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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sioux County History--the last Sioux in Sioux County

Charley Dyke, a wonderful story-teller and the county's first historian, locates this yarn just about right on the site where Orange City would eventually sprout and grow, on Holland and Nassau township lines, just a few miles west of the Floyd River. That's got to be pretty darn close to where Northwestern College stands today.

They were, he claims, dumbstruck at the beauty all around. "Would that  our friends were here to feast their eyes on this glorious land," they said to each other. "Where could we have found anything better?"

Charley Dyke knew the beauty of the uncut prairie. He himself saw Sioux County before it was sectioned off and forever outfitted corn and soybeans. Lakes and streams and sloughs abounded. A herd of elk ran off when those landseekers rolled up a hill not far south from here.

Something moving miles away grabbed their attention one afternoon as they were surveying the land, some interruption on the ocean of grassland, a human being, a man, an Indian flying along on a pony so fast he seemed oblivious to them. He had a rifle too, or so the story goes. When he got up close, he drew that pony up quickly. They were scared. Whatever weapons the Dutchmen had were back in the wagon at the Floyd River. Van Der Aa was a Civil War vet, but they went zero at the bone when they guy showed up. They hadn't expected "injuns."

But they tried friendliness, and it seemed to work. Slowly the man smiled, got off his horse, and looked around. Even though they couldn't communicate--they tried English, Dutch, and German--eventually they guessed he was just out hunting when he'd stumbled on the tall bearded men in strange wooden shoes.

He left, Dyke says, as quickly as he'd come. 

When they went back to their camp on the Floyd that night, they ate heartily, telling Injun stories; and when darkness arrived they noticed someplace close, just across the river, the eerie silhouettes of men against yet another roaring fire. Had to be the Indians.

They were terrified, he says, sure that those half-naked little men would try to make off with their mules. One of them, Van Den Bos, took the first watch that night and took his little dog with. The rest Dyke claims went to sleep with dreams of "scalping Indians in action." Old Charlie meant that as a joke. 

Soon enough, Van Den Bos came back to the camp wheezing and puffing. "They're comin', boys," he said. "Never was sleep sooner from their eyes," Dyke says.

They grabbed rifles, shotguns, and butcher knives, whatever they could to stave off the barbarians, waited patiently for the attack, but saw nothing but a team of gangly sunflowers dancing innocently in a slight evening wind. 

Nothing happened that night. Those Dutch pioneers from Pella ended up sleeping soundly, uninterrupted by screaming warriors singing death chants. And when, the next morning, they crossed the river to try to find the camp they'd spotted in the darkness, they discovered only the remains of a deer, supper the night before. Van Den Bos's lurid imagination had conjured an attack that never came because it never was.

One moment in the story Dyke tells reaches metaphor. It seems that in that brief time their surprising visitor was with them, he was greatly taken by the little machine the landseekers were using to set out the parameters of their claims to all this cheap land, land they simply assumed no one owned. What caught his eye was the surveying instrument, "with the needle always pointing north no matter how the compass turned." With that little gizmo, "he was very much interested."

As well he should have been. Still, they determined that he "seemed to feel that they meant well."

And they did mean well, I'm sure, even though what they were so enthusiastically plotting for a colony of Dutch folks didn't include him or his people.

That nameless man we might well think of as a Yankton, the very last Sioux from Sioux County. 

Yankton (Nakota) Sioux by Karl Bodmer, approximately 1833

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