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. 

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The story goes that a man named John H. MacColl suffered mountain fever after coming west to Nebraska for, of all things, his health. Wasn't just a setback either; inside of a day or two MacColl was unable to move from the waist down.

Somehow, he made it to Fort McPherson, forty miles away, to visit the post surgeon, who, after a long visit and checkup, simply told Mr. MacColl that there was nothing he could do. 

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:

James Schaap

The sign out front claims a well-kept church up on a hill north of Flandreau is "The Oldest Continuously Used Church in South Dakota" (all caps because it is, for sure, a title worth coveting). That means it's been "First Presbyterian" for 137 years, "River Bend Church" when it was established along the Big Sioux River long, long ago. The name change came later.

The Last Buffalo

Dec 26, 2016

"Now, boys, is our time for fun." That's what the hoity-toity artist said when he saw a herd of buffalo Comstock, the rancher, had spotted along the Republican River.
 

Albert Bierstadt was on his way back from California when he and the newspaper man traveling with him stopped at the Oak Grove Ranch and decided to try his hand--not at hunting buffalo but painting them. Comstock and his men armed themselves with rifles; Bierstadt packed brushes.

He wanted an angry bull, he said, "so mad that he'll bellow and tear up the ground," Bierstadt told Comstock.

Something happened way back when, a crime long gone from the memories of anyone downtown Hawarden today. Probably never made the Sioux City Journal, but everyone in town, circa 1895, had to know because when the mighty fall the crash is as momentous as it is memorable.

This man was of high standing, among the pastor’s closest friends, a saintly man caught with his hands in the till, grabbing a fortune more than a few buffalo nickels. That good man’s fall affected a precocious little girl for the rest of her life, a child who became a novelist and never forgot.

Clear as a friend's heart, 'twas, and seeming cool--

A crystal bowl whence skyey deeps looked up.

So might a god set down his drinking cup

Charged with a distillation of haut skies.

As famished horses, thrusting to the eyes

Parched muzzles, take a long-south water-hole,

Hugh plunged his head into the brimming bowl

as though to share the joy with every sense. 

And lo, the tang of that wide insolence 

Of sky and plain was acrid in the draught!

How ripplingly the lying water laughed!

Religious visions were everywhere in the years preceding the Civil War. Boom towns out west here may have been hell holes for a time, but they were also peopled by starry-eyed believers who claimed their marching orders came from on high.

Tabor, Iowa, sits on a bluff far above the Missouri, the highest point of Fremont County. The place is not in terrific shape today; but Tabor has an epic past, created when fiery abolitionist Congregationalists set up camp here, just across the river from Nebraska.

In 1875, the year before the Battle at Little Big Horn, a 30-year-old single woman named Mary C. Collins, who’d been living in eastern Iowa, accepted an appointment as a missionary/teacher on the Great Sioux Reservation of the Dakota territories.

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