The student news site of Wayne State College

The Wayne Stater

The student news site of Wayne State College

The Wayne Stater

The student news site of Wayne State College

The Wayne Stater


Best Overheard of the Week (01/19/2022)

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One hundred years ago, John G. Neihardt, the poet laureate of Nebraska in perpetuity and a Wayne State alum, challenged WSC students in 2023 to go to the monument he created for trapper Hugh Glass at the forks of the Grand River in South Dakota.  

Neihardt wanted current day students to re-enact the ceremony the WSC Neihardt Club created to remember the legacy of Glass. On June 9-10, Dr. Joseph Weixelman led a party of seven Wayne State students to Shadehill Reservoir in northwest South Dakota to do just that. They built a fire, read passages from Neihardt’s poem, The Song of Hugh Glass, and sealed a time capsule to be opened in the summer of 2123. 

Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who joined the ranks of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, was on the expedition that fought a brief war against the Arikara tribe who had controlled the fur trade of the Upper Missouri until the company made inroads into the region. The 1823 battle forced the expedition to change course and ascend the Grand River rather than the Missouri.  

As a result, somewhere around the forks of the Grand, Glass went hunting and stumbled upon a grizzly bear. The bear attacked him, severely lacerated his body, and almost killed him. Commander William Ashley spent several days trying to nurse Glass back to health, but ultimately offered a reward for two trappers to stay with Glass until he was buried.  

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According to legend, John Fitzgerald, one of the trappers who stepped forward, convinced the other, Jim Bridger, not to wait that long so they took Glass’s gun and knife and left him to die. But Glass did not die. Instead, he crawled 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, then sought vengeance on Bridger and Fitzgerald. If you have seen the movie The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio (2015), you know the basic story. 

Neihardt was personally mentored in history and literature by James Pile, the founder of Nebraska Normal College (the forerunner to Wayne State College). Neihardt published his first book of poetry, The Divine Enchantment, when he was just nineteen. In 1910, he took a canoe on a 2,000-mile journey down the Missouri and narrated his adventure in The River and I, which brought further distinction. However, it was The Song of Hugh Glass, first published in 1915, that brought him notoriety.  

The poem describes Glass being wounded in the battle with the Arikara and imagines a friendship bonding “Jamie” (Jim Bridger) to Hugh after Hugh rescued him in the fight. When the expedition ascends the Grand River, he describes Glass going out to hunt, Jamie searching for him and stumbling upon the bear that brought Hugh down. He then described the betrayal, the long crawl, and Hugh’s search for vengeance.  

When Hugh finally confronts Jamie, he is deathly ill, and in a touching scene, Neihardt describes Hugh forgiving Jamie for deserting him, saying: 

The old man found the dear lad blind and sick 

And both forgave—‘twas easy to forgive— 

For oh we have so short a time to live 

Neihardt followed this poem in 1919 with The Song of Three Friends, a poem about three other fur trappers from the Rocky Mountain Company and their competition for the love of an Indian maiden. It was largely because of these poems about the frontier that the Nebraska legislature voted him poet laureate in perpetuity in 1927.  

These poems became part of his masterpiece, The Cycle of the West, consisting of five “songs,” or epic poems of a hundred-plus pages each. They earned Neihardt the designation as the “American Homer.” 

Neihardt Clubs formed around the country, but it was the one on the Nebraska State Teachers College campus (Nebraska Normal College became the Teacher’s College in 1910) that was closest to Neihardt’s heart. Thus, in 1923, for the centennial of the bear’s attack, Neihardt took the club to the forks of the Grand River to erect a monument to Hugh Glass and dedicate it with an elaborate ceremony. They borrowed Model T’s and drove along the fence lines to the Grand River where a local rancher gave Neihardt a small piece of his land on the hillside for the monument.  

The rancher also lent the party a homemade cement mixer to construct their monument. They affixed a plaque to the front and in Neihardt’s words, placed a time capsule “in the bosom of the monument” to be opened in 2023. Then they held a special dedication ceremony. According to Neihardt, in an article he wrote for The Goldenrod (the name of The Wayne Stater in the 1920s) on July 30, 1923, they started a fire with nothing more than flint and steel, then read pages 83 to 84, 87 to 88, and page 90 from his poem, The Song of Hugh Glass 

They also read from other poems and concluded with a mountain man yell. It must have been near sunset, for it was noted that as the reading ended, a coyote was heard from a nearby “darkened canyon” and they turned on their cars’ “fickle headlights” to return. In his article for the paper, Neihardt challenged students attending the college a hundred years later to repeat the ceremony in remembrance of Glass. 

Thus, this past June, Dr. Weixelman led seven students from Wayne State College back to the monument, which by then had been moved to the shore of Shadehill Reservoir. (The reservoir built in 1951 inundated the forks). The students visited the Grand River Museum to see the famous sculpture of Hugh Glass and the bear by sculptor John Lopez, who explained his work to them.  

The students next went to the state monument that was built near Neihardt’s monument before it was moved. There, they sealed a new time capsule to be opened in 2123 and re-created a 1923 photograph of the dedication party, complete with three vans where three Model Ts stood in the original photo.  

At sunset, John Vuchetich, a senior at Wayne State College, skillfully started a fire with nothing but flint and steel. Then he and fellow Wayne State senior, Michael Rerucha, along with Andrew Halsey, a graduate student who teaches at Winnebago, read the same pages from The Song of Hugh Glass as the others listened.  

When it was through, they gave a mountain man yell and told ghost stories into the night while feasting on ‘smores. However, they could not open Neihardt’s time capsule as it could not be found. It is suspected to lie inside the monument and to find it the monument will have to be damaged. The state of South Dakota determined that Neihardt’s heirs own the monument, and they may attempt to find the capsule this fall. 

Now, continuing the tradition established by Neihardt in 1923, we are challenging students at Wayne State College to re-enact Neihardt’s ceremony once again in 2123, as we did in 2023. After doing so, they will be entitled to open the time capsule and examine the letters and artifacts from the early 21st century that are enclosed therein.  

The ceremony should be performed at the Neihardt monument to Hugh Glass in the Shadehill Reservoir campground. If it has been moved, they can perform the ceremony at the state monument to Hugh Glass, or at another site central to his memory. The ceremony should consist of the following: 

1) During the day, the 1923 photograph of the monument dedication should once again be re-created using whatever vehicles are common to the 22nd century. 

2) Assorted Rocky Mountain Rendezvous games and contests should be played as we did while waiting for sunset (knife throwing, bear tag, and skinning food are all possibilities). 

3) Shortly before sunset, a fire should be lit using only flint and steel. 

4) After the fire is burning well, pages 83 to 84, 87 to 88, and page 90 from John G. Neihardt’s poem, The Song of Hugh Glass, should be read. After this, other poetry can be read befitting the occasion. 

5) A mountain man yell should be given as loud as possible (and participants may hear the coyotes respond). 

Afterwards, the students are welcome to open the 2023 Hugh Glass Time Capsule and disperse its contents to the appropriate recipients in the 22nd century (historians, students, archivists, etc.) and place their own time capsule in its place to be opened August 23, 2223! 

The time capsule now resides in the Grand River Museum in Lemmon, South Dakota, the town nearest Shadehill Reservoir. It was placed there last week during the Hugh Glass Rendezvous held every summer over the last eight years the week before Labor Day.  

Dr. Weixelman created a museum display that was set up beside Lopez’s Hugh Glass sculpture. He handed the time capsule to Stewart Schmidt, the museum’s president, during the re-dedication of the state monument to Hugh Glass. Schmidt then placed the capsule in the display where it will sit for the next hundred years when Wayne State students will again return to the forks of the Grand River to remember the courage of Hugh Glass, the creativity of John Neihardt, and Wayne State’s role in preserving their memories. 

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