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.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sioux County History V--the first sweet Fourth

Even though they spoke nothing but Dutch, the original settlers of eastern Sioux County had actually been in this country for almost twenty years, having come to America with Dominie Scholte, who put down roots--with them--in Pella, south-central Iowa.  They were American enough, at least, to take a day off from whatever settling work they were doing just to celebrate the Fourth of July, or so saith Charlie Dyke--and no other witnesses have come forward.

There couldn't have been more than a hundred people around at the time.  Orange City itself was never orange, but in 1870 it was hardly a city either.  But what Dyke so beautifically remembers is how a ripe gang of young people got themselves together for the holiday and created their own heart-thumping celebration.  He doesn't say he was part of the gang himself, but he had to be--all you need to do is listen to his rhapsody and you just know he was there.  He's writing some 60 years later or so, but there's still some steam in the engine.

Anyway, these kids hitched up some oxen and were off, bound to a swimming hole along the Floyd River, I'd guess.  The prairie was bumpy back then, before breaking under the plow, and apparently the rumbly ride forced the gentlemen to hold the young ladies tightly so as to ensure their safety.  Here's the way Charley Dyke says it:  "Each girl seemed to appreciate this protection and felt much safer and protected in the arm of her hero and protector."  

Snicker, snicker.  I'm not sure there's some hint of submarine races here, but one can only imagine how precarious public messing around must have been in what could have seemed the straight-jacket of a Dutch Calvinist world, circa 1870, on the American frontier.  Mr. Dyke has to measure his words righteously.

When this little party of cuddling patriots got to their appointed destination, they cut down saplings and created a teepee, Lakota style maybe, and then proceeded, Dyke says (reporting all of this as if it were a gossip column), to read aloud the great Declaration of Independence (someone lugged along a school book) and to sing "Marching Across Georgia" (the Civil War was just over, of course) and "America."  See 'em?--nothing around but a sea of grass.

I think it's just darling, like a bunch of college kids on road trip--four or five couples on a bank above the Floyd River, singing "America."  It's a cartoon, really, something out of Disney, a swill of patriotism in wooden shoes.

But Mr. Dyke says there's more--fishing and swimming and lunching on whatever delights they could pull from the languid flow of the Floyd.

And now listen, for old Charley, in the throes of his memory of this precious getaway, waxes most eloquent with the romance of the holiday.  ". . .Still more delicious [than the fried fish!] was the communing of human spirits, with love as the minister, while breathing the perfume of wild roses that lined the banks, and violets that matted the low places, and listening to the music of birds in the trees."  Look, in 1870, "love as the minister" was the next thing to heresy.  

Not once does he admit he was among those kids, but I tell you, he had to have been there.  Listen:  "Cupid must have been concealed among the trees and the willows for unknown to them he shot at and so wounded several hearts that day that they refused to heal until another heart would beat in unison."  That's both triumph and confession--it has to be.  He had to have been one so struck.  The man was there along the Floyd.  He won't admit it, but we believe the teller, not the tale.

And more--something one might find in Willa Cather actually, had Willa ever been struck by one of cupid's arrow somewhere close to her beloved Republican River.  Listen to Charley go on and on here:  "And they played and lolled around until the setting sun cast great shadow bands across the sky and the whippoorwill began to call."  And then this--he just can't stop himself because the reminiscence, some 60 years later, is just plain too perfect.  He can hardly end the sentence--listen:   

Then the oxen were again yoked to the wagon and a load of joyful young people drawn by the swaying oxen was seen coming over the hills with the full moon seeming as big as a wagon wheel hanging low in the sky behind it.

Charley Dyke had to be one of the revelers.  He left a part of his heart there.

All of this was the very first Sioux County Fourth of July celebration--a little singing, a little patriotism, some fresh fried fish, and a good deal of cuddling, some of it at least around a teepee.  

Here's what I think.  The fireworks that very first Fourth never quite ended for Mr. Charley Dyke, Sioux County's first historian.   You heard him.  He had to have been there.  His blessed wounded heart never forgot.
All the anecdotes from "Sioux County History" have their origin in The Story of Sioux County (1942), by Mr. Charles L. Dyke, who--or so my mother-in-law used to say--more than occasionally played a little slippery with the facts.  Maybe so. 

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