WEST RIVER 1850-1910
John Simpson's account of "West River" happenings will forever be recognized for its honesty and careful documentation. -- Agnes Picotte, Ph.D. Lakota Elder and Scholar
Stories from the Great Sioux Reservation from 1850 to 1910.
Stories are related to the decade and a half in which the last of millions of buffalo and thousands of Lakota Sioux would be replaced by thirty to sixty thousand trespassing cattle which would be rounded up to be replaced by over a hundred thousand hopeful homestead applicants.
The stories present the various conflicting cultures and values involved in early Territorial and Great Sioux Reservation time as short, well documented history demanded by white culture modified by the oral history, tradition and culture of the Native American.
* Paperback: 192 pages
* Publisher: Rattlesnake Butte Press (August 12, 2000)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 1575791560
* ISBN-13: 978-1575791562
* Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
* Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
West River by John J. Simpson
PRICE OF BOOK IS $18.00 includes sales tax S&H
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John J Simpson
Rattlesnake Butte Press
32551 271st Street
Hamill, SD 57534.
SOME NEWLY RESEARCHED MATERIAL INVOLVING JACK SULLY AND CARTHAGE AND MADISON'S OWN THOMAS D LYONS
Going to College--1900
THINGS at the Big Place began to break badly for my father, in 1893. The wheat crop was short, and the price low. In 1895, we merely got back our seed out of the harvest and threshing, and the famed Dakota No. 1 hard wheat brought only 44c per bushel at the elevator.
The year 1897 gave me my first sight of the dust storm. The dust drifted around the fence corners in September like snow. My father's hearty cheerfulness gave way to gaunt, grim silence. The Red Stone Mercantile Company had $100,000.00 in uncollectible debts. But the worst problem was the question of wintering our fine Norman Percheron horses. There was no feed and no grass between the Sioux River and the Jim. The cattle had long since been sold, and so had all the fine flocks of turkeys, chicken and geese. One day, my father announced at the breakfast table that he had arranged to have the horses wintered at Slim Buttes in the foothills of the Black Hills. There was plenty of grass in the canyons of the Bad Lands.
I had previously completed the eight grades of the Redstone School, and had been tutored in Latin, geometry and rhetoric by Olaf Norstrom, the cultivated and learned Norwegian who was the manager of the Redstone Mercantile Company. Olaf claimed that we made more progress in book-learning the two years I helped him around the store than would ordinarily be made in four years of high school. Studying under Olaf was so full of interest that it was a pleasure instead of a task. We had no fixed hours for studies, but simply utilized spare time. Often we began at eight o'clock at night while discussions of cattle herds, horse breeding, and grain freight rates to Minneapolis raged around the big hard coal stove, the magazine of which had a capacity of three full bushel-baskets of anthracite.
Olaf's sanctum was partitioned off from the main store by high double-shelves of canned goods, and there he imparted knowledge to me by apparently merely visiting, and arousing curiosity and interest. However, he occasionally insisted on memorization and recitation in the Latin tongue. I could repeat for him Maharbal's famous remark to Hannibal, that the gods give not all talents to one man: "To you, O Hannibal, they have given the genius which enables you to win the victory, but they have withheld from you the judgment by which it might be fully utilized."
Olaf was a most patriotic Scandinavian, and claimed that the Norsemen were the great civilizers of Europe. He boasted to Father Ahern of the Danish King of Waterford, Thorkils Silkesjaage. Father Ahern suggested that the Danish Kings met their Waterloo when they encountered Brian Boru. Olaf said that Brian Boru's name, correctly translated, meant merely "Brian, the Cattle-rustler." Father Ahern replied that after Clontarf, the Danes should have given Brian a new nickname, because on
that occasion Brian certainly made the Danes rustle. Olaf told my father that I could pass the entrance examinations to Yale, Harvard, or Princeton. This brought a smile to my father, grim as the situation was: "Not much danger, Olaf, of that bluff being called. That is, unless those colleges pay boys by the month for attending them, and furnish transportation besides."
It was evident that my poor father was distressed over not being able to send me to college. My mother had audibly cherished the ambition since I was in the cradle that I would go to Notre Dame and win the Oratory medal. As a girl, she had attended the Winnesheik Normal School, where her classmates were Hamlin Garland and Darwin Sims, who tied for the oratory medal. Hamlin Garland went on to Boston and to his great career as a novelist. Darwin enlisted as a trooper in the Seventh Cavalry, and bit the dust with Custer, at the Little Big Horn.
Olaf came over to supper one night. When we were finishing up the dessert of canned greengages, he brought up the subject of higher education. He told my mother proudly that, in his church (the Lutheran), the clergy always found some way for an ambitious boy to get an education. My sister promptly remarked that I was not in that category because the only ambition I had ever expressed was to win the silver-plated saddle given at Pierre for the best youthful rider under the age of seventeen years. Olaf, however, regarded me as his pupil, and upon Father Ahern's next visit, broached the question. Father Ahern at once wrote to Father Morrissey at Notre Dame and got an answer back stating that I could enter St. Joseph's Hall by paying $50.00 tuition and work my way through college by waiting on table and washing dishes. My father at once said that he could furnish the $50.00, and Father Ahern made arrangements to have me take the entrance examinations under his supervision. Within two weeks, an official looking document came from Notre Dame advising that I was eligible as a freshman, and granting me the privilege of enrolling in St. Joseph's Hall on the payment of $50.00 tuition. My father forthwith sent the $50.00 to the registrar, and regarded the incident as practically closed. However, immediately after his birthday, August 15th, my mother began a mild agitation on the subject of my wants as a budding college student. She had the list of needs from Notre Dame, towels, shirts, underwear, etc. She advised my father that I must have a trunk, and she thought it would be well for me to purchase a suit or two in Chicago, her idea being that the Dakota styles might be a trifle conspicuous on the campus. This, however, roused my father's spirit of fierce pioneer democracy, and he at once "put his foot down" on the notion of trying to make one of his boys a dude, or aristocrat. He offered the resources of the Redstone Mercantile Company for two suits, shirts, towels and underwear, and suggested I could buy two starched collars in Chicago, which would always give me a clean collar for Sunday. Olaf loaned me the battered trunk that had done duty on his sea voyage from Oslo. My mother then fell back on the subject of transportation and said that I must have money for a railway ticket, and a few dollars over. My father inquired in an abstracted manner of my mother what my age was--as if it was a subject completely outside his stock of information. My mother replied, indignantly, "You know his age, and he is just one month past sixteen."
My father at once retorted, "Well, when I was sixteen, I was driving an Express
wagon in Nashville, and getting $100.00 per month."
My mother replied that times had changed, and that if I was going to Notre Dame, arrangements would have to be made soon. My father, however, who was always equal to the emergency, already had the arrangements made. But, like a prudent strategist, he did not divulge the plan until the time came for action. So, at the supper table that night, he asked me if I felt equal to driving a team of the bronchos to Prairie Queen, forty miles distant, for Uncle Will's use. I immediately replied in the affirmative. He then explained that Uncle Will had bought up a few cattle, was shipping them to Chicago, and that I could ride in the caboose, on a shipper's pass.
After saying the home farewells at Redstone, I went with my father to the Big Place, and hitched up the "broncs" to the buckboard. As I stepped into the buckboard, my father remarked that he supposed that I knew that times were hard, and handed me an envelope, which was found to contain ten one-dollar bills. Three nights after that, at 10:00 P.M., Uncle Will came into the caboose of the stock-train on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul to say goodbye. He deposited a big pasteboard box which contained about five pounds of magnificent Dakota roast ham and two loaves of bread. The other stockmen in the caboose making the trip to Chicago were all acquaintances of his, and one short, wiry man with a thick gray mustache seemed to be a particular friend. This gentleman was the famed Jack Sully from Fort Randall, and Uncle Will placed me under his special protection. When Uncle Will shook hands saying goodbye, a piece of paper stuck to my hand. and it turned out to be a $10.00 bill.
But my farewells were not quite finished. Mr. Coon Kotzpaugh came up just as Uncle Will was turning away, with the information that this particular stock train was going the Northern route, through La Crosse, Wisconsin, and that we might have chilly weather. This was merely his way of introducing a gift which was truly magnificent. A French count from the Bell Fourche Ranch had given Mr. Klotzpaugh a Turkish saddle blanket, and this was presented to me on the theory that I might need it to keep warm in the bunk, which the caboose De Luxe provided. As I prepared to stretch out in the bunk, one of the stockmen said that he never lay down for fear of "crawlers." But Mr. Sully told me to go ahead; that the speaker's true reason for not lying down was an intense preoccupation with cards and whisky. I waked up feeling fine and rested at six o'clock the next morning, crossing Minnesota, and at one o'clock in the afternoon our train stopped at La Crosse with the announcement from the conductor that we all had time to eat the famed turkey dinner at the great La Crosse Railroad Dining Room. I sat down next to Mr. Sully, and we had just fairly started on the turkey, cranberry and dressing, when the brakeman came into the dining room swinging his lantern (which for some reason he carried in daylight) and shouting for all the cattle buyers to turn out at once, as orders were changed, and our train was pulling out of the station. Mr. Sully's coolness did not desert him, even if I was a bit excited. He seized up two sections of the Sunday paper which I had bought and made two generous bundles of turkey, dressing and cranberries, giving me one to carry. When he got out onto the platform our freight train was moving at a slow pace out of the station yards. Mr. Sully at once advised me that the train would be moving too fast for us to board the caboose, and that we must run over the tops of the cars. I evidently
hesitated, for Mr. Sully said, "Oh, it's nothing at all....Here ...” and he at once unbuckled his beautifully worked leather and silver belt. "Climb up. I'll walk ahead of you. Hang onto my belt; I won't let go of the other end. Don't look down; look straight ahead at me."
Mr. Sully was a man who spontaneously exuded confidence. Under his generalship, we reached the caboose safely and entered through the cupola. Even when running across the top of the train, I involuntarily admired Mr. Sully's beautiful belt. When the United States Marshal's posse shot Mr. Sully dead near Fort Randall, in Charles Mix County, three months before my graduation, a Winchester rifle bullet went through that beautiful belt. The federal authorities claimed that Jack Sully had gone into the enterprise of international cattle-rustling, a violation of the federal statute. Marshal Jack Omohundro paid a social call to his old friend, Mr. Sully, advised him that a warrant was out, and urged him to go to Sioux Falls and surrender. After consideration, Jack Sully wrote the Marshal a post card telling him that he would not surrender--"Serve your warrant." Uncle Will always stoutly defended his friend's reputation, and claimed that Jack was the victim of conspiracy on the part of rival cattle interests who had political pull sufficient to cause the issuance of the warrant.
We reached Chicago on Monday morning at 8 o'clock, and that afternoon I entered Notre Dame, the most lonesome boy east of the Mississippi River. It was my first experience in a totally strange land, where the magic of my father's name had no skill. There were rules and regulations to be considered--a disagreeable novelty.
My rough Dakota suit did not attract unfavorable attention, but my high-heeled shoes, of which I was so proud, and my Boss Rawedge Cowboy hat (youth's model) called for derision and nicknames. But this was not the worst. The beautiful grounds of Notre Dame, with the trees and magnificent buildings, aroused no spark of admiration in me. I was looking for the dream country, where the sky met the earth. Father Houlihan, C.S.C., who finally encouraged me so that I got over my homesickness and was enabled to become a member of the student body, saw me standing one afternoon, gazing around trance-like. With his great tact and kindness, he managed to draw me into a conversation. Finally, he asked me just what seemed peculiar to me in the sights at which I was gazing. I finally told him about Dakota, where you could see the horizon for six miles in any direction, a perfect circle.
I love my prairies, they are mine
From Zenith to horizon line,
Clipping the world of sky and sod,
Like the bended arm, and wrist of God.
I love their grasses; their skies,
Are larger, and my restless eyes
Fasten on more of earth and air
Than seashore furnishes anywhere.
I had not then read Hamlin Garland's poem, but it expressed my feeling. Father Houlihan was very sympathetic, even to the point of inviting me to ride to the
37College Farms with him, whence he pointed out a small meadow, bordering on St. Joseph's River, which went by the name of St. Joe Prairie. The humor of the great name, applied to the few acres of meadow, suddenly restored my equilibrium. I put my magnificent Stetson hat away in Olaf's trunk, spent 35 cents for a college cap, and began the process of becoming acclimated