Monday, March 24, 2014

Take Me Out to the Ballgame on Highway 83

Corbett Field, Minot, ND. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Late last summer, I wrote a Highway 83 Chronicles blog on Dave Almany’s book about three Highway 83 high school football teams: Prairie Blitz. The road and its communities have a rich history when it comes to football.
That is even more true for baseball, I have found. And since Opening Day is this week, I thought it might be a good time to talk about the national pastime and its connection to U.S. 83.
Starting north to south, here are some of the highlights.

The Minot Mallards
Minot, N.D., once hosted the Minot Mallards, an independent team in the 1950s that played in the ManDak League. Many former Negro League players spent their twilight years playing for the Mallards until the league folded in 1957. Corbett Field where the Mallards once played is still in use today.
Check out Minot native Bill Guenthner’s excellent website devoted to the history of the team. CLICK HERE.

Satchel Comes to Bismarck
The legendary Hall of Fame pitcher LeRoy “Satchel” Paige spent two summers in 1933 and 1935 playing for the Bismarcks, a local independent team made of local white players and former Negro League players Red Haley, Roosevelt Davis and Quincy Trouppe. Owned and organized by businessman/manager Neil Churchill, this was long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Paige agreed to pitch in North Dakota after getting into salary disputes with the owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Gus Greenlee. Paige’s dramatic arrival in Bismarck just in time to pitch against cross-state rival Jamestown is a chapter in my book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas.
A more detailed account of this pioneering team can be found in Color Blind: The Forgotten Team That Broke Baseball’s Color Line by Tom Dunkel.

Zane Smith
Dozens of lesser known baseball players have been born or raised in Highway 83 communities over the years. Zane Smith lasted longer than most in the Bigs. A major league left-handed pitcher from 1984 to 1996 with a 100-115 record, Smith was a graduate of North Platte High School in 1979. He pitched for the Braves, Expos, Pirates and Red Sox. He’s not well known, but he’s a 3rd cousin of mine. (although I have never met him). So I’m doing a little name dropping!

Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove and the Liberal BeeJays
Mike Hargrove hails from Perryton, Texas, and got his nickname, “The Human Rain Delay,” for the interminably long pauses he took between at bats. The 1974 Rookie of the Year went on to play in 12 seasons and compile a .290 lifetime batting average. He managed the Indians, Orioles and Mariners.
He returned to the area, when he managed the Liberal BeeJays for three seasons 2007-2009.
Credit: Stew Magnuson
Liberal’s semi-pro team comprises college players and plays in the Jayhawk League, which is part of the National Baseball Congress. The team has existed since 1955, and 165 of its alumni have reached the majors. Ian Kinsler of the Tigers and Hunter Pence of the Giants are two former Liberal players who are currently in the majors. Yankees pitcher and Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry is another notable alumni. Hargrove played on the team during the summer of 1972.
The BeeJays play from about the end of May until the first week of August at Brent Gould Field at the Seward Community College.

John Lackey
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey was born and raised in Abilene, Texas. He lettered in baseball, football and basketball at Abilene High School. He has compiled a 138-107 record since his debut with the Angels in 2002. Last year, he was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series helping the Red Sox to clinch another ring. He also won Game 7 of the World Series for the Angels in 2002 in his rookie season.

Rogers Hornsby
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
One of the greatest hitters of all time, Rogers Hornsby was born in Winters, Texas, in 1896, and lived there until he was six years old. He had a phenomenal lifetime .358 batting average over 23 seasons, which is second only to Ty Cobb. The St. Louis Cardinal had 2,930 hits, 301 home runs and seven batting titles over his career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1942. Like Cobb, he was notoriously hard to get along with and not well liked by other players. I’ve driven through Winters twice looking for a “Birthplace of Rogers Hornsby” sign, but saw none.

Laredo Lemurs

Fans can catch independent baseball games at Uni-Trade Stadium in Laredo, Texas. Part of the American Association, the Lemurs open their season May 15 and play until Aug. 28.


To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at in paperback, or Kindle eReaders. To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Two Very Different Kinds of Book Tours

The Highway 83 Chronicles welcomes guest bloggers. Email Stew Magnuson with your ideas! This week, reader Howard Pierpont writes about the circuitous route the newest book about Highway 83 took to reach its destination. Afterwards, check out the dates for the Last American Highway book tour taking place in Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota in April.
Stew Magnuson of Arlington, Va., has just completed and published the first book in a trilogy: The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas. There are a group of people affectionately called ‘road geeks’ and are
Mailbox. Cherry County, Nebraska. By Stew Magnuson
followers of Fans of U.S. Route 83 on Facebook or the Highway 83 Chronicles blogspot. When Stew announced the publication of the book, folks asked if they could order copies. Stew was very accommodating, taking orders and making sure copies were out in the mail before they were generally available.  Each one was shipped in the same style packaging and had a USPS tracking number associated with it. Most were delivered without incident.
One book was destined for Weatherford, Texas, a mere 1,382 miles from the mailing point of Arlington. The day after it was mailed to book package had traveled to Greensboro, N.C., where it spent a day.  Presumably the book was regaling the other packages about the tales of the Dakotas. When it headed out, somehow the next destination was Allen Park, Mich. It was a short stay and then went off to Warrendale, Penn. Here again, a full day stay, probably with other like packages telling stories of the Great Highway. The next day started the three day journey across county to Dallas, Texas. Not wanting to be left out of the mix, Forth Worth, Texas, then invited the book to pass through its facility. The stay would not be a long one as the book finally make it to the proper destination later that same day.
The trip took 10 days to cover the 2,457 miles from Arlington. This trip was 30 percent longer than the entire 1,885 miles covered by U.S. Route 83 and six states. The book still has not crossed or traveled U.S. Route 83. This can truly be called a book tour.
Stew Magnuson will be doing his own book tour in Nebraska and the Dakotas in mid April. He promises he will not make people drive a postal truck. Stew and his Fans of U.S. Route 83 would like thank the U.S. Postal Service for their support in touring the book!

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at in paperback, or Kindle eReaders. To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a)

Last American Highway Book Tour 2014

Saturday, April 19

A to Z Books
507 N. Jeffers St (Hwy 83)
North Platte, NE
Time:  2 p.m.

Stapleton, NE
Early Evening
Time and Place TBD

Monday, April 21

Main Street Books
106 Main St.
Minot, N.D.
(Signing, meet and greet only)
Noon to 1 p.m.

Minot Public Library
Book reading and presentation
6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 22

Linton, N.D.
Senior Center
203 S. Broadway St.
6 p.m.

Wednesday, April 23

Bismarck Historical Society
Bismarck Public Library
6:30 p.m.

Thursday, April 24

Prairie Pages Bookstore
321 S. Pierre St.
Pierre, S.D.
6 p.m.

Friday, April 25

Plains Trading Company Bookstore
269 N. Main St. (Hwy 83)
Valentine, NE
Noon, (meet and greet, signing only)

Saturday, April 26

Augustana College
Dakota Conference
Augustana College
Center for Western Studies
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Morning. Time TBD
Book signing: Noon

Sunday, April 27

Bookworm Bookstore
8702 Pacific Street
Omaha, NE
1 p.m.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Rise of the Highway Buffs, aka 'Road Geeks'

FSA photo by John Vachon. Kansas-Nebraska border.
Whether you call us “highway buffs” or “road geeks,” our numbers are growing.
There may never be as many of us as there are “railroad buffs.” And certainly, we won’t rival the Civil War buffs, but we need to be recognized with our own category of fanaticism.
What is a “buff?”
I recall this snippet of dialogue from a classic Seinfeld episode:

GEORGE: Wow, Keith Hernandez! He’s such a great player.

JERRY: Yeah, he’s a real smart guy too. He’s a Civil War buff.

GEORGE: I’d love to be a Civil War buff. What do you have to do to be a buff?

JERRY: …Well sleeping less than 18 hours a day would be a start. defines a “buff” as “a devotee or well-informed student of some activity or subject.”
I’m a highway buff and proud of it.
What exactly is a highway buff then? Well, I’m not the arbiter of such things, but to me it is a person who prefers traveling two-lane highways, and/or studying the history of old motor vehicle trails that pre-dated them.
We like looking at pictures of old gas stations, motels and diners, and imagining (in my case) or remembering for the older generation, what the country looked like about when Jack Kerourac was hitchhiking his way West during the trip that inspired his novel, On the Road.
A highway buff can be a person who simply enjoys savoring a drive down the back roads of America. For us, driving on an Interstate is like being forced to walk in a park while wearing a ball and chain. We want to pull over and take in the scenery, or stop at some backwoods barbecue whenever we damn well feel like it. A federal shield sign beckons us to leave the drudgery of driving four-lane Interstates.
We can also be students of highway history. In 1926, the federal highway system was created, and the distinct shield signs began popping up along the roads. Prior to then, there were some 250 motor trails— local and national—crisscrossing the nation. This was not long ago when one considers the course of human history. But today, much of the knowledge of where these first highways traversed has already been lost. 
The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road, then came the Bankhead, which took a more southerly route. The Old Dixie Trail, Yellowstone Trail, Lee Highway, the National Road are just a few of them.
The Lincoln just celebrated its centennial last year, with highway buffs, or Lincoln Highway Buffs, making the trip. The Bankhead’s 100th anniversary is coming up in 2016. Attempting to locate, or retracing, the paths of these old trails is a favorite activity of highway buffs.
I am a devotee of Highway 83. I have found references to a Great Plains Highway that was near it in South Dakota and Nebraska, but I know little else about it. I know there must be an old map out there somewhere. I will search for my remaining days.
No highway has the cachet of Route 66, though. There are dozens of Facebook pages devoted to it, some with tens of thousands of members. Travelers from as far away as Japan and Europe plan whole vacations around road trips retracing its original path. It has been featured in books, TV and documentaries.
Highway buffs may go so far as collecting, too. Check out the prices for old federal shield-style highway signs on eBay. They don’t come cheap. And signs that marked those old pre-1926 motor trails. Too rich for my blood!
The members of Facebook pages devoted to the Lincoln, Bankhead, U.S. Route 83 are minuscule compared to Route 66, but numbers are growing. Here are links to a few pages I have joined:

Backroads in general:
Specific Highways:

There’s no need to start a rivalry with other “buffs.” Railroad history and highway history go hand in hand. Many of the small towns you can explore on your travels owe their existence to the railroads.  The development of the rails and the highways made this country what it is today. Old West buffs, Civil War buffs: we all love U.S. history and the best way to explore the sites are on the backroads.
And embrace the Harley buffs. Some of the biggest supporters of backroads over Interstates are motorcyclists. The same goes with the lovers of classic cars.
I don’t have any statistics to prove that we are growing other than the proliferation of pages and members on Facebook. Those in the tourism industry, who are trying to lure travelers to their small towns and less traveled states need to take note, though.
So the next time you’re at a party, or some other social gathering, proudly say, “I’m a bit of a highway buff.”
Spread the message:
Half the fun is getting there.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at in paperback, or Kindle eReaders. To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a)

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Book Traces History of the Dakotas Along Highway 83

Award-winning author Stew Magnuson Feb. 24 released The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, a nonfiction travel-history book that uncovers stories found along the road that bisects the states from north to south.
Descending 1,885 miles straight down the center of the United States from Westhope, North Dakota, to Brownsville, Texas, is U.S. 83, one of the oldest and longest of the federal highways that hasn’t been replaced by an Interstate.
Magnuson takes readers on a trip down the road and through the history of the Northern Great Plains. The famous and the forgotten are found in stories he discovers in the Dakotas.
Explorers Pierre de la Vérendrye, Lewis & Clark, Jedediah Smith, are all encountered along with Chief Spotted Tail of the Brulé Lakotas, TV sensation Lawrence Welk and rodeo superstar Casey Tibbs. Cold-blooded killers, homesteaders, ballplayers and rail barons from yesteryear meet today’s truckers, oil rig workers and ghost towns inhabitants as Magnuson launches his own Voyage of Discovery in a beat-up 1999 Mazda Protégé.
Timed for release during the states’ 125th anniversary year, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, is a love poem to the natural beauty of the prairie and the fascinating people—both past and present—found along the road.
Says Magnuson: “Highway 83 is itself interesting — and the scenery is beautiful — but the it was the people I met that made this a fascinating journey. Everyone and every town has a story to tell, I discovered.”
Magnuson will go on a book tour along Highway 83 from April 19 to 26.
Magnuson administers the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook, which now has more than 1,000 members. He also writes the Highway 83 Chronicles blog. He also set up the U.S. Route 83 Travel page, which gives tips to those who are interested in taking a trip on the road.
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Stew Magnuson is the author of The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder: And Other True Stories from the Nebraska-Pine Ridge Border Towns—Nebraska Center of the Book’s 2009 nonfiction book of the year, ForeWord Magazine’s bronze medal winner for regional nonfiction and finalist for the 2008 Great Plains Book of the Year. He also penned Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding, an account of the controversial 2012 Dakota Conference at Augustana College, in Sioux Falls, S.D., where members of the American Indian Movement squared off against retired FBI agents.
The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas is available at in paperback and eBook formats. It is part one of his Highway 83 Chronicles. The Nebraska-Kansas and Oklahoma-Texas books will be released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

 Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Situation is Growing Dire for the Monarchs of the Plains


Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson
The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas is very much a book about what I encountered on a trip down U.S. 83 in September 2009. The people, the scenery and the history.
And unfortunately, one thing I encountered a lot during those two weeks were Monarch butterflies. Or to be more specific, my 1999 Mazda Protégé encountered them.
The numerous butterflies whose lives I accidentally terminated as my car sliced through the prairie air became the subject of a brief passage in the book. It is one of two only two excerpts I have released so far when I posted it in this blog Sept. 16, 2013. (Read it below). The butterflies in the fall begin a long migration from as far north as Canada down to Mexico, as the excerpt explains. They funnel over the southern part of Texas that roughly corresponds with Highway 83 as it travels from Laredo to Brownsville.
One angle I did not address in the passage was all the additional obstacles other than cars Monarchs encounter as they make their long trip.
They end up in a valley in Mexico, which has become a tourist destination over the last few years. Unfortunately, during the last two decades, the amount of acres that the Monarchs cover after they reach their destination has shrunk dramatically from 45 acres of forest to 1.6 acres.
Why their numbers are collapsing is the key question.
Loss of habitat in Mexico seems to be one reason. They also rely on milkweed to lay their eggs and large-scale farming in Canada and the United States is killing off this native plant.
The article says they won’t go extinct, but the whole amazing migration where a single butterfly travels 3,000 miles to make it to Mexico may end. That would be a shame.
Last fall, I met two girls and their mother outside my local supermarket who were selling brownies and cookies. They were only $1 each so I as I bought one, I asked why they were fundraising for. They were going to set up a Monarch butterfly habitat in their backyard. I think I had nine bucks on me. I bought a lot more brownies, and then just gave them the few dollars I had left.
Here is a link to a website that says it will mail you free milkweed seeds for the asking, or for a small donation. I plan on planting some in the spring with my daughter in a small patch of wooded land where I live (whether my condo association realizes it or not!) I hope others do the same.
Maybe that will make up in some small way for the carnage my car bumper and windshield caused back in 2009.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a)

A Journey Interrupted: Monarch Butterflies on the High Plains Originally posted Sept. 16, 2013 
The following is a brief excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas. It takes place just south of Minot, N.D., September 2009.

A Monarch butterfly flitters out of nowhere, hits my windshield, and tumbles away to the pavement.
I wince.
One can avoid hitting a squirrel, rabbit or pheasant. But when a butterfly flies in front of a car, there’s nothing that can be done about it. They hit the windshield and fall on the road like dead leaves in autumn.
This isn’t the first time I had struck a Monarch since I left on the trip. There were others. The previous evening at a gas station in Minot, as the pump was filling up the tank, I took a sopping wet windshield cleaner and started to remove the layer of bug splotches covering the glass.
Making my way around the car, I noticed a perfectly preserved Monarch on the grill, just above the bumper. Its wings were fluttering and for a moment, I thought it was still alive, but it was just the wind. I gently removed it.
The Monarchs I have been inadvertently slaughtering are also traveling south. The orange and black-winged Lepidoptera was traveling even farther than me, though. It’s believed that the Monarchs of the Northern Plains are the only species of butterfly to migrate. The one that hit my windshield was heading south to winter in the warm central mountains of Mexico. Highway 83 runs 1,885 miles.
It seems almost impossible to me that something so delicate intended to fly 1,000 miles beyond the road’s terminus. The migration begins in Canada around August and continues until the first frosts. 
The butterfly I killed would have stopped along the way to fill its abdomen with sunflower nectar, and made its way south, gliding on the winds as often as it could to preserve its strength. Like the route, it would have passed over South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and finally Texas, where it would meet up with millions of other Monarchs.
They all funnel over the South Texas borderlands, making their way to fir forests, 10,000 feet above sea level on the tops of transvolcanic mountains, where they spend the winter. They mate, and finally die from exhaustion. Their offspring begin the journey north around the second week of March. They lay their eggs along the way in South Texas. Through the spring and summer, each generation flies a little farther north until the great-great-great grand-Lepidoptera emerge from their cocoons in the fields of High Plains. It’s these offspring, the ones I’m encountering now, that begin the nearly 3,000 mile journey to Mexico.
This is why I wince when I strike a Monarch in North Dakota in early September.
I will kill dozens of them during the next two weeks, and I will mourn each and every one of them.
The grasshoppers. Not so much. 

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

 Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Guidebook Takes Readers on Tour of Buffalo Bill Cody's Life Along Highway 83, and Beyond

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Jeff Barnes over the past few years has made a name for himself publishing a series of guidebooks on the Old West as well as traveling the Great Plains lecturing on the topic. Forts of the Northern Plains in 2008 came first, and told readers how to locate 51 forts in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. Next came The Great Plains Guide to Custer: 85 Forts, Fights and Other Sites in 2011. On February 1, his publisher Stackpole Books will release The Great Plains Guide to Buffalo Bill. William F. “Buffalo Bill Cody” is associated with several sites along Highway 83, not the least of which is his home of about 16 years, Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska. Barnes in an email interview explains how the book came about/

SM: Tell us how you began specializing in writing guidebooks centered on Western history?
JB: I’ve always loved visiting the old forts and battlefields of the Indian wars, and had a little checklist to click them off as I did. Every time I stopped to see the Fort Sidney (Nebraska) site, however, it was closed. I first had an idea to create a list for my glove compartment of the sites I hadn’t seen yet, including their hours, directions and contact info, so I wouldn’t make a wasted trip. From that, I thought about making an expanded list for friends who shared my interest, and then it was just a short leap to think it might be a book.

SM: After writing guidebooks about forts of the Northern Plains and Lt. Col. Custer, you chose Buffalo Bill Cody? Why him? Why has he endured as such as popular figure in U.S. history?
JB: Actually, and this will sound goofy, but I was kind of looking for a sign on who to write about next. Buffalo Bill was one of about five topics I was considering, and I thought a 2012 road trip/speaking tour through Kansas might give time to sort it out. One of the stops was in Leavenworth, Kansas, and there on the wall of my motel room was a portrait of — you guessed it — Buffalo Bill. I called my editor the next day.
Bill Cody was a natural extension of the first two books – he was known at the forts and was a Custer contemporary.
I think he’s endured as a popular figure because he did so much to build his brand when he was alive. He was the one who had hundreds of dime novels and books published about himself, who advertised himself and his show and traveled and performed so extensively. He was a romantic figure who presented a very romanticized American West and successfully included himself as a major player in its history.  He used public relations incredibly well, and he was also a very attractive man whose broad Stetson, long hair and distinctive goatee were eye-catching. And he had a name you couldn’t forget either! It’s easily argued that he was the nation’s first superstar.

SM: Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, is of course the most famous site on Highway 83 associated with Cody. What are some others that aren’t as well known? For example, I heard he once ran cattle north of the Dismal River?
Scout's Rest Ranch, North Platte, Nebr. Photos by Stew Magnuson
JB: His ranch on the Dismal with Frank North was farther to the west from Highway 83, about 65 miles to the northwest of North Platte near Tryon.
Easily visible from 83 to the north of Stapleton on the South Loup River, is the unmarked site of the 1872 skirmish with Sioux Indians [Lakotas] that resulted with Cody being awarded the Medal of Honor.
As you pass through Wellfleet, Nebraska, and cross Medicine Creek, you are very near the unknown site of where Cody, Custer, Gen. Phil Sheridan and Grand Duke Alexis of Russia took lunch and changed horses on their way to their campsite of the Grand Buffalo Hunt. That hunt is commemorated by a state historical marker near Red Willow Creek, between Highway 83 and Hayes Center.
 Across the border into Kansas, near the town of Traer [a few miles southwest of Cedar Bluffs] is a landscape formation called Elephant Rock. Cody was also involved with an Indian skirmish there while with the Fifth Cavalry in 1869.

SM: Oakley, Kansas, has a dramatic statue dedicated to Cody. What do we know about his time in that area?
JB: That statue is a commemoration of where Bill Cody “won” the name Buffalo Bill. A few miles west of Oakley on U.S. 40 is a depression in the ground where a supposed buffalo-shooting contest between Cody and Bill Comstock was held in 1868. Both had been nicknamed Buffalo Bill and this contest was to determine who owned the right to the name. Cody, of course, won. The story came out years after the event and after
Buffalo Bill memorial, Oakley, Kansas
Comstock was dead, leading to suspicions the story was created just to support the Buffalo Bill “legend” that was starting to grow. Decades later, broken remains of champagne and beer bottles were found at the site indicating a large number of people had been there to celebrate something!

SM: I’ve heard conflicting accounts of where the first Wild West Show was held. Was it North Platte or Omaha?
JB: Cody put together a show in North Platte in 1882 called the “Old Glory Blow-Out” to celebrate the Fourth of July. Judging from the response, Cody thought it might be something he could put on the road — he organized performers for rehearsals in Columbus, Nebraska, and in May 1883 in Omaha held the first production of the Wild West. So both towns, and maybe even Columbus, can claim being the birthplace.

SM: You have what is for some of us is a dream job traveling the West, checking out historic sites. What is next for you?
JB: I’m not sure. I’m still a freelance writer and have been approached about writing a book or two for an organization here in Nebraska. My publisher would like me to do a narrative on an historical character, yet unspecified, and I’d like to try that. But it will be something that I have a great deal of curiosity about — I can’t write about something I don’t care for. 

The Great Plains Guide to Custer is available at Order HERE.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at
 Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The River Valleys of Highway 83: An Appreciation

The Dismal River, Nebraska
As I sit at my desk, in the dead of winter, with bone chilling temperatures outside and spring seemingly an eternity away, I scroll through the hundreds of photos I have taken along Highway 83.
Inevitably I stop at the river valleys, and remember the warmer days when I took the time to stop the car and explore these natural wonders.
Because Route 83 — aka The Last American Highway — bisects the center of the country from north to south, it intersects with some of the most famous rivers in America: the Missouri, the North and South Platte, the Colorado, Arkansas, and the
South Platte River
Red River. It hugs, but never passes over the Rio Grande.
All too often we fly by the river valleys on our way to somewhere else — perhaps glancing over the guardrail to check the water levels.
“Yup, water is pretty low,” we think in the dry months. Or “Yup, water is pretty high,” when it has been raining. Then we continue to our destinations.
Any long or short trip on Highway 83 affords travelers some real scenery in these river valleys, though.
Sometimes the road departments make it easy with scenic overlooks where drivers can pull over. Other times, you have to hunt for a piece of shoulder to pull over. But it is always worth the stop.
With some 1,885 miles of road, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a variety of rivers and valleys. No two are exactly the same and each has their own charms.
The Niobrara and Dismal Rivers run through the breathtaking Sand Hills of Nebraska.
Bridge over the Canadian
There are convenient places to stop for both. Don’t be fooled by the Dismal River’s name. It is one of the most beautiful spots on the road, although I am biased since I spent many summers here floating down its spring fed waters on innertubes.
Travelers in Canadian, Texas, (named after the river) will find a pedestrian and bike trail on the north side of town that takes them over a repurposed bridge. Get out and stretch your legs and meet some of the locals.
The Red River and its forks cut through that famous west Texas red mud. The shoulders on the bridges are wide enough to take a walk over and appreciate all the patterns the water has cut in the channels.
The Salt Fork of the Red River north of Wellington, Texas, is where Bonnie and Clyde made their famous “Red River plunge. Read about it and see the pictures in this blog. There is a nice park here to pull over.  
The Missouri still exists in some spots. It’s mostly a memory thanks the Army Corps of Engineers. There are some places where you can imagine what it was once like, when it was wild and free. Take a short drive down from the Lewis and Clark
Missouri River from Lily Park in Fort Pierre
Interpretive Center at Washburn, North Dakota, where the sand bars still shift in the channels. Pioneer Park in Bismarck has a trail along the river and Lilly Park in Fort Pierre has a view of where the Bad River empties into the big muddy.
Highway 83 crosses over both Platte River channels at North Platte. I actually took some nice pictures of the sunset over the South Platte a few years ago. You would never know that there 18-wheelers rumbling a few feet behind me, and backlit fast food and motel signs to my right. For a more serene experience, head to Cody Park on the north side of town to see the North Platte.
It would be easy to dismiss the Arkansas River south of Garden City, Kansas, simply because it doesn’t have any water. But it has its own unique charms. I spend an hour walking its channel, lined with stately cottonwoods, inspecting rounded pebbles brought here over the millennia from the Rockies. Maybe one day these day, the Colorado farmers will let the water flow again.
San Saba River, Menard, Texas. Highway 83 in background
Ditto for the Cimarron in southern Kansas and the Beaver in the Oklahoma Panhandle. If there weren’t a sign, or a blue line on a map, you may not know that they are considered river valleys. (Caution: I parked the car to take some pictures at the Cimarron and encountered two very large snakes. Neither had rattles, fortunately.)
Texas Hill Country has the famous Rio Frio, loved by sportsman, canoeists and innertubers. This is as close as one gets to the feel of being in the mountains on Highway 83.
The scenic town park in Menard, Texas, is a must-pullover spot to take in the San Saba River, where Spanish colonialists once walked. The Highway 83 bridge passes over the park.
And finally, there is the Rio Grande. Highway 83 never intersects it, but its presence is felt all along the southern stretch of the road.
Scenic view of Rio Grande, Roma, Texas
There are a dozen spots one can drive to a short distance from the route. Bird watchers love this region. The easiest and most historic spot to see the Rio Grande is the town of Roma, Texas, the terminus for steamships when they once plied these waters. Many of the buildings from those days are still intact. There is a scenic overlook here next to the downtown, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Red River mud
There are so many others I didn’t mention: the three Loup Rivers in the Sand Hills, the Souris (Mouse) Loop, the White River in South Dakota, the Republican south of McCook, the Brazos forks — the list goes on.
So the next time you’re traveling down Highway 83 and need to stretch your legs, or feel the need to get your fishing line wet, take the time to see one of the dozens of Highway 83 river valleys.  

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 Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83.