While my husband, Bob and I were in the Black Hills last week, we were having breakfast at the Hill City Cafe, when we overheard a waitress telling another table the story of how the Hill City High School came to have Smokey Bear as their mascot and be renamed the Hill City Rangers. I had no idea that anyone used Smokey Bear as their mascot, nor did I know that no other school was allowed to do so. That caught my interest, so we listened to the story, and then I had to research it further to get the whole story. And quite a story it is.
It all started around noon on July 10, 1939, with one of the worst forest fires in the history of the Black Hills. It was located just ten miles northwest of Hill City, and that’s too close for any wildfire to be to a city. Overnight, the fire burned through six of those ten miles, jumped the Mystic Road, the C.B. and Q. Railway, and was headed directly for Hill City. These are areas my husband, Bob and I have hiked, and hearing about the fire raging through them really hits home for me. The C.B. and Q Railway (Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad) was later abandoned and became the Mickelson Trail, which I have hiked from end to end, twice!! Not in one trip, but over about 10 years, one section at a time. The whole area is a place I love, and to think of it burning…well, it tears at my heart.
By noon on July 11, 1939, the fire was within three miles of town. That was when the wind changed and carried the fire further North and East. Still, Hill City and other towns were not safe, winds shift all the time, and the fire had to be stopped. The weather that year had been hot and very dry, unlike this year, plus a high wind repeatedly “crowned” the fire. The firefighters were in constant danger. They had already called in all of the Civilian Conservation Corps boys in the area, who had been immediately put on the fire, and now the forest rangers called for more help. You know that the situation is desperate, when they call for untrained volunteers. Shockingly, one of the first crews to respond was a group of 25 schoolboys from Hill City. These were high school kids…kids!! The crew of 25 included the entire basketball squad, one eighth grader, and several boys who had recently attended or graduated from the Hill City High School. Their foreman was Charles Hare, President of the Board of Education. This whole story of bravery and selflessness brings tears to my eyes and puts a lump in my throat.
The inferno raged throughout July 11th and into July 12th and utilized over four thousand firefighters, laboring together to bring the fire under control. The fire often isolated the crews, who went without food and water for a number of hours. Heat, smoke, and the danger of being trapped hampered the firefighters, but the blaze was brought under control on July 12th. The people of Hill City had spent many anxious hours watching the smoke and direction of the fire. Many had packed their belongings and were ready to move, but the order to abandon the town was never given. The schoolboys crew from Hill City was at the fire every day. The US Forest Service was so grateful to them that they were later recognized by officials as one of the best crews!! The McVey Fire burned over 20,000 acres.
To get back to the story the waitress was so proudly telling, “The name ‘Rangers’ was given to them in honor of their good record. Because of the work of these schoolboys back in 1939, Hill City Schools became the ONLY school district in the United States to have the privilege of using ‘Smokey Bear’ as its mascot. The school colors are Green and Gold which also represent the National Forest Service Theme, and Hill City is the ONLY school with the honorable privilege of having their graduation ceremonies held at Mount Rushmore. The staff, students and teams representing Hill City Schools hope to continue the traditions of the splendid group of men that our boys so ably assisted, The United States Forest Rangers.” It’s a proud tradition to own, and an awesome goal to reach for. I’m sure they will be able to achieve their goal, and as an annual “tourist” in the area, who loves the Black Hills, I want to thank all the brave firefighters in the Black Hills-Hill City area…past, present, and future (one of which was my niece, Lindsay Moore, for a summer) for all their hard work keeping the area safe, and mostly for their bravery.
Every year, my husband, Bob and I go to the Black Hills to go hiking and just to enjoy the area. It’s close to our home in Casper, Wyoming, and it just never gets old. Our favorite tourist site there is Mount Rushmore, and we try to stop in there every year. Mount Rushmore is such a special place, filled with patriotism and honor, but there are things I didn’t know about this, my favorite monument.
Gutzon Borglum was an amazing man. He designed and built Mount Rushmore between the years of 1927 and 1941. During the years of work, no one was ever killed, a credit to the safety measures put in place by Borglum. Originally the monument was planned as a tribute to the wild west, but Borglum had other ideas. Personally I like his ideas much better. A tribute to patriotism and honor is a much more fitting idea. The presidents Borglum chose were representative of specific aspects of history. His original plan was to carve the figures of these four men from head to waist, but with Borglum’s March 6, 1941 passing, came the beginning of the end of the monuments carving. Borglum’s son took over the carving, and at first it continued as normal, but the beginning of World War II greatly hampered things, and the monument was declared finished on October 31, 1941. Not only were the bodies of the presidents never finished, but Lincoln’s ear was also never finished. Somehow, Lincoln’s missing ear was something I never really noticed.
About 90% of the monument’s carving was done with dynamite. The dynamite stripped off the rough outer layers of stone, and then the minute details were finished by hand. In all, the workers blasted away more that 450,000 tons of rock. If you look below some of the viewing areas at the base of the mountain, you can still see the drill holes in the rock that was blasted away. It’s quite interesting to see how it was done. In all there were about 400 works who carved the mountain, being paid a modest wage of 45 to 75 cents an hour, for their extraordinary efforts. These days he probably couldn’t have hired any workers for that wage, but those were very different times. These men worked very hard doing grueling work and didn’t complain. I believe they could see the vision of their boss, and I think most were proud to be a part of such an amazing project. In many ways, I wish the project could have been finished. I think the final design would have been an amazing work of art. Nevertheless, I love the mountain monument, finished or not.
When a construction project begins, it usually takes a matter of a few months to complete. That is not how it works when carving a large sculpture, such as Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a batholith in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, United States. It was the vision of Doane Robinson, who thought that carving the faces of famous people in the Granite of the Black Hills region, would bring tourists to the region. Robinson’s vision has proven to be an amazing success. His original idea was to put the sculpture in the area of the Needles, but the chosen sculptor, Gutzon Borglum rejected the idea because of the poor quality of the granite, and strong opposition from the Native American Groups in the area. I’m glad it didn’t go in the needles area, because they have a beauty all their own, and it would have been a shame to change them.
They settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure, which makes the faces of our presidents stand out in an amazing way. Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, but Borglum decided the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents. Borglum created the sculpture’s design and oversaw the project’s execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum. When I think of the years it too to complete the sculpture, I wonder if it was what was expected, or just the way it came down. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents…George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). After securing federal funding through the enthusiastic sponsorship of “Mount Rushmore’s great political patron” US Senator Peter Norbeck, construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over as leader of the construction project. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist.
The memorial park covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level, and while the sculpture work officially ended on October 31, 1941, due to lack of funding and the very real possibility of a United States entrance into World War II. Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and it has appeared in works of fiction, as well as being discussed or depicted in other popular works. It has also been featured a number of movies. It attracts over two million visitors annually. It’s amazing to me that what started out to be a tourist attraction, quickly became a must see place for every patriotic American. My husband and I love to go to the Black Hills, and with the close proximity to our Casper, Wyoming home, we take a week every summer to go and enjoy the beauty and patriotism that now resides there.
Lots of people do it, but some people don’t. What…you might ask. The answer is to photograph the family whenever they cross the border into a new state, country, or sometimes even county. When my sisters and I were kids, our parents took us on vacation every year. We were quite blessed in that way, and have been to almost all the states, as well as Canada and Mexico, with some of us traveling even further away than that. All through those years, one of the big memories is the Border Crossings. I’m sure many people might think that sounds silly, but it was proof that was had been in that place. Anyone can say they have been to many places around the world, but if you have no pictures to prove it, how do people know that you aren’t just a braggart.
For me it is about owning that place, I suppose. It’s not that I purchased land in every place I’ve been, but rather that each place that have put my feet on the ground in has been permanently fixed in my memory files. I have those pictures and many others in my memory to remind me of the great trip we took to this or that place. I carry those pictures in my memory files, just like my Kindle carries the assorted books I have purchased in its memory files. The items stored there can be accessed at a moment’s notice. I can see the area, remember the sights we saw, remember who we were with, and the wonderful time we had there. Those memories are mine forever.
There are many kinds of border crossings, both good and bad, but the ones I choose to carry with me are the crossings from state to state as we wandered across this great nation. If you haven’t traveled much you just can’t understand how amazing this country is. There is beauty from coast to coast. So many people think that only their dream location has beauty, but that is so untrue. Every place on this Earth has some form of beauty. We must simply look for it. I feel so blessed to have been given the opportunity to see so many places, and discover the beauty in each one. Our parents wanted that for their girls. They were those people who would drive miles out of their way to see this or that historical site, and because of their willingness, and the fact that they considered each place important, my sisters and I can say that we have seen things like the Oregon Trail, old West Jailhouses, wagon ruts in rocks made by years of wheels going across them chipping away grain after grain of the rock, and canyons carved in rocks by rivers that have wandered through there for centuries. We have seen a crater formed by a meteor, a lake formed by an earthquake, and mountains formed by volcanoes. We have seen the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Great Lakes, and the Great Salt Lake. We have seen the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, and the World Trade Center. We have seen the faces of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Monument, ridden the 1880 Train, and some of us have hiked much of the Black Hills, including Harney Peak. We have seen the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Warf, and Alcatraz, as well as The Space Needle, many lighthouses, and countless beaches. So many places fill my memory files, and they all started with the first border crossing, as we left home on one of our wonderful family vacations.
So often when Bob and I are in the Black Hills, we are out hiking the many trails there. Because of that, I have begun to notice that when we are driving around in the Hills, I seem to always be looking for trails, and when I find one, I begin to wonder about it. Where does it go? How difficult is the hike? What would I see on the trail? Are there streams there to cross? Pretty much it’s the normal questions that come to my mind when I think if hiking. I guess it’s just the trails draw. I like thinking about what is just around the next turn on the path. It gives my imagination a chance to work overtime.
The Black Hills has so many trails, that I find myself always in search of a new trail. And finding one is always a possibility. I seriously doubt if we have hiked even half of the many trails that exist there. Nevertheless, we have hiked many of them, and I can tell you that when you are out in the trail hiking…well, there is just nothing like it in the world. You just can’t see many of those sights from the road, but rather from the road all you get is the trail’s draw, telling you to come and have a look. To come and find the peace and quiet that lives there…only on the trail.
As I think about it though, and since I have hiked Harney Peak, my favorite hike, many times, I would have to say that the trail that I find the most intriguing…and the one that will stay that way for some time to come…would have to be the hike up to the Hall of Records, behind the faces of Mount Rushmore. Since it takes obtaining Congressional approval…an act of Congress…to hike that one, I’m sure it will continue to remain a mystery to me, for a long time, if not the rest of my life. Every time I look at the faces of our presidents carved on Mount Rushmore, I find myself looking to the right, to a spot that could easily be missed if I didn’t know what it was. In many ways, I look at that spot longingly, because I know that up that hill are the stairs that lead to the top, to the secret spot behind the faces, where the Hall of Records has been carved into the granite face of the mountain top, hidden from public view, only to be seen by a very select few…and probably never me, because Congress would have no reason to approve my request. Nevertheless, the trail’s draw on me remains.
As kids, my sisters and I all had long hair. My dad always loved long hair, and never wanted any of us to cut it. Today, my sister, Cheryl and I are the only ones with hair that is very long. Neither of us can bear to cut it. I don’t know if it is because Dad always liked it, or if we just can’t imagine ourselves in shorter hair. Maybe it is a little of both. I think that people tend to like hair styles that are similar to what they grew up with, but not always, I suppose…after all my three younger sisters no longer have long hair. I suppose all little girls want to be beautiful, and our hair is a big part of that. Whether our hair is long or short, curly or straight, it is like a crowning glory to our look. We hate bad hair days, because we just don’t feel like we look our best. And of course, wind is the worst enemy a great hair style can have. You can’t put enough hairspray in your hair to fight of a windy day and the wind can make long hair stand straight up if you don’t hold it down.
I think my dad may have liked long hair in the beginning, because his sister, Laura always had long hair as a child. their mother was so proud of her daughter’s long curls, and she worked very hard on getting them just right for her. That kind of care can make a little boy, who is twelve years younger than his big sister, think that hair is very important…even if he doesn’t realize it. Curls have gone in and out of style, and these days women wear their long hair both ways. Cheryl likes her hair curled, but my hair has a tendency to get frizzy and tangle easily, so I straighten mine. I have natural curl, but it isn’t beautiful, with great curls, but rather an errant wave here and there. Ugh!! But Aunt Laura’s long curls were beautiful, and more in style today than people would expect. They reminded me of a long haired Shirley Temple look. You could tell that Aunt Laura liked her long hair too. She always had pretty bows in it as a child, and in the picture where she was showing off her curls, she seemed very proud of them, and her mom was really proud of it too.
Another funny thing about long hair is how it acts when you flip it out of your way. My grandson, Josh and I were putting up my Christmas tree on Saturday. As I bent over to get another ornament for the tree, my hair got in my way, so I flipped it out of the way. Josh started laughing. I asked what was so funny, and he told me that my hair had landed on the tree, and it was still there. It wasn’t the first time my hair had landed somewhere it didn’t belong. Bob and I were at Mount Rushmore on the 4th of July one year. It was very crowded. I flipped my hair back, and got this…feeling. I turned around to see the woman behind me touching her nose, and saying, “She hit me with her hair!” I was horrified. I immediately apologized, saying that sometimes I didn’t realize how far my hair reached. She was gracious, and the situation passed, but it was not forgotten…by me. Long hair can be beautiful, but it can also be a little hard to control sometimes. And that can be comical too.
Every year Bob and I take time to rejuvenate in the Black Hills. It’s almost like the Black Hills is in my blood. This doesn’t really surprise me so much in that my dad has always loved the Black Hills, even before they were the big tourist attraction they are today. And he would not be alone in that either. Many people have come to the Black Hills since the Gold Rush days. Many came to find their fortune, and many did find it, but many did not, but once they came and saw the beauty of the Black Hills, they either stayed or, like us, they come back often.
Dad found the Black Hills to be so picturesque, that even before some of the landmarks that we now know so well, were finished, he took pictures to remember the beauty of the area. He wanted to always remember that beautiful place. I know just how he felt back then, because it is exactly how I feel today. I come here every year, and yet I never run out of beautiful sights to photograph so that I will be able to remember them always. I think that is because no matter how many times I come here, I will never be able to see all the Black Hills has to offer.
When we were kids, the Black Hills was a place we loved to go, and although we didn’t get to go as often and Bob and I do, we did get to go. They wanted us to see the show of patriotism that lives in the Black Hills too. Every Time I go to Mount Rushmore, I find myself in thinking of the men who are portrayed there, as well as the ones who carved the mountain. It was and always will be totally awesome to me.
Dad has left us now for Heaven, but his echo still remains in the Black Hills. Every Time I come here, I can hear his voice pointing out his favorite places to his wife and daughters. And when Bob and I hike the trails that run through the hills, I can imagine what my dad would think of the places we have gone. To my knowledge, he never hiked in the Black Hills, but I know without a doubt that he would have loved the places we have gone on our hikes.
My dad loved pretty much everything that had to do with history. I suppose that is why we stopped at every historical marker or historical site we found. Dad wanted his kids and grandkids to know as much about our nation’s history is he could show us. He wanted us to know where this nation came from, how it progressed, and what it had accomplished…what our ancestors and the ancestors of others had accomplished. From the founding fathers who started this country, formed it ideals and its government, to the days of the horse and buggy when the pioneers began to head west, looking for their fortune and a place to put down roots. He loved the old west.
He showed us so many aspects of history, that we almost felt like we were there. I sometimes wondered how he could have possibly known so much about things from the past. Of course, now I know that some things were taught or passed down, and many things he read about. He simply absorbed the information. And he also had a flair for story telling, so he often made history seem like he had actually lived it. These are stories and places I will never forget, although I’m sure I didn’t completely appreciate all of it like I should have, but I guess most kids wouldn’t have.
My dad was very patriotic and loved his country. I suppose that is one reason he loved the Black Hills so much. There was so much history there, and so much information. Just spending a little time listening to one of the many speakers at Mount Rushmore, can open a bounty of information. To this day, I can’t go to Mount Rushmore without feeling a sense of awe. There is a need to show respect to the memory of those great presidents. Almost a need to be very quiet…or at the very least, whisper. Kind of a show of respect.
I think that must have been how Dad felt whe he visited Mount Rushmore in his younger years, because he took lots of pictures and kept them safe all those years. I think he knew it was a special place full of history, the kind of place he might want to show his family some day. The kind of place he might want to come back to and share with his kids. So we could learn from it the way he did.