WILTZ: There is a book I want you to readIf you think you’ve fallen on hard times, there’s a book I want you to read.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
If you think you’ve fallen on hard times, there’s a book I want you to read.
I’ve just completed reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. Even though the book is depressing, it is difficult to put down.
The story deals with a lust for wealth that led the farmers of North Texas, Northwest Arkansas, Northern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Eastern Colorado, and Southern Nebraska to plow up every last acre of prairie grass in order to plant precious wheat. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the price of wheat fell with it. Banks closed, leaving patrons penniless, because they lost their assets by investing in the stock market.
It quit raining, and the incessant winds gave birth to “The Dirty Thirties.”
The folks who stayed on the land were tough. High winds created dusters that made their days dark as night. They taped windows and doors from the inside. Hanging wet sheets and blankets over doors and windows didn’t stop the dust.
The children and the elderly were the first to succumb to dust pneumonia. They spit up mud and broke ribs while heaving in a futile effort to breathe.
Dust drifts blocked roads as well as doorways. Homes were infested with tarantulas and black widow spiders. Rabbits took over the land.
In one square mile, men, women, and children armed only with clubs killed five thousand rabbits. Static electricity burned gardens and electrocuted rabbits. It also knocked men over before they learned not to shake hands. Vehicles towed chains to prevent their engines from shorting out.
Starvation also took its toll. Those with a cow and some wheat in the barn lasted longest. They made a porridge that was served with rabbit quarters. Someone discovered that cattle would eat ground tumbleweed mixed with salt. These same enterprising survivors successfully canned Russian thistles as well as yucca roots and rabbits.
It appears that our government came very close to abandoning the high plains and leaving the center of our country a desert. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became our president. He wasted no time in federally insuring banks and placing agriculture under federal control. By the mid-thirties, government agents talked of contour farming practices and planting shelter belts.
I hope I’ve made you want to read this book. It will answer questions you’ve always had about the Great Depression.
In case you missed the explanation for my personal “Tale of Two Cities” existence a few years ago, I’ll enlighten you. About four years ago, my wife Betsy told me she wanted to move to Mount Horeb, Wis., where two of our three daughters and their families live.
I wanted her to be happy, but I also wanted to remain a South Dakotan.
After much deliberation, I threw out a compromise offer with the following provisions: We remain South Dakotans. We sell our beautiful Wagner home, buy a small, but adequate, Wagner home, and use the difference as money down on a Mount Horeb home.
Today, we spend a little over half our time in Wagner. Mid-September to mid-December must be spent in South Dakota along with mid-April through June. She and the kids happily accepted my offer, and today we remain South Dakotans.
While it’s obvious that I included much of the hunting season as well as the best of fishing in my negotiations, I’m missing some of the awesome angling that has continued through the summer. That includes incredible bank fishing beneath the dam at Pickstown, in spite of the devastating flood.
Because I’ve lost some of my South Dakota time, I’ve come to realize just how strong my attachment to South Dakota is. In spite of great out-of-state adventures, I’ve often pondered whether or not there was life outside South Dakota for the hunter/fisherman. There is, and some of it lies in Wisconsin.
I’ve actually enjoyed chasing bluegills, crappies and perch. Isn’t it interesting that man will work just as hard to catch small fish or bag small game as he will chasing great white sharks or cape buffalo? I’m amused by great African hunters chasing diminutive, jackrabbit-sized duikers. Apparently, it’s all relative.
Lake Mendota lies within the city limits of Madison, Wis., where Wisconsin’s domed capitol building lies on its banks. Mendota offers smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike and a few muskies. But for these fish, slot limits make it a catch-and-release operation for the most part.
There is also a healthy white bass population. However, as a fishery, Mendota may be most noted for its oversized bluegills.
Typically, a trip to Mendota begins with some trolling for white bass. A metal plug called a Cicada is lethal on Mendota white bass, and I’m anxious to see how Cicadas work on South Dakota white bass, especially in Lewis and Clark.
After everyone enjoys some success, we anchor tight against a weed bed in 8 feet, 9 inches of water. Then, we rig up some slip bobbers, a small hook and sinker and a worm. We don’t catch a lot of the monster bluegills, but when we do, it’s going to be at least 10 inches long, and just about as wide as it is long. Outdoor writers like to call these “slabs.”
Betsy and I are headed to Kansas City to visit our daughter Laurie and her family. All of us will then head to their second home on Lake of the Ozarks, where I’ll hopefully try some fishing. Rather than just driving to Kansas City, we are going to make an adventure of it by taking in The Bridges of Madison County on the way down and then watching the Iowa Cubs play in Des Moines, Iowa, on the return trip. If any of this is noteworthy, you’ll hear about it next week.