Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Most Fascinating Historical Figure One Encounters on Highway 83 Is Spotted Tail

Credit: Library of Congress
As an author, when I sit down to write a book-length piece of nonfiction, I normally have a point I want to make.
I don’t think when I first had the idea to start what would ultimately be a three-part series: The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83, also known as The Highway 83 Chronicles, that I had some overarching theme in mind.
I just thought it would be a fun project to research and write. But that certainly changed as I began the process.
Assign 100 authors to write a hybrid travel-history book about the stories and people they discover along Highway 83 and you would end up with 100 different books. That is because we would all be personally drawn to different stories.
And one story I have been drawn to for a number of years is that of Chief Spotted Tail of the Brulé Lakotas.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish in this book is to at least raise a little awareness about Sinte Gleska, as he is known in the Lakota language. In my mind, he is one of the most fascinating and complex historical figures of the 19th Century “Old West” era.
But few know of him. Why?
Take a poll of the public and ask respondents to name five famous Native Americans. One could probably predict the responses: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Pocahontas would probably be the top four, with number five up for grabs. (Cochise, Red Cloud or Chief Joseph might make the cut.) I doubt Spotted Tail would be on the list even if it were expanded to 10, or more.
We associate all but one of these figures with resistance to the American expansion in the West. They were so-called “war chiefs.”
Spotted Tail was not one of them. I won’t recount the early days of his life. That is in the book, but I will mention that as a young man he came to the realization long before his contemporaries that the plains tribes would ultimately not win a straight ahead war with the tidal wave of white men coming from the East. When his Oglala Lakota rival Red Cloud fought a successful guerilla war on the Bozeman Trail in 1868, he sat that conflict out. He was nowhere near the Battle of Greasy Grass, or “Custer’s Last Stand” in 1876.
He knew such conflicts would get his people nowhere.
Yet he had many other kinds of battles with the U.S. government. He was a tough negotiator, and wanted the best outcome for his people. These were “wars of wills,” not with weapons. And he mostly came out on top.
Americans always wished Native American nations had an ultimate leader, like our own president — someone who spoke for all of the tribes and could make decisions. But that wasn’t normally how these societies worked. It was more about consensus among many chiefs.
Spotted Tail took on this role, though. He went to Washington to negotiate, and could at least speak for the Brulé Lakotas, although it was only one of seven different Lakota, or Teton Sioux, tribes.
He was no pushover.
Highway 83 bisects the Rosebud Reservation. The Highway 83 Chronicles project gave me a chance to do something I had wanted to do for many years: tell Spotted Tail’s story. In the final section of The Last American Highway, I seek to answer the question of how the reservation and the Brulés ended up where they are today.
The story is telling. For several years, the agency was located along the banks of the Missouri, where it was more convenient for the government to deliver supplies. Spotted Tail hated this spot. Firewood and game — once plentiful along its banks — had been depleted. It was easy for whiskey bootleggers to ply their trade there. And such rivers were also a conveyance of diseases. The bureaucrats kept stalling a planned move away from the river.
Spotted Tail pulled up the stakes and moved everyone to where the town of Rosebud is today without the U.S. government’s approving the site. Not all the Brulés wanted to leave the Missouri, though. So he had his loyal men strong arm the others into accompanying them. He had become the autocrat the Americans wanted him to be. This created rivalries and jealousies in others, which led to his demise.
A marker honors the life of Spotted Tail along U.S. 83 in Mission, S.D.
In a story not recounted in my book, Spotted Tail was asked to send some of his children to the Carlyle School in Pennsylvania so they could receive an education, At first, he thought that a white man’s school would be beneficial. After a trip to Washington, D.C., he stopped to visit. What he saw shocked him. The purpose of the school was to transform Indian children into whites, not to provide them with an education. Children who resisted were treated cruelly. It was brainwashing. He yanked his kids out of the institution and brought them back to Rosebud despite the angry denunciations from the school’s supporters.
Spotted Tail had in fact been fighting to preserve Lakota traditions and walking a fine line between the two cultures for years.
The American Indian Movement and its sympathizers in the 1970s had disdain for Spotted Tail and Red Cloud, who, after the Bozeman war, had come to the same hard conclusions about resisting the U.S. government. They were called “treaty chiefs.” Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were right and those two men were white lackeys in AIM’s book. (Leonard Crow Dog, one of the movement’s spiritual leaders, was a descendant of the man who murdered Spotted Tail.)
I admire Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. But I admire Red Could and Spotted Tail equally as men who whose peoples were put in a terrible situation. They guided them as best they could in a time of traumatic upheaval in their society and resisted in their own ways.
Was Spotted Tail some kind of saint or the Native American equivalent of Gandhi?
Certainly not. Ask the Pawnees if he was a “man of peace.” He waged war against them every chance he had. There are no Pawnees left in Nebraska. They moved to Oklahoma, and part of the blame lies with Spotted Tail.
Spotted Tail’s life ends in the Rosebud chapter of The Last American Highway: The Dakotas, but not his story. There’s much more about him in the Nebraska-Kansas book coming out next year.
Finally, a plea. Most of this information on the life and death of Spotted Tail is derived from one book: Spotted Tail’s Folk by George Hyde, which was published in 1961. The world needs an updated biography on this fascinating man. I’m hoping a historian or author reads this column and takes on this challenge.

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 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.

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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.