Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Elkhorn Ranch: a love letter

In the last days of 2016, Jim and I sent a handwritten letter to President Barack Obama, a heartfelt plea to him to act in his last days to protect the Elkhorn Ranch. We were inspired to do this after a Christmas winter campout to that area.  Here is a two-part series Jim wrote about that campout: Camping at the Elkhorn Part 1 and Camping at the Elkhorn Part 2

We carefully chose a card from the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, and used a Theodore Roosevelt National Park postage stamp on the envelope. From a lifetime of knowledge of this landscape, we drew by hand the map upon which we overlaid a vision for the protection of this heartbreakingly beautiful and important place. It is our Love Letter to the Elkhorn Ranch.

We put it in the mail and then braced ourselves for the inauguration of a new President, fearful that conservation would take a backseat to the interests of the captains of industry and finance, profits above all.  The sun kept coming up in the east and North Dakota inaugurated a new governor, Doug Burgum. We even attended his inauguration ball and talked to him about Bad Lands wilderness proposals at this festive event.

And as each week passed by, we kept on reading our emails, and going to meetings, and writing letters, and writing blogs, all for the protection of wild places in the Bad Lands of North Dakota.

Occasionally, I wondered whatever happened to that note, and I'll admit that I hoped that it would find a home in the Obama Presidential Library.

On Monday, as is true on every day but Sunday, our friendly mail carrier, Jamie, dropped a stack of envelopes into our slot. I collected and sorted through those. Lo and behold, here was a letter from Barack Obama, a reply to our card. Here it is, to Jim and Lillian. My sense of hope, for just this moment, is restored.

If this story inspires you just one tiny bit, please consider writing a letter to the current President. You never know what might change the course of history.

Monday, November 20, 2017

On my personal Laura Ingalls Wilder quest

Friends and family know that I'm a fervent fan of the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've written about this before on my blog, including in this book review.  There was a time in my life when I read her books over and over, but I eventually moved on to devouring the books about her, of which I have a dozen or more. Just today a good friend sent me the link to this article, "Little House in the Prairie and the Truth about the American West" in today's New York Times which just goes to show that Wilder's writings continue to inspire and interest readers.

Over the years I've made a pilgrimage to all of the LIW sites in the United States with the exception of Walnut Grove, MN, and Malone, NY.  It is my intention to travel to Walnut Grove next summer with my sisters. Maybe we can even talk my daughter into joining us.

On our recent blue highways trip to Iowa and back, I lobbied Jim to let me stop at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. We had been there once before a few years back, but I did not learn until later that Laura's daughter Rose's papers are deposited there. These papers include handwritten documents by Laura, a treasure trove of interesting items. In advance of my visit, I communicated with a member of the staff and he graciously provided me with very helpful links to review to prepare myself for the visit.

We arrived at the Hoover Library early one morning, just as it was opening. Jim went to the museum to see new exhibits and I went into the Library. The Library was built in 1960 and Rose Wilder Lane wrote a biography of Hoover so her papers were felt to be a natural fit to be deposited here by her executor Roger Lee McBride.   Spencer Howard checked me in and issued me a Researcher Identification card. As a past librarian and museum archivist, I have a particular affinity for the people who labor away in places such as this, ensuring that our history and literature will be preserved in perpetuity, and Mr. Howard couldn't have been more helpful.

Lillian Crook and Spencer Howard

The Little House Heritage Trust owns the copyright for Wilder's works and many of her artifacts can be seen at Rocky Ridge Farm near Mansfield, Missouri. I visited there in 1982 and so wish that I could go again. Maybe someday.

Mr. Howard brought me the finding aid and I requested twelve boxes, mindful that I had only the morning for this visit. My photographs in this blog are reproduced as a courtesy of the Hoover Library.

I was so thrilled to sit and look through page after page of her letters to "Manly Dear", Laura's husband, Almanzo, letters that illustrate her powers of description, many written to him when she traveled to San Francisco, where their only child, Rose, was living.

Here are a couple of the passages that spoke to me:

"Feb. 5, 1937 But I am so having to live over those days with Pa and Ma anyway, so I did." She refers to correspondence with her relatives who shared remembrances that added rich detail to her books.

"March 12, 1937 People drive me wild..."

Almanzon and Laura in Florida

Rocky Ridge Farm

Almanzo Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane


Charles "Pa" Ingalls
 There is a copy of her father, Charles Ingalls' homestead document dated May 11, 1886, from Watertown, SD, for which he paid a $3.86 filing fee. There are the original manuscripts for Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy. There is the handwritten first page from By the Shores of Silver Lake and galley proofs for Little Town on the Prairie.

Another document that was of great interest to me was the questionnaire that Almanzon completed for Rose as background for her book Free Land as well as the manuscript for Free Land.  Almanzo's answers were fascinating!

I've always felt that these books have resonated with me all these decades because I am the granddaughter of pioneers. When I was a young girl, my mother sewed a pioneer girl dress and bonnet for me, out of green calico and I still have these cherished items. This year, I loaned these to my granddaughter Seraphina and just in the nick of time I shipped these to her as the fit was, her mother reported to me, perfect. She wore the outfit for Halloween.

Backtracking to an earlier day in the trip, our first night was spent in Spring Grove, MN (I know, I know, so close to Walnut Grove!). As we reached the city limits, I immediately spotted a sign for The Wilder Museum. I made inquiries at a downtown pizza place and the girl working there proudly told me she also worked at the museum. I had completely forgotten that Almanzo's parents had moved to Spring Grove. We explored the area the next morning, knowing that we wouldn't be able to get into the museum, as it was the off-season. It is housed in the old Methodist Church where the Wilders worshipped. At one point, Almanzo and Laura lived with his parents in Spring Grove. We drove out to the city cemetery and located the family graves, including Almanzo's brother Royal.

Royal Wilder headstone

On we traveled on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, where we saw a couple of Amish buggies, driving along the same road.

Our next destination was tiny Burr Oak, Iowa, just across the Minnesota border. Again, it was the off-season so everything was locked up tight, nevertheless we enjoyed a walk around the town and Jim even persuaded me to pose for a silly photograph or two, channeling my inner pioneer girl.