Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Today we continued the long return from the plains of Dakota to the great north woods of Minnesota, and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. The strong wind from the northwest continued as it has throughout our time in the plains, but today it was a quartering tailwind most of the day, so the fuel mileage on the van jumped from the low of just over 9 MPG as we drove westward from Nebraska back to the normal while towing the camper of about 13 MPG.
Before heading northeastward this morning, we backtracked slightly a few miles down the west bank of the Missouri to pay homage to two great Americans. Just across the river from the town of Mobridge where we camped this evening are monuments to Lewis and Clark’s native guide Sacagawea and the great Lakota Chief Sitting Bull. Perhaps no two people better represent the tragic conflict between the native people belonging to this land and the European invaders who subdued the people and continue to struggle to subdue the land. Sacagawea symbolizes the welcome of the small Corps of Discovery who became the vanguard of a vast wave of domination, exploitation, and annihilation. Sitting Bull – with the victory against Custer and the 7th Cavalry at Little Bighorn came to symbolize the doomed native resistance to the overwhelming flood of American expansion into his homeland on great plains.
There is an open controversy about where and when Sacagawea died. She was born hundreds of miles west of here and subsequently sold into slavery as the wife of a French-Canadian trapper with whom she accompanied the Corps of Discovery when she was about 16 years old. After the expedition, she came to live with her husband about 20 miles north of here, and is thought to have died at the age of about 25 in Kenel, SD a few miles upstream from where her monument now stands. Another account is that she returned to her people and died at an old age in Wyoming. Regardless of which is true, it is appropriate that a monument to her stands on the bluff above the river upon which the Corps of Discovery made its way west by her guidance and aid.
Sitting Bull was born very near what is now the town of Mobridge, SD. Of course, the great victory at Little Big Horn, far from driving the white invaders from the land, only solidified their resolve to subdue the plains peoples or wipe them out entirely. The great chief Sitting Bull surrendered the few remaining of his people just five years later. After a brief stint as a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Sitting Bull returned to the Standing Rock reservation. He was shot dead less than ten years later by two of his own people acting as policemen for the Standing Rock Agency when he refused to accompany them as they were trying to arrest him. As with Sacagawea, there is a dispute about the current location of his remains. In 1953, some of his descendants claim to have stolen his body from its original burial place in Ft. Yates, ND where he was killed and moved the remains to the location of this monument to him near the place of his birth. The citizens of Ft. Yates dispute this claim.
After visiting the monuments early in the morning, we re-crossed the Missouri, and set out across the plains of the eastern Dakotas, driven before the prairie wind. A few miles east of Mobridge, we turned northeastward into North Dakota, then eastward again threading the needle between I-90 and I-94, avoiding both the traffic of the main highways and the congestion of the cities along them as has been our habit throughout the trip.
Just before we crossed over the Red River into Minnesota, I realized I hadn’t taken any photos of my first (and probably last) visit to North Dakota. Since the world’s largest “catfish” is located on the west bank of the Red River in Wahpeton, ND, we took advantage of the photo opportunity.
After crossing into Minnesota, the landscape through which we traveled changed within a very few miles from the windswept barren grasslands of the Dakota plains to the vibrant colors of the Great North Woodlands near the peak of their Autumn display. The juxtaposition of the bright colors of the changing leaves on the deciduous trees with the deep green of the evergreens reflected in the surfaces of hundreds of little lakes whose shorelines were dotted with farmsteads and cabins reminded me of the photos one finds in jigsaw picture puzzles. Unfortunately as we traveled, the weather also changed significantly. The strong northwest wind and bright blue skies we had enjoyed during our time in the Dakotas gave way to dark billowing rain clouds. As we passed across the front line, the temperature dropped about twenty degrees, and the blustery wind brought with it bursts of heavy rain and hail.
About two hours before sunset, we reached our intended destination for the day – Itasca Lake in central Minnesota, which forms the headwaters of the Mississippi River. After hastily preparing the camper for the evening’s stay, we set out on a brief hike along the lake’s shore knowing the line of storms we had just passed through would catch up with us soon enough.
Just before sunset, after we’d walked a little less than a mile along the shore of Itasca Lake, the forecast rain set in slowly, bringing with it much lower temperatures. So we scurried as quickly as we could back to the dry warmth of our cozy camper. As we settled in for the night having visited South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota on this trip, only Alaska remains on Brian’s bucket list of states to see.