Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Chadron State grad elected Governor of Minnesota


By Con Marshall – Chadron State College
As a candidate for governor in Minnesota, Tim Walz wanted to unite the state as “One Minnesota.” Following a successful campaign, Walz became the first Chadron State College graduate ever elected governor of one of the 50 states. After serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years, Walz was sworn in as Minnesota’s 41st Governor Jan. 7 in St. Paul.
Tim Walz graduated from CSC in 1989
During the 2018 election, Walz, a Democrat, received about 54 percent of the vote, or nearly 300,000 more votes than his challenger, Jeff Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner. The 1,392,958 votes that he received are the most ever for a gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota.  
Walz, 54, was born in West Point, Nebraska, and spent most of his childhood in Valentine. He moved with his parents, Jim and Darlene Walz, to Butte, Nebraska, when he was a high school sophomore.
Walz graduated from Chadron State in 1989 and spent the following year teaching English and American history and culture in southern China. Afterward, he led tours which included numerous western Nebraska residents to China several summers.
Following the year in China, Walz taught global geography in Alliance for six years. During that time, he met his wife, Gwen, a native of Minnesota who also was teaching in the Alliance schools. In 1997, the couple moved to Mankato, her hometown, and he joined the faculty at West High School as a geography, history and sociology teacher.
In 2002, he was one of six Minnesota teachers to receive a $10,000 award recognizing their high performances and contributions to teaching. His award was for Ethics in Education.
Walz had joined the National Guard the summer after graduating from high school. Soon after he had been honored, his teaching career was interrupted when the First 125th Field Artillery Battalion from Minnesota that he had joined was sent to Afghanistan during the early stages of a conflict there.
He had served in the National Guard 24 years when he retired with the rank of Command Sergeant Major. When he took office in the U.S. House, he became the highest ranking retired enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Throughout his tenure in Washington, he championed enhanced veterans’ benefits. 
In May 2014, Walz returned to Chadron State to give the commencement address and also was presented the college’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
During his talk, Walz said he was appreciative that his alma mater had provided middle class families like his the opportunity to earn a college education.
The professors at this college wanted us to succeed,” Walz said. “The door was always open for us to learn and to grow. We got a great base for future success.
 “A healthy and educated populace creates economic and national security. We have the right of self-governance which was paid for with blood. We need more critical thinkers like the students who graduated from CSC today.

Two of Walz's siblings, Jeff, who lives in Florida, and Sandy Dietrich of Alliance, also graduated from Chadron State.  Tim and Gwen have two children, Hope and Gus.  
While Walz is the first CSC alumni to become governor of a state, two graduates have served as the governors of American Samoa, a U.S. territory, since 2003.
Togiola (Tala) Tulafono, held the office for 10 years, and was succeeded by Matalasi Moliga, the governor since 2013. They were among the two dozen or more American Samoans who attended Chadron State in the 1960s and ‘70s. Tulafono graduated from CSC in 1971 and Moliga in 1973.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Blizzard of ’49 began 70 years ago today

By Con Marshall

Of all the events that have occurred since pioneers arrived in this part of the country about 135 years ago, few have caused more hardships than the Blizzard of ’49. Deep snow, high winds and bitter cold combined to make it unforgettable to anyone who experienced it. By comparison, it has made 99 percent of the storms before and since seem mild.

Not only was the original blast, which began on Sunday, Jan. 2, 1949—70 years ago—a ferocious one, but the conditions persisted for nearly two months. The duration of the harsh weather helped make the blizzard historic.

Only some winters in the 1880s could match ’49’s knockout punch, old-timers reported. The blizzard covered a wide area. The entire western half of the United States felt its sting. It brought the hardest freeze to California in 35 years and snow fell in places that don’t usually receive snow, such as Los Angeles and Phoenix.


But no area suffered more than western Nebraska and the neighboring regions in South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. At least 61 inches of snow fell at the Chadron airport during January.   From January 18 to 27 the temperature was below zero every night with an extreme of 29 below recorded on January 21. The month was Chadron’s coldest ever, according to Weather Bureau records. The average temperature in January was 7.3 degrees, more than 15 degrees below average.

Lots of hardship

The siege brought hardship to everyone. Farmers and ranchers were hard-pressed to keep their livestock alive, railroaders found that getting the trains through was impossible, many vehicles were piled under huge drifts, some rural schools were not in session for more than a month, and food and fuel supplies became desperately low in numerous locations.

It finally took the 5th Army, one of the world’s most powerful forces, to dig out western Nebraska. The unit’s huge bulldozers, along with those from a couple of Colorado construction companies, worked for three weeks in Dawes County before everyone was liberated by “Operation Snowbound.”

The storm cost millions of dollars, but amazingly, the loss of human life was not high and livestock deaths amounted to less than 10 percent in northwest Nebraska, although some stockmen suffered more heavily.

The manager of the Chadron Municipal Airport, Solomon (Sully) Luft, reported at least 40 inches of snow fell from Jan. 2 through Jan. 5, although he admitted there was really no way of measuring it because of the extremely high winds.

Drifts of 10-20 feet were the rule rather than the exception and in some rural areas drifts 40 feet in height piled in canyons.

Most Chadron stores did not open for business, and few ranchers ventured more than a few yards away from their buildings on Wednesday, January 5, which was the worst day.

Chadron’s Main Street was reduced to a single lane and stayed that way for a couple of weeks. About the time the roads and railroad tracks could be cleared, another blast would strike and clog things up again.

It was at least January 28 before the first freight train from the east reached Chadron and the railroad didn’t resume full operations until mid-February.

The first train from the west into Chadron arrived on February 1 and carried a fleet of Army bulldozers. Pictures taken in western Nebraska showing mountain-sized drifts towering high above the old steam engines were run in nearly every daily newspaper in the nation.

When he retired in 1975,  Lib DiTonto, a Chicago & NorthWestern engineer, recalled he was stranded in Cody, Nebraska, for 21 days because of the blizzard. At one point, the C&NW reported it had 1,000 cars of freight headed west that were backed up in Long Pine.

The Burlington Railroad said it spent $1 million clearing its tracks. A Burlington official said at the end of February: “Nowhere in the 100 years of existence of the railroad is there any record of a storm so severely intense, prolonged and widespread as we’ve experienced these past three months.

Help finally arrived

U.S. Army "Weasel" -
Photo courtesy of Casper College History Center 
The first outside help for Dawes County came from two Army weasels (small, full-track vehicles) from the Lowry Field Air Rescue Squadron in Denver. They arrived around January 21 and ran relief missions to rural families. Toboggans were quickly built to skid behind the weasels, which could pull about a ton of supplies.

The weasels spent nearly three weeks in the county, much of it on the Table south of Chadron, where some estimated up to 100 inches of snow fell.  One family said that the weasel crewmen were the first outsiders they had seen in 30 days.

When a weasel crew reached the Bob and Ruby Soester farm 15 miles east of Crawford on February 7, they found 86 dozen eggs piled on the kitchen floor in every type of basket and container. The incident even made the Denver Post.

Lola Soester Garner of Crawford, then a seven-year-old, remembers that when the family finally did go to town to sell the eggs and get supplies, they got stuck and had to be pulled out by a neighbor.

Nebraska National Guard C-45 aircraft also
provided assistance during the 1949 blizzard
(Nebraska History photo collection)
Following the weasels was “Operation Haylift,” organized by the Chadron Jaycees. A total of 1,854 bales of hay were dropped from C-47 transport planes to starving livestock on 29 ranches in the Chadron area.

The Chadron Milling Co. reported distributing the equivalent of 22 railroad carloads of livestock feed in January before running out of oats and barley until new shipments arrived by rail.

Then came the bulldozers. The Hesser Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., had 15 bulldozers working out of Chadron to go with those from the Army.   Eight more bulldozers operated out of Crawford.

An Army report stated that crews opened 450 miles of county roadways, 2,000 miles of trails and roads through ranchland, reopened 500 to 600 miles of roadway and liberated an estimated 26,000 cattle during the three weeks the equipment spent in Dawes County.

There was virtually no travel on the county roads on the Table in January.  Around February 1 more than 20 cars, several trucks and a bus were finally dug out of drifts along Highway 19 (now 385) across the Table.

Numerous pilots flew mercy missions transporting expectant mothers and the ailing to hospitals, dropping food and medicines in isolated spots and locating marooned livestock. They also dropped countless packages of food to farm and ranch homes throughout the region.

The Red Cross had handbills printed and dropped from planes, suggesting people in need of help to use blankets, hay or other contrasting materials to make codes in the snow that could be seen from the air.

Afterwards, it was admitted that few of the messages, even if they were attempted, proved useful because the continuing wind and snow probably obliterated them before they could be spotted by pilots.

Livestock losses mixed

The livestock losses were significant, but not as severe as during some winters in the 1880s. The vast Bay State Cattle Company, which headquartered in Banner County, reported its herd was reduced from 150,000 to 50,000 head during the winter of 1885-86.

The cattle losses in ’49 were heaviest in the Sandhills, where they drifted onto the frozen lakes. The Furman Ranch in southern Dawes County had 30 head of yearlings die in the Niobrara River.

Pete Witte of Chadron remembered that his parents lost about 100 head of spring calves in the storm on their Mule Creek unit on the Pine Ridge Reservation about 14 miles north of Oglala, S.D.  He was attending Chadron High School at the time. A pilot flew him home so he could help with the livestock, but he recalls he couldn’t do much because the snow was so deep that even horses “played out” in a short time while trying to check on livestock that was away from the ranch headquarters.

Witte also recalled that because there was so much moisture in the storm his family put up lots of prairie hay the following summer. He said while mowing around the Fourth of July along the south side of a canyon he spotted a small snow drift which had lasted six months after the storm arrived.

The United Press reported an estimated 174,200 cattle and 153,200 sheep valued at more than $29 million died during the first 35 days of the blast in Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Some unusual stories appeared once the weather let up and ranchers could search for their critters. Jim Blundell dug out three geese that had been buried for 27 days and reported them to be in good health on his farm in southern Dawes County west of Dunlap.  Deadhorse rancher Elam Grantham found three hogs alive under a 12-foot drift.    A horse owned by Bruce Parsons south of Harrison was found alive trapped in a shed, although five other horses in the shed were dead.

Chadron railroader G.A. Linn recalled that near Van Tassel some cattle had wandered down the tracks and fell through the ties on a bridge. When a snowplow reached the scene, some were still alive, although their feet and legs were frozen so badly that they had to be destroyed.

Several humans died

As far as human suffering was concerned, the Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation, some of whom were living in tents, were hit the hardest.   Federal funds were eventually made available to assist them.

Several persons died in the region, although the toll could have been much higher.

The first victim apparently was Harriett “Mammy” Brown, of Gordon, an 85-year-old black lady whose frozen body was found in her home soon after the storm began.

Among others who perished were a young Crawford man, Wayne Yohe, who began walking when his pickup hauling pigs became stranded north of Cheyenne; a farmer near Hemingford whose body was found by a train crew; two Alliance Civil Air Patrol flyers whose plane hit some telegraph lines and crashed into a house; and an Alliance gas deliveryman whose body was found beside a haystack after his truck stalled,

Others were luckier. After the roof had blown off of their trailer house during the night of Monday, January 3, a young Mirage Flats couple, Kenneth and Audrey Peck and their 18-month-old son, Jerry, nearly didn’t make it to the Leon Glenn home only 200 yards away.

The Pecks, who were still living on the Mirage Flats when they were interviewed in 2010, remembered the ordeal well.

It was a miracle that we made it,” Audrey said. “We wandered around quite a while because we couldn’t see where we were going. We were so cold and tired. I finally fainted and dropped the lantern I was carrying. When I did that, Kenneth caught a glimpse of the Glenns’ house. He was able to take Jerry to the house and then came back and got me.

However, several of Jerry’s fingers were frozen during the ordeal and required medical attention.

In addition, two snowplow crewmen survived a 19-mile hike from their snowbound plow in Sioux County to Fort Robinson.

Blizzard stories told

Bill & Virginia Coffee
(Photo courtesy of Chadron State College) 
A story written in the mid-1990s by Moni Hourt of Crawford told how Sioux County rancher Bill Coffee left his wife and daughters at the Hat Creek Ranch north of Harrison when the storm seemed extraordinary and he rode a broncy mule 10 miles east to the Warbonnet Ranch, where most of his cattle were located.

The hired man at the latter ranch had left to celebrate the New Year and couldn’t return.

Most of Coffee’s food supply while he batched was from a Jersey milk cow that he butchered after her udder froze and broke. It was 60 days before Coffee was reunited with his family, but he pitched enough hay to save the herd.   
  
When Mary Siegrist of Hay Springs was interviewed at age 104 in 2013, she had special memories of the blizzard. On New Year’s Day, she was taken to the Gordon hospital for minor surgery. She could have gone home in a few days, but since Highway 20 was blocked, she had to stay nearly two weeks.  She finally reached Hay Springs in a hearse when an undertaker came to the hospital to pick up a body.  The strange modes of transportation continued before she arrived at the family farm.  A neighbor came to town with his team and wagon to buy coal and she rode home on top of the load.

The effects of the storm lingered. Rural roads became quagmires once the drifts started melting. Ranchers spent weeks repairing fences that had been broken down by the snow and flooding became a problem in many areas.
     
Dawes County made the news in another way in January 1949. A Hereford steer named “Cupid,” shown by Lois Mae Hamm of Whitney, was the grand champion at the National Western Junior Stock Show in Denver. It was both the first and the last time that a steer from Dawes County won the coveted honor.

Even this story has a “Blizzard of ’49” twist.

A long-time resident of southern California, Lois Mae said she didn’t remember all the details, but recalled that her father, Royce, “had a terrible time getting Cupid to the highway” so they could take him to Denver.

I was staying in Crawford so I could go to high school and I didn’t see it, but I think the county road crew opened the road to our place (about six miles south of Whitney) special so we could make the trip.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

128 years ago today – Wounded Knee Massacre

by Larry Miller

One of the most tragic and brutal incidents in our regional history – indeed, of North American history – occurred 128 years ago today. The slaughter of somewhere between 150 to 300 American Indian men, women, and children became known as the infamous "Wounded Knee Massacre," and took place along Wounded Knee Creek north and east of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, about one hour driving time from Chadron. 



Burial of the dead in the "fight" at Wounded Knee was captured in the photograph above by Chadron photographer George Trager of Northwestern Photo Company. Accounts of the event vary, but most agree that this horrific incident marked the end of the the open armed conflict between that was commonplace across the western frontier for more than two decades. 


Belatedly, I've become increasingly intrigued by the events leading up to the massacre, as well as the history that has evolved in "Indian country" in the years since. A catalyst for this interest was our good friend Leonard Little Finger, whose death in 2017 caused me to reflect upon our friendship – and made me realize how little I really knew about Leonard's youth. And I knew.....know.....even less about the Lakota culture.


Growing up not far from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, it's not like there was no opportunity to learn more.  Alas, youthful endeavors for me didn't include much curiosity about things beyond sports and girls.  And then work, marriage, and raising kids seems to intrude on any latent curiosity that might have existed about learning more regrading our Indian neighbors.  Such is life for many of us.


Now, having missed a rare opportunity to commune with my late friend Leonard about his heritage, I've been pursuing secondary sources ranging from books and magazine articles to video documentaries.   And so it was that on the first day of winter, December 21st, I happened across this BBC documentary of Rich Hall's "Inventing the Indian."  

It deals with a wide range of "Old West" misrepresentations, and it's certainly not a television documentary done in traditional form.   After all, it's written and hosted by a white comedian, Rich Hall, who is part Cherokee,  I found the 90-minute program interesting, informative, and – in places – laced with humor.  Yes, it's even fun to watch, although that seems ironic, given the somber topic.  He may be a comedian, but Rich Hall writes and tells a good story.  We haven't "fact-checked" all of its contents, but it seems consistent with much "legitimate" academic research and writings that I've seen. 

Oh, yes, there's also a bit of nasty language, but if you can stomach the reality of what history has reported about Wounded Knee, you can easily ignore or digest the salty language.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The CCC had a big impact across our region!

Given the close proximity of the Black Hills to Dawes County – and the abundance of Civilian Conservation Corps projects all across America in the 1930's – this video should be of great interest to history buffs across the region. Dakota Life is a wonderful series produced by South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

I think you'll enjoy this "Reflections and Preservation" episode of the Dakota Life series. The "CCC in the Black Hills" segment was produced by Brian Gevik. Perhaps it'll spur you to visit the small but impressive CCC Museum on the outskirts of Hill City, South Dakota.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Real"-"D" is better than "3-D"

(Editor's Note:  The following story was written nearly a decade ago, in 2009, when 3-D television was on the horizon and about to take the media landscape by storm.  Alas, it seems that storm was an errant forecast.  But we do have "AI" and "Twitter." ....sigh.)

by Larry Miller

As a 10-year-old kid, I was on the cutting edge of technology. I just didn’t know it.

Scrunched down in row #10 of the Pace Theater in Chadron – bedecked with nifty paper and plastic glasses made for the occasion – I ducked and yowled as a “House of Wax” barker slammed a rubber-ball from the movie screen straight for me and my friends.

The plot of that 1953 Vincent Price movie was a bit thin, but it was enough to satisfy me and my buddies. The highly-touted three-dimensional (3-D) technology was what really grabbed us and left indelible memories imprinted on our youthful minds. But 3-D movies didn’t succeed very well in the marketplace and were gone within a few years.

Fast-forward nearly 70 years and 3-D seems to be making a come-back.

Spurred by the notion of selling lots more new-fangled television sets, giant TV set manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, Vizio, and Panasonic say they’re going to really push 3-D television sales during the coming year. They enjoyed a big surge in the sales of high definition receivers over the past couple of years. They fear sales will soon slump and are looking for something to excite consumers.

Given the enormous strides made in television production technology in recent years, it’ll be fun to see what the set manufacturers can do.

Despite the fact that I worked around television most of my professional life – including the days before even rudimentary “chroma-key” or “green screen” techniques were used – I remain amazed at just how good these new technologies are. I’m still trying to figure out how those innovative rascals manage to show me the “1st and 10” line down on the football field, just like it’s really there….players running over it, obscuring it from sight, as if it were really a part of the field. Wow.

But I’m an early skeptic that 3-D will go far in the television world – at least so long as special eyeglasses are required. Some 3-D units will required battery-powered glasses.

I already have difficulty keeping track of where the various television remote controls are – the TV, the cable box, and the DVD player – so adding another device to the shelf might be a bit tricky. And batteries? Well, Triple-A would be good, since I keep them in stock, but I fear they’ll be using something smaller. Something lighter. Something that’s proprietary. Something costly! Pre-holiday reports indicate that the special glasses will likely cost at least $50.

Of course, making the TV receiver is only one part of the tricky 3-D equation. Local television stations are only now completing their conversion from analog to high definition local programming. Unless there is ample 3-D content available for broadcast, efforts to lure consumers to buy new sets – again -- will be doomed. After all, content is king.

But looking at most television programs these days, I’m not sure the television industry has quite figured that out.

Perhaps we’ll just take a simple stroll outside to enjoy a beautiful sunset – no 3-D glasses required.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Chadron man finds way to honor his fallen brother


by Con Marshall

Determined that his younger brother’s ultimate sacrifice nearly 50 years ago will never be forgotten, Rolland Sayer of Chadron has spent about six months gathering materials for a special tribute and took it to be displayed at the Furnas County Museum in Cambridge, Neb., last week.
              
It is a shadow box containing the medals, ribbons and certificates that Terry Sayer had earned. A photo of him and the U.S. flag given to his family at his burial are also placed in the 28- by 30-inch shadow box. 
              
Nebraskan Terry Sayer, U.S. Army
Died in Vietnam - 1969
Terry Sayer was 21 and just 35 days away from completing his year-long tour of duty in Vietnam when he died March 6, 1969, apparently as the result of small arms fire. 

The Sayer family lived on a Furnas County farm near Holbrook, about seven miles from Cambridge.
              
Like others who lose loved ones, particularly at wartime, Rolland Sayer has long grieved the death of his brother. While they were 13 years apart in the family of 14 – nine boys and five girls – Rolland says Terry was more like a son than a brother.
              
Much of that feeling is because shortly after Terry graduated from Holbrook High School in 1965, he came to Chadron and lived with Rolland and his wife Nancy for two years before he was drafted into the Army.
              
“We were close,” Rolland relates.  “He was a really good kid.  We got along well and Nancy liked him, too.  There were never any problems with Terry.”
              
Just like his older brother, who was a bricklayer, stone mason, carpenter and construction foreman for more than 50 years before retiring about 16 months ago, Terry worked construction during his stay in Chadron.
              
Much of that time he helped build the High Rise Dormitory at Chadron State College, Rolland remembers. 
              
Terry was inducted into the Army on June 13, 1967. He served with the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry, B Company. Following basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana, he was stationed in Hawaii several months before being sent to Vietnam, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. 
              
Rolland said his brother was among the soldiers referred to as “tunnel rats,” those who were often assigned to clear and destroy enemy tunnel complexes.  According to Wikipedia, the tunnels were linked to hospitals, training areas, storage facilities, headquarters and barracks. When constructed with sophisticated ventilation systems, Viet Cong guerrillas could remain hidden underground for months at a time, the Wikipedia information states. 
              
During his tour of duty, Terry often sent letters home.  His mother, Mabel, saved each of them and in the late 1980s when her health was failing, gave Rolland a suitcase filled with them. 
              
Rolland said there’s one problem with the letters. None are dated and there’s no indication where Terry’s unit was located or what its assignments were. 
              
The suitcase also contained the U.S. flag that the family received at Terry’s burial and the medal containers, but they were empty.

Rolland Sayer of Chadron with a display honoring his late brother, Terry.
Army Sergeant Terry Sayer died in Vietnam in 1969.

That made it necessary for Rolland to have them duplicated so they could be displayed.  He contacted the Dawes County Veterans Service Office in Chadron and began the process of acquiring the medals.
              
Rolland said Darrell Marshall of Chadron, a Vietnam veteran and a leader in area veterans activities for a couple of decades, provided much help.  Fortunately, Terry’s DD214 form that every veteran receives when he or she is discharged or, as in Terry’s case the family receives, was in the suitcase. It lists the citations the soldier earned. Rolland had filed it years ago at the Veterans Service Office in Chadron.
              
The next step was to submit the request for the duplicate citations through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Public and Inter-Governmental Affairs. It verified that the request was legitimate.
       
About two months after the request was submitted, the materials arrived.  The Sayers took them to Hobby Lobby in Scottsbluff to be framed.  The resulting shadow box was completed in mid-October, a few days before Rolland and Nancy took it to the museum in Cambridge to display.
              
The medals include two bronze stars that are awarded for heroism. They were accompanied by certificates, noting that one was for ground combat and the other for operations. 

The medals also include two purple hearts that are presented when a soldier is wounded, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Campaign Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal, along with a rifle marksmanship medal.

All were provided by the government without charge, but the package did not include a Vietnam Gallantry Cross that the South Vietnamese government awarded foreign servicemen who fought in the war.  Marshall knew that medal was available at the Army-Navy Store in Rapid City, and Rolland purchased one to complete the display.

Terry’s display is not the only one honoring a member of the Sayer family at the Furnas County Museum, which Rolland and Nancy said is outstanding.  There’s also one for Maurice Sayer, Rolland’s cousin from the Orleans community. The aircraft he was piloting was shot down in New Guinea during World War II.

Serving their country is a tradition for the Sayers. Seven of the nine boys in Rolland’s family served, including Rolland, who was stationed in Germany most of the time during his two years in the Army beginning in 1957.

Rolland is relieved that his “labor of love” project is completed, but noted it was difficult for him to “give it up” at the museum last week, even though that was his goal all along. However, a large photo of the shadow box taken by the Sayers’ granddaughter, Sheyenne Sandstrom, is already on the mantel above the fireplace in their home.  


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
NOTE Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story with Dawes County Journal