Earlier this month we had the privilege of hanging out at the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation. A friend who really knows the place (you know who you are), has family and friends there, and very kindly took us on a historical tour, stopping by the mass grave at Wounded Knee, swinging us by a cultural center, a college. From there Dixie and I visited the museum at the Crazy Horse Memorial, swung by Mount Rushmore, then on to the first National Monument of the Untied States, Devil’s Tower, or, as the Natives Americans call it, Bear Lodge. In respect to them, mountain climbers are forbidden from climbing the stunning rock monolith in June. During this time, tribal members from all over gather there. It was beautiful to see.
Then we toured an old Gold Rush town, via the local trolley: Deadwood, South Dakota. It was all cowboy hats and rodeos. Tourists could, and did, shop for western wear, western potholders and magnets, and drink at old-timey saloons. During our short time there we visited Calamity Jane’s gravesite. (Had to pay our respects to that wild woman!) But our time there was definitely colored by something we’d learned at Pine Ridge. All of the Black Hills, including Deadwood, were originally reservation land—until gold was discovered. Then, our government broke the treaty and took it away.
Okay. So now we’re following the Oregon Trail. We watched a forty-minute documentary in the visitor center at Massacre Rock State Park in Idaho. If you’re unfamiliar with the trail, it’s a 2,170-mile historic large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail that connects the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. It took people six months, traveling on foot beside their ox-drawn wagons, to make the journey. Six months! They forged rivers, scaled mountains, were attacked my mosquitos, wolves, Indians (That’s how Massacre Rock got it’s name), blazing hot and bitter cold weather. One in ten died. One in ten. Yet they came, in droves, one wagon train after the next after the next, some half-a-million people putting their faith in an unknown future that could cost them their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.
It’s got me thinking about what people are willing to do to secure a better life for themselves. Got me thinking about all the immigration talk going on in our country. Got me thinking about the risks people are willing to take to be a part of the American Dream: people putting their trust in coyotes who load them into windowless vans, sometimes leaving them there to die; people risking drowning and shark attacks on rickety rafts; people spending years in refugee camps—and on and on… If you’re paying attention, you know all this.
But here’s what I think, if people are desperate enough, ambitious enough, they’re going to come—or die trying. There’s really no stopping them, and a wall sure is hell isn’t going to keep them out. So what’s to be done? If everyone who wanted to come here came here, all the resources would get used up pretty quickly. And then what? Where to next? (This is why I’m not a politician. I haven’t a clue how to deal with this.) But aren’t we condemning those who have the very same pioneer spirit that we exalt in our forefathers? Those who were willing to risk it all for a chance at a new life?
This is not a new thought, I know, but traveling along this Oregon Trail is really driving it home. Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts on this. Even if you think The Wall is a good idea. Speak your truth. I’m listening.
And remember, live the love. It’s all we’ve got.
Oh yeah, and my latest novel, Perfect Little Worlds, was just released with Bold Strokes Books. Hope you’ll check it out.