South Dakota Journal, Part I

Downtown Rapid City, S.D.


Last year, I did a North Dakota Journal. I was in that state — the least visited in the United States — to investigate the oil boom. The fracking miracle. For the resulting piece in National Review, go here. If you’re interested in the journal, the three parts are here, here, and here.

And now, South Dakota. I’ve been in that state in order to do a story from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The story will appear in an October issue of NR. Care for a journal, as a kind of supplement? If so, great. If not — that’s great too.

Anyway, here we go . . .

As I head into Rapid City from the airport, I have a political thought, for some reason: McGovern didn’t carry this state. He didn’t carry his home state when he ran for president in 1972. That must be kind of embarrassing: not to carry your home state. The state you represent in the Senate.

He did win Massachusetts and D.C., though. (Sixteen years later, Fritz carried his home state, Minnesota, plus D.C.)

Western South Dakota is just what it’s supposed to be. The sky is big and beautiful, with enormous clouds. The landscape is panoramic. “It’s the visual equivalent of surround sound,” I think. The Black Hills live up to their billing.

Yes, this is seriously beautiful country. The Indians must have hated to relinquish it. (Not that I’m advocating the nursing of grievances.)

I pass a Roosevelt Park. I’m assuming the Roosevelt is Teddy, not Franklin — because of TR’s association with the Dakotas (and with the West at large).

Plenty of things in Rapid City are called Rushmore — because Mt. Rushmore is just a half-hour away.

You want some fun with spellings? The Dacotah Bank.

I must say, the Dakota Mill & Grain building looks quite beautiful: both beautiful and utilitarian. There’s no reason that beauty can’t go with agribusiness.

New York Street seems a little out of place in this town. But then I think, “It probably refers to New York State, not merely Times Square.” And New York State is a place of many, many small towns and much, much farmland.

At the hotel, the manager on duty is a woman named Aufdengarten. That’s the sort of name that people should have, I think, in South Dakota (land of German immigration).

Out my window, I see a dinosaur. A dinosaur on a distant hill. What the . . .? I thought this was a land of bison, not dinosaurs.

(Turns out that Rapid City has had a dinosaur park since 1936. They don’t move, as in the Steven Spielberg movies, but they’re kind of nice all the same.)

It feels good to hold a newspaper in my hand. Been a long time. And what’s in the Rapid City Journal today? At the tippy-top of the front page, there’s a little notice about Syria. But the page has these headlines:

“Newt Johnson Named Athlete of the Week.” “Toddler Calls for Help, Saves a Life.” “Fields Drying Out from Heat.” “Oscar Meyer Wienermobile Stops in Rapid City.” “Swanson Resigns from School Board.”

That’s just what a paper, except for a few national ones, should be. I would not want to stop progress — but I will miss this kind of paper.

In the park, or a park, is a curious-looking statue: It’s of a handsome, youngish man with a mustache, sitting in a wheelchair. You don’t see that every day. Who is it? Scotty Backens, a late local disability activist.

There is a war memorial: commemorating World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. It stops there. I wonder whether there will be an add-on for the Afghan and Iraq wars.

In the World War I section, there’s a quote from President Wilson. And in the WWII section, a quote from FDR. Korea, Truman. Vietnam, LBJ. The Gulf War, the first Bush.

The LBJ quote includes these words: “We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.”