Sioux City, SD/IA/NE: September 25-27, 2010

Obviously we had to revise our itinerary to account for our overstay in Mitchell. We were also now overdue on a very special mission: picking up and adopting a new family member.

Let’s take this a step at a time. We left Mitchell for Sioux City because a significant episode of the L&C story happened there. Rather than going due east to Sioux Falls and then turning south, we took an alternate route along the southern South Dakota border to get a glimpse of Yankton and the University of South Dakota in Vermilion. This is additional Sioux tribal territory, including the Oglala, Rosebud and Yankton nations, which we weren’t going to have time to explore on this trip but will get to later on. And USD houses the primary Oscar Howe collection.

We stopped at the Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri, just the other side of the river from Yankton. We wound up having to cross the dam twice (long story), and it was a harrowing experience – a tight turn, narrow roadway and signs indicating that maximum weight was less than our rig. But we lived to tell the tale! The dam was completed in 1957.

The Lewis & Clark Visitors Center there focuses on the first council that the Corps had with the Yankton Sioux, The Council at Calumet. The Corps spent most of the summer of 1804 getting through this area, entering today’s Nebraska on July 11 and holding the Council here on August 30-31. It was a gala affair, with much feasting and many gift exchanges. Calumet is now beneath Lewis & Clark Lake behind the dam. I parted with $18 to purchase an abridged version of the Journals, compiled using the awkward spelling and grammar of the original.

Tom Brokaw calls Yankton his home town; he graduated high school there. By pure coincidence, he was interviewed on NBC about a week after our visit and talked about his upbringing. His college advisor at U-Iowa advised him to drop out and get the wild oats (aka”beer and co-eds”) out of his system. He did just that, then graduated from USD, and the rest is history.

From Yankton, we turned east through Vermilion and on to the Sioux Cities. That’s intentionally plural: North S.C. is in South Dakota, S.C. itself is in Iowa, and South S.C. is in Nebraska. Our campground was in North, close to everything we wanted to see. It was a treasure trove, and we had just one full day to absorb it.

In keeping with its military roots, the Lewis & Clark expedition was divided into three companies, each commanded by a sergeant. One of these was Sergeant Charles Floyd. He died on August 20, 1804; the modern consensus is that he suffered a ruptured appendix and died of peritonitis. There was no cure for this in those days; he would not have survived even with the day’s best medical care. He was 22 years old. Captains Lewis & Clark buried him with much ceremony on a hill overlooking the River with a simple cedar post. His remains were unearthed several times, first by erosion and later for self-preservation. In 1901, the current monument to his memory was dedicated and his earthly remains interred beneath it forever. The obelisk, 100 feet tall, is the first landmark entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Sergeant Floyd was the only fatal casualty in the Corps throughout the expedition.

In 1932, a steel riverboat, the Sergeant Floyd, was launched in Jeffersonville, Indiana. It served the Corps of Engineers for many years as both an inspection boat and a tow boat. During the bicentennial, it toured as a showboat. Decommissioned after that, Sioux City obtained it and brought it ashore. Today, it’s the Sergeant Floyd River Museum & Welcome Center. Exhibits abound on all decks, mixing with the original operating equipment. We first watched a half-hour Corps-produced feature entitled Lewis and Clark: Confluence of Time and Courage and enjoyed it so much that we have since bought the DVD. In the same room is a haunting full plaster forensic reproduction of the Sergeant, holding a rifle and ready for whatever danger confronted his company. Left to right: The museum in fog; engine sending station; dugout canoe found in 1941; MV Yellow Stone, first steamboat on the upper Missouri; waterfront scene; shipyard; Sgt. Floyd (lifted from the Museum’s website).

The story of the Bertrand was especially interesting. Sunk in 14 feet of water by underwater trees in 1865, the insurance company stripped it of machinery, but $300,000 in cargo was lost. The Bertrand soon disappeared into the bottom. But it was discovered in 1968 and over 500,o00 items of cargo were removed, many of which are on display in the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge Center in Iowa. Picture at right shows the hull being documented and measured.

About a hundred yards “downstream” was The Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the Betty Strong Encounter Center. Back end first: Betty Strong was a lifelong labor leader and community activist. She was president of Missouri River Historical Development (MRHD), which, in 1989, won the gaming license for Sioux City and subsequently built this complex. Ms. Strong was also a leading voice earlier in the major improvement of the city’s schools and its juvenile detention system. MRHD has also raised millions for other area non-profits and public institutions.

The Interpretive Center opened in 2002, in time for the bicentennial of the expedition. It was joined by the Encounter Center in 2007, three years after Betty Strong’s death. Modern and beautiful, the complex brings two wings together at the Crossroads, defined in their brochure as a symbol of hope for dialogue, understanding and peace among all people. One wing emphasizes the L&C expedition and the other, again quoting the brochure, commemorat(es) the history of encounters that occurred before and after the expedition.”

We explored the Encounter Center first. Most of its story was told in a series of photographic exhibits. Don Doll, S.J., Professor of Photojournalism and occupant of the Charles and Mary Heider Endowed Jesuit Chair at Creighton University in Omaha – and the Center’s photo consultant — currently has two showings. One is a series of large natural images appropriately captioned with quotes from the L&C Journals. The second features Native American children from the Winnebago Reservation captioned with their career dreams. Exhibits by two other contributors included beautiful images of Guatemalan families and fauna of the west. Images below: Great Falls Montana, The Columbia River and Seaside, Oregon; fauna and fauna; Winnebago children and their dreams, photos from Fr. Joseph Zimmerman, SJ, missionary to the Lakota during the first half of the 20th century.

A final exhibit, in its own gallery, featured World War II veterans. A book on a rostrum outside the gallery told the story of each, and the display counterpoised the giant today images with images from the war theater. I focused on one, a man named Woodward. He snuck away from home and enlisted under age. When he came home, his little brother wrapped his arms around the veteran’s legs and wouldn’t let go. Wandering into the gallery to match up people with their portraits, I found Cpl. Woodward quickly. The caption beneath his picture (left) had an addition: Rest in Peace 2009. Of the two dozen subjects in the room, he was one of only three who had passed away.

The L&C exhibit was a combination of dioramas and artifact collections. One of the former depicted Sergeant Floyd’s burial and was complete with life size animated captains who spoke the benediction. Two others depicted the promotion of Patrick Gass to Floyd’s former command. Gass, the expedition’s carpenter and one of its most worldly wise members, later drew the ire of Lewis by rushing his journals to print before anyone else. Succumbing at 98, he had well outlived every other expedition member and left behind seven children, all progeny from his marriage just forty years earlier! From the left: The animated Floyd burial scene; Floyd at his last; the election/promotion of Patrick Gass; and a court martial for desertion .

My favorite was a life size Seaman (remember, he’s a Newfie!), curiously peering at the caged prairie dog that the Corps sent back with the return crew. (From the start, the expedition included a company that was destined to return when the keelboat could not be further used. This plan allowed some activity of the expedition to be delivered even if it eventually perished.)

Our day of discovery continued – probably the most intense day of our trip so far. We moved on the Sergeant Floyd’s monument on the top of Floyd’s Bluff. From there, we searched for the First Bride’s Grave but never found it. She – Rosalie Menard Leonais – was believed the first bride of a non-Native American in the area that is today’s Sioux City. Daughter of a French Canadian trader and his Native American wife, she subsequently married another trader, Joseph Leonais.

But wait . . . there’s more. Our final stop of the day was the memorial statue of Chief War Eagle. Born a Santee, he left his tribe over a power dispute and was later accepted as a Yankton Sioux. A prolific friend of the white man, he worked for the US Government, championed the cause of the US against the British, and worked for Canadian fur companies. Elected as chief, he participated in peace conferences in Washington, DC and earned a peace medal from President Martin Van Buren. The impressive steel sculpture was at the top of a bluff overlooking the River. The picture at right shows part of his view.

Half way up the hill was a related plaque. It memorialized Theophile Bruguier. Bruguier, a fur trader from Montreal, established alliances with the Yankton Sioux. Two were very personal – he married two of War Eagle’s daughters (yes, at the same time) and fathered seven children. The families, including War Eagle’s, settled near the confluence of the Missouri and the Big Sioux and developed their homeland. Encouraging other settlement, Bruguier is considered the father of today’s Sioux City.

We dragged our butts back to the campground and got ready to leave the following day. Fortunately, that trip was mercifully short!

One thought on “Sioux City, SD/IA/NE: September 25-27, 2010

  1. MKJM

    Ahh, you were so close to the First Bride’s Grave! The entrance to the path is very difficult to find. It is along the tree line across the road from Landmark Apartments on Lincoln Way. Very creepy in the night, but a spectacular view during the day! Hope you get another chance to check it out!


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