Saturday, February 19, 2011

Homesteaders, the Badlands, & Black History Month

(SD Badlands, photo by Jane Heitman Healy, c 2008)

When you think of homesteading, what springs to mind? Laura Ingalls Wilder, sod homes, prairies? Those would all be accurate, but did you know that South Dakota homesteaders included some blacks?

(Oscar Micheaux, SD Cultural Heritage Center)

One black South Dakota homesteader who went on to fame was Oscar Micheaux. He settled in Gregory County in south central South Dakota, just west of the Missouri River, in 1905. He lived there for eight years and wrote "The Conquest: The Story of a Pioneer by the Pioneer." He later wrote seven novels and was the first African-American to write, produce, and direct a feature length film--"The Homesteader"--in 1918. The city of Gregory hosts the annual Oscar Micheaux Film & Book Festival, completing its 15th year this past August.

More about his films can be seen here on YouTube.

A fictional account of black homesteading in the Badlands is The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. Written by Ann Weisgarber, who is white, the book depicts the harsh conditions, trying times, and tough choices of the title character, the wife of a former Buffalo Soldier, who felt that his claim to identity as an individual was in how much land he could acquire. The sacrifices they and their children made to survive and Rachel's spirit to overcome make this an interesting, haunting read. History, prejudice, and family life intertwine to give readers an understanding of the times and a look into a woman's heart.

Weisgarber says that the idea for the novel struck her when she toured the Badlands and saw a homesteader's sod hut there. "What if?" she wondered. The publication of the book took an interesting turn when it was refused by U.S. agents and publishing houses. She sent it to England, where it was published and received high honors. Then U.S. agents and publishers were interested!

Life in the Badlands is still harsh, but modern transportation, plumbing, and electricity are luxuries not available in the homesteaders' era. How well would you fare here? Me? I'm thankful for modern conveniences!
(photo by Jane Heitman Healy, c 2008)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Vocabulary in the Northern Plains

While winter wreaks havoc across the entire country, it's come to my attention that here in the Northern Plains we use some special terminology, thanks to our enemy, the wind. Here are three terms and their definitions:

(Ground blizzard, North Dakota, I-94. The videographer notes, "between Bismarck and Fargo on Jan. 7, 2011. Temperature near zero, north wind at 30 to 40 mph, visibility not good. We had to watch for cracks in the pavement because we couldn't see the lanes."

ground blizzard--Ground blizzards occur when it is not snowing. The day may even be sunny, but if you are in a ground blizzard, you would have to look up to notice. During a ground blizzard, wind blows already fallen snow, so that at ground level, you seem to be in a blizzard. This is most likely to happen after a fresh snowfall in open areas where the ditches on either side are already full of snow.

Visibility is poor to nonexistent, making ground blizzard conditions very dangerous. Driving, you cannot see vehicles or obstacles ahead or around you. When the wind whips the snow across the road, you cannot see if the pavement is slick.

Recent northern South Dakota ground blizzard conditions caused 150 motorists, many of them semi drivers, to be stranded on I-29 for up to 48 hours! Thank goodness for this little oasis. Here's the scene on the highway, from a news station's helicopter:

(example of finger drifts)

finger drifts--Finger drifts occur when wind blows snow across the road over a period of time and the snow builds up with horizontal "fingers" stretching into the road. Easy to pass through when fresh, after the wind has whipped them into shape, they become hard as rocks and can cause considerable damage to vehicles who ram them.

(from, Coed conwydd yn cysgodi Moel yr Iwrch / Conifers sheltering Moel yr Iwrch for SH8354, © Copyright Ceri Thomas and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

shelter belt--Sometimes called a "wind break," a shelter belt is an area of planted tree rows, often around a country farmstead, to protect it from the wind. The example photo above is in Great Britain.

What special climate or weather teminology do you use in your region?