Monday, December 16, 2013

The Story of Bob Barker, the Rosebud Reservation and Highway 83

Mission, S.D, 1940. By John Vachon. LOC
As a chronicler of all things to do with Highway 83, I have a fairly good list of all the famous folks who came from the towns or cities along its 1,885 miles.
That comes to some 122 communities — depending on how you count them — so there are bound to be a few well-known actors, singers, athletes, politicians and war heroes hailing from these towns.
Some were born in a Highway 83 community but left at a young age, and probably have no emotional connection or memories about their birthplaces. Some were born and raised along the road, and lived there until they left to find their fame and fortune. Some were not born there, but spent formative years in these towns.
Such is the case with game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker.
I only very recently discovered that Barker spent his childhood in Mission, South Dakota.
So I dutifully noted this on my calendar, and when his 90th birthday rolled around on Dec. 12, I wished him Happy Birthday on my Fans of U.S. Route 83 Facebook page, and noted that he was also one-eighth Lakota, which was stated on his Wikipedia page. 
This generated a lot of comments, especially on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Facebook page, where I shared the posting. Some claimed that Barker was lying about being one-eighth Lakota.
People are right to question the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, although in my opinion, it has gotten better over the years.
But this got me to thinking.
Did Bob Barker ever write his memoirs? The answer was “yes.” Then, the next question, did my local library have a copy? The answer to that was also “yes,” and it wasn’t checked out. So I stopped by there on the way home from work the day of his birthday and grabbed a copy.
Priceless Memories, by Bob Barker, published in 2009, actually had quite a bit of it devoted to
Barker’s childhood spent in Mission, and a few other surprising connections to Highway 83 as well.
His mother, a schoolteacher, met his father Byron Barker, who was one-quarter Lakota, in White River, South Dakota, which is a Route 83 town just north of Rosebud.
His father got into the trade of stringing up power lines as the nation was expanding its electrical grids, so the young couple moved from town to town. Bob Barker was born in Washington state, Dec. 12, 1923.
Another connection: His father briefly worked in the Highway 83 terminus town of Brownsville, Texas. Barker was very young, but he has a strong memory of his time there when his parents took him out to the airfield to see Charles Lindberg.
When Bob was six, and the family was living in Missouri, Byron Barker passed away as a result of a work injury. This was in the Great Depression, and his mother couldn’t find work. Byron’s brother, who was living in Mission, secured a teaching job for her there.
That is how Bob Barker ended up on the Rosebud Reservation, spending nearly eight years of his childhood there during the worst of the Dust Bowl years and Great Depression.
According to the memoir, Barker has many fond memories of living in Mission. He went to a two-room school house which was about three-quarters white, and about one-quarter Lakota. Most of the Lakota students went to the nearby boarding school.
He played with kids of both races, and never felt any prejudice. This jives with interviews I have done over the years with adults who attended mixed white-Indian elementary schools as children. (The prejudice comes in the higher grades.)
One tidbit from the book is how his buddies would jump off the bridge from the road south of town into the creek during the summer to cool off. This is the road that would become U.S. Route 83.
Barker’s mother eventually married Louis Valandra, also a member of the tribe. They soon moved back to Missouri after Barker completed eighth-grade. Bob has a half-brother Kent, who would be one-quarter Lakota.
Some on Facebook whose families are connected to Barker/Valandra families said Bob Barker does not have any Indian blood, and he was lying about being one-eighth Lakota.
Well, all autobiographies must be taken with a grain of salt for reasons I don’t have to go into here. People leave out inconvenient facts, or embellish their lives.
However, someone on Wikipedia posted the 1930 Rosebud Indian Census. It denotes Bob Barker at age seven as being “Sioux” along with his father and other members of the Barker family. So being part Lakota was clearly something Bob Barker had been told by his family from a young age. It’s not something he is making up.
Blood quantum is an important issue among Native Americans.
Today, it means qualifying for certain benefits, and maybe even sharing in the proceeds of casinos.
Many over the last few decades when it became fashionable claimed to be Indians, but weren’t. These are the so-called “wannabes.” That certainly wasn’t the case in the 1930s when race mixing was not so acceptable. The Barker family in 1930 identified themselves as “Sioux.” Barker doesn’t mention in his autobiography which of his paternal grandparents were Lakota. Someone with access to the tribal records could probably settle the matter.
Reading between the lines, it is hard to see Barker as a “wannabe.”
While he has fond memories of his time in Mission, he doesn’t mention the name of the tribe, returning to the town to visit since he left, or share any stories about Indian culture such as attending powwows.
It is possible he didn’t encounter much of in the way of ceremonies as a child back then. Policies in the 1930s were to suppress Native American culture and languages. Or maybe he just didn’t write about them.
I’ve known people who were one-sixteenth Lakota, who embraced that part of their heritage, and others with as much Indian blood who didn’t give a hang about it. It’s more to do with attitude than blood quantum.
I don’t normally read game show host autobiographies (okay, I never have and may never read one again) but this one opened up a small window about life in a Highway 83 town — Mission, South Dakota — during the depths of the Depression and Dust Bowl years. So it was well worth seeking out.

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and  The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition. Both are available online or in museums, bookstores and gift shops on Hwy 83, including Soldier Woman Gallery in Mission, SD, and Plains Trading in Valentine, NE.

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  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Bonnie and Clyde Mini-Series and the Highway 83 Connection (UPDATED)

Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch as Bonnie and Clyde
(For my thoughts on the miniseries, read the addendum at the end of the column.)

Sunday, Dec. 8, three cable channels will simultaneously broadcast a two-night miniseries on the lives of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, better known as Bonnie and Clyde.
Back in the 1930s, the Barrow Gang, as they were called back then, terrorized small towns throughout the middle part of the nation, by robbing banks, or whatever they could find — sometimes killing lawmen in the process.
An incident on Highway 83 figures prominently into the gang’s history. The so-called Red River Plunge happened on June 10, 1933, about 11 months before the duo’s demise in Louisiana.
The 1967 movie starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty did a lot to popularize the doomed pair, and even portrayed them as likable, sympathetic characters — victims of the hard times Americans faced in the 1930s. I haven’t seen the made for cable movie yet, and with withhold judgment until I do so. Barrow and Parker were fascinating, complex characters. But make no mistake, Bonnie and Clyde and their cohorts were criminals, and not terribly sympathetic.
A case in point is the incident on Highway 83.
It began as Clyde, Bonnie and a teenage member of the gang W.D. Jones came racing up the road in a V-8 Ford in the middle of the night. Clyde knew only one way to drive—fast— and when you’re one of the most wanted men in America—who could blame him?
U.S. Route 83 was not the nice, paved road one sees today. In fact, it would be more than two decades before it was sealed from end to end. It was a dusty, dirt and gravel road, and driving at breakneck speeds could truly result in a broken neck.
Barrow didn’t see the detour sign that would have warned him that a new bridge was being built over the Salt Fork of the Red River.
The car went flying into the ravine, which was dried out from the relentless drought.
Witnessing the crash was a family living in a home less than 100 yards from the road, the Pritchards, who came rushing to their aid. Bonnie was the most severely injured. Battery acid was leaking onto her leg when family patriarch Sam Pritchard reached the scene, along with his two adult-aged daughters. One of them poured baking powder on Bonnie’s leg to stop the acid from spreading.  
Clyde insisted that no one go to town to get a doctor to help Bonnie. He seemed to be more concerned with retrieving several guns from the wreck. That alerted the family that something wasn’t right, and Sam’s son-in-law slipped away to go to nearby Wellington to find help. (They had no idea that this was the infamous Barrow Gang.)
When two local lawmen arrived, Clyde and W.D. were waiting for them in the house with guns drawn. A jumpy W.D. thought one of Pritchard’s daughters Gladys was reaching for a gun, when she was only trying to protect her toddler girl. He fired his shotgun at her but missed wide. Some of the pellets struck one of her hands, though. Clyde and W.D. took the two lawmen hostage, and left for Oklahoma to rendez-vous with Clyde’s brother Buck. They eventually released the two men, but Clyde never did stop to get Bonnie help. She wouldn’t walk normally again for the remainder of her short life.
These were not the deeds of folk heroes.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to see the beautiful old truss bridge  that was being built when the incident happened. I had arrived in the early evening light. I was luck to see it for it was being prepared for demolition. Not long after, it was reportedly torn down. On its south side, a historical marker gives a brief history of the Red River Plunge. (The description on the marker of how Gladys
was shot is not accurate, according to at least one reputable history book I derived much of this information from, Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn.)
Movies are not documentaries. But I will be interested to see if this event makes it into the mini-series and how the writers chose to portray Bonnie and Clyde.

Dec. 19, 2013

Since the miniseries aired, there has been some robust criticism of Bonnie and Clyde, and not all of it was unwarranted. However, I was not upset about all the historical inaccuracies, as many were. My belief is that ALL movies are works of fiction. In the "Based on a True Story" claim one sees on movie posters, the most important word to remember is "based," not "true story." Books are books, movies are movies and documentaries are documentaries. Filmmakers work in a different world than journalists and historians. If this were indeed a documentary, then it would have been an outrage.
The Red River Plunge that really happened on U.S. Route 83 was indeed portrayed (sort of). In this case, it was in a (heavily forested?) Iowa. A crash into a ravine happened while they were being chased, and they were alone instead of with their teenage gang member W.D. Jones, whose character was prominent in the 1967 movie, but written completely out here.
This was actually one of the sloppiest scenes put forth by the filmmakers. Here, we have Bonnie and Clyde being chased, their car crashes, and Bonnie is severely injured and unable to walk. How do they get out of this predicament? 
Well, the next thing we see is Bonnie convalescing from her injuries in Louisiana? 
How did they escape? I guess in this fictional portrayal, we will never know.
I can say a lot more, but I will leave it at what pertains to the Red River Plunge.

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.


CLICK HERE; The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oakley, Kansas Tribute to Buffalo Bill a Major Site on Highway 83

Perched on a mound on the west side of the Highway 83 bypass in the town of Oakley, Kansas, is a bronze representation of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody setting his gunsight on a fleeing bison.
It is perhaps the most dramatic piece of art one encounters on the 1,885 miles of U.S. Highway 83.
It was May 2004 when the town of Oakley dedicated the statue commemorating the days Buffalo Bill spent hunting bison on the nearby lands to provide food for workers on the Kansas Pacific Railway.
Last year, the nonprofit that funded the project through private donations completed its vision for the spot when it opened the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center, an 8,000-square-foot conference hall adjacent to the statue that features a gift shop with local items for sale along with exhibit space.
Laurie Millensifer, the center’s administrator, says the opening of the center is the culmination of years of hard work on the part of the town’s leaders to make the site a cultural and civic center, as well as something to bring in tourists off the busy interstate.
“We host parties, weddings and receptions and we also have a giftshop, and a few rotating little displays that we are doing,” she said. The center also doubles as a Travel Information Center for the State of Kansas, so this is a great spot to pick up brochures.
“We’re on a growth path,” she added.
The center held the Kansas State Corn Husking championship in October, and will host a national championship on a rotating basis.  
Oakley also lies along the Western Vista Historic Byway, a 104-mile stretch being promoted by the state that begins (or ends depending on which way one travels), at Sharon Springs on U.S Route 40, then turns south at Oakley and continues on Highway 83 to Scott City.
All of the major towns in Kansas along Highway 83 — Oberlin, Oakley, Scott City, Garden City and Liberal — have lots to see and do for travelers, but Oakley stands alone as the community closest to I-70. Travelers who do take the time to get off that soulless, boring four-lane strip of east-west concrete, and take the back roads on 83, or west on old U.S. Route 40, will find that Oakley has a lot going on.
As for the Cody monument, Kansas-based sculptor Charlie Norton took three years to finish the work, which weighs 9,000 pounds collectively, and cost $450,000.
Turn to the east a few blocks from the statue and the Fick Fossil Museum is well worth the stop. The land south of Oakley is a paleontologist’s dreamland, and many of the specimens found in the area are here, along with the paintings of local folk artist Vi Fick, who incorporated fossils she found on her ranch into her unique paintings.
Take old business Highway 83 through the center of town where quilters will find a Mecca at the Smoky River Quilt Shoppe.
It is here where one can avoid the chains out on the interstate and stay in town at a family run motel, and eat at some of the cafes and restaurants.
Buffalo Bill went on to be a famous showman, and featured sharpshooter Annie Oakley in his revue. She had no connection to the town, but that didn’t stop the builder of the Annie Oakley Motel just north of downtown from using a pin-up girl likeness for the sign (one of my favorite motel signs along Highway 83).

Near there is the highly recommended 1st Travel Inn, which is run by the Mohrs, a family from Germany. Jen Mohr is a retired German naval aviator, who decided to raise his family on this side of the pond.
The Highway 83-Interstate 70 interchange features the unusual Free Breakfast Inn, a can’t miss sight as one drives down 83 from the north with its Roman colonnades, which owner Jeffrey Harsh salvaged from a defunct Denver shopping mall. Near there is the seasonal Prairie Dog Town roadside attraction and small antique store, which is worth the stop.
As for the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center’s future, Millensifer said Oakley sees itself as a part of a triangle for those wishing to follow in the showman’s footsteps. Travel north on Highway 83, and one will arrive at Scout’s Rest Ranch, Cody’s home in North Platte. Drive west on Highway 40, and it will eventually take travelers to Golden, Colo., where the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave is located.
“We are all about the whole experience. We want people to go there, come here, and people are doing that trip,” Millensifer said.
For more about the statue and cultural center, click HERE. For more about Oakley, check out the Discover Oakley website, Click 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. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Small Town Drive-In Theater Near Highway 83 in a Fight for its Life

The Pheasant Drive-In, Mobridge, SD.
The problem many are facing is the demise of 35mm film, which is soon to be replaced by the digital format.
Distributing giant film reels is costly for  Hollywood studios. Digital copies, meanwhile, can be sent on discs or online. So it is easy to see why the big movie-makers are eager to phase out film.
The problem is that the studios are passing on the cost to convert theaters to digital to the theater owners. 
Big city movie theaters owned by the major chains have the money to do so and have made the transition. Small town movie houses are being asked to buy $80,000 digital projectors, which for many of these family owned businesses, is a huge cost.
It doesn’t seem very fair considering how many millions the studios rake in every weekend, and how much money they are going to be saving.
This summer, Sony and Honda teamed up to promote a contest to save five drive-in movie theaters. It asked folks to vote online or by texting. The top five vote getters would receive a free digital projector.
There are only two remaining drive-in movies on Highway 83 in Abilene and Weslaco, Texas. Neither were participating in the contest, so the Highway 83 Chronicles and the Fans of U.S. Route 83 Facebook page adopted the Pheasant Drive-In at Mobridge, South Dakota, and started a vote-getting campaign. The drive-in is about 20 miles west of Highway 83 near the Standing Rock Reservation and Cheyenne River Reservations, so it serves many communities in Potter, Walworth and Campbell counties on Highway 83, and perhaps beyond. (People such as myself will drive 100 miles or more to experience a movie under the stars.)
The contest expanded to nine projectors, but despite our best efforts, the Pheasant Drive-In did not win.
I called Pheasant Drive-In owner Ron Maier to ask him what his next move will be.
Maier has owned the Pheasant Drive-In since 1976. It has been in its present location since 1960 when it was moved there after the Oahe dam flooded the original site.
Maier has experienced the vagaries of operating an outdoor business on the High Plains. A wind storm blew down the screen last year, and the money he had saved to buy a digital projector was spent to repair it. The second to last weekend of this season got wiped out from Winter Storm Atlas, which we all know was a record breaker.
The last he has heard, 35mm film will be in use until about mid-2014.
“So that gives us about another six to eight months to think,” he said.
One idea is to see if Sony has more digital projectors it has purchased for the contest at bulk prices. He has also thought about sharing a digital projector with the indoor movie theater he owns, but he’s been told that isn’t feasible.
He may also look around for a second-hand projector.
The contest may also be revived. Honda-Sony did not disclose to the 96, or so participants where they came in on the voting. Maier hopes that if they do it again, there might be a category for the theaters in rural, low population areas such as his.
Photo by Stew Magnuson
The good news for the Pheasant, and other small town drive-ins, is that once a screen goes digital it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Drive-ins are now doing theme nights, showing 1970s or 1980s movie double features, and screening fan favorites like Grease. One Virginia drive-in opened up on a normally slow night to stream in Monday Night Football. It didn’t charge for tickets, but raked in lots of money from the concession stand.
Finally, I will leave with two pictures of what is at stake. I came across the sign for the Cactus Drive-in in Pharr, Texas, in 2009. Since the sign was still there, right on Highway 83, I assumed that it had been torn down recently.
In fact, it went out of business in the late 1970s. I found this historic picture recently, which shows exactly what was lost. Note the beautiful painting on the exterior. It billed itself as the world’s most beautiful drive-in theater. And now it’s gone. The lot where it sat was still empty. What a tragedy.

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.  


CLICK HERE: The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pheasant Season a Boon to Many Highway 83 Small-Town Economies

The Pheasant Inn, Sublette, Kansas. Photo By Stew Magnuson
It won’t be long before the small town motels in North Dakota along Highway 83 begin filling up. In fact, I wouldn’t travel without a room reservation in October and November in certain communities along the road for the next month.
The reason is the ring-necked pheasant.
Pat Huber, a resident at Don’s Motel in Linton, N.D., tells me all 24 rooms are booked up for a solid month, beginning Oct. 12, the first day of pheasant hunting season in North Dakota.
“It definitely brings income into the town — restaurants, bars, gas stations, motels.” They are all packed, she says.
Would the Linton be otherwise full of out-of-towners spending their money during a non-summer month like October if it weren’t for the hunters?
“Of course not,” she replies.
The hunting season is a shot in the arm to many local economies along Highway 83. And these are small towns that don’t normally draw hordes of tourists.
South Dakota Game Fish and Parks statistics for 2011 tell the tale: 164,197 resident and non-resident hunters, who spent $226 million on the hobby that year in the state. Similar numbers would be expected in North Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska.
And it is all because of a bird that doesn’t really belong here.
The common, or ring-necked, pheasant is not native to the Americas. It comes from China, but they are found in many corners of the world. Yet, it is unlikely to ever be on an endangered species list. And that is because humans enjoy killing it, or perhaps it is a bit softer to say, “they enjoy hunting it.” (Its meat is tasty, to some. But realistically that was not why it was brought here).
I saw a PBS documentary a few years ago I highly recommend called, “The Botany of Desire,” which showed how four species of plants — apples, tulips, marijuana and the potato — have survived and thrived as species because they have certain qualities attractive to humans.
And thus it is so for the pheasant. It was first brought to the United States in the 1800s. It was not domesticated like the chicken and turkey for everyday consumption of meat (although they do end up on some restaurant menus). Some are bred in captivity, but for the purpose of being released and hunted later.
They do well along roads such as Highway 83 because of the plentiful grain on farms combined with nearby grass.
And of course, they thrive because people want them there.
Many invasive or introduced species to our ecosystem make biologists wring their hands. That is not the case with the pheasant.
Pheasants, like most species on the Great Plains, have good years and bad years. Harsh winters and droughts take their tolls on pheasant populations. Habitat loss is also a problem.
U.S. Forest Service photo
And so, we (speaking of the humans) spend a great deal of time and resources to ensure this one species’ survival. 
Pheasants Forever, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and restoring habitats for the birds, has 600 local chapters and 125,000 members. The organization employs more than 100 Farm Bill Biologists, who work with local land owners to help them preserve habitats for game birds, and the wildlife that exists alongside them. McCook and North Platte, Neb., and Oberlin, Kansas, are three Highway 83 towns who have the biologists in residence.
I asked Chris Helzer, ecologist and program director for The Nature Conservatory in Nebraska about pheasants, and their impact on the prairie.
“There is some evidence that pheasants can cause problems for prairie chickens by ‘dumping’ eggs into chicken nests. If those pheasant eggs hatch first, the prairie chicken parents may lead the pheasant chicks off to feed and abandon the unhatched chicken eggs.
“Other than that, I really don’t see any conflicts between pheasants and prairies. I think good prairie management includes providing a variety of habitat structure patches (areas of tall vegetation, patchy vegetation, and short vegetation) and that is very compatible with what pheasants need. Pheasants also do very well in prairies with diverse vegetation with abundant wildflowers.”
The problems come when areas are managed exclusively for pheasant hunting, he said.
“Any management aimed at a single species is usually going to be problematic in the long term because it tends to simplify natural communities, making them less resilient, more prone to invasive species, and lower quality habitat for many wildlife species.”
Helzer praised organization like Pheasants Forever because it takes a holistic approach.
“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever do some very important work to protect and restore prairie habitats.  In Nebraska, much of that restoration work involves creating diverse grassland plant communities that support many other prairie species besides just pheasants. Perhaps more importantly, [these organizations] can bring awareness about the importance of native prairies to an audience that might not otherwise have that awareness,” he said.

Check out Chris's weekly The Prairie Ecologist blog HERE.
So there you have it. Pheasants are good for the economy and not all that bad for the environment.
Pheasant season along Highway 83 begins in parts of North Dakota Oct. 12, and opening days in other states come later as one goes farther south. South Dakota, Oct. 19; Nebraska, Oct. 26; Kansas, Nov. 9; Oklahoma, Dec. 1 and Texas, Dec. 7. Check out Pheasant Forever's state by state forecast for 2013.

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.  

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM:  The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lakota Runner, Highway 83 Resident to Tackle New York City Marathon

Travelers on Highway 83 stopping at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center at Washburn, North Dakota, over the years may have met Jeffrey Turning Heart Jr., who is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. 
Born and raised in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, he ran track and cross country at the University of Mary in Bismarck, while working as an interpreter at the center. After graduating from Minot State University with a history degree, he moved full-time to Washburn. He has left that job, but remains in the town and now works with local law enforcement.

Today, you are more likely to spot him running along the local roads. Turning Heart, age 30, is a member of the Lakota 5, a running group that is making a second attempt to complete the New York City Marathon in November after its abrupt cancellation in 2012 because of Hurricane Sandy.

Turning Heart told the Highway 83 Chronicle blog a bit about his life now and running along the route.

SM We first met when you were working at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. How long did you work there, and what did that experience teach you?
JTH I worked at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan for almost eight years. The experience taught me how to be more vocal and learned how to speak in front of the public.

SM I imagine you met a lot of visitors over the years who had never met an Native American? Was it difficult fielding all their questions?
JTH At times, it was difficult to answer all the questions because even though it seemed like an honor to be asked questions by those who are curious of my culture, it was difficult because I felt like a sideshow act in a circus.

SM After leaving that job, you decided to remain in Washburn. Why do you like living there?
JTH When I was let go from my job as an interpreter, I remained in Washburn because of the people I grew to know and respect. My friends who became like family kept me in Washburn. I enjoy living in Washburn because of the friends I have made and I love running by the Missouri River.

SM How long have you been running marathons, how many have you completed? And more importantly, what is it about the sport that you love?
JTH I haven’t been running marathons too long. The New York City Marathon was going to be my first but not my last. I have always wanted to try a marathon. I have completed four half-marathons in a course of one year. The sport of running is something I grew to love for over 18 years because of the feeling. I could have the worst day on the planet but once I start to run, I am free from it all. And I love hearing my heart beat as it reminds me of a drum at a powwow. It is something I cannot put into words because as a runner, we all have a different reason why we do what we do.

SM What keeps you motivated through all the injuries, the cold and hot weather the High Plains are known for, and the long distances?
JTH The thing that keeps me motivated through all my injuries is the people. The people I have run for in a total of 17 races in one year are my motivation and my inspiration. The people I run for is not only organizations but the people that I have known that go through a lot, whether it is breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy or suicide prevention. The people have a special place in my heart and my heart keeps me motivated to keep on running.

SM Do you have any interesting stories about running along Highway 83 that you can share? Or do you try to stay off the busy highways?
JTH I rarely run along the highways because of the traffic but I love running across Highway 200A which connects to Highway 83 because I get to run across a bridge that goes over the Missouri River. It is like running across a beautiful painting of North Dakota’s beauty.

SM Last year, you traveled all the way from Washburn to run in the New York City Marathon with a group of Lakota runners, but when you arrived it was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. How did you deal with the disappointment?
JTH We all dealt with the disappointment just like anyone else would, all the months of preparation and the travels but that soon faded away because our main question when we arrived in New York City was “How can we help?” Our team (One Spirit) used our common passion to help those in need by going to Staten Island to help clear rubble and we were honored to be able to help out.

SM What are your plans for this year? I know you have been dealing with some injuries. Are you going to try again?
JTH My plan is get back into running, through my horrible knee injury and to reunite with my teammates in New York City to finish what we had started, to run 26.2 miles to inspire the Lakota youth and many who have been watching us.

SM What is the group you are running with, and how can readers of this blog help?
JTH The group I have been running with is called Team One Spirit and we are also called, The Lakota 5. Our organization is Native Progress and the readers of this blog can help by checking out our and our goal, which is to raise funds for a youth center in Allen, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, to help keep our youth active and away from drugs, alcohol, and many other situations that plague the reservation.
(Update: Turning Heart in did run and complete the 2013 New York City Marathon. He continues to run in events throughout the country.)

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, available at: The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn; Home Sweet Home and Main Street Books in Minot; and the North Dakota Heritage Center and Museum gift shop in Bismarck. Also available on and bookstores and gift shops along Highway 83. And The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition.

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  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Journey Interrupted: Monarch Butterflies on the High Plains

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.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson
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.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

North Platte Celebrates Its Railroad Roots Third Week Every September

“Hell on Wheels,” the nickname give to the rowdy camp of railroad workers as they moved West building the Transcontinental Railroad, entered North Platte in November 1886 and it has been a railroad town ever since. As a matter of fact, North Platte was named Rail Town, USA by an act of Congress in 2008. 
As the home of Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest railroad classification yard, it only makes sense that North Platte would develop one of the premiere railroad celebrations in America, the North Platte Rail Fest,
Held annually the third weekend in September, the cornerstone of the three-day Rail Fest is the bus tours of Bailey Yard. The only time of the year that the public is allowed on the nearly 3,000-acre operation, the tours bring visitors up close and personal to all aspects of the rail yard. Best of all, the tours are free thanks to generous donations from Union Pacific Railroad. Step-on guides will share their stories and information on yard operations during the two-hour tour. Tickets must be reserved in advance and are available through the Rail Fest website.
At Cody Park on Highway 83 on the north side of town, all of the skilled trades employed at the yard are represented at the exhibits of railroad jobs, tools and equipment. Railroad personnel are on hand to describe their jobs and what it takes to keep America “on track” by keeping nearly everything we buy rolling on schedule.
Cody Park is also the home of the Railroad Display which features the only Challenger steam locomotive on static public display. The other existing Challenger is owned by Union Pacific and, when running, pulls excursion trains. Also on display is a 6900 series diesel locomotive, the largest ever built. The public can climb in, on and around these huge engines and can explore the accompanying railroad memorabilia exhibit in railroad cars and an historic depot. The Cody Park Railroad Display closes after Rail Fest, but will reopen May 1, 2014.
Elsewhere in the park is non-stop entertainment under the pavilion, a model railroad show, kids activities and food, craft and railroad memorabilia vendors.
The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center features an open air viewing deck on the 7th floor and a full enclosed and climate controlled viewing deck on the 8th floor overlooking Bailey Yard. The action in the yard doesn’t stop at sundown, so to give visitors a chance to see the operation at night, the Golden Spike is open until 11:00 p.m. Sept. 21.
Visitors also won’t want to miss the first-ever handcar races hosted on the new 700’ track at the Golden Spike Tower on Sept. 21. Five person teams will compete side by side to see who will be the first to cross the finish line. Handcars may have gone by the wayside in everyday use on railroads, but handcar racing is alive and well.
The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center,, on the west side of town, is open all year around and is the best way to view Bailey Yard in North Platte. Click here for directions.
North Platte’s infamous past comes to life in a Cemetery Tour featuring an era when North Platte was known as “Little Chicago” and corruption, gambling, bootlegging and prostitution were running rampant through the town. Living history presenters will portray the big players in this age at their gravesites in the North Platte City Cemetery on Sept. 20-21. 
On a lighter note, the heartwarming home front story of the North Platte World War II Canteen will be told on Sept. 22 in “The Canteen Spirit Experience” featuring a screening of the PBS documentary “Canteen Spirit” and a panel of Canteen volunteers and service personnel who came through. More than 6 million service men and women were greeted with a taste of home during their brief stops in North Platte on their way to the front lines of the war, and they never forgot it.

Guest blogger Muriel Clark is the assistant director at the North Platte Visitors Bureau and an ardent supporter of all things Nebraska. Her mission in life is to help people have fun and her vocation and avocation help her do just that. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook as Nebraska Outback.

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 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. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Boy, A Girl and A First Kiss on Highway 83

We meet again Highway 83. It isn’t very often that I cross paths with you, but when I do I can remember almost each time because it’s a good memory.
The one that stands out to me by far is one from my summer going into high school.
I went to camp, a native youth camp in Oklahoma, the summer of ’89. Saying it that way makes it seem like a lifetime ago, but I suppose it is at that. I don’t remember much of the drive down, other than a bus load of kids, strangers mostly, but for a couple of relatives among the crew.
The native youth event was at an Oklahoma state park. The week went by in a flash. I remember that some local natives had a stomp dance at one of the facilities. There was a girl there (a latent appreciation for the opposite emerged in me that week) named Skye who I thought was a beautiful site. I couldn’t take my eyes off her that evening.
A new friend of mine went over to her on my behalf, because that’s how it’s done. If an Indian boy likes an Indian girl he sends his friend over to ask her name and to speak well of him on his behalf. Painfully, I accepted that I wasn’t on her radar, and I never saw her again.
The camp drew to a close that week ending in a dance. I must have danced with five different girls from different tribes from across the country. I remember thinking that they were all pretty, and one was cute.
One girl asked me out. I said, “No,” because she was from where my grandmother was from and I wondered if we might be related. My grandmother always lectured me about girls that way, “Always find out who she is!” It scared me, and if there was a remote chance of being related in the smallest way, I always declined.
So the camp ended. People parted ways. Once in a great while I’ll come across someone I met from that wonderful week. But it was the return trip back home on Highway 83 I remember most fondly.
There was a girl who wanted me to sit next to her on the drive. She was a fair beauty I thought, and a year older than me. We joked and talked and though I thought she was pretty it was nothing more.
Night came, and the driver plowed though the darkness, wind, and rain. People began to doze off.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and a girl said, “My friend wants to know if you would sit with her.” I responded in the affirmative and made my way to the back of the bus.
She was pretty, and I recognized her as the one who asked me out earlier that week. She had black hair and bangs, only her bangs were worked up in that way that girls did in those days, dark brown eyes flashed mischievously under fine black brows. White teeth shone proudly through a warm smile. She wore a black AC/DC t-shirt and I smiled back.
She pulled her coat up over our heads and the quiet conversations of others dropped away. We were in our own dark world. I saw nothing more of her face. Only her voice as she asked for a kiss.
We removed our glasses. We spoke of little things as our cheeks brushed together. Irresistible instinct closed my eyes. I felt a light brush of her eyelashes upon my cheek as we drew closer. It was dark, and though I couldn’t see her face, I felt her smile as our faces touched, our brows grazed, and noses glanced. I smiled too.
I didn’t feel my heart race in anticipation, but I could feel a steady pounding throughout my body. My hand rested upon hers and a tingle spread up my arm. I felt acutely aware of where she drew her fingers across my arm, as though a ghost of her hand still rested there.
We didn’t hold hands or say endearments that teenagers are wont to do. Her breath on my cheek drew my lips closer to hers like gravity.
The next day, I felt indescribably different inside as though the midnight rain had reached within me and washed something away.
The bus made a series of stops throughout the to gas up and drop a few kids off along the way before coming to a stop at the Episcopal church in Fort Thompson, SD. We made no promises or left favors for one another.
When I think of Highway 83, I remember a night’s passage of late 80’s rock and glam metal, a morning of singing what the Indians call “forty-nine” songs to pass the time. And somewhere along that highway is a quiet memory of a boy and his first kiss. 

Guest blogger Dakota Wind writes about history on the Northern Plains at:
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.