique in the nation because it is divided by hundreds of granite markers, erected shortly after the two states were welcomed into the Union.
Charles Bates headed a hard-working crew that installed the markers in 1891. They were erected every half-mile along the 360-mile border. Many have stood the test of time, but a number have been lost to vandals, thieves and the Dust Bowl. Those still visible have sunk to about half of their original height.
A smalltown museum curator in northern South Dakota contacted us today, wondering how they might obtain one of the markers for exhibit. But there's the question of who to contact. Who owns them? Who can give permission for such a task? We're going to try to get them an answer, and we'll keep you posted.
We know there are other museums with the stones on display, and in fact the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre has one by its flagpole outdoors. Someone apparently dropped it off.
August 21, 2014
Lots of folks call or write us with questions about South Dakota. But they don't ask about the Missouri River so much, or Mount Rushmore or the Badlands.
Usually it's about food. Where to eat. Who makes the best beef jerky. What town has the best fish fry.
And today the query is about kolaches. A reader from Missouri wants to know if anybody in South Dakota makes the old-style Czech kolaches and would ship them to him.
"My mother's family was raised in Armour, near Lesterville, and of course were very Bohemian. Great cooks and bakers, and I remember well as a little boy, standing in my Great Aunt's kitchen waiting for the kolaches that they were baking to cool enough so I could have one or probably more."
Of course, Tabor is the Czech Capital of the region and in June the ladies there make more kolaches than there are fish in the nearby river. But kolaches are not so easy to come by in the little town during the other 11 months of the year, so we directed the reader just a few miles down Highway 50 to Tyndall Bakery — run for many decades by the Reub family and now operated just as splendidly by Ed and Carol Radack.
Ed says they'd be happy to ship kolaches to Missouri or anywhere. They make them every day. But please, he said, call before 10 a.m. CST (605-589-3372) and ask for Carol. (We didn't talk to Carol, but I'm assuming she's ok with that?)
As for me, I'll just stop on our next journey west.
August 5, 2014
Carvel Cooley stopped in our magazine office today. He's a great old fellow from Bon Homme County, a gentleman farmer historian.
He brought a "new" picture of Jesse James.
The James brothers have long been linked with southeast Dakota Territory and northeast Nebraska but there's been little proof and some James historians doubt that the two had much of a connection to this part of the West.
Their most famous sighting is of course at Garretson, north of Sioux Falls, where Jesse supposedly jumped Devil's Gulch on a stolen horse in September of 1876 as he and his brother Frank were fleeing from the Northfield, Minn., bank job. As the story goes, Frank was on the west side of the gulch and Jesse on the east. As the posse closed in on Jesse, he reportedly spurred the old nag and persuaded her to leap an 18-foot chasm.
Family stories in our part of the old territory have kept alive many other sightings. There's hardly a 19th century barn standing that Jesse didn't sleep in; hardly a 19th century farmhouse, for that matter, where he didn't dine. All the stories tell of a kindly young man who caused no harm and sometimes even extended a courtesy or maybe left a horse.
Mr. Cooley says there are records showing that Jesse might have fathered a child at Santee, Neb., south of Yankton, in 1870. The child was supposedly baptized Jesse James Chase in March of 1870. He says Jesse was present at Devil's Nest, an outlaws' hideway about 30 miles west of Yankton on the Nebraska side of the river, in 1869, 1871 and 1876.
Mr. Cooley lives on the Bottom Road west of Springfield, across the river from Devil's Nest. He brought us this undated picture of the James brothers, hanging out with a couple of young men from Nebraska. It is further proof that the James boys were making acquaintances in our part of the country. If you have more evidence, let us know. We've started a file.
August 1, 2014
I've never lived in Wessington Springs, but we read the town's weekly paper, the True Dakotan, every week at the magazine office because we're fans of the Wenzel family publishers.
I've always appreciated the way they capture in black and white and occasional color the pulse of their town.
Since a June 18th tornado devasted the community, we've watched with ever-more appreciation on how the Wenzels lovingly record the long road back to normalcy. First, they published all the emergency news that had to be known. Then they took stock of what was lost and what was left. Now they're highlighting and encouraging the restoration. This week we learned that the Zion Lutheran Church, a skyline landmark to the town, stands strong enough to be repaired. It is 98 years old. "And the heart of the church, the people inside worshipping every Sunday for the past 100 years hopefully will continue for many years to come," wrote Duke Wenzel.
South Dakota has some 150 weekly newspapers. A good share of what you read in those papers cannot be found in daily papers. It won't be found in blogs like this. It won't be anywhere online in any trusted and easily-available format. All the above media have a place — but I've yet to see how the online world can do what the Wenzels do in any sustainable fashion.
I can't imagine the comfort that the True Dakotan has provided to the people of Wessington Springs in the past five weeks. A terrible tornado changed their world, but some degree of reality came back around on Tuesday when the paper came to their mailbox. And the next Tuesday. And the next.
We're a little partial to magazines, naturally. But I can only dream of providing the community service that the Wenzels have given since June 18 — and long before June 18.
July 29, 2014
Interested in some Web history? South Dakota Magazine writers were among our state's first bloggers a decade or so ago. In fact, the blog was about all our Website consisted of for several years. Then we started adding all of today's beautiful features and somewhere along the way the blog was dropped. But we're always finding or hearing interesting things that don't quite fit our Facebook page, so today we are re-introducing the blog. I'll be doing a lot of the entries, but I'm hoping our entire staff will help because they're all good travelers. So here we go, for the second time. It's just another way for us to share the glories of life in South Dakota.
June 23, 2014
Thanks to all who participated in our July 2014 Whereizzit in South Dakota contest! Look for this old water tank next time you're in the Oelrichs area.
We drew Maynard Britain's name at random from the list of correct guesses, so he'll be receiving an assortment of South Dakota Magazine products in the mail soon.
Be sure to watch for a new Whereizzit contest in our September/October issue!
June 20, 2014
Eight years ago, we wrote several times on our magazine Web site about a little fellow from Alpena who was in the fight of his life. Hunter Mees was just eight years old, and the boy was fighting off Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
It didn't seem fair. He was as cute as an 8-year-old could be with a big smile and more grit than a kid should ever have to show.
But some good came out of Hunter's lymphoma. We don't know the whole story because we mostly observed it from a hundred miles away, but first we watched as the Wenzels at the Wessington Springs True Dakotan spread the news about the boy's plight.
Then the story hit the Internet, thanks in part to our then-new Web site which was little more than a blog. Jerry Hinkle's Holabird Advocate, a community blog, spread the news. So did our old friend Grant Peterson, who had a popular radio show in Brookings.
The story of Hunter caught fire. Teachers, high school students, friends, relatives and strangers began to shave their heads to show solidarity with Hunter. Even the Dakota Wesleyan baseball team went bald.
A single fundraiser, promoted by all the above entities, raised $20,000 on a Friday night and the money kept coming in to help Hunter's family with the expenses that surround such a fight. Everyone wanted to help Hunter, especially those who'd seen his smile.
Hinkle, who still writes his blog, says Hunter changed his life. It pushed him to pursue social media as a means of building community, and that led him to study at DWU. "Whenever I'm faced with a difficult or seemingly impossible job, I think of the 8-year-old boy who kicked cancer in the teeth and I keep plugging away."
Yes, Hunter's cancer went in remission. He kicked it away in 2007.
We got word in May that Hunter just celebrated his 16th birthday. He's healthy and an active student at Woonsocket High School. We thought our longtime readers would want to know.
June 16, 2014
Boy, this one proved to be a toughie! Only Phyllis Kubal of Yankton knew that the stone shrine pictured can be found in Ethan, South Dakota. We'll have a variety of South Dakota Magazine products off in the mail to her soon.
Thanks to all who guessed, and look for a new Whereizzit contest in our July/August issue!
February 10, 2014
If you called our office over Christmas time about your gift subscriptions, chances are you spoke with Emily VanDerhule. Lucky for us, we got her to stay for good. She'll be assisting with sales and marketing at the magazine. First task, answer these five tough questions:
1. What is your favorite South Dakota eatery?
I've been all over the state, but I have to say Tastee Treat here in Yankton. If someone else is buying, I really love Brule in Vermillion.
2. When living in Denver, what did you miss most about your home state?
Being near the river. I'm a river town kind of gal. I also missed the humidity.
Think you know where this fun scene was photographed? Tell us in our January Wherewazzit contest. To participate, leave a comment with your guess. On Feb. 3, we'll select a winner from the correct guesses. The winner will receive a collection of South Dakota Magazine products.
We have a winner!
Congratulations Greg Dean of Pierre. He was one of many who correctly responded to our January Wherewazzit contest. The location was indeed Stony Point at Lake Kampeska. Look for our next Wherewazzit contest in our March/April issue.
December 20, 2013
Deerfield Store had been shuttered for 10 years we met Tom Sawyer in 2005. He was living in the old building, deep in the Black Hills, with a tabby-colored old tom cat. His wife, Sherrill, had died a few years earlier.
A "Closed For Good" sign hung out front but it didn't deter old customers and friends from stopping to say hello. Tom's living room was the main store. Shelves still rose above the old wood floors. A piano, once the center of attention at many impromptu parties, was gathering dust in the corner.
Sherrill, who had studied music in California, was the spark of the tiny community. She would play for anyone, anytime. She could cuss as well as anyone if the situation warranted, but she was clearly the first lady of Deerfield. "She was hell for the first 25 years but she got soft later," Tom joked.
Tom said the store began its decline in 1972 — 40 years ago. And it wasn't because of competition from Rapid City or Hill City. It was a stupid, stupid murder.
Tom and Sherrill raised two sons at Deerfield, Mike and Jim. The boys loved the excitement of the store, where good times flourished. "I don't think the folks ever planned the parties," said Mike, many years later. "Local people and the visitors, the fishermen and hunters, would just show up and everybody would have a few drinks and have a good time. Mom was good on the piano."
Mike still raises cattle in the Deerfield community, among other things.
Jim was a Custer policeman who helped the Southern Hills on the night of the tragic flood of 1972. He was so busy that he didn't sleep in a bed for the next three nights.
On the fourth night after the flood, the young policeman was called to investigate a break-in at a Custer saloon. The suspects were still there, and they took the young officer hostage. On a nearby hillside, he was shot with his own gun. The murderers escaped with $37 and a saddle.
They were later caught and given life without parole. But of course the damage was done. Tom and Sherrill and Mike were grief-stricken. Sherrill closed the piano cover and the store changed.
"That was pretty much the end of her piano playing," Tom told us in 2005.
A dozen years later, the store closed. The Sawyers had run it for 42 years.
Tom regained his good nature. He held court at the closed store for a few years before moving to Rapid City. He died this week at age 92, ending a chapter in Black Hills history.
Today, visitors get their fuel, bait and beer at the Deerfield Lake Resort, two miles east of the old store. It's a nice place, run by very friendly folks. But there's no piano.
Change is inevitable, and it often hurts. But for $37 and a saddle?
October 31, 2013
Saturday (Nov. 2) is a big day for the Mother City of the Dakotas. Governor Dennis Daugaard and a number of other elected officials, past and present, will gather with the public at large to kick off South Dakota’s 125th birthday party in Yankton.
Geographically, Yankton’s role was established long before anyone was writing and reporting on such matters. Native Americans had a permanent camp, possibly going back several centuries. The city’s very name comes from the Dakota word “Ihanktonwan” which was known as the end village along the Missouri.
Lewis and Clark camped there in 1804, and visited with the Native American residents. A baby boy was born while they were there; the famous explorers wrapped him in an American flag and celebrated his birth. Later, the child grew to be a Dakota leader, Struck-by-the-Ree — an amazing chief who promoted women’s rights, environmentalism in the river valley, religious freedom and education.
White settlers built a trading post there in 1857, and the city became prominent when President James Buchanan declared it capitol of Dakota Territory in 1861. Of course, the “Yankton gang” lost the capitol 22 years later but the city has grown to become a political, educational, medical, manufacturing, recreational and media powerhouse, playing a role that has always exceeded its modest population.
Few communities throughout the West have such a reputation, past and present. Saturday is a golden opportunity for Yankton to show once again why it’s the Mother City of the Dakotas. The local business community has worked with the governor’s office to celebrate with style. Curt and Cena Bernard have opened their beautiful Riverfront Event Center as the quasquicentennial headquarters for the day.
The activities begin at 3:30 downtown with re-enactors who will speak for some of our most colorful and important historical characters. Festivities move to the Riverfront Event Center at 6 p.m. for a social hour, followed by a 7 p.m. program with the governor and then a 7:30 p.m. dance with a 10-piece orchestra.
It’s all free, thanks to the generosity of local businesses. And you can wear anything from a tux and top hat to pioneer garb or your usual blue jeans.
Bring your children and grandchildren. This is an opportunity to instill a sense of the history that their community represents. And encourage the seniors in your life to attend, for without their stewardship through the decades we wouldn’t continue to be vibrant community.
Yanktonians hope you’ll join them Saturday afternoon and evening to celebrate life in South Dakota. Yes, there’ll be a big birthday cake.
October 16, 2013
The statewide concern for South Dakota’s West River stockgrowers warms the heart. Despite that big river, we are one state and that is especially obvious in times like this.
Most of us who live in East River have friends, relatives, customers or associates of some sort out West. As Lt. Governor Matt Michels often jokes, South Dakota is big enough to qualify as America’s 15th largest city — if we were all crowded into one big city from Buffalo to Dakota Dunes.
You might think that we would lose the camaraderie of a city, with our 820,000 people spread out over 77,000 square miles. But attend a Jackrabbit or Coyote football game (or better yet a Jackrabbit vs. Coyote game) and you’ll soon know that we have a lot in common. You can get the same lesson during deer season, or the legislative session, or countless other occasions.
We learned it again last week when cold rains doused the sheep and cattle on the West River rangeland, followed by a blizzard now called Atlas that buried the already-freezing and weakened livestock in as much as three feet of wind-driven snow.
Nothing tightens the chest of a rancher more than the sight of an animal lying dead, and it’s far less about money than the simple fact that he or she feels like the guardian of the herd. When adversity hits — even something as impossible to fight as a blizzard called Atlas — the cattleman or sheepherder feels responsible and wonders what might have been done differently.
Catastrophes are always that way.
The October 2013 blizzard was exceptional in its fury, and because it arrived when calves are usually still warming themselves in the autumn sun. But South Dakotans are blizzard survivors.
Exactly 100 years ago, a horrible blizzard blanketed all of South Dakota. The Perry family, new homesteaders, were traveling to their ranch about 10 miles east of Rapid City when the storm hit.
Mr. and Mrs. Perry and four of their nine children were in a wagon. The older children went ahead on horseback. They became separated in the blinding snow.
The bodies of the parents and the four younger chldren were found by the wagon the next day, a quarter-mile from the farmhouse. The other children survived and they made burial plans for a funeral that attracted much attention.
One visiting journalist attended and upon seeing the six coffins in the snow he wrote, “In a little cemetery out on the edge of the Black Hills, where men hunt gold, they have just dug the longest, widest, deepest grave in the great West. In that one grave lie a father, mother and four children — the most touching sacrifice offered up to the great blizzard which has just swept this bleak waste of the Middle West.”
The journalist meant well but he hardly understood this land, and its appeal. We are one community, tied together by pheasants and deer, by a 35-day legislature, a web of wild rivers, mountains and flatlands and hills in between — and by cows and sheep. And tied together mostly by a people who like the freedom of space under a big sky.
For 124 years, the citizens before us have come together to overcome floods, droughts, tornadoes, fires, depressions and blizzards.
Fortunately, in this latest challenge, we didn’t lose any human life to the storm. But some of our friends from the western side might very well lose their livelihoods.
A number of organizations are raising funds to help the ranchers hardest hit. If you have a few dollars, one of the best places to send a check would be the Black Hills Community Foundation, Box 231, Rapid City, S.D. 57701. Make it out to the Ranchers’ Relief Fund.
Updated 10/17: We've now learned that four South Dakotans did lose their lives in accidents or misfortunes related to the storm in western South Dakota. The four families have our heartfelt sympathy for their losses.
August 26, 2013
Biting the friendly hand of Washington wouldn't be wise, considering that Uncle Sam has been feeding us lots of goodies in South Dakota for a long, long time.
South Dakotans get about $1.50 back for every dollar sent to Washington — far more than most states — and what do we have to show for it? A family farm economy, an Air Force Base and National Guard, national forests and grasslands, veterans hospitals, interstate highways, Mount Rushmore, airports, rural water systems and many other staples of South Dakota life.
Then let's not forget the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery in Spearfish. The pastoral little hatchery in the center of Spearfish has been raising trout since 1892. Next to the cavalry and homesteading, it may be the oldest federal program in the state. And it may be one of the first to go.
We heard rumors last week that the hatchery on Spearfish Creek is on a closure list. There's no confirmation from Washington; neither is there a denial. If it's true, that's a sad way for the feds to say goodbye to a 117-year-old fisheries partner.
Government spending as a percentage of our nation's GDP is too high. We can all agree on that. But the closure of the Booth hatchery seems to be a knee jerk reaction. Shouldn't someone stand up and explain the reasoning? Shouldn't someone from Washington show up and say here's what it costs, here is the cost/benefit analysis and here are the options?
Shouldn't the community of Spearfish — which has contributed many thousands of volunteer man-hours to the hatchery through the years — and the state of South Dakota be given some time to respond?
This is no way to run a government. Maybe the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery is the most wasteful federal program in America. We suspect that it is not. But shouldn't we know that before we net the trout and drain the ponds? Every dollar spent by Washington should be similarly analyzed. Sadly, the programs that seem safest are those with a wealthy constituency. The little hatchery in Spearfish doesn't have a lobbyist so it's fair game.
We're all at fault for this debacle. Dysfunctional politics have forced the hands of those who feed us federal dollars. Because elected officials are unwilling or unable to make sound analytical decisions — apparently because they can't face the consequences of standing up to powerful special interests on all sides of the political spectrum — we must deal with bureaucratic rumors of back-office decisions that nobody wants to own. Our congressional delegation should be sharpening their hooks. At the very least, South Dakotans deserve an explanation and a chance to make our case for the hatchery.
August 22, 2013
We have a winner in our September Whereizzit in South Dakota contest! We drew Dale Schaffer's name at random from the list of correct guesses. Many of you knew that this old water wheel could be found on Nemo Road and Waterwheel Lane in the Black Hills. Ken Mattheis even sent us additional photos of the spot so you could see it from a few different vantage points.
Thanks to everyone who guessed. Watch for another Whereizzit contest in our Nov/Dec 2013 issue!
August 12, 2013
Crazy Horse died 136 years ago, but he still draws a crowd. Last week, an undertaker from Marysville, Kansas came to Yankton to speak about the legendary Lakota leader and it was standing room only.
Cleve Walstrom, the speaker, inherited his interest in Crazy Horse from his father, a veterinarian who made many Native American friends while working in western Nebraska. The elder Walstrom began to hear many anecdotes about Lakota chiefs. Realizing that many of the stories only existed in oral history — and that even the simple information such as the chiefs’ burial places had not been recorded — he kept a written record that eventually became a book.
The veterinarian died in 1997, but fortunately by then Cleve had taken on the mission of working with the Lakota to put in writing the stories being told in western Nebraska and South Dakota.
Cleve wrote a book about his experiences several years ago called Search for the Lost Trail of Crazy Horse. He’s not only good at listening to stories; he also did an impressive job at writing his own family’s passionate journey. The two generations of Walstroms have met and befriended more Native Americans than most white people in Indian Country. He has been to rural communities we haven’t even heard of, and we’ve prided ourselves in finding every little hamlet in South Dakota.
Cleve has watched the process of brain-tanning a buffalo hide. He has visited the KILI Radio studio, and chuckles that the DJ was listening to hard rock while playing traditional songs (perhaps the two worlds can co-exist). He has been invited to Sun Dances. He has painstakingly traced genealogies that no one else has committed to paper, and he has taken the time to gain respect — listening attentively and learning all the while.
We found Mr. Walstrom to be a fascinating fellow in his own right. We bump into a lot of historians but few have taken to the backroads with the zeal that he’s shown for many years.
We’re working on several stories related to Crazy Horse, and after hearing his presentation we have several more to chase — including brain tanning.