Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sioux County History IV--Reunion

Dominie Hendrick Pieter Scholte, a wealthy and very conservative clergyman from the Netherlands, is responsible, in some ways, for me sitting here in this basement right now.  In 1848, he led 800 of his disciples onto ships that left Holland for America and, with them in tow, traveled halfway across the continent to a "city of refuge" they called Pella--Pella, Iowa.

They were a tough group and a relatively wealthy for American immigrants of the time, and Scholte had prepared a way for them by purchasing wide tracts of land that would prove immensely fertile, rich topsoil that's made lots of the descendents of those original families comfortable, and even more wealthy. 

When there were more Hollanders than there was land in south-central Iowa, some heady entrepeneurs determined that they'd mimic Dominie Scholte and lead another colony north and west, where, rumor had it, there was good land for the taking.  Those Hollanders weren't the first white faces out here on what was then a frontier, but they came in significant enough numbers to wrench power from the crooks who'd surveyed the region and planned to make good money once the settlers started coming.  The wintry confrontation between them is a story I've already told.

Siouxland was up for grabs then, and Hollanders weren't alone in breaking ground.  And not all the Hollanders who settled here trace their roots to Dominie Scholte's mass migration to Pella either.  Some came via another route, via another series of ethnic conclaves--from eastern Wisconsin through southern Minnesota and finally here, just east of the Big Sioux River. 

The Kosters were one of several families who set down roots right here in Sioux Center before there was a Sioux Center.  They built a soddy where Central Park sits today, the first Dutch Sioux Center Warriors.  Most Lakota warriors had gone west earlier, when the paleface flood began to heave itself over their hunting ground.

Charley Dyke says that one fine windless day Mr. Koster spotted smoke somewhere above the tall grass south, a gentle column that bespoke other settlers.  Could have been Injuns, of course, but it could have been white folks too:  Irish, German, Norwegian, or even Americans--the region was slowly being covered by a mosaic, an white ethnic quilt.

Koster left, walked four miles south or so, until he came to a sod house not unlike the one he'd just built for his family.  When he got up close, he stopped--he must have been apprehensive, the man couldn't have known much more than a dozen words of English.  What he knew was that it wasn't a teepee, and whoever lived in the sodhouse wasn't an Indian--that's all he knew.

Then a woman came out, carrying a pail.  She spotted him, a stranger, standing there watching her.  Charley Dyke says first there was nothing but silence.  Then, slowly, words--Dutch words.

"Are you not Yentje?" Koster said, stuttering.

"Ja," the woman said, "and are you Jacob?"

Today, we'd say these two people, Jacob Koster and Mrs. Evert Kraai, when kids, once "dated."  In Holland of the time, we'd simply say that 20 years earlier he'd walked her to singing school.

And there, in the middle of broad American west, on land so endless that none of those immigrant Hollanders could have imagined a world so big, two Dutch people--one who'd come from the south with the Pella settlers, the other who'd come from the north with those who'd left Wisconsin, stumbled upon each other in the tall-grass prairie of northwest Iowa.

Was that God-thing?  Sure, but then tell me what isn't.  It's just a story--a true story--that even today delights.  I've told it before, published it, in fact, more than once.  No matter.  It's still worth telling over and over again.

I don't know, really, that it has a moral.  But when think about this Jacob Koster, when I pull on his bibs in my imagination, when I think about hiking up and down the swells of open prairie land right here outside my door in grasses taller than he was--when I see him standing there in front of that sod hut, waiting for who-knows-what to come out, I love that startling moment when a familiar face emerges and a woman looks at him so knowingly, so lovingly, here at the rough edge of the frontier.

"Such meetings," says old Charley Dyke, "can better be imagined than told."  

He's right.  

But that's not a reason not to tell it.  

There they stand, the two of them, she with her pail in her hand, he with hands down at his side, speechless.  See 'em?  

Great story. 

Besides, if it wouldn't be for them, I wouldn't be sitting here now, at this desk, in this basement, in this old house, just three blocks from Central Park, where once upon a time a man named Jacob Koster built a sod house on a plot of ground that became, a decade later, Sioux Center, Iowa.  


Dutchoven said...

WOW...this perhaps is the first recorded evidence of "Dutch Bingo" in Northwest Iowa!

Henry Hospers, namesake of the town of Hospers today, more than likely was responsible for those early Dutch settlers.

Today history doesn't seem that important as we whisk by the names of these settlers that dot roadsides preserved as names of towns and turnouts.

D Roamer said...

I always like reading about your "Sioux" territory.
I myself grew up I believe in the same Sioux land. It was Lac Qui Parle County, mid western Minnesota. My family of Norwegian and Danish lineage. Many stories of the Indians and prairie fires from my grandparents.