Small Wonder

O'Brien County Historical Society

Charles and Caroline Ingalls notwithstanding, some of our pioneer forbearers regularly ran afoul of the law, even though they were the law, the only law.

Once the federal government declared the land of the Yanktons, the land beneath my feet, was no longer the Yanktons and therefore open for settlement, the first white faces to make their way here were shysters. No one like them on Little House. All they cared about were the empty spaces this country might fill up in their own ledger books.

My Father's Tears

Oct 2, 2017
Dorothea Lange

It's a simple human story, repeated countless times in countless settings.

It begins with absolute necessity of very hard work and the will power to get it done, an ethic white rural folks have celebrated proudly for 150 years--"that kid really knows how to work."

At 98, barely able to walk, my father-in-law still apologizes for having done nothing all day in the Home. That laziness grieves him. He dreams of working all afternoon--doesn't really matter how, as long as he sweats. You know?

Palace of the Governors Collections, Museum of New Mexico

It’s hard to know where to start because the roots of this incredible story originate all around the world.

That there were Frenchmen here long, long ago will surprise no one. The French arrived not long after the Sioux showed up—fur trappers, hundreds of them, and their dealers, men with largely unpronounceable names like Sioux City’s own founding father, Theophile Brugeiur.

How long ago? Ages. Ben Franklin, the Ben Franklin was 14. George Washington wasn’t even born—and wouldn’t be for a dozen years, Thomas Jefferson for 23. Early, early, early.

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.

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.

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.