LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Speaking Of Trails: The Yellowstone Surveying Expeditions Of The Late 19th Century

Yellowstone.  There aren’t many more words in the American lexicon that conjure such powerful images of Western history and geography.

The Yellowstone River courses through much of the giant state of Montana, and its confluence with the mighty Missouri River is in extreme northwestern North Dakota, near Forts Union and Buford.  I’ve visited both, on multiple occasions, and urge everyone to do so when in the area.

As one drives west through Montana, from Glendive onward, the highway follows the Yellowstone River, and it is easy to allow thoughts to harken back to the earliest days of exploration, as well as the lifeways of the native inhabitants. Not only does the river provide water for Montanans, it also is a mecca for camping and fishing.

Gentle reader, recall that trails have been much on my mind in these past months and today I want to write a few words about the Yellowstone Surveying Expeditions of the late 19th century.

One of the best articles that I read was in “North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains,” volume 70, no. 3, 2003 “Thomas L. Rosser and the Yellowstone Surveying Expedition of 1873” by M. John Lubetkin. The article opens in Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, Friday, June 20, 1873.

Lubetkin writes:

“For the sixth time in three years the army was escorting a party of Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) surveyors into the Yellowstone valley. Because of Sioux hostility to the railroad, the U.S. Army’s support was massive. The hard-drinking Col. David Sloane Stanley commanded the expedition, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer the cavalry, and Thomas Lafayette Rosser, an unrepentant ex-Confederate major general, led the surveyors. …The tensions between these three would soon break into open conflict.” (page 2)

I learned from this article that the first expeditions in 1872 were considered failures because the mapping was not completed due to conflict with the area Native Americans. The first expedition left from Fort Ellis (near today’s Bozeman, Mont.).

Another very interesting article about the 1874 expedition is found in volume 8 of the “Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana” (pages 105-126). The author of this article proclaims that it is “one of the most interesting episodes of the history of Montana.” This article goes into great detail about the adventures and woes of the party.

The “North Dakota Historical Quarterly,” volume 10, page 3, contains the diary of Ferdinand A. Van Ostrand, a man serving in 1871 under Gen. Stanley. “Monday-March 27 (1871). Left Ft. Sully in company with Gen. Stanley….saw plenty antelope. Last twelve miles — roads bad — snow. … Big company.”

The historical accounts are rich with this kind of detail because diaries such as this have been preserved in various archives, to not mention the copious information that is detailed in military records. Much of Lubetkin’s article is due to his access to the diary and letters of Thomas L. Rosser.

“(A) storm caught the surveyors some twelve miles west of present-day Glen Ullin, on the top of a gentle hill sloping west towards a stream later named Hailstone Creek, commemorating the incident that was about to happen. ‘Suddenly,’ a cavalryman wrote, ‘about sunset the sky became overcast with thick heavy clouds which assumed a greenish hue and caused all surrounding objects to have a most ghastly appearance.’ In minutes they were in the center of a hailstorm, later described in a letter written by Montgomery C. Meigs. As the storm became particularly violent, three bolts of lightning suddenly hit the ground nearby, and the men and animals were bombarded by chunks of ice at least the size of large marbles.” Lubetkin, page 6.  Present day travelers can visit this place as it is the site of a modern rest area along Interstate 94.

David S. Stanley’s “Report on the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873” is reprinted in “Personal Memoirs of General David S. Stanley” (Gaithersburg, MD: Old Soldier Books, 1987) if you’d like to read more about this fascinating time period in U.S. history.

Meanwhile, I look forward to my next drive along the Yellowstone River, with perhaps a visit (I’ve been there dozens of times) to Yellowstone National Park.  It is on our “list” to get the YNP in the winter. Someday we will.”

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 24

Three-quarter of an inch of rain in a wondrous thunderstorm this morning (Wednesday) started the day off right here at Red Oak House. For the second day in a row, it will be cool enough for us to leave the windows open all day.

Vegetable harvest has begun in earnest and Jim has frozen many bags already.

Last night, we had what we call “nothing from the store supper.” The first new potatoes, beans, broccoli and walleye. Who needs a restaurant?

As you can see from the plate above, we’ve begun to eat our heirloom tomatoes. These are bloody butchers. The jungle promises much more tomato bliss to come.

Other blooming plants make our garden a real oasis of tranquility in the midst of a bustling city.

On a different note, this song I’ve been listening to on Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic is running through my head:


Everybody I talk to is ready to leave

With the light of the morning

They’ve seen the end coming down

Long enough to believe

That they’ve heard their last warning

Standing alone

Each has his own ticket in his hand

And as the evening descends

I sit thinking ’bout Everyman

Seems like I’ve always been

Looking for some other place

To get it together

Where with a few of my friends

I could give up the race

And maybe find something better

But all my fine dreams

Well thought out schemes

To gain the motherland

Have all eventually come down

To waiting for Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman

Make it on your own if you think you can

If you see somewhere to go I understand

Waiting here for Everyman

Don’t ask me if he’ll show, baby I don’t know

In different lighting, Wide Wide World daylily, shows off different hues so why not one more photo? It’s my blog after all.

Time for Manhattans in the shade of the front patio.  Cheers!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder

When I spotted that the Bismarck Tribune was looking for someone to review “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder” (Nancy Tystad Loupal, editor, South Dakota State Historical Press, 2017), I immediately contacted the editor.

Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).
Me with my collection of LIW books (photo by Jim Fuglie).

Our home library has an entire shelf of books by and about Wilder, the famous prairie writer, and I’ve read them all, more than once. I still have all of my copies of the Wilder children’s books, historical fiction (mistaken by many to be nonfiction) given to me by my mother in the 1960s, and it was only this past winter that I gifted my hardcover copies of the Garth Williams’ illustrated copies of her books to my stepgranddaughter.

My mother wanted me to remember that while we were living in various Army posts around the world, I was still a child of the prairie, and what better way to do that than to read Wilder’s books?

Now, in my fifth decade, I find myself inspired by the knowledge that Laura was already in her 60s when she began writing her books, and thus I forged ahead with starting my own blog,

Readers of Wilder are always eager to read more about her life and to visit the places she lived, as I have done over the years. This new collection of essays, a publication of The Pioneer Girl Project, by a number of notable Wilder scholars, will not disappoint. This book is a follow-up to the wildly popular “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” (SDSHS Press, 2014).

The writers of the essays explore in great depth the issues surrounding the contributions of Wilder’s daughter, Rose, to her mother’s books, Laura’s path to becoming a published author, the myths and truths found within her books and the lasting appeal of her writings. “As Wilder’s letter to (Rose Wilder) Lane attests, whenever these two strong-willed women did not see eye to eye on the manuscript, Wilder usually prevailed.”

Countless readers have been deeply touched by her books and the lessons within them, and it is fascinating to plumb the reasons why her books resonate to this day. “Once again, Laura Ingalls Wilder had proven just how relevant she was to another generation.”

Here is one of my favorite Wilder lines, quoted in the book, from a letter she wrote:

“Almanzo (her husband) still loves horses as well as when he was that Farmer Boy, but he doesn’t drive them now. He drives our new Chrysler sedan instead, at least he holds the wheel. Of course I do the driving with my tongue.”

In the essay entitled “Little Myths on the Prairie,” Michael Patrick Hearn states “It is a clean, concrete, muscular English, almost Biblical in its cadences, Hemingwayesque in its clarity and precision. It is the journalistic style Wilder burnished all those years writing for the rural press. …She dispensed with the gratuitous.”

Focusing on the settings of her books, John E. Miller writes, “The prairie, in Wilder’s writings, was a place of wonder and delight, a rich storehouse of life that pleased the eye with luscious sights of wild flowers, tall grass, animal life, and water flowing in streams and contained in lakes.” She “felt a close connection to the land and used [her] craft to express the spirit of the region.”

“The Little House series is an act of creative, edited memory.”  It has given countless readers insights into her prairie world in all its glory and has shaped a love of a unique landscape.

“The Little House is always there, a cherished place where we can go if we need it. And we will.”

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 23

Peak daylily time rewards me with new blooms each day.  Here are today’s (Friday’s).

Jim did a big-time bean harvest today (Friday) and has frozen a bunch for our winter enjoyment.

We are triumphant over winning the battle with the rascally rabbits this year! Pesto/shrimp pizza with our broccoli and tomatoes for supper.

And how about this glorious cloudburst? A horrific drought makes such a rainstorm ever so sweeter. All of our plants are so stressed by nothing but city water for so many weeks (not to mention our water bill).  Both Jim and I stood outside and got WET we were so tickled by it.  Three-quarters of an inch and counting …

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Civilian Conservation Corps In North Dakota

Earlier this week, when Jim and I were in Medora, we made time to go to the Chateau de Mores Visitor Center, to see the new exhibit featuring the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Chateau de Mores State Historic Site, near Medora, N.D.
Chateau de Mores State Historic Site, near Medora, N.D.

The Chateau de Mores is one of the premiere sites of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and if you’ve not been there, I attest that it is well worth it. I’ve been many times, and a self-confessed history nerd, I always enjoy my visits.

From the SHSND website: “Located southwest of Medora, this site memorializes the life and activities in North Dakota of Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, who arrived in 1883. Among his enterprises were a beef packing plant, a stagecoach line, a freighting company, refrigerated railway cars, cattle and sheep raising, land ownerships and a new town which he called Medora, in honor of his wife.”

Working at the Visitor Center was our friend, the inimitable Karen Nelson, and it is always a treat to see her smiling face. Karen has extensively researched the life of Medora, the Marquess, and she portrays Medora for the “History Alive!” programs.

The CCC was a U.S. public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 for unemployed young men as part of the federal government’s New Deal program. The CCC built many wonderful structures all around the country, including the Rhame School gymnasium, where I played girls basketball as a kid. My uncle, Paul Pender, was in the CCC ,thus I’ve heard first-hand stories of those days.

The exhibits, photographs and artifacts focus primarily on the CCC in North Dakota. The sandstone structures in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are a wonderful example of the CCC’s, work and there was a CCC camp within what is now the South Unit. The SHSND worked in collaboration with the NPS for this exhibit

If you’d like to learn more about the CCC, the PBS program “American Experience” has a wonderful documentary film on the topic. There are also many very good books and websites. Meanwhile, if you are in Medora, do stop and see the exhibit. Thank you to all of the CCC members who created this lasting legacy.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 22 Showstoppers

Gavin Petit Daylily opened this morning (Thursday) and it is, indeed, a showstopper. Out loud I say, “Wow!” each time I first see it.

Others are reaching their peak bloom, too. Worthy of sharing.

On a pass through the vegetable garden, a bonus was the discovery of the first shelling peas.

I added the peas to the cold pasta salad waiting in the fridge for supper.

Time to make a run to deliver peas to my mother. She loves ’em.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Words To Live By

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”Henry David Thoreau

Today’s Writer’s Almanac pays homage to HDT. I love when Garrison Keillor’s voice comes out of my radio with the day’s installment.

Writer’s Almanac July 12, 2017 installment

I’ve been to Walden Pond, with my dear friend, Pamela Jean, when she was living in Boston.

This project is pretty inspirational, too.  Way to go Don Henley.

The Walden Woods Project

This story on NPR today is very thought-provoking.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak Garden Notes No. 21 — Daylily Time Has Come

Gentle reader, I’ve been writing about the past, but today, it is time to return to my garden notes as the daylilies are exploding in all their glory.  Between my sister and I, we have 219 varieties of daylily. They are fairly easy to grow and hardy in our northern climate.

Little Audrey Daylily.
Little Audrey Daylily.

I was first exposed to daylilies by my friend and mentor, Bernnett Reinke, who was a very enthusiastic collector. Every three years or so, in order for these to thrive, the plant should be divided. Thus, it was that Bern gave me my first daylilies.

When we bought Red Oak House, I joined the Central Dakota Daylily Society and attended my first member auction in the basement of the Bismarck Public Library. At the auction, the bounty of the club’s divisions are sold. Pictures of the cultivars are shown on the screen as well as the particulars like color, height, time of bloom and so on. The club chooses the daylilies carefully for our growing zone and also selects for beauty. Since, then, it has become an annual event for my sister and I, and we come armed with our Excel list of varieties we already own and our newsletter list marked up as our wish list.

In addition to my database, I have markers for all of my perennials. My sister does a better job than I, as she also has a map of her flower beds.

In the fall, she and I are going to have a plant sale. It will be lots of work, but our plants have grown to the point that we can do this with those we both have, and we can build a slush fund for purchasing new varieties.

Peak bloom time has not yet arrived in my yard, but it is almost here. Meanwhile, here are more photos from today.

Listening to the radio as we drove home, we heard news that some parts of the Bad Lands received 1 inch of rain in Monday night’s storm. That is terrific news,m and I hope it is helping them in the efforts to tamp down that monster (fire).

It is good to be home. My sister has left a container full of her raspberries in our fridge. It is cool in the yard this evening — all things being relative.

I’ve got some de-heading to do.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — River Of My Heart

Poor little river of my heart, my Little Missouri River. In this year of drought, you are sadly diminished. Monday night’s storm was mostly lightning and thunder and just a trace of rain. This morning dawned another scorching day.

Prairie fires continue in western North Dakota.

The bison and horses and birds continue their wild lives here at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The wind blows in the cottonwoods, and there is music in their brittle leaves.  There is almost no current in the river.

There are campers here, and folks are languid in the heat, but enjoying this peaceful place. Children play in the water.  We are drawn to the lifeforce that is water and to the shade of the great cottonwoods.

While many of the breeding birds have gone quiet now, the Western and Eastern kingbirds continue their chatter.

When we lived in Medora, it was my great privilege to work for the National Park Service, as the museum technician, and many of my friends are (or were) NPS staff. God bless them all for the work they do for our country’s treasures.

I’ve hiked every trail in the three units of TRNP, many times, and all of the Maah Daah Hey. But truth be told, my favorite trail is any I’ve bushwacked, either alone or with Jim, or a few close friends. I’ve biked the loop road and cross-country skied and worked on trail maintenance and other projects, and there is no doubt I love this park.

Today while I enjoy the park, my husband (who’d rather be here with me wading and taking in the solace of the Bad Lands) is in Medora giving a speech to the Association of Rural Telephone Cooperatives about why the park is important. He is a warrior.

If we inspire you to show your love of the Bad Lands, please join us and other like-minded citizens who are members of Friends of TRNP and Badlands Conservation Alliance.

Happy trails.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Prairie Fire

Residents of the prairie for generations have lived in dread of prairie fires, and this is a year when we are all on tenderhooks. The news that there is a serious fire now in the Bad Lands, although not a surprise, is very disturbing. (Now more than 3500 acres.)

I remember the dry summer and fall of 1976 and a fire near Slope County’s Davis Dam. We kids were on a bus coming home from some sports activity and when we turned the corner on U.S. Highway 85, we could see the smoke to the west. Our bus driver, Robert Clendenen, was talking on his radio, getting updates.  Everyone on the bus turned silent. We understood that this was grave news.

The word came around the neighborhood that a fire camp had been established at the Davis Ranch. My mother made as much food up as she had available and sent me there with it. The Quonset was abuzz with the activity of firefighters and all of those supporting the effort. My husband tells a great story about how he and a buddy at the time were camping on Bullion Butte and could see the Davis fire.

Gov. Art Link was up for re-election. Because of the fire danger, he had been forced to close hunting season. That night, a great rainstorm blew up and put the fire out. The next day, Link opened hunting season and, shortly thereafter, he was re-elected.

Another dry year, about 11 years ago or so, a combine started a fire in Slope County in what became known as the Deep Creek fire, in the ponderosa pine area.

Ken Rogers was working at the Bismarck Tribune and had received notice of the fire. He called me, knowing that I had intimate knowledge of the geography of that area. I confirmed that from what he was telling me, it must be in the area west of Amidon where Deep Creek flows into the Little Missouri River.

My friend, Jan Swenson, was in Medora for a meeting and saw the smoke. She headed for the Logging Camp Ranch, where she assisted the Hansons with their evacuation, loading her van with their treasured possessions, photographs and such. The fire came very close to their buildings but did not burn structures. For many years thereafter, John Hanson and his neighbor logged those burned ponderosa pines and built many a cabin in the area.

Godspeed to those fighting these fires.  It is exhausting work.