So many of the settlements out in this part of the world had once been but outposts, forts built of sticks and stones, and stopping points with muddy water on a trail for Westward Ho and the Birth Of The Nation. Most of these settlements perhaps were made by mistake, the wandering of a few cattle. Most perhaps were not meant to last and were considered refugee camps for travelers rather than new and eternal cities. The movement to claim as much of the land during the Age of European Empires pushed on, like a slow moving riot, and those places with to stop and rest, grew up a few tents filled with provisions, perhaps from wagons that broke down. Then came those who built shelters for the dry goods. Then a fort to protect the money and transactions. Then a Post Office to communicate with the world. Then a city was born.
At once point Sioux City was just a campsite for the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804. Later the city was not more than a fort back when the new comers angered the locals who attempted to murder them before being murdered by them. This must have been such an outpost for so long after the 1804 Expedition of Discovery. Perhaps again it fade into the grown, fall into the river, and again be a campsite for future explorers.
At one point Springfield OH was the setting off point into the wilderness and perhaps then there was not much more out here than a few canons and an assembly of lonely souls.
In time that changed. The west as won and the railroad brought more people and allowed more riches to be extracted. Then the highways came bringing more people. Then airports were built or expanded and people showed up from strange places the world had forgotten. Somilia, Yemen, Burkino Fasso. With them they bring their own tribal animosities and haughty disdain for the locals as once was imported to the region from the Old World and projected on the then locals.
The last century saw expansion and increased opportunity for many. This was the time of corn palaces, expositions, and fairs. It seems strange to think that there was such positivism being rampant. It is documented that there was indeed horror, privation, and struggle by the newcomers who starved, froze, and died of the diseases both social and pathogenic they had brought with them from the Old World or even from Back East. This sense of opportunity is reflected in the civic buildings still extant as it is in the houses, at least those able to rise above shack, of which there still stand many houses that ualify as not more than a shack. This was the world of rugged individuals and tight knit communities. This individualism appears more humble than the bravado of Texas, harder working than the get-rich-quick of California, and certainly less religiously peculiar than Utah. Perhaps it is the Germanic influence since they appear to work together. Again, unlike Texas (sorry, you’re too big not to pick on), the roads make sense, the communities are not walled off, and the chit-chat at the bar went beyond any common pleasantries and turned into actual conversations. Nevertheless, it is not a secret that the residents of the Sioux City area pride themselves on individuality and “values,” the sort of values I guess much the rest of the nation does not, cannot, or refuses to possess.
Which is strange for the situation they seem to be in today in Siouxland. Today the positivism and unity does not appear so much. Less so the individualism. There is an apparent lack of industry in many of these quarters. Not just the old factories of the century before, but several that appear from late in the last century are shuttered or being removed by time or by small machines. Shattered pasts and former activities of those old settlers and those early agro-industrialists who struck it rich little the landscape and cluster in the downtown. Entire neighborhoods have had their private homes replaced with shoddy apartments, Amerika’s answer to the Khrushchev Crackerboxes. Private small-sale businesses have been replaced by the Familydollartreestore and Kwalmart. Collective enterprises no more connected to the local fabric of the community than was the British West Indies Company, Hudson Bay, or any SOVIET endeavor. For all the individualism, there seems a loss of private enterprise – I guess the wild west once one, can only be consolidated.
In other sections of the landscape there is too much industry. Piles of cement being fed into machines I can only assume to produce dust clouds. Sections of tracks crisscross the land carrying strange and silent cargoes hauled deep into the night and to other such depots across the nation. We hear from the comforts of our homes about Heavy Industry, but to see it. That’s another thing…. however, it builds those tanks under our BBQ and fills them with fuel.
At the casino I talked to two gentlemen from Oklahoma. Mostly they talked up the bartender, a young lady who spoke of her kid, her divorce, and a date who got fresh with her at the Floyd Needle. They worked in foundry work. One did injection sanitary inspections the other worked with creating molds. This was not pencil and paper work. While there was some of that, too, it was hard work of actually getting inside systems, taking things apart, putting them together and watching as hot molten materials were turned into whatever they were turned in to. They worked for a large company based in wherever.
Of course there is a casino in the center of the city now. Many failed states and cities and city-states have turned to gambling as a way to boost revenue. Or crime. Or both. For a Tuesday the place had more life than I saw in the rest of the city. It as the same life of any casino. One lungers, red-faced winners, sallow-faced losers, the smokers, the drinkers, the rest.
Outside of town, huge machines lumber across the landscape. It is the corn harvest. I was told that fewer acres than ever are in private hands as more farmers are pushed out and bough up by corporations. The story is that this kids don’t want to farm. That is the story we are told. Just close to the city are large tracts still under cultivation. Tractors seem to grow ever larger, ever meaner looking. Where once there were horses and villages in the field for the harvest there were a few alien craft, all lights and spewing dust and chafe and smoke. Each machine may be costing the farmer a million dollars. More, with interest. These machines dwarf all else and seem more fit for some warfare than creating food (or corn syrup and ethanol).
In all my wanderings about Siouxland did not provide me with much more than impressions and certainly none of those have colluded to form any life-long-lessons, givebacks, or even a strong opinion or two. Perhaps that is the best lesson of all is that somewhere on those streets is the new individuality, the new frontier.