It was Sunday the 27th. I was two days out of St. Louis and had easily
covered over 500 miles. Lewis and Clark took well over two months to cover
the same distance. They spent four days in this area south of present day
Omaha, and continued to marvel at the vast prairie devoid of trees. By July
27/28 they passed through the area now known as Omaha and shortly after
encountered a lone Indian. Through him they arranged their first formal
meeting with Indians for August 3rd at the area that became Fort Atkinson.
Their thoughts on the Omaha area? Clark wrote, "A butiful Breeze from the
N.W. this evening which would have been verry agreeable had the Misquiters
been tolerably Pacifick, but they were rageing all night, Some about the Sise
of house flais." One of the best things brought along by Lewis was mosquito
netting. Without it, the men wouldn't have been able to sleep many nights.
And it was a thick coating of bear grease or some such that got them through
The meeting with the Missouri and Oto tribes took place on the 3rd. By
today's standards, the speeches by Lewis would turn your stomach. They were
full of the "Great White Father" taking care of his "children" type
references. It would have been interesting if the tribes had been keeping
journals. I'd love to read what they recorded when told that the area they
called home now belonged to someone else.
I was to spend most of the early part of the drive on I-29 on the Iowa
side of the Missouri River until crossing into South Dakota just after Sioux
Iowa, the 11th State entered on the trip, gained Statehood in 1846. It
can truly be called a "melting pot" State. Besides, of course, the Indians
who already lived there, Danes settled around Elk Horn; Norwegians settled
around Decorah; Czech, Moravian and Slovak people settled around Cedar
Rapids; and the Dutch founded Pella. You'll find the Amana Colonies; evidence
of the Mormon migration, and the Amish. You'll also find the birthplaces of
Herbert Hoover (the English named a vacuum after him), Marion Robert Morrison
(a.k.a. John Wayne), William Cody (a.k.a. Help Wipe Out the Buffalo Bill),
and Grant Wood, he of the painting, "American Gothic." You know. The one with
the unhappy looking couple holding the pitchfork. They always looked to me
like they had false teeth and here they were in the corn capital of the U.S.
No wonder they were unhappy. You've probably never heard of John Atanasoff
and Clifford Berry. They are credited with building, on the campus of Iowa
State University, the first computer in 1939. That might be open to debate
depending upon how you define a computer.
Iowa's population is just slightly bigger than our smallest so far
(Kansas) at 2.9 million people, and at 51 people per square mile also ranks
after Kansas as least dense. Those 2.9 million people are scattered over
56,290 square miles (rank 25), almost the same size as Illinois, about 12%
bigger than England, and just a bit smaller than Georgia and Florida. Fitting
to its prairie background, Iowa doesn't vary much in elevation: 480 feet to
As I mentioned, I followed I-29 into South Dakota, but first I stopped at
another Lewis and Clark State Park, this one on Iowa 175 a ways across the
Missouri River from Decatur, Nebraska. The park is on an oxbow lake. Oxbow
lakes are interesting phenomena that are caused by a curving river's natural
tendency to straighten itself leaving the former big bend as a stand-alone
lake. Both the Missouri and Mississippi are full of them and their existence
hint at how both rivers looked in times past.
This park was very busy near the boat launch ramps and seemed to be THE
spot for fishing this misty morning. Farther along I found what I came for.
A full-sized replica of the keelboat
I described the Discovery in the last Part, but it is something to be
seen. I can't believe that this craft was coaxed as far up the Missouri as it
was. Although I don't know for certain, this is probably the craft that you
see in the background of Ken Burn's wonderful documentary, "Lewis and Clark,
The Journey of the Corps of Discovery." Find a copy of this video. It tells a
wonderful story. (Check the PBS stores.)
I couldn't get on the boat, well, I could have because no one was around,
but I respected the Keep Off signs. Across the road were a series of display
boards and a small building that I'm sure contained more interesting
information, but was still closed.
I drove back out of the park, dodged the boat launchers (who all stopped
to watch EG drive by), enjoyed the sight of the mist-shrouded lake (great
atmosphere), and turned on Highway 175 towards Nebraska. I wanted to get to
the Blackbird Scenic Lookout on the Omaha Indian Reservation. (Blackbird was
an Omaha chief.) The view of the river area is supposed to be quite good.
The Lookout is just north of Decatur, Nebraska so I crossed over the
Missouri River and ran into another tollbooth. This one was even less busy
than the one the night before, fortunately, and while I fumbled around for
the high toll of $0.25 the tollbooth attendant and I had a nice chat about EG.
Just a ways from the tool booth was a BIG welcome to Nebraska sign so I
stopped and amused the locals while getting the photo opportunity I'd missed
on my first foray into Nebraska the day before.
Thanks for the big Welcome!
Where does Nebraska fit in our list? Glad you asked. Only Kansas is
bigger, so far. Nebraska's 77,355 square miles (rank 15) is about 6% less
than Kansas. It's population of only 1.7 million is smallest to date by
almost one million people. With a population density of only 21 people per
square mile it is far less than the next nearest, Kansas at 32. Like they
say, you'd certainly have room to swing a cat - if'n you've a mind to.
By the way, the State's name comes from an Indian word, "nebrathka"
meaning flat water, a name given to the Platte River that wanders east/west
from the Missouri just south of Omaha.
How about this history. In 1837, The Indian Intercourse Act (any
snickering and you go sit in the corner) prohibits white settlement west of
the Mississippi River. This "reserves" (how nice) the Great Plains for
American Indian settlement. By 1862, however, The Homestead Act lets settlers
grab onto land in 160-acre parcels for very little cost. A land rush
followed. So much for intercourse; although, one could make a case for
someone getting screwed.
I left Decatur and headed north to the Lookout. Like an early trip up
Mount Mitchell, all I got to see was fog. Fortunately, the drive was not too
far north of Decatur, and I was soon back at the toll bridge breaking the
bank by handing another 25 cents to the attendant. Just the other side of the
river I was able to make up for missing another Welcome sign.
Thanks. I was beginning to think you didn't
Back on I-29, I headed for Sioux City and my turn into South Dakota.
Near where Dakota City is today, the group paused around the 18th to
recoup. They hoped to meet up with the Omaha tribe, but that didn't work out.
The few that remained after surviving the big small pox epidemic a few years
before were out hunting. The Corps stuck around for a few days anyway waiting
for a squad of men to return who went out after deserter Pvt. Reed. They were
to bring him back dead or alive. They brought him back alive and the court
marshal also spared his life but he ran the gauntlet four times. That's equal
to about 500 lashes. He probably slept on his stomach for a few nights. For
some strange reason, once the punishment was over, the camp seemed to perk
up. They celebrated (well, all except Reed) Lewis's 30th birthday by getting
"an extra gill of whiskey" and dancing until 11:00 PM. What party animals!
The current Sioux City area was reached by the Corps of Discovery on
August 20th and Sgt Floyd died. He'd been sick for some time and finally
cashed it in of bilious fever, as I think it was described. The best guess is
that he had a burst appendix. At that point in history the problem wasn't
known and it wasn't until 1884 that the condition was first operated on
successfully. The interesting fact of the expedition is that Floyd was the
only casualty on the trip! Think of taking about 4 dozen, very ill-prepared
men (by today's standards) out into the wilderness for a couple of years;
fight your way through incredible country and hostile inhabitants (human and
otherwise), live on their diet and without any real medical help (bleeding
and powerful laxatives were prescribed for most everything); and only one
I drove through Sioux City (another city with a "river city" look to it)
on I-29 and got a peek at the monument to Sgt. Floyd - sort of a Washington
Monument-shaped obelisk. I-29 going out of Sioux City leaves Iowa and runs
into a little toe of South Dakota stuck in between Iowa and Nebraska (the
Welcome sign was on a busy road so no photo opportunity). I followed 29 until
near Junction City and then said goodbye to the interstate (and good
riddance) choosing, instead, to follow Highway 50 along the Missouri River.
At this point, the Missouri River forms the boarder between Nebraska and
South Dakota. On a map, this is the wiggly portion of the otherwise fairly
straight-sided States. Grace, of "Will and Grace" (the best comedy on
American TV) referred to the States in this area as the "square states out
there." Sort of a New York attitude.
A fancy South Dakota plate, and...
one not so fancy.
The route becomes a little hard to follow for a while, partly because I
wasn't always sure where I was, but it was a good drive! I followed 50 until
it turned into 46 on the Yankton Indian Reservation, which then turned into
18 as it crosses the Missouri River at Ft. Randal Dam. For a short while 18
runs right along the boarder between Nebraska and South Dakota, although, the
prairie country looks all the same!
As an aside, the major routes in the US that travel north/south have odd
numbers, like I-29 I was on earlier. The east/west routes have even numbers,
like 50, 46 and 18 I'd been traveling. That doesn't mean that the roads can't
travel for some distance the wrong direction just to confuse you. Later on
this day I'd follow 50 and 34 north.
A little short of Burke I found the following.
Thanks, but I was really hoping for a
At Burke, I finally got smart and decided to fill up with gas (and Red
Line, again, finally) even though I wasn't running on fumes, yet. I'd peeked
at the map and knew the next stretch was unlikely to have anyplace big enough
to have a gas station - and I was right. EG continued to run satisfactorily,
but I could tell something wasn't quite right. I promised I'll check it out
A few miles down the road I headed north from Gregory on 47 towards I-90.
This was high plains farming country. There wasn't anything else around for
miles. Very pretty, in its own way, to drive through or maybe visit, but it
would take a special type of person to live there. I think it was along this
stretch of road that I first encounter a huge field of sunflowers. There must
have been acres of them! Great sight. But answer me one question. Why do they
all have their heads pointing to the east? Is there some sort of sunflower
Mecca that direction? I noticed this on fields I passed through later in the
day and several times the following morning. Evening or morning, all the
sunflowers were pointing east.
East pointing mystery aside, I like sunflowers, and it was nice to see a
crop I could identify. Corn, sure, and there was lots of it, but many of the
fields I went through on the trip were just unidentifiable crops. There ought
to be a law. Farmers have to post signs by the road saying what they're
Somewhere along 47 I noticed this building standing off by itself. There
was nothing else around, and I do mean nothing. This is empty country,
people. I also noticed the sign so I stopped for a photograph. I hope the
sign shows up.
Wonder what is taught?
This is tough country and the school is probably a tough school. Right
across the dirt road from the school I found the school's former mascot.
That's one tough school!
When 47 finally ran into I-90 I backtracked a bit by heading east on 90
until just across the Missouri River. I could have continued on up 47 (which
was tempting) crossing the Missouri River again at the Big Bend Dam. (Another
dam in the same day. One could have said the day's trip was just one dam site
after another, but I couldn't possibly say that.) I'd been down the stretch
of highway a few weeks before on the trip to Florida. It was my first sight
of the Missouri River. This time it looked just as magnificent. There's a
restaurant up above the river on the east side, Casey's, which is advertised
as selling the best hamburger in the US. I didn't stop this time. I was
fooled by that advertisement once already.
From the river crossing I drove through Chamberlain and some road
construction and followed 50 north. (Remember the lesson on roads. Fifty
should run east/west!) I wandered up and down small hills following the
Missouri River, 50, 47, and 34 (which also ran north for a while) until 34
made a bend to the west towards Pierre. Unlike many of the drives along the
Missouri River, this one actually afforded good views, and with the sun
hitting it just right it was a very scenic drive.
EG and I chugged into Pierre and checked into a motel just before 6:00
with 5,784 miles on the clock. We'd covered a little over 480 miles for the
day (3,902 since Miami) and had seen some interesting country. Food for me
first, and then time to check out EG and replace the tarp on the roof rack.