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Land of the Dacotahs

Land of the Dacotahs

Copyright Date: 1946
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Land of the Dacotahs
    Book Description:

    Land of the Dacotahs was first published in 1946. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions. A new story about the American West, Land of the Dacotahs tells the dramatic history of the Upper Missouri Valley from the days of the early French explorers to today’s plan for harnessing the Missouri, America’s most willful river. Here is the land of the Sioux Indians, of Pte the buffalo, of the amazing Black Hills, of the great plains which became the tragic Dust Bowl. Here is this land’s vast natural wealth, its violent extremes of weather, its man-wrought havoc and man-made fortunes – in stories of keelboatmen and Indian fighters, of cattle barons and rustlers, of Scandinavian immigrants and homesteaders, of the steamboats and the railroads, of the Nonpartisan League, and of the fights over the MVA. Bruce Nelson, a young North Dakota newspaperman, writes with a keen sense of historical pattern and a flair for the dramatic. He has made exciting use of little-known Indian lore and pioneer fold tales. Skillfully interwoven with the facts are diverting legends, with a sly bit of debunking besides, about such colorful figures as Hugh Glass, the exotic Marquis de Mores, Teddy Roosevelt, George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and many others. The author was awarded a University of Minnesota Fellowship in Regional Writing to assist him in this work._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3814-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. Chapter 1 THE BIG MUDDY
    (pp. 3-7)

    The bones of Hernando de Soto had moldered for a hundred and thirty years in the Mississippi’s bed when the first white men set eyes on the river called Missouri. Then it was that Marquette and Jolliet, stroking their birch canoes down the tranquil bosom of the Father of Waters, came suddenly upon the mouth of a mighty unknown river. Athwart their course swept a surging yellow torrent, bearing on its swollen crest the fearsome debris of three thousand miles of savage career—twisted snags, uprooted trees, careening logs. Their fragile canoes bucked in the tawny flood as the voyageurs...

    (pp. 8-33)

    Away beyond the dawn of history, in the morning of mankind, the First American came out of the west across the strait that was to be known as Bering, looked upon the land, and saw that it was good.

    That was perhaps twenty-five thousand years ago. The hairy mammoth, the giant bison, and the huge ground sloth that grew tall as an elephant still were roaming the American plains. Fossil remains of those ancient beasts, mingled with artifacts of Stone Age hunters, have been found in scattered portions of the United States.

    Gradually, probably in small successive waves, the first...

    (pp. 34-41)

    Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Vérendrye, was no ordinary adventurer. Bold, resourceful, a man of action, he had, too, the far look of the dreamer. Born near Three Rivers, Quebec, in 1685, he became a cadet in the French army at the age of twelve. A soldier of France at fourteen, he served in the campaigns of New England and Newfoundland and later in Europe, where, at the battle of Malplaquet, he was left on the field for dead with nine wounds in his body. He was but twenty-seven when he returned to Canada, eager to begin a...

    (pp. 42-56)

    In the half century that followed the explorations of the Vérendryes, the valley of the Upper Missouri saw few white men. From St. Louis in the south a thin trickle of hardy French trappers began to penetrate the river upstream toward the Mandan villages, while to the north English traders followed slowly in the path of the Vérendrye party.

    In 1775 a Frenchman named Pierre Dorion came into what is now the state of South Dakota and married a woman of the Yankton Sioux. He was the first white settler of the upper river valley. Dorion was followed in the...

    (pp. 57-72)

    On the fourteenth day of May, 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis completed his final preparations for the voyage of discovery. There was no longer need for secrecy, for Louisiana had now been officially transferred to the United States; and the party had spent the winter of 1803–4 at Camp River Dubois, opposite the mouth of the Missouri at St. Louis, awaiting the day when favorable weather would launch their little flotilla upstream on its way to the Western Ocean.

    The winter months had been well spent. Guides and adventurous frontiersmen were recruited and enlisted in the Army’s service, along with...

  8. Chapter 6 THE JUG OF EMPIRE
    (pp. 73-96)

    “Whiskey as applied to the noble savage is a wonderful civilizer. A few years of it reduces him to a subjection more complete than arms, and accomplishes in him a humility which religion can never achieve. Some things men will do for Christ, for country, for wife and children; there is nothing that an Indian will not do for whiskey.”

    So wrote the historian George Bancroft in the nineteenth century. He was not the first to discover the red man’s terrible thirst. The early trappers and traders who made their way into the Upper Missouri Valley soon learned that their...

    (pp. 97-114)

    “With no ordinary sensations of pride and pleasure, we announce the arrival, this morning, of the elegant STEAMBOAT INDEPENDENCE, Captain NELSON, in sevensailingdays from St. Louis, with passengers, and a cargo of flour, whiskey, sugar, iron, castings, etc.,being the first Steam Boat that ever attempted ascending the Missouri. The granddesideratum, the important fact is now ascertained,that Steam Boats can safely navigate the Missouri River.”

    That was in the spring of 1819, and half a century later men still were trying to find a way to navigate the river safely. But theIndependencehad proved it...

    (pp. 115-143)

    “What do we want with this vast worthless area, this region of savages and wild beasts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust, of cactus and prairie dogs? To what use could we ever put these great deserts or endless mountain ranges, impenetrable and covered to their base with eternal snow?”

    It is not unlikely that these words of Daniel Webster, and of others who believed as he did, had something to do with the haphazard and reckless fashion in which the American nation dissipated the wealth of its western public domain. Whatever the cause, the immense folly of our...

  11. Chapter 9 GIANTS IN THE EARTH
    (pp. 144-153)

    Yankton, August 8.—Thor Ericsson, a Norwegian immigrant farmer who homesteaded about thirty miles north of here several years ago, was brought into town last night and lodged in the local calaboose by the Sheriff. He is charged with having murdered his wife and his two small children, after which he tried to take his own life. Ericsson is a slight, blond, inoffensive-looking man, speaking almost no English. When questioned he could give no reason for his fiendish act.

    Thor Ericsson was born in a tiny fishing village on the western coast of Norway, where the black, beetling cliffs look...

  12. Chapter 10 THE SPOILERS
    (pp. 154-168)

    Once there was a Mountain That Stood on Its Head.

    It’s a tale they tell in the Black Hills country, where the stern faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt look down with granitic frowns from the sculptured shoulder of Mt. Rushmore. So you can be sure the story is true. Because the man doesn’t live who’d dare to tell a lie with the Father of His Country towering over him, sixty feet from chin to forehead.

    They say it was Hels Helsen’s fault to begin with. Hels was Paul Bunyan’s foreman, and they had come down together to...

  13. Chapter 11 THE WHIRLWIND
    (pp. 169-189)

    The river steamerFar Westbucked in the yellow current and tugged at her moorings. It was in the sultry month of June 1876, and theFar Westhad nosed her way to the mouth of the Little Big Horn, where she lay awaiting orders from General Alfred Terry. A week had passed now, and somewhere in the rugged interior Terry and his United States troops were ranging the wild Montana prairies in search of the elusive Sioux.

    Captain Grant Marsh, skipper of theFar West, paced her deck and cursed the delay of the long-awaited courier. The hot June...

  14. Chapter 12 BADLANDS EMPEROR
    (pp. 190-206)

    Tall, slender, with flashing black eyes and the lithe grace of a polished fencer, he might have stepped from the pages of an Alexandre Dumas novel. In the course of his meteoric career he was duelist, adventurer, financier, international diplomat, and aspirant to the throne of France. Though his grandiose schemes came to nothing and his empire has long since crumbled to dust, he remains one of the West’s most colorful, if obscure, frontier figures.

    Though his career in America encompassed but three short years and ended before he was thirty years of age, Antoine de Vallombrosa, Marquis de Mores,...

  15. Chapter 13 THE WHITE DEATH
    (pp. 207-219)

    It was perhaps as well that the Marquis de Mores’ venture failed when it did, for conditions in the vast cattle country of the Upper Missouri Valley were moving inexorably toward the disaster of the winter of 1886–87.

    The beginnings of the cattle industry had been brought about by the opening of the gold camps and military posts throughout the territory and the necessity of supplying food to these isolated communities. The first beef cattle on the northern plains were simply oxen turned out to fatten on the rich grasses; but early settlers, quick to see the advantages of...

  16. Chapter 14 RED MESSIAH
    (pp. 220-233)

    This happened in the time when the sun died.

    It was January 1, 1889, and the old men of the Standing Rock Sioux speak of it even today with a curious, hushed, and nostalgic kind of awe. For on that day, while the sun was blotted out by a total solar eclipse, Wovoka, who lived among the Paiute Indians of Nevada, had a vision.

    It was no ordinary vision that came to Wovoka in his dreams while his frightened people cowered in terror of what they believed to be the death of the sun. When he awakened he announced that...

    (pp. 234-243)

    Gray Wolf the one-armed told me this as we sat before his lodge one evening in the Moon-When-the-Wild-Plums-Ripen. Beyond the murky shadow of the river the northern lights raced and shimmered along the autumn horizon, and we crouched close to the campfire for warmth. Gray Wolf flung out a gnarled hand and pointed.

    “Among the Chippewas there is a tale that the marching lights are the ghost dance of the spirits, with the women dressed in gay colors and the warriors brandishing their shining war clubs. But the Chippewas have many such foolish fables. My people the Sioux no longer...

  18. Chapter 16 THE EMPIRE BUILDER
    (pp. 244-250)

    It is an ironic truth that the man who believed himself to be the Northwest’s savior and prophet, and altogether its best friend and well-wisher, should actually have been the land’s worst enemy.

    Men called him the Empire Builder, this unwitting wrecker of the empire of the northern plains. His name was James J. Hill—Jim Hill, the big railroad multimillionaire—and lesser mortals were eager to listen to his voice. Jim was no knocker like that government fellow, John Wesley Powell. Jim had made his pile; hence his views were to be respected and his opinions unquestioned on all...

    (pp. 251-298)

    During the 1880’s a young Englishman traveling in the American Northwest boarded a train which was to take him through Montana to Yellowstone Park. He was dowered with a quick eye and a gift of vigorous expression that have preserved for us a revealing glimpse of the western scene of that day. But let the youthful Rudyard Kipling tell it in his own words:

    “We were a merry crew. One gentleman announced his intention of paying no fare and grappled the conductor, who neatly cross-buttocked him through a double plate-glass window. His head was cut open in four or five...

  20. Chapter 18 THE GRAPES OF WRATH
    (pp. 299-317)

    In the days following World War I, when crops were so hard hit by drought and black stem rust that they were scarcely worth harvesting, a Dakota farmer was visiting friends in Minneapolis in the hope of finding a city job to tide him over the winter. One day he received a telegram from his wife announcing the birth of a child—a prematurely born infant who weighed only three pounds and was being kept alive in an incubator.

    Since it was his first-born, the farmer was very proud and passed out the cigars as expansively as his meager means...

    (pp. 318-338)

    The Missouri is a giant among rivers. From its remotest sources in Red Rock Lake and Hell Roaring Creek to where its waters mingle at last with those of the Mexican Gulf, it is the longest continuous watercourse in the world.

    In most seasons it is like a sluggish yellow serpent, coiling and heaving slowly in the prison cage of its sandy bends; but in times of flood, when the rushing mountain rivers pour themselves into its upper reaches, it becomes an angry, unleashed monster that lashes from side to side for miles beyond its banks, gulping whole farms and...

    (pp. 339-343)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 344-354)