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.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A little more Siouxland history

Long before Struck by the Ree cut that treaty with Washington, these guys, our neighbors by the way, drew a crowd--well, their ancestors anyway. For reasons which go beyond anyone's ken, beaver hats--which are not furry, by the way--were all the rage across Europe. Once beaver populations were depleted there, Europeans turned west to the New Land, where untouched rivers promised furs and pelts by the gadzillions.

French Canadian trappers paddled down whatever waterways would carry their canoes and came south to lakes and prairieland occupied only by North American aboriginals, tens of thousands of them, most of whom spoke different tongues and battled each other almost recreationally. Native people knew all their beavers' watering holes, so brisk as an Alberta clipper those Frenchmen in coonskin got into cahoots with the Sioux, the Ojibwe, the Cheyenne, the Fox, the Kickapoo--whoever would promise to gather hides in trade.  For what?--for necessities, for gunpowder and guns, for tools and food and for a unhealthy portions of sheer silliness.

bingham fur traders

Some of those Frenchmen were blessed with names I can't begin to pronounce. One of those, Theophile Bruguiers, was born in Montreal and educated for a career in law. But his dreams were dashed by the death of the young French woman he loved; so he, like hundreds of others, created new dreams and lit out for the west, for opportunity, for the lure of the wide open wilds of the Missouri River.

Bruguiers the dreamer worked for the American Fur Company at the beginning of the 19th century, soon after Lewis and Clark poled their way up the braided flow of the Missouri. Bruguiers regularly traveled that same watery highway, from Ft. Pierre to St. Louis. No fast food then, of course; no Casey's. One can only imagine what the Missouri looked like back then and how wild it was. Apparently (see above), some of those French guys loved cats.

Here's the story--and it's cute. Bruguiers once told War Eagle, a Santee river guide who'd worked for Washington during the War of 1812, that he'd dreamed of a place on the river where the bluffs were big and round and beautiful, a place to call home. War Eagle, whose statue stands over the site today, told him he knew of just such a place, and directed him to that particular gorgeous spot, right there where the Big Sioux River emptied into the Mud. 

Bruguiers liked the idea. In fact, he liked War Eagle. In fact, he liked War Eagle so much that in the bargain he married not one but two of War Eagle's own young daughters, Dawn and Blazing Cloud, whose sweet Indian names were given to them by Walt Disney (I'm kidding).  Bruguiers liked the dream place too, so he settled down and built a cabin right there at the confluence, a place that would become Sioux City, IA. 

Bruguiers and his two wives lived on a plot of land beneath the hills, a plot that ran from the Big Sioux to the Floyd, and the Floyd, named after the only man who died on Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery (some kind of stomach ailment), runs in our back yard. Just sayin'. 

But I digress. Flash forward a century--1933. A warm-hearted preacher man, along with some of his friends from the local mission, is taking apart an abandoned house in Sioux City's downtown area. When some of the siding comes off, the Reverend discovers there are logs beneath--that it's a log cabin.  The Reverend does some digging and discovers that ye olde structure is likely part of Bruguiers' original settlement, probably the place where those two wives of his did their cooking and baking.

This is too cool, he says, and tells the town fathers, who determine that such a place shouldn't be dismantled. But it's mid-Depression. Roosevelt to the rescue (this is an ad for the Democratic Party).  The WPA determines to move ye olde place to a park in Sioux City, Riverside Park and does, where said cabin still stands today.

Think of it: it all started with a fashion statement fashioned from beaver pelts, not unlike the ones those two at the top of the page are wearing, those two in our back yard.

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