KWIT

James C. Schaap

Contributor

Dr. Jim Schaap doesn’t know what on earth happens to his time these days, even though he should have plenty of it, retired as he is (from teaching literature and writing at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA). If he’s not at a keyboard, most mornings he’s out on Siouxland’s country roads, running down stories that make him smile or leave him in awe. He is the author of several novels and a host of short stories and essays. His most recent publications include Up the Hill: Folk Tales from the Grave (stories), and Reading Mother Teresa (meditations). He lives with his wife Barbara in Alton, Iowa. 

Ways to Connect

The WPA in Le Mars

Jun 14, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time, twenty-five buildings were built just outside of LeMars, Iowa, at a fancy recreation complex/golf course, a facility otherwise unheard of in the area, each building blessed with the very same Kasota limestone veneer, a building material so weather-averse that the collection at Willow Creek looks as if they’ve never yet seen a Siouxland storm.

The Willa Cather Foundation

So it turns out, finally, that much of the trip you might take to Catherland, to south-central Nebraska, where Willa Cather grew up, tends to trace the life of one of her own central characters, Antonia Shimerda, from My Antonia, itself a hymn to the prairie. It’s as much about Antonia as it is about Willa.

Collateral Damage

May 29, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Karen Edelman Williams had never been here before, never seen unending fields of corn and soybeans amid the tawny prairie grass, never seen anything like the yawning openness all around. So when, sometime later, she wrote a letter to those people she’d met on a visit out here, she told them she’d never forget the place. “I will never forget the kindness of the people we met there,” she told them, “or the beauty of your Nebraska skies.”

Wessels Living History Farm

Even though I must have been through the place a thousand times, I didn't even know it was a place--James, Iowa, just up the road from Leeds. From up above on Google Earth, James, looks more like a camp ground than a suburb; but right there on highway 75, it sits peacefully alongside the meandering Floyd, far southern Plymouth County. 

Truth is, this story has little to do with James, Iowa. The town merits mention only as a setting, as in, "this whole business went down right here in James, Iowa." Nobody in James had a thing to do with it.

Minnesota Historical Society

This story begins in a South Dakota graveyard just outside a town that has, these days, far more ghosts than spirit. I was looking for a man's grave and surprised when I found it. The truth? --there are far more dead in that cemetery than alive in town.

Wikimedia Commons

I’d like to think of them as ours, but they aren’t—not really. Bison will be forever associated with our own Great Plains, but evidence of their roaming has turned up from Florida to Alaska, Maine to Mexico. They don’t “belong” only to those of us who live here.

I'm thinking you have to be of a certain age, a certain vintage, to use a word like ungodly with any seriousness. For added bluster, sure, as in, "It was ungodly cold last night, wasn't it?" That was it as an adjective, an add-on. "Who on earth made this ungodly mess?" You know.

But the word ungodly lost currency as a noun long ago, a usage that was once theological and judgmental. Fifty years ago, it didn't matter if you were Protestant or Catholic, you knew very well who the "ungodly" were: they were them and not us.

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. 

Hairwork

Mar 27, 2017
Wikimedia Commons

Think of it as a tiara, a delicate little crown your daughter may have worn for her uncle’s wedding, a princess-like thing made up of clusters of what might seem dried tendrils of garden plants. It’s nothing at all like a wig. It’s far too, well, artsy; but there’s no denying that it is a hair piece, even though I’m sure no one ever wore one. They decorated their sitting room walls, these delicate crown-like objects of human hair framed artfully and hung proudly.

Exactly where the Corps of Discovery was when William Clark took men to a beaver dam that day no one really knows. Historians guess the place was once somewhere above Macy, Nebraska; but wherever it was, it isn’t. Too bad.

It’s not altogether clear what kind of gear they employed to catch fish. Clark described the technology this way: “the men picked up Some Small willow & Bark [and] we made a Drag.” A seine of some sort, I’m sure, which would have required a couple of the men to drag the ends through the water to thereby trap fish within.

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