Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Mystery of The Great Plains Highway (Partly) Solved

Note: Since this blog was first published on Aug. 26 I have received lots of new information from readers.  I believe this information will lead to many of my questions being answered. Thanks to all who tracked down the information for me or provided tips.  I hope to dig up some documents and maybe more maps of the Great Plains Highway.

For years I searched for the Great Plains Highway.
Before the United States had numbered, federal highways, there were named “trails,” usually informal routes crisscrossing the United States such as the Lincoln Highway, Bankhead Highway, Dixie Highway and hundreds of others. The government had little to do with them. The Good Roads Movement created these routes to promote travel through their towns. The movement comprised both captains of industry—oil, tire and car companies specifically—along with small-town chambers of commerce members who wanted to improve their local roads and connect their towns to the world via the automobile.
 Early in my research about Highway 83 for The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83 I came across a reference to the Great Plains
Highway on a map of Cherry County. It showed it to the west of Brownlee, Nebraska, roughly where State Highway 97 is today. That was back in 2009.
Then I found another reference in an article in a South Dakota newspaper.
Then nothing. Internet searches came up empty. I searched eBay for items, and never found anything. I would occasionally return to my search, but never turned up anything online.
More recently, I came across a third reference in a book about the Fleagle Gang, a group of murderous bank robbers that will be a chapter in the Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma Last American Highway book coming out in February. The author referenced present-day Highway 83 where the gang had committed one of its murders as the Great Plains Highway.
That reference renewed my desire to find out if anything new had popped up online. Many old newspapers are now available on the web that weren’t there five years ago. But again, nothing.
Then about two weeks ago, something miraculous happened. A member of the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page on Facebook  Russell S. Rein (aka ypsi-slim) posted a 1930 map of The Great Plains Highway on the page.
You can imagine my eyes popping out of my head the morning I opened up my iPad and saw that.
There it was, my white whale. The exact route of the Great Plains Highway!
It wasn’t long before I connected with Russell on the phone. It turns out we are kindred spirits and he is an avid collector of memorabilia connected to the old named highway trails. He is also the co-author of an Images of America book, Dixie Highway in Indiana, available on amazon.com.
Where did he get the map? Was my first question. eBay, of course. It was put up for auction when I wasn’t paying attention, and no one else bid on it.
He graciously agreed to send me the map in exchange for a copy of The Last American Highway. (He will be on my comp list for the next two books as well.
Now that I have the map in hand, what can be learned from it?
For one, interestingly, the map is from 1930, and shows Highway 83 in its early iterations. It was published at a time when the old named roads were falling away in favor of the numbered roads system we know today.
The Great Plains Highway for the most part followed present-day Highway 83 from Minot, North Dakota, to Abilene, Texas, some 1,235 miles. 83 is numbered today up to Swan River, Manitoba. The Great Plains Highway veered northwest to Regina, Saskatchewan. After Abilene, the Great Plains Highway went south through San Antonio before terminating in Laredo.
In 1930, none of the highway was paved, according to the key, except, one would imagine, as it passed through major towns.
Highway 83 was also disjointed. Its origins were in North Dakota. But after Pierre, South Dakota, it reappears farther south in bits and pieces.
As for the Great Plains Highway, I still have many questions. When was the association inaugurated? Did it pre-date the creation of the federal highway system in 1926? Whose idea was it to connect Regina and Laredo? And why?
Most of these trails had a logo or symbol to help guide drivers. Was there one in this case? It's not on the map.
The map includes the names of officers in towns along the road. Its headquarters was in North Platte, Nebraska. I am including a picture of the list in this blog. I’m hoping the descendants of these chamber of commerce types may have some information sitting in a closet or an attic somewhere. I already recognize one name on the list. W.B. LaMaster in Perryton, Texas, who went on to become active in the U.S. Canada Highway 83 Association. I spoke to his grandson in Perryton several years ago. It’s not a stretch to believe that the Great Plains Highway Association became the U.S. Canada Highway 83 Association later.
As a side note, can you imagine in those days with only the U.S. mail and telegrams to communicate, creating an association that spanned 1,889 miles of unimproved road? I wonder who was the first to drive it.
I’m certain that newspapers in these small towns ran stories when the association kicked off. But going through microfilm of old newspapers in archives is a painstaking, needle-in-a-haystack process, and I will need some kind of tip to know what dates to start a search. I’m also wondering if there was an earlier Great Plains Highway map that pre-dates 1926.
I’m hoping this blog is read far and wide and those with information can contact me at stewmag (a) yahoo.com. I won’t be able to publish the full story of The Great Plains Highway Association in the Nebraska-Kansas-Oklahoma version of The Last American Highway because I am putting the finishing touches on that manuscript now. But I hope to have a full picture of the association and its history in the Texas version, which I hope to publish in 2016.
 I’m also going to publish a Wikipedia page in hopes of raising its profile. Because if it’s not in Wikipedia, it doesn’t exist. Now thanks to Russell S. Rein, the Great Plains Highway may live again in the historical record.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available at Amazon.com and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. 

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 www.usroute83.com.  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com

Monday, July 21, 2014

Highway 83 Community Brownsville, Texas, to Enter Space Age

Credit: SpaceX
When it comes to transportation history, Highway 83 has it all.
The first keel boats to traveled up the Missouri with the Lewis and Clark Expedition and touched the lands near present day Washburn, North Dakota. Bismarck, North Dakota, and Pierre, South Dakota, were major ports for the steamboats that followed. 
Railway buffs will find plenty to explore in hubs such as Minot, North Dakota, and North Platte, Nebraska. Almost every town on Highway 83 owes its existence to a railroad.
Excellent air museums can be found in Minot and Liberal, Kansas. McCook, Nebraska, and Childress, Texas, are two spots where one can see the remains of World War II airfields.
And Highway 83 itself is a tribute to our national road system and the automobile age.
But did you know that Highway 83 will soon add space travel to this list?

History was made this week when it became known that the company SpaceX  had apparently selected a site northeast of Brownsville, Texas, as a future launch site for its Falcon rockets.
SpaceX was founded in 2003 by billionaire Elon Musk, who, at age 29, had just sold his interest in PayPal to eBay and was looking for a new challenge.
I have a small claim to fame as a journalist, having got the scoop that Musk intended to enter the space business. 
In 2002, I was working as a freelance reporter in California, when I was assigned by the business weekly publication Space News to cover a panel on “space entrepreneurs” in Palo Alto. It was a lightly attended affair with presenters talking about their entrepreneurial ideas. Many of them were long shots, I recognized. Sending anything into space is a wildly expensive proposition. Such projects are normally carried out by large defense contractors with the U.S. government footing the bill. 
The moderator then introduced Musk, whom I had never heard of. But when he mentioned that he had recently sold his interest in PayPal, my ears perked up. This young man, I realized, had a buttload of money.
Credit: SpaceX
He announced that he intended to get into the space business. He said he had three basic questions before starting a venture. Is it intrinsically interesting? Is there a possibility of changing the world for good in some way? And is there a return on investment?
After the panel, I went up to him and pressed him for details. He only said that he was thinking about either building satellites or launching rockets. That was surprising. This was the realm of giant contractors such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. 
And launching rockets is a huge deal. Lowering the cost of sending payloads into space had been a huge technological challenge. Every pound lofted costs hundreds of dollars. 
I called my editor the next day and told him about the big story. I had looked into Musk online and noted that he had attended small groups of like-minded space dreamers — Mars Society types — who met informally in coffee shops. He was also worth one billion dollars! What is a billionaire doing hanging out with the space nerds? I wondered. 
My editor was cynical — and rightly so. One Texas billionaire banker Andrew Beale had the same idea. He spent millions pursuing the dream of launching rockets, test-fired engines and built a launch pad in Texas, but found he couldn’t make a business out of it without government contracts. His venture had closed down the year before. My editor consequently rewrote my lead paragraph about Musk, buried that news in the story 16 paragraphs down, and placed it on page 16 of the publication. 
Within a few short years, Musk was launching rockets based on innovative designs and manufacturing processes that would reduce the cost of launching payloads into space. Today, SpaceX has government and commercial contracts to launch satellites, including one with NASA to resupply the international space station with a reusable spacecraft. It is launch business, and employs 3,000. 
Musk is now as close as one can get to a household name. His Tesla Motor electric car company recently released its patents for any company to use “in good faith” to spur green car development. It manufactures about 30,000 cars per year.  
Although it has not made a formal announcement, SpaceX has reportedly chosen a site north of Brownsville as its new launching pad for nongovernment payloads in the wake of Federal Aviation Administration approval. It will be the world’s first privately owned vertical launch site, according to the Brownsville Herald, which reports that SpaceX is buying up land near the site. It beat out more established locations such as the space coast in Florida.
Rockets being sent into orbit can be seen for hundreds of miles and soon residents along Highway 83 and on nearby South Padre Island will be able to watch them. One can imagine increased tourist traffic on U.S. 83 as spectators make their way to watch the rockets lift off. This may be the beginning of Brownsville becoming a “space city” with other like-minded businesses sprouting around it. 
Alan Bean painting at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
By the way, this is not the only space related story found along Highway 83.
Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon, was born in Wheeler, Texas.
A Navy test pilot, he was a member of Apollo 12, and first walked on the moon November 19, 1969.
Bean is also an accomplished painter, and is known for his oil paintings of moonscapes.
Highway 83 as it passes through Wheeler is named after him.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available at Amazon.com and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. 

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 www.usroute83.com.  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com

Thursday, June 5, 2014

South Dakota Filmmaker to Explore Life of Rodeo Legend Casey Tibbs

Ive said that the Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, is history written by serendipity. There is no better example of this
Credit: Lee Jeans Archive
than Casey Tibbs. Born and raised in a big city in the 1970s, I had never heard of Tibbs prior to 2009. When traveling down U.S. 83 that year, I came across his statue in Fort Pierre. Then I looked up the hill and discovered the newly opened Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center. I was lucky to have arrived when I did. The paint was barely dry.
I spent several days that winter in the Library of Congress researching Tibbs's life through newspaper and magazine articles. (This was before an autobiography Casey Tibbs: Born to Ride by Rusty Richards was released in 2010.)
I came across the story of how a young Tibbs and a pal hitchhiked down Route 83 to White River, South Dakota, to take part in a rodeo. The story not only connected this larger than life man to Highway 83, but showed the grit and determination that would make him a superstar in his sport. It ended up being a chapter, The Babe Ruth of Rodeo, in the Last American Highway book.
Documentary filmmaker and Midland, South Dakota, native Justin Koehler is in the throes of putting together a film, Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs. Koehler, who now resides in Denver, is best known as the director of “The Buffalo King: The Man Who Saved the American Bison,” an award-winning documentary that aired on PBS stations. It recounts the life and times of South Dakotan James "Scotty" Philip. He has worked in the Denver production scene for the past nine years on projects that aired on History, Discovery, Weather Channel, HGTV, as well as historical films for the National Park Service, and the upcoming 2014 PBS series, Civil War: The Untold Story.
He recently took the time to answer for the Highway 83 Chronicles blog some questions about the new documentary.

Why did you choose Casey Tibbs as your next project?
My overall objective as a filmmaker is to shine an insightful light the remarkable history, characters, and stories within South Dakota. I chose Casey Tibbs as my next documentary subject because he encompasses all three of those points to the hilt. Casey made history with every venture he pursued, was one of the most colorful characters in rodeo, South Dakota, as well as the 1950s American pop-culture, and his rags to riches story is one that all Hollywood writers crave to produce on paper.

What makes him intriguing enough to devote an entire film to this subject?
Casey has endless intriguing qualities: Handsome, charismatic, jocular, fearless, untamable, confident, lavish, and charitable. Casey is a storytellers dream. He had the ups and downs of life that will keep an audience entertained and engaged throughout the entirety of a film.

Where did you come up with the title, Floating Horses?
The title Floating Horses came from the groundbreaking style that Casey displayed while riding an outlaw bronc. Casey believed in floating a horse rather than anchoring himself in the saddle by pure physical strength. His timing was flawless, his balance was unbreakable, and he made it look as if we all could be crowned a world champion rider. Casey once said, You fall into a rhythm, and its like dancing with a girl.

For people in my fathers generation, especially those who grew up in rural areas, Tibbs was a household name. What have you found nowadays?
There was a time in history when the name Casey Tibbs was not only a household name, but a worldwide name! Caseys name and feats remain well-known within rodeo and South Dakota, but beyond the borders of those two entities, it seems his achievements are fast becoming forgotten.

We have to remember that Caseys superstar status swelled to unthinkable heights because he appealed to all walks of life, not just rodeo fans or South Dakota residents. When Casey graced the cover of Life Magazine in 1951, he singlehandedly lifted the sport of rodeo to national attention. He was one of the most captivating athletes in American sport history, and I believe he will capture the attention of the masses once again through Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs.

This is the second time you have gone to the well in this part of South Dakota for your documentary subjects. What is it about his region that you find so interesting?
What I find interesting about the South Dakota region is that its flooded with intriguing history. You need a lifeboat and ample food supply just to make it through the overflow of compelling people and events! I was born and raised on a South Dakota ranch, so I aspire to tell stories about South Dakota that are entertaining and educational, but also entice travelers to visit the state. I am hopeful that someone or some business will collaborate with me, and together we will showcase South Dakotas long and illustrious history for years to come.

What is the timeline for this project? What have you accomplished so far?  
We plan to start filming interviews this summer and into the fall. Our reenactment scenes with two-time NFR qualifier, Cole Elshere, will likely be filmed next spring. If all goes well, we could have Floating Horses completed by fall of 2015.

I have spent the past 11 months researching Caseys life and the events surrounding his life. All of this acquired information, facts, and stories are vital within a documentary film. In addition, I have been contacting individuals who will help tell Caseys life on-screen. We have interview commitments from: Larry Mahan, Charlie Daniels, Buck Taylor, Gail Woerner, Red Steagall, Baxter Black, Dean Smith, Rick Le Fevour, Cleo Harrington, Johnny Western, John Duffy, and many other notable names.

And how long before we can see the documentary?
Winter of 2015 is our target date for the release of Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs. Many things will have to fall into place for us to reach this goal, however. Our main hurdle is fundraising for the film. We have a lot of interviews to conduct, and that involves travel expenses, lodging, food, production equipment, crew, and many other costly components.  

If anyone would like to contribute to Floating Horses, please contact Koehler via Facebook: www.facebook.com/CaseyTibbsFilm or email: jzkoehler@hotmail.com or contact the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre, S.D. at (605) 494-1094. All contributions, large or small, are greatly appreciated. Click here to order The Buffalo King on Amazon.com.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, available online and at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center giftshop, Prairie Pages Bookstore, in Pierre and the South Dakota Heritage Center and State Capitol giftshops in Pierre. 
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 www.usroute83.com.  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Morning Exploring Some Mysterious Grain Bins Found on Old Highway 83

For a road buff such as myself, figuring out where U.S. Highway 83 once traversed is a constant pursuit.
The federal highway system was created in 1926 — not really that long ago in the course of human history — but in many cases we have already collectively forgotten the original paths of these old routes.
That is not the case for the old alignment for Highway 83 from North Platte, Nebraska, south to the town of Maywood. It is well marked. An “Old Hwy 83” sign is at the corner of every quarter section on this gravel road.
I had the opportunity on a spring Saturday morning to explore Old Highway 83 for the first time. It was not hard to find. I headed east on East Sate Farm Road south of North Platte until arriving at Old Highway 83 a couple miles later.
Exploring this old stretch of highway is worth the time, if for no other reason than to stop at what is surely the most unique antique store on the 1,885 miles of U.S. 83 (old or new sections), which about four miles south.
Grain Bin Antique Town is worth the stop for those on the hunt for collectibles, or interested in our agricultural past.
Placed in a row overlooking a scenic valley are 15 Depression-era wooden grain bins, restored and repurposed to serve as small antique shops.
The octagon structures are still a bit of a mystery.
Owners Lori and Pat Clinch bought 14 of them from a farmer near Imperial, Nebraska.
It is thought that the government sent the easy-to-assemble kits to farmers so they could store grain in the countryside, but the Clinch’s and other researchers haven’t found much in the historical record to confirm that. The original owner had them since the late 1930s.
Pat is a builder, so after acquiring the first batch he installed larger doors and windows. The boardwalk along the bins came from recycled wood from an old school. Then they acquired a 15th bin from a farmer north of Stapleton, Nebraska, who had read about the Clinches in the local paper.
Most of these bins fell into disrepair over the years, and finding so many in good shape was a small miracle, Lori explains. Some were converted into tool sheds or served other purposes. The seller in Imperial had kept his in great shape.
“The oil from the grain protected the wood and gave it a natural beauty,” Lori explained.
A farm cat escorted me as I walked down the boardwalk. The bins are crammed with country antiques. I scored a quilted doll blanket for my daughter for $15.
I continued down the road south. The county had come by and plowed up the ditches, overturning the dirt and allowing me to walk along and hunt for old bottles.
One can imagine an archeologist 1,000 years in the future excavating the shoulders of these old roads, and making all sorts of assumptions about our society. Getting caught with an open container of alcohol was frowned upon, they could surmise. And others were just too lazy to dispose of our trash properly.
I find a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can recently unearthed by the county plow in remarkably good condition. It advertises the new “pull tabs. “No Opener Needed,” which makes it a circa 1963 can (the year I was born). I leave it there for that future archeologist to find.
It’s curvy. It’s loose gravel. It’s really not all that safe to drive at high speeds. In other words, it’s what traveling down 83 would have been like in its early days decades before it was paved from end to end.
Old Highway 83 dips and rises, with some sharp curves, and serves as a good reminder of what highways were like before they were paved, and straightened out. That, coupled with the drinking and driving, must have cost a few lives.
My father, who was from Stapleton, Nebraska, 30 miles north of North Platte, must have traveled this road many times on his way back and forth from McCook, where he attended the community college and played football.
The land here is flat enough for farming, although it is too early to see what are going in this year. I take pictures of wild turkeys and a beautiful ring-neck pheasant, who apparently knows that it’s not hunting season. He barely budges as I stop the car and begin shooting (with my camera, of course.) All these farms nearby and their loose grain, along with the shelter belts, makes the a pheasant-wild turkey paradise.
Drivers might get lost when arriving at East Echo School Road, don’t go straight. Go east one section to pick up Old Highway 83 again.
My trip ends with my car coming over a crest into the Medicine Creek Valley, where the town of Maywood is located.
Maywood, population, 261 at the last census, is equidistant from North Platte and McCook, and its quiet on a Saturday morning. Most businesses are located seven miles to the east in the town of Curtis, which is three times its size. Many of the residents here commute to one of those two cities.

Grain Bin Antique Town is open Wed.-Sat., 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check out its Facebook page at: 

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, (available at A to Z Books in North Platte and Common Scents Greenhouses and Nursery in McCook) and winner of the 2009 Nebraska nonfiction book of the year: The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.

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 www.usroute83.com.  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stop Nebraska Public Power From Destroying the Beauty of the Sand Hills on Hwy 83

Easter Sunday morning last month, I woke up in Stapleton, Nebraska, at 5:30 a.m. so I could get on the road going north early.
I knew I had one of the most beautiful drives in the state ahead of me. Indeed, the morning light bathed the one of Nebraska’s great secrets and treasures, the Sand Hills, in soft morning light as I drove up U.S. Highway 83.
Imagine something like this..
I had to stop about once every mile to take a picture of this unique landscape.
Just the night before one of my cousins had told me of the Nebraska Public Power District’s plan to plant giant power lines along this scenic highway. “Surely, that can’t be true,” I thought.
.... planted across the beautiful Dismal River...
... or strung along a landscape like this. Photos by Stew Magnuson
Unfortunately, it is. NPPD’s R-Project would install giant power line towers along the road. This is actually its “preferred” route. There are alternatives away from the highway.
Nebraskans, lovers of the prairie, fans of our nation’s scenic highways must unite to defeat this ill-conceived plan.
Many, sadly, don’t know what is at stake.
The proposed power line route hugs the highway so closely it is actually impossible to distinguish the two on the map NPPD provides. (Link to map here). The monsterous lines will be clearly visible from the road.
Along with scarring the natural beauty of the Sand Hills, the towers would mar one of the most beautiful river valleys in the state, the Dismal River.
I remember meeting a motorcyclist at the scenic overlook at the Dismal River in 2009.
“It’s not so dismal,” he told me.
The Dismal was named because early settlers found it so treacherous to cross. It has nothing to do with its natural beauty. In that regards, it is a total misnomer. If this plan goes forward, motorists will gaze down from the overlook and see steel towers carrying power lines.
The biker explained that he had ridden up Interstate 80 on his way to Colorado a half dozen times, but had never ventured north. He was amazed at what he had been missing.
So too will other travelers. There was once a U.S. Canada Highway 83 Association that encouraged motorists to take this Great Plains highway, and spend some of their dollars in the small towns along the way. The association is long gone, but the idea lives on. Other states such as Kansas are declaring some of their roads Scenic Byways, and heavily promoting them as a way to encourage motorists passing through to get off the Interstate and come see what its communities have to offer.
This is what Nebraska should be doing — not destroying the natural beauty of our prairie lands.
Highway 83 from the Kansas border south of McCook to the South Dakota north of Valentine should be declared a Scenic Byway and developed for tourism.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Nebraskans from both parties joined together to stop the Bureau of Land Reclamation from damming the Niobrara River. (Does anyone today regret fighting that fight?) A similar alliance helped steer the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline route out of the Sand Hills.
We can all come together again to defeat another bad idea.
Nebraskans, and anyone who travels this federal highway, must speak out to defeat a poorly thought out plan to string ugly power lines along one of the state’s most stunning landscapes.
Leave comments on the NPPD’s website (LINK HERE), speak out at the public hearings, write letters to lawmakers and authorities.
Stop the R-Project’s Preferred route through our beautiful Sand Hills.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and winner of the 2009 Nebraska nonfiction book of the year: The Death of Raymond Yellow Thunder.

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 www.usroute83.com.  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a) yahoo.com

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 www.usroute83.com.  
Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, now available at Amazon.com in paperback, or Kindle eReaders. To learn how to order signed copies, message him at stewmag (a) yahoo.com.

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 www.usroute83.com

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