Welcome to summer -- at this moment, I have no talks planned until August,
though that will likely change. In future weeks, I will add the
write-ups for the fall classes - they are largely settled now. But below
is something different.
My latest project is something that I am working
on to tide me over until fall. Mind you this is a draft. If it were in
ink, it would not yet be dry. But it should give you the direction I am
Crossroads in Time
the Big Sioux river, views exist where you can see the bluffs as the
earliest viewers saw them. Tall, steep-sloped giants with rounded
corners and long grass waving with the wind. If you are near where the Missouri and the Big Sioux
rivers collide, you can look across at the bluffs on the other
side, seeing these distant guardians standing shoulder to shoulder. Between your vantage point and those far bluffs rests the wide
river plain, the result of a river that twisted and turned as it chewed
into the soft soil of the riverbank, creating a new path between those
bluffs. Before the lower Missouri was channeled near the dawn of the
1960s, the whole path of the Missouri river from Montana to Missouri
performed this repetitious dance. For centuries, these rivers churned
between the bluffs, always seeking a shortcut to the gulf a thousand
miles away – and never finding it. The riverbed was constantly changing,
yet the view today remains much the same from century to century. The
rivers, bordered by the bluffs and touching the sky at the far horizons.
While roads and highways, fence lines and farms, rails and railroads all
cross our view and interfere, the foundation remains the same - the
rivers, bordered by the bluffs, with the high blue sky above.
It is a
snapshot of a crossroads in time.
People stood on
these bluffs 100 years ago and watched a railroad chugging along the
shoreline, bringing goods and people to the region. Fifty years prior,
they saw the valiant riverboats struggle up the Missouri, spewing smoke
as they fought past the mouth of the Big Sioux. Years before that,
natives might be the watchers, noting a crew of men bending their backs
to pull a barge up that same river. They may have noticed this crew
burying a man on these bluffs the night before.
The view 500
years before that would not seem all that much different. Cottonwood
canoes might be the only be boats plying the river then, while locals
collected chokecherries and other berries from the bushes. Others might
be tending a crop of maize in large earthen pots with fancy handles.
Nearby on the bottomland not far from the banks of the Big Sioux, we
might see a group of some 25 to 40 mud huts, with smoke rising from
their chimneys if it were Fall. Or depending on the year, perhaps they
are raising a wooden stockade to surround the waddle and daub homes -
something they had not felt they needed in the century before that. But
there were more people in the region by 1200 CE, and as some groups
transitioned from only hunting to harvesting, others groups of
hunter-gatherers only wanted the food, not the work of tending crops.
While this area
was never densely populated, it was always a center of activity. While
circumstances have changed, the land remains a constant between then and
How did they
live? What did they do? How did they cope with the weather? They could
not twist the thermostat to a higher setting when the cold winds blew
out of the north, nor could they tune into a radio or the internet to
see what the weather held for them. Heat and prairie fires were a
constant concern until the last 75 years, and the annual floods have
only been tamed in our lifetimes – mostly. And what of food? Fast food
to these folks would mean fleet-footed deer. What did they use to hunt
game? How did earlier people survive these realities?
following pages we will visit these eras to experience life in those
times: to see passersby drop from heatstroke while awaiting a passenger
on the noon train station in Sioux City; to feel the bite of the wind in
below-freezing temps plucking your hat from your head on your wagon ride
across the frozen Missouri river – and realize you have miles to go
before you will reach a warm fire. To see how stagecoaches fared in the
mud, the rain, and the snow. Weather, food, friends, and foes – these
are the stories in this book. And there is no air-conditioned train
depot waiting, no forced-air gas furnace to warm your frostbitten ears
at the end of the wagon ride, and no wrecker to call for the stagecoach
stuck in the mud at the bottom of the hill.
The goal of
these stories is to help you see the world these people knew intimately.
To see the issues, and perhaps to better understand the choices they
made. A further goal is to see beyond the headline story, and realize
while these stories are regional, they are also national stories. Local
events generated national reactions, and the laws passed promoted
further local events across the country. This process is a continuous
circle, and each drives the other. That, too, has not changed in the
past centuries, and will continue far into the future. As one famous
writer put it, history isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. Meaning, the
memories of the results of past choices continues to affect our
This book is
your ticket to that crossroads in time. We will see the region
surrounding this river plain across the centuries, and the decades, as
the inhabitants saw it. Not only will we meet the locals but also people
who were ‘just passing through.’ We will see how people lived and their
actions when they were center stage at this crossroads of two rivers,
meeting at the center of a nation as it expands from sea to shining sea.
I hope you'll
join me on this journey.
(c) 2022, Russ Gifford
Below are the anticipated additions.
We will see if we can make these happen.
– added May 28, above.
Chapter 1: In the Beginning
– From Prehistory – Who was here when? From
the beginning, but focus on 900 to 1100 AD. Will cover to 1600 – 1700
The French Connection
– the early foundations of the area, and specifically, on to the start
of Sioux City 1650s to 1850s.
The Steamboats and Sioux City
– The land rush, the riverboats and the coming of the Rail to River
boom. 1850s to 1870.
– Travel by Wagon, Coach, or
Horse, in the Heat, the Rain, and the Snow 1850s to 1880s.
Visitors and Visions --
Susan B Anthony Visits, 1871-
Bad Medicine and the Bottom Line
– Rev Haddock’s Murder and the Result – 1880s – 1890.
End of the Steam Boat Era –
1881 to 1900.
Watch for these chapters biweekly through the summer!
“His ratings were the highest for our entire season of 12 workshops, and
far eclipsed those for the previous season. He created a fantastic
class, and people left feeling empowered.” -- Dr. Lynn Barteck, Tri
State Graduate Center
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