August 16, 2017
Keep calm and look far.
Such a grand vista. A long, straight, gently undulating highway, traversing seemingly endless beaver ponds and pastures to join the far horizon below a boundlessly pleasant summer sky.
The American prairie makes us look far.
Gazing ahead you foresee a great drive, maybe in a car or on a bicycle.
But suppose you were all alone and badly injured and had to crawl this road instead of driving it. Would you be able to keep calm, keep your head down, pull yourself elbow over elbow again and again until you’ve met the distant horizon, not knowing how far that might be?
Long ago a man did just that. He was a fur trapper and mountain man. The locals remember him to this day.
This is Bison, South Dakota, population 333.
Here are some of the principal town establishments: The Bison Bar, County Title office…
…the Bison Community Center, American Legion Post 255, the Bison Senior Citizens center. Structures (and people) are plain yet sturdy, built to withstand the strong winds and heavy snows of the Northern Plains.
The Jack and Jill grocery store dominates local commerce. I walked in at 10:00 on a Wednesday morning and noticed a handwritten sign posted on the front door. It said simply:
“We will be closed from 10:45 to 12:30 for the funeral.”
Whose funeral? Someone from the store? A prominent man-about-town? Who?
The sign didn’t say. Apparently it didn’t have to; if you live in town you would already know. They say that in small towns everyone knows your business. That may be true, but on the other hand everyone misses you when you’re gone.
The Perkins County Courthouse occupies a prominent corner block on Bison’s Main Street. Perkins County boasts a total population of 2,982. Donald Trump won 83% of the vote here in 2016. Pretty good for a New Yorker.
Bison High School: “Home of the Cardinals” — because the “Bison Buffaloes” would invite derision. While school mascot names are fun, the obelisk in front of the school teaches a serious lesson.
This is a monument to mountain man Hugh Glass, whom I mentioned at the beginning.
Here’s the text of the monument:
Hugh Glass. Hunter with Ashley’s fur traders, mauled by a grizzly bear while camping at the forks of Grand River north of Bison in 1823. Left for dead, he survived, crawled south between present towns of Bison and Meadow, hiding from Indians by day, to Fort Kiowa 150 miles away. Dr. John Neihardt tells the tale in “The Song of Hugh Glass.”
Keep calm and look far. Hugh Glass reached his destination after crawling on his elbows for 150 miles. If we must, we can do the same.
These are tumultuous times. Yet like Hugh Glass we cannot stop here to re-suffer the past. America still has great places ahead of us and great achievements to offer mankind if we keep a level head “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Keep calm and look far — persistence will conquer distance.
(Note: Since visiting Bison I’ve learned that the Jack and Jill grocery store has apparently changed hands and been renamed the Bison Food Store.)
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.