pages fly away 38

Our family is almost a hundred percent Scandinavian.  Although my mother is primarily Norwegian, my father’s side is one hundred percent Danish.  Both sides of the family came over to homestead South Dakota, around the time that the Indian Wars were winding down in the late 19th century.  My goal that day was to visit the Danish town of Viborg, where my father’s relatives had settled, and on the way, I drove through Sioux Falls, where my father had been born.

Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota and named for the waterfalls that run through the middle of it.  I drove to Falls Park and found a place to park beside the Big Sioux River.  From an overlook, I could see the way that it cascaded over quartzite bluffs and collected in pools.  A walking trail led to an observation tower and an old sawmill.  It being Sunday afternoon, many families were out picnicking and sightseeing.  Upon leaving the park, I drove through downtown, which struck me as being quite artistic, with a lot of sculptures and cafes.

Viborg was only fifty miles away.  I got gas and an ice cream treat on my way out of town.  Gas had only gotten cheaper since leaving California.  The Mountain Bluebird was running like a dream, giving me the wings for this great quest, flying effortlessly across mountain ranges and endless plains.

When I got to Viborg, most of the Main Street was closed off due to construction.  It had risen up because of its proximity to the railroad and been incorporated in 1903.  At one point my great-grandmother had run the only switchboard in town, until Ma Bell came through, consolidating all the telephone lines.  My great-grandmother agreed to sell on the condition that her twin boys, one being my grandfather, get jobs with the company.  My grandfather went from being a lineman to an executive in Lincoln.

I’d been to Viborg a handful of times as a child.  My great-grandfather was a farmer, but by the time I knew him they’d moved into town.  He was a big man with big hands, soft-spoken and perpetually clad in overalls.  My great-grandmother went on to outlive him by a dozen years.  Her ritual was to wake up every morning and pray for every member of the family.  I had memories of Viborg, but no address for the house they’d once lived in.   It would’ve been impossible to find it.  There were no living relatives left.

I parked the car and walked down Main Street.  A banner on a power line welcomed visitors to Danish Days, obviously still to come.  The street was deserted.  There was the city hall and the office of the newspaper, Star Advertiser.  A sign in the window informed that What Stays Local, Grows Local.  I walked past the Daneville Inn, Danish and American flags entwined, and past the Pub Viking, a ship with a dragon masthead worked into their logo.  There was the post office where my great-uncle had worked his entire life.  What I did not see was anyone I knew or much that I really remembered.

The direction from my trip so far had come solely from impulses.  I rarely knew where I was going a day or two before I headed there.  Sometimes it was just sitting there working it out on the spot.  The Yankton Reservation was only seventy miles away but would involve heading back west again.  I thought about it for about five seconds and charged towards it, taking the 81 south to the 46.  Karen, from Google Maps, was doing all the navigating.  I was just spinning the wheel.

The Yankton Indian Reservation is about six hundred and fifty square miles and borders the Missouri River.  From a distance I could see the tall water tower bearing the name of the tribe.  A sign at the travel plaza where I filled up with gas described them as being the Ihanktonwan Oyate of the Seven Council Fires.  Across the road was the Fort Randall Hotel and Casino.

Continuing west, I came to the Fort Randall Dam, where a sign at a visitor center discussed the importance of the tipi, the iconic mobile home of the Plains Indians, able to house more than seven people and up to three generations.  The shape of the base of the was inspired by the circle of life, which represents the Earth and the cycle of seasons.  Beyond that was Fort Randall itself.

The Fort Randall Military Post was established in 1856, mainly to protect settlers and keep the Indians confined to their reservations.  There wasn’t much left of it, just an old church.  By now it was getting late in the day, and I started thinking about finding a camp site.  I went south on the 281 and then east on the 12, the Scenic Outlaw Highway.  The first campground I came to was just barely adequate, right beside the road in the middle of a small town. 

I went looking for a place to buy groceries before setting up camp and never found any place, so kept on driving, all the way to the Niobrara State Park, along the Missouri River.  That was more like it.  I drove over the bridge and got a sandwich and some water, then returned to claim a site.  Deer skittered out of the road upon my return.  I got out of the car and cicadas were chirping like the buzzing of a high voltage electrical line.  There were mosquitoes to ward off as well, but this was the place. I got busy setting up the tent.

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