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August 17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

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Del, the Mall Rat

I spent four days in Minneapolis with my friends, Mark and Jayne, then got my truck ready for my trip back to Oregon and hit the road.  Before leaving Minneapolis, however, I had to stop by that sprawling temple of American consumerism known as the Mall of America, located in the suburb of Bloomington.  I don't enjoy shopping and I've never understood the mostly-female desire to shop.  Of course, women don't understand the male phobia about asking for directions, to which I can proudly claim, "Guilty As Charged."

 

Here's the ever-clever Randy Newman singing It's Money That Matters.

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Anyway, I wanted to see the Mall of America because, well, it's there.  The Mall was built about 10 years ago and for many years it was the largest shopping mall in the world.  I believe there's a mall in Canada now (in Edmonton or Calgary, I forget which) that now claims that dubious distinction.  Amazingly enough, the Mall of America itself has become a major travel destination and there are actually package tours that cater to shoppers which fly them to Minneapolis, bus them each morning to the Mall, then fly them back home after a few days of blissful shopping.  I find this type of behavior absolutely unbelievable, but then certain women -- and you know who you are -- have never understood why I refuse to ask anyone for directions.

 

To be honest, I'd been to the Mall of America once before.  Mark took me there when I visited Minneapolis in 1995 because we wanted to find Michael Fay, the snotty American teenager you might have read about who got caught spraying graffiti on some buildings in Singapore in the early 1990s.  As punishment, poor Mikey got caned on his backside by the Singapore authorities.  

 

From what I understand, writing graffiti in Singapore is really stupid because it's a very dogmatic country.  Singapore even outlaws chewing gum because people might step on a discarded Juicy Fruit.  Then there are the urine detectors installed in the Singapore elevators that sound a loud alarm if anyone should happen to pee while riding up to the 5th floor (I'm not kidding).  Anyway, after Michael Fay and his sorry behind returned to the U.S., Mark had read that he got a job at the Sam Goody's record store in the Mall of America, so Mark and I dropped by to say "hi" back in 1995.  Unfortunately, though, Michael wasn't working that day; he was probably writing graffiti in the parking garage... or maybe chewing some gum...  or possibly peeing in an elevator.

 

The Mall of America is arranged in a giant circle that covers 78 acres and has 520 stores on three and, in some places, four levels.  As if all the screaming stores weren't enough over-stimulation, there's a seven-acre theme park in the middle, the largest indoor theme park in the nation.  The theme park, Camp Snoopy I think it's called, has 26 rides including a roller-coaster and a water-flume, a 6,000-square-foot LegoLand play area, a two-story miniature golf course and giant balloons of Peanuts characters, including Snoopy (needless to say, my respect for Charles Schulz took a big hit).  Both fascinated and disgusted, I spent an hour walking completely around the mall, and in a daze from all this blatant capitalism, staggered my way to the exit.  

 

In a lot of ways, the Mall of America reminded me of Las Vegas:  there's lots of noise and excitement, there aren't any clocks so you can't tell what time it is, and it's primarily designed to separate visitors from their money.  My visit to the Mall was intriguing, but an hour in this place was about all that I could tolerate so, with my senses on "overload" and feeling extremely suffocated, I returned to the parking lot and drove off.  All without spending a penny.  And without peeing in an elevator.

 

    

Above left:  Getting my truck ready for my trip back to Oregon.  That's my 12" subwoofer on the floor, a DC-AC inverter in my cigarette lighter that I use to charge my laptop and camera batteries, and my MP3 receiver.  I mounted a 150-watt amplifier behind the seat and recently installed custom-fitted seat covers.

Above right:  My truck's padlocked strongbox, which I made out of 3/4" plywood.  This is where I keep my laptop, camera and other valuables locked up when I'm not carrying them.  I bolted the box to the bed so it can't be lifted out. 

 

       

Above left:  After leaving Mark and Jayne's house, my first stop was the famous (or infamous) Mall of America, the largest shopping mall in the U.S. and second-largest mall in the world.

Above center:   The Mall contains the largest indoor theme park in America with roller coasters, water rides, and a huge Snoopy balloon.  Good grief!

Above right:  I escaped the Mall after an hour and without spending a single penny.  A fascinating place, but get me outta here!

 

The Dakota Uprising

The weather was cool and rainy as I left the Mall of America that morning heading west.  My general destination was the small town of Windom in southwestern Minnesota because I knew that my grandfather (my mother's father) was born there in the 1890s.  I had never been to Windom and, honestly, didn't know much about my grandfather or his father or HIS father, all of whom lived in the Windom area in the 1890s and all of whom died many years before I was born, so I planned to do some research there.  

 

On my way to Windom, I stopped in the town of New Ulm, settled in 1854 by German immigrants -- I'm just guessing here, but they were probably from Ulm.  Anyway, New Ulm is also one of the oldest towns in southern Minnesota, and it's one of the few towns in the U.S. that was sacked by Indians during the Indian wars of the 1800s.  Back in the early 1860s, the Sioux Indians, or "Dakota" as they call themselves, were angry that the American government had failed to live up to their promises of an earlier treaty, which had forced them onto a reservation.  It's the same sad story that was repeated in every part of the American West during the 1800s, with the American government failing to fulfill its promises to the Indians.

 

By 1862, much of the U.S. Army had been sent east to fight in the Civil War.  Realizing this, the angry Dakota Indians staged an uprising, killing homesteaders throughout southern Minnesota, including many in New Ulm.  The town residents retreated to Mankato, abandoning New Ulm to the Dakota Indians who then proceeded to burn down most of it.  However, the settlers returned a few months later and rebuilt New Ulm into a beautiful city, which it remains today.

 

As a kid, I read about New Ulm and the Dakota Uprising in the book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" which captivated me, and I'd wanted to see this town ever since.  As I discovered, it's really a quaint town and has a lot of charming, old buildings.  After spending an hour visiting the New Ulm museum, I headed to a nearby State Park along the Cottonwood River where I camped that night and, in honor of the German settlers, cooked up some bratwurst for dinner.  But then I do that every night.

   

   1-6354_Little_Crow.jpg (39076 bytes)   

Above left:  After surviving the Mall of America, I headed south.  This is a bank in St. Peter, Minnesota that apparently also serves pizza (and "chickin" wings).

Above center:   Little Crow was the Sioux warrior who led the Dakota Uprising of 1862 in southern Minnesota.  The uprising was in retaliation for the U.S. Government's failure to abide by a treaty, which had promised food distributions to the Sioux.

Above right:  During the Dakota Uprising, the Sioux sacked the town of New Ulm, Minnesota.  New Ulm recovered, though, and today is a prosperous and beautiful town.

 

The McCone "Soddies"

The next day was sunny and beautiful and I continued heading west across southern Minnesota, driving by countless fields of corn, alfalfa, and soybeans, all quite bucolic and exceptionally scenic.  Shortly after noon as I approached the small town of Sanborn, I pulled off the two-lane highway and drove a mile down a dirt road to visit some sod houses that, according to my AAA TourBook, had been built there recently. 

 

I'm pretty intrigued with sod houses because my mother once told me that her great-grandparents, who had emigrated from Norway and Germany to the U.S., lived in sod houses in Minnesota and South Dakota in the late 1800s.  I'd seen lots of pictures of sod houses but had never been inside one.

 

 

Above:  An old gas station in New Ulm with 15 cent-a-gallon gasoline.  Fill 'er up!

 

Following the signs, I pulled into the empty driveway of a farmhouse and a pleasant woman named Virginia McCone came out and introduced herself.  She had apparently been baking cinnamon buns because the sweet smell wafted out onto the porch as we talked.  A few minutes later, her genial husband, Stan, emerged from the house and I told them that I was heading to nearby Windom to see what I could learn about my great-great-grandparents who homesteaded near there in the 1800s.  (For information on homesteading, see my page on The 1862 Homestead Act).   

 

As I learned, Stan and Virginia McCone have farmed on this land for many years and are interested in preserving pioneer heritage so, needless to say, I felt an instant rapport with them.  Sort of like in the movie "Field of Dreams," Stan plowed under part of his cornfield a while ago and planted a tall-grass prairie with grasses that are almost entirely extinct now from Minnesota, thus recreating the landscape of a hundred years ago.  He also built several sod houses on his farm a few years ago, one of which is a cozy Bed-and-Breakfast with wooden floors and a wooden ceiling.

 

As I walked through the sod houses on the McCone farm, I learned a lot about "soddies," as they were called (not to be confused with Saudis, few of whom, I'm sure, ever homesteaded in Minnesota).  For instance, over a million sod houses once dotted the treeless plains of the Midwest during the late 1800s.  Most homesteaders in this area built sod houses because wood was expensive and scarce, which is hard to imagine today because of all the trees here.  However, there were a lot fewer trees back in those days because of the frequent prairie fires that swept through the area, which today, of course, are suppressed.  

 

To build a soddy, homesteaders cut three-foot long blocks of sod, then they stacked them on top of each other, placing them upside-down for better cohesion.  Based on most accounts that I've read, sod houses were fairly snug and comfortable, despite their dirt floors.  Indeed, the thick sod walls provided excellent insulation against the bitterly cold Midwestern winters.  The main problem with a soddy was that the roof tended to leak during heavy rainstorms and it was usually dark inside, since window glass was a rare commodity on the frontier.  Another problem was that foreign objects, such as clumps of dirt, strands of grass, or various kinds of insects, tended to drop from the ceiling and land on the occupants heads or onto their plates of lutefisk.  (For those of you non-Norwegians, you can read about this delicacy on my lutefisk page).  Sadly, virtually all the sod houses eventually melted back into the earth and today the only soddies standing are ones such as these that have been reconstructed. 

 

As I walked through the fascinating McCone sod houses, I envisioned my great-great-grandparents living in sod houses such as these while homesteading near here in the 1800s.  It'll be a while before I complain again about my microwave dinner taking five minutes to cook..

 

The McCone sod houses and tall-grass prairie were quite fascinating and I spent over an hour here.  If you want a real taste of the pioneer homesteading experience and want to better appreciate the modern conveniences that we all take for granted, drop by the McCone farm near Sanborn, Minnesota.  And don't forget your lutefisk.

 

       

Above left:   A lot of small towns in the Midwest have quaint, humorous celebrations, like Buttered Corn Day in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.  But it's August 16-19, so shouldn't it be Buttered Corn DAYS?

Above center:  Stan McCone recently built several sod houses on his farm here, near Sanborn, Minnesota.  They were featured a while ago on the History Channel.  I talked to Stan and his wife, Virginia.  They're both very nice folks and are interested in preserving the pioneering heritage.

Above right:  A little sod house on the prairie.

 

       

Above left:  This sod house on the McCone farm is also a Bed-and-Breakfast.  Stan has also restored the prairie here, planting native grasses on several acres.

Above center:   Inside the Bed-and-Breakfast sod house.  It had a large bed, wooden floors, a wooden ceiling, and it actually looks quite comfortable.

Above right:  The inside of another sod house on the McCone farm.  This one has been restored to how it might have looked in the 1800s.  My great-great-grandparents, recently arriving in this area from Germany in the 1870s, probably lived in one like this.

 

The Land at Eden's Gate

If you've been following my website, you know that one reason I decided to take this trip was to do some family research around America and to learn more about where I came from, something I'm doing not just for myself, of course, but for everyone in my family.  Up to this point, all of the ancestors that I've researched on this trip have been on my Dad's side and, more specifically, on my Dad's mother's side, including the Bradstreets and Chaplins in Massachusetts and the Myers' in Michigan (see My Dad's Ancestors: Map and Photo Essay).  It was now time to shift gears and start researching my mother's side of the family.

 

All of my mother's ancestors came to America from northern Europe in the late 1800s and homesteaded on the Great Plains (see My Mom's Ancestors:  Map and Photo Essay).  Her father's ancestors came from Germany and Norway in the 1870s and homesteaded near Windom, Minnesota, which is why I was here.  After leaving Windom, I was planning to drive to northeastern South Dakota, which is where her mother's ancestors, from Norway, homesteaded in the 1880s.  Both families moved to central North Dakota around 1900, where my grandfather met my grandmother.  

 

To my knowledge, I didn't have any relatives in either Minnesota or South Dakota, and perhaps none in North Dakota.  Unfortunately, my mother never talked that much about her family's history so this would be a real learning experience, not only for me but also for my siblings and their kids.  I wanted to document my mother's family history as best I could, not only for myself but, more importantly, for future generations.

 

I spent two days in the Windom, Minnesota area, mostly at the Cottonwood County Historical Society.  There, with the help of a couple of delightful ladies, Bethene and Erma, I discovered some old plat maps of this area showing where my great-great-grandfather, Henry Reinhard and his wife Carolina, homesteaded in the 1870s after emigrating from Hanover, Germany.  I also learned that my great-uncle, Gustav Reinhard, was known throughout Minnesota at one time as "Mr. Alfalfa" because of scientific research that he had done -- although I'm not sure if that's a nickname he was proud of.

 

After spending a couple days in Windom, I headed out to find my great-great-grandfather Henry's old farm, which was located just north of town.  I didn't know if there would be anything there or not, since he hadn't lived here for almost 100 years, but I wanted to see the homestead for myself.  Equipped with copies of the old plat maps, I drove down several dirt roads while passing endless fields of corn and beans and, after making a few U-turns, I finally found Henry's farm.  

 

The farm was deserted, although there were a few buildings there, some in pretty nice condition.  Amazingly enough, I discovered a barn that I knew Henry must have built, since I could read the date "1893" in large, white faded letters, which was when he lived there.  Of course, I never knew Henry (my great-great grandfather) or his son, Henry Jr. (my great-grandfather), or even HIS son, Edward (my grandfather), all of whom had died long before I was born, but it was a thrill nonetheless.  

 

As I walked around the empty barn, a couple of farmers about my age stopped by, having seen my truck parked there.  I introduced myself and explained that I was an ancestor of Henry Reinhard.  They seemed pretty interested in my story, introduced themselves as Mike and Roger, and we shook hands.  After a while, they opened up Henry's old barn and let me walk around inside.  As we talked, I discovered that Mike was a distant relative of mine, the only relative that I knew of in the state of Minnesota.  After about a half-hour, Mike invited me back to his farm and the three of us relaxed in his dining room and shared family stories, kind of like an impromptu family reunion.

 

I learned a lot about my ancestors that day, and about the kindness of Midwesterners.

 

The Trail Band is one of the best things to come out of Oregon since Henry Weinhard beer.  Here they are singing The Land at Eden's Gate, a tribute to the American pioneers of the 1800s.

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The Land at Eden's Gate (Lyrics)

There's a garden God is tending, where the fields are green and deep

With a harvest never-ending there, by waters cool and sweet

There a man can lay his burdens down, there a man can live in grace, oh,

I hope I see before I die, The Land at Eden's Gate.

 

Oh, the morning sky has broken, like the dawn at Eden's birth

And it lights the pine and meadowlark, and shines on God's great work

Oh, I'm leaving now and won't be back, won't you come with me this day, oh,

I hope I see before I die, The Land at Eden's Gate.

Oh, The Land at Eden's Gate.

 

May the children of your children, see the wild, rare primrose grow

Hear the gentle rain a-falling down, among these ancient groves

Oh, may angels watch it evermore, and protect its perfect state, oh

I pray they see before they die, The Land at Eden's Gate

I pray they see before they die, The Land at Eden's Gate.

 

 

       

Above left:  Cooking brats (bratwurst) on the prairie in southern Minnesota.

Above center:   County Courthouse in Windom, Minnesota.  Windom was where my great-grandfather, Henry C. Reinhard (Henry Jr.) and my great-grandmother, Petrina, got married in 1890.

Above right:  I spent two days here in the Cottonwood County Historical Society and learned that Henry's father, Henry Sr., homesteaded here in the 1870s.  Bethene and Erma, shown here, were a great help.

 

       

Above left:  After studying plat maps from the 1890s, I learned where Henry Sr.'s farm was and drove out to it.  This barn had the date "1893" painted on it, so I knew that Henry had built it since he lived here from 1879 until 1910, the year he died.

Above center:  The farmland on the right was where my great-grandmother, Petrina, had lived with her parents in the late 1800s.  The farm roads in the Midwest are laid out in a grid pattern and are spaced exactly one mile apart.  There aren't many landmarks around, so to navigate you've got to watch your odometer.

Above right:  After walking through the Westbrook Cemetery, I found the gravestone (in dark gray) of Henry Sr. and his wife, Carolina, who both died around 1910.  As I learned, Henry and Carolina were from Hanover, Germany. 

 

1890c_Henry_Carl_Reinhard.jpg (24675 bytes)    1890c_Petrina_Marie_Blege_Reinhard.jpg (27966 bytes)

Above left:  My great-grandfather, Henry Reinhard Jr., around the time of his marriage in Windom, Minnesota in 1890.  In 1907, Henry Jr. moved his family to Regan, North Dakota and homesteaded, then died in 1955 in Bismarck. My mother was always fond of her "Grandpa Henry."

Above right:  Henry's wife and my great-grandmother, Petrina Blege, with the hairstyle that was the fashion of the day (hopefully).  Petrina (or "Tena," as she called herself) had moved to the U.S. from Norway in the 1880s with her parents, Andreas and Pernelle Blege, and grew up a few miles from the Reinhard homestead, shown above.  Suffering from diabetes, Petrina was told in 1927 that her leg had to be amputated.  She refused, though, and died that year at age 61 in Regan, North Dakota.

 

 

Next News

August 18, 2001  (Watertown, South Dakota)

 

 

Previous News

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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