I noticed that the the Wade Hampton Census Area in Alaska became the Kusilvak Census Area in a recent Reader Mailbag article. Alaska’s census areas are a unique construct, designed as a convenient parceling of the Unorganized Borough although they’re considered "county equivalents" by the Federal government for a number of statistical purposes. Still, the renaming was a big deal. Counties (or county equivalents) change names very infrequently.
Longtime reader Scott Surgent replied, "You may have already mentioned this, but another county changed its name as of May 1, 2015: Shannon County, South Dakota, is now Oglala Lakota County." Well no, actually, I hadn’t mentioned it. In fact I wasn’t even aware of it until Scott said something. I must have been asleep at the wheel. Thank you Scott for calling me out!
Let’s go ahead and take a look Oglala Lakota County and explore the reasoning behind the name.
Map of South Dakota highlighting Oglala Lakota County via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain
Shannon County, now Oglala Lakota County, formed near the southwest corner of South Dakota in 1875. The land immediately west, the actual southwestern corner formed into Fall River County. That was significant because Oglala Lakota is one of the very few counties in the United States that does not have a county seat. It’s administrative center is collocated within Fall River County in neighboring Hot Springs. According to the South Dakota Association of County Officials,
Until 1982 Oglala Lakota and Washabaugh County, South Dakota, were the last unorganized counties in the United States. Although it was organized and received a home rule charter that year, Oglala Lakota County… contracts with Fall River County for its Auditor, Treasurer, Director of Equalization, State’s Attorney and Registrar of Deeds.
Technically the Unorganized Borough in Alaska remains unorganized and boroughs are considered analogous to counties so, evidently, we have a situation of semantics going on here. Nonetheless, the larger point remained that Oglala Lakota was and continues to be governed in an unusual manner. It also had the lowest annual per capita income of any county in the United States — only $8,768 — which likely explained some of the peculiarities. It couldn’t afford to provide these services on its own.
Who was Shannon?
Shannon County Line by Jimmy Emerson, DVM (cc)
The name Shannon applied to the county from 1875 to 2015. Nonetheless that didn’t stop residents from selecting a new name in a landslide, capturing 80% of ballots cast in the November 2014 election. The South Dakota Legislature reviewed and endorsed the vote the following Spring and Shannon became Oglala Lakota.
Peter C. Shannon lived in South Dakota for several years in the late Nineteenth Century. He’d been a career politician from Pennsylvania serving in minor positions, a loyal supporter of Abraham Lincoln. President Ulysses Grant rewarded Shannon by appointing him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory. He held the position while counties formed in the Territory so one was named for him. He was a political hack who benefited from lucky timing. Eventually Shannon "fell out of favor with territorial lawyers who successfully blocked his application for reappointment in 1881." He died in San Diego in 1899 from injuries suffered in a carriage accident.
Why Oglala Lakota
The Women of Pine Ridge by Hamner_Fotos (cc)
There were plenty of counties in the United States named for insignificant historical figures and yet their names haven’t been challenged. It would be useful to understand that the Pine Ridge Reservation covers the entirety of the county. Its people belong to the Oglala Lakota Nation. If that wasn’t sufficient justification by itself, Peter Shannon was understood to be someone "who took part in the corrupt and coercive process of carving up the enormous Great Sioux Reservation in the late 19th century." The Rapid City Journal quoted Short Bull, a member of the tribe who explained, "for Oglala Lakota tribal members like himself, Peter Shannon embodied the changes forced upon his people; from governance changes to the introduction of private property ownership."
It seemed like an open-and-shut case. Many Oglala Lakota, the primary inhabitants of the county, viewed Shannon as an oppressor. The name had to go. I’m surprised the vote wasn’t greater than 80%.
Are There Other County Name Changes in the Works?
I don’t know. Hopefully the 12MC audience will speak up if anything seems to be in the works. I did spot a recent (September 2015) article in the State Journal-Register from Springfield, Illinois: Historical society director floats plan for new Illinois county names
[Bill] Furry, the executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society, suggests renaming Illinois’ counties. All 102 of them. And he wants the public to participate… "For more than 150 years, they have honored a past that is beyond any living person’s memory," Furry said. "Given that Illinois history is rarely taught in school these days, the names of the counties might as well be written in Latin, or worse, French. Illinois is French, by the way."
To which the Jacksonville Journal-Courier from west-central Illinois responded, Renaming counties a costly, unnecessary rewrite of history; "Even now and then, a good idea comes to light. This is not one of them."
Jacksonville, Illinois, one should note, fell within Morgan County. The county was named for one of those figures who died beyond any living person’s memory: Daniel Morgan, a hero of the Revolutionary War and the suppressor of the Whiskey Rebellion (1791–1794).
Maybe the suggestion hit a little too close to home.
I made it to the final installment of the Center of the Nation articles at long last. I hope the Twelve Mile Circle audience enjoyed riding along vicariously. I included links to all of the previous articles at the bottom of the page for those who may have missed a few. I figured I’d wrap things up with a catch-all, with ideas that inspired some of the routes and topics that didn’t fit cleanly into any of the earlier narratives.
Panoramic View from a Rest Stop in North Dakota
Six years ago I posted an article called "No More Rest." It focused on the impending demise of public rest stops along Interstate highways during the prevailing economic malaise of the time, the Great Recession. The article mentioned several examples of unusual or remote waysides including one constructed a few miles east of Medora, North Dakota (map).
I consulted the 12MC Complete Index as I always do before I start an adventure, and noticed that my intended path would intersect with the same remote rest stop. In person, it wasn’t nearly as forlorn as my original research led me to believe. Rather, it blended in nicely with Theodore Roosevelt National Park, an overlook with excellent views of the Painted Canyon. It also included a visitor center and hiking trails down into the canyon itself although we only stopped long enough to enjoy the view. None of those possibilities were known to me when I wrote the original article. It was a rest stop definitely deserving a stop.
With that, I’ve now visited all of the rest stops featured in that earlier article. The I-95 stop in Ladysmith, Virginia reopened once the economy improved. I purposely targeted the wayside on the Bonneville Salt Flats during my 2011 Utah trip. Later I stumbled upon the historic rest area outside of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky while exploring Appalachia and beyond in 2013, simply by chance.
This achievement — of all 12MC possibilities — would have seemed one of the more unlikely scenarios at its time of publication. It’s funny how things worked out.
Mammoth Bones at the Mammoth Site
The Mammoth Site (map) first appeared on these pages only recently in Hot Springs Everywhere. I’d planned much of the Center of the Nation trip by that point and the reference to the Mammoth Site was completely coincidental. I’d never heard of it before I wrote the article. Only then did I notice that it fell within the same general neighborhood as my upcoming adventure. At the time I wrote:
A more recent find actually fascinated me more, the Mammoth Site discovered in the 1970’s when a new housing development was being built on the edge of town (map). Excavators stumbled upon the remains of a karst sinkhole that had once been a spring during the Pleistocene era about 26,000 years ago. Megafauna, particularly Columbian and Woolly Mammoths, occasionally wandered too far into the spring and couldn’t escape. Their skeletons were beautifully preserved where they died. It remains an active archaeological site.
It didn’t disappoint. I’d recommend a detour to Hot Springs, South Dakota for anyone wandering through the Black Hills.
Pigtail Auto Loops
Notice how the road loops over itself
I featured loop roads several years ago. It sprang from a reader suggestion included in one of those "Odds and Ends" compilations that I pull together when I have a bunch of thoughts too brief for individual articles. That led to several more readers’ discoveries and eventually a guest post on Google Sightseeing. Those pigtail auto loops have fascinated me ever since. I had to visit one of the more noteworthy clusters, the one near Mount Rushmore. They were located just south of the park on Iron Mountain Road, U.S. Route 16A (map). I drove a different loop the next day when leaving Custer State Park.
Truth be told it wasn’t all that much different than driving loops in a multi-level parking garage. However, genuine auto loops were found outdoors on public roads and that made all the difference.
Spearfish Canyon; Spearfish, SD
Reader "Pat D" suggested Spearfish Canyon when I announced my 2015 travel intentions and put the call out for Center of the Nation ideas. I can cite dozens of times when generous 12MC readers influenced my journeys. I am always grateful for ideas that have been shared with me. Spearfish Canyon proved to be an excellent case in point. I likely would have taken the shortest route back to the Interstate highway without the advice. The longcut definitely shifted my path towards some amazing scenery.
Custer State Park; Custer, SD
The same held true for Custer State Park (map), suggested by readers hipsterdoofus, Michael K, and Mike Lowe. Custer generated the animal jackpot covered in much more detail in Part 5. I received way more recommendations for the Black Hills than my schedule could possibly accommodate. My only regret was that I couldn’t spend a week-or-so in western South Dakota during my whirlwind journey through the Center of the Nation. It pained me to leave behind such an overwhelming concentration of attractions that so completely aligned with my interests.
Firehouse Brewing; Rapid City, SC
I know most of the 12MC audience doesn’t really care about this topic so feel free to jump further below. There weren’t a lot of breweries or brewpubs on our route with the exception of Denver. We flew in and out of Denver although we didn’t spend much time there, stopping just long enough to hit Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colorado on the way out of town. Much of the rest of the Northern Plains were devoid of breweries just as they were devoid of people. I didn’t sense it was cultural resistance because I found plenty of craft beers on tap at local restaurants. Rather I thought it might have been related to population. Breweries needed local audiences and those were rather scarce in these wide, empty space.
I found a nice brewery cluster in the Black Hills. The area benefited from seasonal tourist crowds and a fairly sizable city nearby. One might not consider Rapid City, population about 70,000, as all that large. However it was a megalopolis way out there in the empty spaces with nothing rivaling its size for literally hundreds of miles in any direction. We were able to visit Firehouse Brewing, a brewpub in downtown Rapid City (map), as well as three breweries; Miner Brewing and Sick-N-Twisted in Hill City, and Crow Peak in Spearfish.
Adding five new breweries to my visit list wasn’t so bad, all things considered.
Hibachi House; Bowman, ND
I guess I’ll mention one more oddity. Awhile ago I stated that Chinese restaurants seemed to open in the most unusual out-of-the-way places imaginable. My fascination never evolved past that point. I’d never actually dined at one of those seemingly misplaced establishments. Until now.
The Mainly Marathons group arranged a casual dinner each evening before its races. Participants were free to attend when feeling sociable or physically able, and I guess we made about half of them. One took place at Hibachi House in Bowman, North Dakota. I supposed by the name that it might be more Japanese than Chinese. However the menu skewed much closer to Chinese in the typical "Americanized" manner (think General Tso’s chicken, Beef & Broccoli and such). It certainly fit the bill after a long day of running and driving, so no complaints and I could now check the box on another activity on the long 12MC list.
Bowman County recorded 3,151 residents in the 2010 U.S. Census. Of those, 0.03% self-identified as Asian. That worked out to about ten people. I believed it was likely that the entire Asian population of Bowman County consisted of people affiliated with the restaurant.
Center of the Nation articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
There weren’t a lot of people on the Northern Plains and their settlements appeared only sporadically. Out there amongst the expansive void a place of a thousand residents would be called a city and drivers might not see another one for an hour. I wondered, where did people even buy their groceries? That didn’t mean the space was lacking in interests. The terrain, so alien from my normal experiences became the prime attraction.
I treated Mt. Rushmore (map) as a do-over. Me and some friends rented a recreational vehicle and drove around the United States visiting many of its famous national parks long ago in 1992. I recounted a small portion of that journey in Crossing of South Dakota on Interstate 90 on my travel pages. It included a stop at Mt. Rushmore where I recalled feeling underwhelmed. The massive sculpture seemed so small and distant, a disappointment. And couldn’t they have cleared the debris pile? Would I still feel this way, an older and hopefully slightly wiser version of myself almost a quarter century later?
At least I brought a better camera. This was the best we could manage with a cheap Kodak Instamatic point-and-shoot film camera during the pre-digital days of my previous effort:
My Earlier Visit to Mt. Rushmore in 1992
I’d downplayed the experience so much that I created low expectations for my wife who’d never seen the sculpture. She felt we had to go there despite my minimal enthusiasm because she couldn’t conceive of driving directly through the Black Hills without stopping at Mt. Rushmore. It was one of those sites, she noted, that all Americans needed to experience at least once in their lifetimes. I grumbled a bit and muttered that she might be disappointed although I didn’t disagree with her logic. We drove up to the park, still mobbed with tourists even after Labor Day, and walked towards the viewing deck as we pushed past disgorging busloads. I didn’t have anything better to do I figured, while I tried to clear away my earlier impressions. Yes, it was better than my past experience although the entire notion of defacing a mountain in the middle of nowhere still seemed weird. My wife thought it was incredible, I’m guessing because the genuine version eclipsed the negative vibe I’d so carefully crafted ahead of time.
Several loyal Twelve Mile Circle readers suggested that I should visit the Crazy Horse Memorial (map), just a short hop from Rushmore. Sure, why not. People seemed to enjoy carving outcrops with giant sculptures in the Black Hills. I might as well take a peek at their handiwork.
Crazy Horse’s emerging presence on Thunderhead Mountain served as a fitting counterweight to the image of US presidents appearing on Mt. Rushmore. It represented the point of view of the original inhabitants, the Oglala Lakota of the Great Sioux Nation. Many of them resented everything Mt. Rushmore presented, the defiling of a sacred mountain with gigantic sculptures of their oppressors. The insult couldn’t be removed although they could commission an even bigger and better sculpture of their war leader Crazy Horse (~1840-1877) who resisted territorial encroachment and died battling US troops. It was more sensible than carving an oversized middle finger although I wouldn’t blamed them if they’d done that instead.
Work began in 1948. Much remains undone. The current sculptors dedicated Crazy Horse’s face in 1998 and moved on to the horse. When finished, Crazy Horse will sit atop his steed with arm pointed forward. The sculpture will stand 563 feet (172 m) high and 641 feet (195 m) wide, possibly the largest in the world. They have not accepted any Federal funding in order to maintain independence. The project continues to move slowly as money allows. Crazy Horse won’t emerge completely during our lifetimes and maybe not even in the lifetimes of our children at the current pace.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
I mentioned earlier that I took a detour to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (map) mostly as a pretext to capture a couple of extra counties I’d never visited before. What a lucky decision. The park was practically empty, an otherworldly corner of North Dakota’s badlands. We hit the southern unit based in the town of Medora. I didn’t have much to say about Medora because it seemed like they rolled-up the sidewalks after Labor Day. I had a tough time even finding a sandwich for lunch. The place looked nice enough in a faux old-timey "western" kind of way although it resembled a ghost town in mid-September.
We drove into the park and took the 36-mile (58km) Scenic Loop Drive. A word of caution, when signs posted a 25 mph speed limit they meant every word of it even along the completely empty back section. Thank you Mr. Park Ranger for, ahem, letting me off with a verbal warning when I truly deserved a ticket. Much obliged.
The loop offered several scenic overlooks, some right by the road and others needing short simple hikes. My favorite was called the Wild Canyon Trail and it led to a bluff high above the Little Missouri River. The park was noted for its wildlife although we didn’t experience much of that other than a few prairie dogs and a small herd of wild horses. We didn’t see the famed bison although several hundred roamed freely there. It became a running joke for much of the rest of the trip until days later when our luck improved in the Black Hills. Instead we were left with the incredible scenery which more than held its own ground.
See! Pixilated Bison!
Ironically, as I leafed through photographs upon our return, I noticed a few black dots and zoomed way in. They were bison. The bison were always present during our visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and ready to be discovered if we’d only looked a little harder.
This was my second trip to Devils Tower (map), seen previously on that same epic journey as my original visit to Mt. Rushmore. In contrast I recalled being awed by Devils Tower, a thousand foot (300 m) remnant of an ancient volcanic plug. Once again I walked around its base, neck craned skyward in appreciation of the spectacle and searching for climbers working their way to the top. We didn’t stay overnight so I couldn’t confirm if the campground still screened "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" every evening or not. I bet they did.
Most of the terrain lacked the dramatic flair of badlands, mountains and extinct volcanoes. There was a vast emptiness all the way to the horizon, hour after hour. I never got bored. The loneliness fascinated me. Once I drove a hundred miles (160 km) from the Montana border (map) to the town of Baker mid-afternoon with perfect weather. I never saw another car in my lane ahead of me or behind me the entire time. Maybe a half dozen cars drove past in the opposite direction. That was some serious Big Sky.
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr