African American Museum: Creating whiteness

Now that it is 2023, it’s time to catch up on the travels of 2022. Let’s go back to October and the last of three museums we visited in Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of African American History and Culture.

         The path through the museum starts in Africa and takes the visitor through . . . actually, I’m not sure where it ends because we read, viewed and absorbed so much along the way that the museum keepers had to chase us out the exit doors – without even a visit to the bookstore or the gift shop. We made it past the civil-rights era of the 1960s and somewhat beyond.

         I mostly got stuck in Africa and the early years of slavery in American colonies. Took me forever to stop reading about Queen Nzingha, who “had fought against (Portuguese) colonial and slave raiding attacks for decades.” She “died on December 17, 1663 at the age of 80. Unfortunately, her death accelerated Portuguese colonial occupation, as well as their Atlantic slave trade activities in central west Africa.”

         Or, the slave trader Henry Laurens, who wrote to his son that he hated slavery while becoming rich from it. Now that I have been introduced to former slave Olaudah Equiano, I’d like to read his autobiography. I’d also like to read more about the 1808 law that prohibited importation of enslaved people to the United States but was a boon to the domestic slave trade as those slave already here and their progeny became more valuable.

         I was especially stuck on the narrative laid out in this video, which I returned to twice (people love it when you go backwards through a crowd going forward through a museum):

         Essentially, it says that when Africans arrived in the colonies, all of which held enslaved people, the system of slavery was not laid out. There were parts of the country where workers — Native Americans, European indentured servants and slaves – “labored, lived and rebelled together.” So new laws “defined who was enslaved and who was free. By 1750 the system of slavery was racialized and had become more uniform . . . The law based slavery on African descent and made it hereditary and lifelong. It took indentured servants out of slavery; it created whiteness.” (my italics)

         “It created whiteness.” That seemed an odd thing to me, something that did not need to be created. White is white, it’s a color, and anyone who can see has some vision of what white is and how it differs from other colors. On further thought, it seemed that those who brought slavery to this neck of the woods should have sorted out who would be slave and who would not be. You might have thought they’d have this all figured out before spending the time and money to round up thousands of people in Africa, send them across the Atlantic and expect them to do all the work. But no. Previous efforts at assembling labor hadn’t worked out very well: Native Americans kept dying from the diseases Europeans spread to them; the problem with indentured servants was that they were indentured, they left when their term was up. But Africans, who seemed to survive longer than your local Indians and had less voice in things than indentured servants did? That’s what makes way for “racializing” slavery. Make slavery hereditary and forever. If you’re a slave, so are your children, their children and so on.

And, give whites the privilege to get out of it. Best to create a new societal term for what “white” means: a segment of society that is exempt from slavery, from chains, whipping, sold away from your family, endless toil picking cotton to sell to England textile makers to build a strong, rich country in a place that used to be a land sparsely populated by people who had their own way of living.

One of them, Chief Black Hawk, had an answer to all this. I said in previous posts that museums we visited in October overlap, and this spillover comes from the National Museum of the American Indian, or at least from a book I bought there, “Black Hawk: Life of Black Hawk or Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, dictated by Himself.”

Black Hawk was put in ball and chains, then dragged around the country and humiliated after he was captured while trying to protect his village and cornfields from the whites, defined above, who thought they had more right to them than the people who had lived there for hundreds of years. As he was paraded around the East Coast, his opinions were asked on many subjects, including what to do about the negroes, as he called them. He had a plan, which he hoped would be adopted:

“Let the free states remove all the male negroes (his italics) within their limits, to the slave states – then let our Great Father buy all the female negroes in the slave states, between the ages of twelve and twenty, and sell them to the people of the free states, for a term of years – say, those under fifteen until they are twenty-one – and those of, and over fifteen, for five years – and continue to buy all the females in the slave states, as soon as they arrive at the age of twelve, and take them to the free states, and dispose of them in the same way as the first – and it will not be long before the country is clear of black skins, about which, I am told, they have been talking, for a long time, and for which they have expended a large amount of money.”

His plan would clear the country of white skins, too, no matter the definition. He’d be called a pedophile today and put back in chains for sex trafficking. What he proposed seems impossible, maybe naive. But Black Hawk did not think this was beyond the capacity of whites. After all, they had dragged all these Africans to America and were in the process of removing all the Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi to the west of that river. If whites could do all that, why not turn everybody brown, much like me, said Chief Black Hawk.

American Indian museum says: We’re still here

        Let’s start with the National Museum of the American Indian, which was not the first museum we visited on our recent trip to Washington, D.C. In fact, it was the last one we saw and the least favorite of the three museums we visited: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Native American museum.

But some ideas came together there.

         The American Indian museum has a harder tale to tell than the other two. You can walk through the Holocaust museum tracing the antisemitism from ancient European pogroms to the death camps at Auschwitz. African-American museum starts in Africa and tells the degradation that have happened to black people from slave roundups in Africa, the Middle Passage, slavery in the Americas, Jim Crow, desegregation and the events that brought on the Black Lives Matter movement.

         The Native American museum tells the tale of many clans and tribes spread across the Americas. What those people believed, the stories they told and how they were treated by Europeans and colonists is hard to wrap up in a straight walk through the museum’s halls.

         I had expected our three-day, three-museum visit, which someone termed a “white liberal guilt trip,” to go this way: genocide, slavery and more genocide. But the word “genocide” was never heard or written in the exhibits I saw in the Native America museum. Instead, the theme seemed to be: “We’re still here!” Despite all that was done to us – disease, wars, massacres, reservations, boarding schools, restrictions on our languages – we’re still here.

         From all the products advertised with Indian names, you can’t deny their presence. The museum had everything from an Indian motorcycle to the maiden on the Land O’Lakes butter carton. There are several rooms telling how several tribes understand the universe. From duality to this wonderful story told through the glass art of Seattle’s Preston Singletary. (After January 29, 2023, the exhibit moves on to Chrysler Museum of Art, Virginia, where it will be from March 3, 2023, to June 20, 2023).

         “The Raven and the Box of Daylight” tells a Tlingit creation story about how light came to the world. Part of the introduction to the exhibit includes this: “Shdal’eiw Walter Porter (1944-2013), the eminent Tlingit American historian, mythologist, and storyteller, once stated. ‘The importance of mythology is that it’s universal. Every culture has the same information disguised in story.’ We hope you recognize some of your own story here.” The part about immaculate conception in the Raven story has a familiar ring.

         This video tells the story of a fallen star, who is much more friendly than Lucifer, who would rather “reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” as Milton told us.

A star that wanders searching for the girl he loved

         The closest I saw where genocide got its due was in a room dedicated to the United States’ Indian Removal Act of 1830. Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, it got its start from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The end proposed should be their extermination, or their removal.” Encroaching colonists get Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and you get Oklahoma, after 4,000 of you die trekking there.

         While not aware of it, I first learned of the Indian Removal Act back in third grade when I read “Chief Black Hawk” by Frank L. Beals, part of the American Adventure series and I read them all. I’ve been trying to erase that glowing view of American history since about age 25. I’m still waiting for Chief Black Hawk to replace Andrew Jackson on the U.S. twenty-dollar bills.

         Jackson thought the act would “prevent annihilation, not cause it.” (“Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars,” Robert V. Remini, Penguin Group, 2002, p. 228) Get away from us white folks so you can “perpetuate your race.” But Jackson’s tongue might have been “as forked as a chicken foot,” as Mastubbee, a Choctaw elder, said. (p. 248)

         My third-grade reading did not introduce me to those who had opposed the act: Jeremiah Evarts, Theodore Frelinghuysen or John Ross, a Cherokee chief. But they are there in the American Indian museum.

         This is where the museums start blending, where the ideas come together. The Indian Removal Act sounds an awful lot like Holocaust museum’s “Final Solution.” Where the horrible things that happened to Jews remind me of what has happened to African-Americans and Native Americans.

         Remini ends his book with this statement: “To his dying day on June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson genuinely believed that what he accomplished rescued these people from inevitable annihilation.”

The American Indians are still here, as the museum attests. But I’m reminded of Seminoles begging at a roadside stand on a 1950s trip to Florida and then of children begging at the Wounded Knee site in 2015.

You’re still here, and I’m glad, but I hope the next 60 years are better for you than those that have passed between my visits to the Seminole stand and to Wounded Knee.

Best photo of the Trip Back East goes to . . .

Judging the photos Kathy and I took during our trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City, I’d have to give the top prize to Kathy for this view of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. The light was just right, and she was quicker with her iPhone 8 than I was with my more expensive camera. We were standing on the terrace outside the Lincoln Monument when we noticed this view.

The walk to the Lincoln Monument has been on all my trips to Washington, D. C. I always start at the Vietnam Memorial and then start making the bend around the reflecting pool with a stop to visit Lincoln and read parts of his speeches craved on the walls there. With the sun going down, it was hard to read my favorite from his second inaugural speech. It’s the one that ends this way:

“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan ~ to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Despite not being able to read that speech, Lincoln was as impressive as ever and our walk was not done.

While we were visiting the Vietnam Memorial, we talked to a gentleman who was about our age (Remember the Sixties!). He remarked on it “being our war, whether we served over there or not.”

Certainly it had an influence on those of us growing up then. The draft. The draft lottery. Student deferments. Those who fought coming home and how they were treated. Those wounded or killed.

My only acquaintance with those names carved on the wall is a person who beat me up in the first grade. Still, I feel bad for him, and certainly bad for the 53,000 United States service people lost in a war that we as a nation can’t decide if it was worth it or not.

We were debating whether to walk past the Lincoln Monument to visit the Korean War Monument, which was not there the last time we had visited Washington. It seemed as though that monument got squeezed into a corner of the Mall and might not be worth visiting. Oh no, said our gentleman at the Vietnam wall. “Get there when it is raining and dark,” he said, “and you will think the soldiers there are alive and stalking their enemies. Don’t miss it.”

We did not, especially since it was getting dark and rain had started to fall.

The soldiers may not be alive, but your could almost feel the moisture seeping into their boots from the wet grass they were walking through. There is a list of those lost in the war, both U.S. and South Korean. The side panels that run along side the soldiers have an eerie feel to them depicting those who served in a war that is still going on. Would our nation decide to fight if one of Kim Jong-un‘s missiles did not quite reach the sea and fell on Seoul? That would be a decision for the nation.

That ended our evening walk. Earlier in the day, we had taken a bus to see the Jefferson Memorial, which I had not visited. Despite all the bad things said about Thomas Jefferson in Ron Chernow’s book “Hamilton” and the song the Jefferson character sings in the musical (“What’d I Miss”), I still hold Jefferson as a Founding Father who founded much of what formed our country, like “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There’s also that master/slave matter of Sally Hemings. OK, he was a randy coward who skipped the fighting in the Revolutionary War, but I still like much of what he said, including this on the wall of the memorial:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in law and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Setting aside whether human minds have progressed past our barbarous ancestors, there’s six people on the Supreme Court right now who should walk down to the Jefferson Memorial to read that.

There was one other monument on the Mall that was not there the last time we visited Washington. It opened in April 2004, which shows how long it has been since we traveled to the nation’s capital.

The monument marks a war in which 416,000 Americans died, 45 million people world wide were killed and two totalitarian regimes were snuffed out. It took the nation 60 years to commemorate the achievement of the “Greatest Generation.” It’s a war most Americans have no trouble deciding whether it was worth it or not.

But the monument to World War II? My decision: It fails. To me, it seems as if someone or some committee decided to include all that they thought should go into a monument: fountains, lots of stone, statues, bronze plaques, arches, terraces. Build it in a prominent spot on the Mall and everyone will like it. But there is no there there. No symbolism as in the Vietnam Monument. Nothing to focus on as in the Korean Monument. No one statue that dominates as in the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments. Can we decide to do this one over?

Immigration problems that won’t go away

I returned to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today to pick up where I left off, which was at the start of the main exhibit concerning the Nuremberg Trials.

I had covered the anti-semitism and how it had been around way before it became a mainstay of the Nazi party in Germany, the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, World War II and the Allied discovery of the concentration camp. That took five hours in the museum before I had to run to catch a plane back to Seattle. That was about 20 years ago when I was in Washington, D.C., for a conference. My apologies to The Seattle Times, who sent me there, that I can remember almost nothing about the conference besides visiting with others there who had previously worked at The Times and where I left off at the Holocaust museum.

So Kathy, who had not been at the museum before, started at the beginning of the main exhibit while I headed straight for the Nuremberg Trials. But I did stop and view the videos on America and the Holocaust, which I don’t remember being there in my previous visit. The videos looked back on what Americans knew about the persecution of Jews by Germans in Europe and what the United States did about it – not much.

There was another exhibit downstairs in the museum covering the same topic in greater detail, which I returned to after viewing the Nuremberg videos and displays and lunch at the museum café. The lunch was prompted by Kathy, who texted me, “I could use a break. Woof. This is tough stuff.”

It was. Tough stuff to ignore, which is what Americans did leading into World War II. Take more refugees? No way in a country suffering the Great Depression with 25 percent of the population unemployed. If we took more refugees would Germany respond by even tougher laws against the Jews? In a country where isolationism was the current policy, who cared what they were doing in Germany and the rest of Europe?

Refugees. Immigrants. Illegal migrants. Asylum seekers. No matter what you call them, it has been a sore subject for those of us safely within the borders of the United States. Go back to the 1920s when immigration was restricted and I think you will find that there has never been a policy that suits anyone or everyone. And there is no outlook for a future policy that will solve the immigration question.

Should Venezuelans have the same leniency shown to Cuban refugees/immigrants? They are both fleeing a communist regime.

Who could deny a Ukrainian family from coming to the U.S. now? They may be the latest victims of an aggressor trying to expand its territory, just like those who tried to flee Poland, Austria and other European states as Germany took them over and tried to rid them of Jews.

We don’t have 25 percent unemployment. In fact, we only have between three and four percent unemployment, which is considered by economists as full employment. Would more immigrants open up restaurants that can’t find workers?

The action of some governors to send migrants to other places seems cruel to those put on buses and hardly helpful to those reaching out to aid them in cities far from the southern border. Maybe a way of bringing attention to the problem, but still cruel and unhelpful.

No answers here, but some familiar tones in the awful history on display at the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum.


I could not escape the museum without buying two books in the gift shop: “Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial” by Joseph E. Persico, and “In Pursuit of Justice: Examining the Evidence of the Holocaust”, a project of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And I found a movie I have to see. Who can resist Edward G. Robinson?

COVID just keeps on ruining things for me

I thought about burying the lede here, keeping the awful news behind other bad news, but then I thought I would never do that if I were getting paid to write this blog, So here is the awful news: Both Kathy and I have COVID, and we have canceled our 15-day trip rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

The trip started like all trips do: Why do these bad things happen now. And here comes the other bad news. We got to the U-Haul place to pick up the van we used to move Kathy’s grandson and girlfriend to California now that they have completed Seattle University. They said we have your reservation but you have to go to West Seattle to pick up the van. Since the West Seattle bridge cracked, West Seattle is in a place far, far away. The GPS route looks like red spaghetti with touches of gold and yellow. But we arrived, got the van and reversed the spaghetti route back for the first load of furniture.

We also discovered that the canopy latch on my truck was no longer latching. Why do these things happen on the first day of a trip.

Then came the call from the security system that the alarm had gone off at our house. That happens when you leave the front door wide open. Our son is staying at the house and corrected our hurried exit fallacies. We do this a thousand times and why did it have to happen now?

Kathy offered to buy us Dick’s hamburgers and left order them. We drove to Dick’s, and found Kathy complaining that the automatic truck key would no longer open the truck. Why do these things happen now? I dug out the old-fashioned metal key ensconced in the modern key, climbed into the unlocked canopy to dig out the extra key I had packed just in case a bunch of stuff might happen now. I can get the bad key fixed in Petaluma at a Ram dealership I have used before.

Off to Portland, loaded the second set of furniture and headed for Eugene. We went somewhere to eat, I ordered too much food but did not collapse into it. I ended up in the truck snoozing until others got done eating and drinking. Long drive in a big, unfamiliar van, but should that make me that tired?

Woke up Tuesday with a river pouring out of my head. Sneezing, dripping. Where did that all come from? A cold, I thought, let’s push on.

On to our regular lunch stop on our way to Sebastopol, CA — The Olive Pit in Corning, CA. You can tell the muffuletta sandwiches were good by the olive oil that dripped all over my cell phone camera lens. On to Forestville, CA, and the delivery of the furniture.

Great dinner by Grandpa and Grandma, and this may have been where I infected five people with COVID. Tried to get some social distance, but we were inside and I was still under some delusion that this was a cold, and nothing more.

A cold until I took a COVID test that night and the T strip came on, blinking and in enlarged red type saying, “What were you thinking?”

This is Day Four since I started symptoms. All five of us are in different rooms in three houses trying to isolate ourselves. Joe, who had COVID before, is delivering food and medicine to our doors. My meds are not Paxlovid, which reacts with Warfarin — doesn’t everything? I will not be getting a new key for the truck any time soon.

Canyon Explorations offered us three options: 1. Get to Flagstaff with no COVID symptoms and a negative COVID test on Aug. 15. That will not happen now. 2. Hike in on the Bright Angel trail with all your equipment and enjoy the rest of the trip down the river. A chance to infect another 16 people. Hiking now when I can barely walk to the bathroom six feet away does not sound like something we could do 10 days from now. 3. Reschedule.

We chose option 3. We are on the waiting list for 2023 and on board for 2024.

This has been a huge disappointment. I learned of this trip in 2010 while working for the Census Bureau. Raft down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon with a string quartet aboard to play each night. We got on the waiting list for 2018. Nothing available. Same in 2019. Yes, for 2020, which is when COVID first happened. Same with 2021. But on for 2022, if COVID did not happen now, which it did.

After the Kentucky Derby: Another weather detour

As we head west, we have been keeping track of the weather report for the Yellowstone National Park. It has not been good for two days of hiking we had planned, and the final report today was for snow and a high of 38 degrees. We talked to a couple from Minneapolis in the dining room at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where we had stopped to check on the carving’s progress. They said they walked the boardwalk among geysers in horizontal snow.

Then we received this email from the park: “As we are faced with workforce shortages, we are modifying our food service as well as operating dates and times at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel. . . . Considering the fluid situation in the park, you may wish to travel with some extra food items and snacks.”

We do carry food, but the prospect of being in an area of food insecurity was frightening to two people who have gained a pound for every day on the road.

We canceled our Yellowstone reservations and headed north to Billings. Drove through lots of rain, but no snow.

Some progress on Crazy Horse’s face since we visited 30 years ago, but it will still take another 100 years to finish carving the mountain into the chief’s head, hair, body and his horse’s head. We’ll check back in another 30 years.

Today’s bad weather was the first on this trip. It rained at the Kentucky Derby, but the mostly winning bets there have made that bad-weather memory fade away. Here’s what it’s been like as we traveled West:

Sunset from our cabin’s porch at the Lake of the Ozarks
Moon and Nebraska’s capital building in Lincoln, just across from where we stayed.
Alpenglow on the rocks across from our porch in the Badlands National Park.
This person is wanted in three counties for stealing rocks. However, she pocketed one here without charges.

Steve ruined my Derby bets — and saved the day

Steve at Emerald Downs.

When Rich Strike read what the pundits had written about him Saturday morning, it made him so mad he’d run like hell to prove them wrong.

That’s how Steve, my horse-race betting partner for years before he died in 2010, would explain how Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby on May 7, 2022.

Steve always bet long shots, especially on horses with names that amused him or reminded him of his wife. As a steady reader of the Daily Racing Form and horses’ past performances, I would try to talk Steve out of his more “strange” bets, often by reading what the professional handicappers wrote. Kind of like they said about Rich Strike on Saturday:

“Poor speed figures. Best speed rating well below the average winning speed. Return to dirt might offer some hope for improvement.”

Steve would see such an assessment and say, “When the horse reads that, he’ll be so mad he’ll run like hell to show ’em.”

Nothing could persuade Steve to stop betting the looongest shots available, $2 to show on the least chalky choice. He didn’t hit often. But when he did, he’d signal “loo-ser” with an L to his forehead and wonder why I spent so much time with the racing form.

Nothing can persuade me to abandon the DRF. I can’t watch a race without an overnight session with the past performances. Leading up to the Derby, I had watched all the prep races, bet them, did OK and had a plan for the first Saturday in May: A Pick 3 with one horse in the first race (Jackie’s Warrior), four horses who might win in the second race (Shirl’s Speight, Cavalry Charge, Adhamo, Santin) and six horses who I thought could win the Derby (Mo Donegal, Epicenter, Messier, Tiz the Bomb, Zandon, White Abarrio) for a $24 bet. An Exacta boxed with Epicenter, Zandon and Tiz the Bomb for a $12 bet. And a graduated across the board bet on Epicenter, my fav: $5 to win, $10 to place and $15 to show.

Sixty-four dollars coming into the Derby. More than I usually bet on a race — or in a whole day at the races. But it’s the Derby, and I’m splitting my bets with Michael, my new horse-racing partner.

And things looked good coming into the Big Race. In the first race of my Pick 3, Jackie’s Warrior had gone wire to wire at even odds in the 10th race and in the 11th, Santin won by a neck at 7-1 odds, which would fatten up the payoff for my Pick 3.

Things looked even better when the horses were coming down the stretch in the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby. Epicenter was in the lead, holding off Zandon on the outside. A No. 3 (Epicenter) and No. 10 (Zandon) finish would complete my Pick 3, win my Exacta and pay off all three positions in my across-the-board bet. Just to win three bets on one race would be a first-ever accomplishment in my handicapping career.

My eyes were on Epicenter and not on what jockey Sonny Leon was doing with Rich Strike on the inside. Take a look at the great NBC overhead shot to see what a thread-the-needle ride Leon had on Rich Strike, which ended with 3 and 10 in second and third place. I tried to read the numbers of the winning horse. Was it No. 1, Mo Donegal? A possibility that Michael had bet because that was the hometown of his grandparents. Or No. 2, Happy Jack? A long shot but not out of the realm.

But No. 21? The horse that sneaked into the race at the last moment when Ethereal Road scratched? With odds at 81-1, ignored by betters even though he finished third behind Tiz the Bomb in his last race? This was the horse that destroyed all my carefully laid plans?

It was.

But who cared? Friends of Steve had kept his betting peculiarities going since he died. If we were ever at a track together, we’d place a bet in the last race on the horse with the longest odds. Just before Kathy and I left for the Derby, we had dinner with those friends and agreed to bet the longest odds in the Derby.

That would be No. 21. Rich Strike and Sonny Leon. We had placed a $10 show bet on the horse, which returned $147. Yeah, I lost all my well-planned bets (except for the place and show on Epicenter). But watching this race, having a bet on this uncertain winner and dancing around at the finish was the best race ever.

Thank you, Steve.

After Rich Strike had won the Kentucky Derby.

Road to Kentucky Derby: More than a sack lunch in Sac City

Boerewors, pap and sous

Chili served in Styrofoam bowls did not meet the standards of my wife, a former food writer. And that seemed to be the specialty of my favorite casino and hotel. We’d skipped supper there for a salad in town at a restaurant with five TVs tuned to News Max, Fox Views and other former state news stations with The Weather Channel doing their best to hold up the liberal side of political philosophy. We did not stop there for breakfast.

We drove on across Iowa until hunger forced us to turn at the first sign advertising food. That turned out to be a Subway advertisement on a signpost also directing us to the world’s largest popcorn ball. How could we resist?

The way to the world’s largest popcorn ball, located in Sac City, Iowa, was blocked by road construction (what isn’t?). So we had to park the car and walk in the direction of the world’s largest popcorn ball, hoping we would find a place to eat, Subway or otherwise. A block away, we came across a window in front of several tables laid out for a banquet. Back up to the nearest door and we saw the tiny sign: Cattlemen’s Steakhouse. In we went, and adjacent to the banquet room was a nice cafe with a counter and several tables, all filled with a luncheon crowd. A complete menu with this surprise: Boerewors, pap and sous (South African beef sausage made in Clarion, Iowa), polenta and spicy tomato stew. It was delicious as was Kathy’s chicken sandwich. The waitress told us that one of the owners was from South Africa as were the butchers in Clarion. Who cares that we never found the Subway? The restaurant displayed several historic pictures from Sac City and a very large cow head hanging over the table next to us.

After lunch, we retrieved the car and drove to the world’s largest popcorn ball, passing several large and elaborate houses. “As Sac City began to grow,” the Sac City website says, “local businesspersons erected beautiful stores and homes. The town is home to many wonderful examples of architecture. Queen Anne homes, Second Empire structures, buildings designed by noted architects, and striking public buildings continue to enrich the area. Sac City grew because of commerce, banking, and real estate investment.”

The population in the 1900 Census was 17,639. The 2020 Census counted only 2,059 and notes Sac City is currently declining at a rate of -0.15% annually and its population has decreased by -7.25% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 2,220 in 2010.”

My research has not answered why it was so rich once that houses could be built by noted architects and why is has been in decline recently.

It could be the world’s largest popcorn ball, which was a disappointment. Enclosed in a building with windows so reflective you can’t fully see what is inside. The popcorn is encased in blue tarp and a fence with only the top part of the ball showing. This probably is not the full story of Sac City’s decline. Our research continues.

Road to Kentucky Derby: My favorite Indian casino

Please don’t think that we took the snow detour around North Dakota so that we could stay at my favorite Indian casino. That would not be true. We went south after seeing the snow photo sent out by the North Dakota Department of Transportation. But once the decision had been made, well, the thought eventually formed in my head that a stop in the corn fields outside of Sloan, Iowa, would be right on our way and we should be arriving at check-in time.

The WinnaVegas Casino is not my favorite because of generous slots (I never play them), free drinks or blubbery buffets. I like it because of its location — standing alone out in the middle of corn fields. I wandered here some years back after seeing signs for it. Three miles down a country road after taking the Sloan exit off Interstate 29. There it stands: hotel, casino and Pony Express, where we filled our 12-gallon tank with $3.75 per gallon gas for under $50.

We checked in, and they issued me a new card (I left my old card in my gas-guzzling truck) and gave Kathy one with $10 on it to use in the casino. Getting the cards with $20 knocked off that amount off the room rate. But they got back the $20 within a few minutes after we found the electronic craps table. A video game the size of a real craps table but no side rails to stack your chips or shelves underneath to set your drinks, Put your money or your cards in a slot, push a button to place $5 on the pass line and you can lose money just as fast as at a craps table made of wood and felt. Dice are thrown across the video screen by swiping your hand over your console. They appear as red dice skittering across the table’s video surface from one side to the other rail. Numbers displayed and announced by a voice that also encourages other bets. “Line away,” the electronic woman says, as your $5 pass line bet disappears into the casino’s online bank.

The electronic version takes away the jobs of the the stickman, the boxman and their two helpers. It’s easier to follow because everything is displayed on the electronic table and the individual consoles. You don’t have to embarrassingly ask how much money to put on a $1 come bet to get the odds on a 5, but you miss the normal banter of a good stickman. It’s another step in America’s growing loneliness. Finding a gambling establishment with humans dealing craps and card games is more infrequent than hitting a hard 10.

We might have felt better about the electronic craps table if we had spent more time with it. But the $20 on our two cards didn’t last long before the electronic woman had most of them. We cashed in the $1.77 we had not lost with an apology for wasting the young Native American cashier’s time for an amount that would not buy a gallon of gas, even at the Pony Express.

The Winnebagos call themselves “Hochunkgra, a Siouan people.” The reservation is mostly in northeast Nebraska with a few corners that stick over the Missouri River into Iowa, which is where the WinnaVegas is. They were not always here. They once occupied the southern half of present day Wisconsin and the northern part of Illinois. “The Black Hawk War of 1832 and a series of treaties forced the Winnebago out of their homeland, and they were removed to reservations in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and finally to a portion of the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska.”

You could follow these Indian trails across America, as I have done for the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) people from White Bird to Bears Paw. Or you could follow the Choctaws and Creek on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. None of them end happily.

Maybe it helps to follow them backwards — from where these peoples ended up in the West to a happier time and place back East, where they lived until the Europeans showed up. Our journey to the Kentucky Derby is now on that path as we travel from the Winnebago reservation to Illinois, where we stayed across the Rock River from the “Black Hawk” statue in Oregon, Illinois.

The “Black Hawk” statue in Oregon, Illinois

Road to Kentucky Derby: Scared out of North Dakota

Right out of the gate, our trip to the Kentucky Derby took an unexpected turn. We had left Missoula, MT, planning to go to Glendive, MT, and then across North Dakota, when our friend in Missoula texted this picture from the North Dakota Department of Transportation:

Maybe South Dakota would be a better choice. Not that we are afraid of driving in snow. Especially in my Dodge Ram truck with four new all-weather tires that cost more than my first car. But we are not in the truck. Because of high gas prices, we decided the Toyota Camry hybrid was a better choice. And for gas prices, it has been. For snow, not so much.

Once we crossed out of the land of high gas, house and food prices in the state of Washington, we have not found any gas stations that charge above $5 per gallon as in the Evergreen State where filling the 24-gallon tank in the truck cost more than $100. Wattabout $5 per gallon? Mostly they have been under $4 per gallon: $3.86 in Bonner, MT. $3.96 in Hardin, MT. $3.88 in Kadoka, SD. But the cheapest gas so far has been at the Pony Express at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, IA: $3.75 per gallon (more on the WinnaVegas in the next post).

Detouring to South Dakota meant a long day of driving before we reached Deadwood, SD, home of Wild Bill Hickok’s fatal card game. We avoided the deadly casinos and stayed in a slime plant. The slime plant did have a casino, which we avoided, and is a hotel built in what used to be a plant that processed gold slurry (known as “slime”) from the mines in nearby Lead, SD. The plant closed in 1973, and in 2010, a group of preservationists and businessmen decided to save the building by opening a hotel there. Nice rooms for $119; dining and gambling inside the building. Looking down on the main part of Deadwood, we could see the melting drifts of snow that were left over from what must have been a winter with many snow storms. Fortunately, the roads across South Dakota were dry and bare of snow as we continued the next day.

Holiday Inn Resort Deadwood Mountain Grand (Photo by Kathy Triesch Saul)