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Prairie schooners rolling through Wessington Springs once again

Covered wagons and trail riders assemble for a ride to Turtle Peak, near Wessington Springs, during the Kyle Evans Memorial Wagon Train. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Sall)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS — More than 200 people will make this year's journey through the prairie, honoring the life of country recording artist and cowboy Kyle Evans during the eighth annual wagon train event held in his memory. The event starts on Friday and ends Saturday.

Evans, a South Dakota Hall of Fame inductee, worked and lived in Wessington Springs, where he produced some of his 18 studio albums at his recording studio, Company Cowboy Productions. The South Dakota Centennial Committee voted Evans South Dakota Centennial Troubadour in 1989. In 2001, Evans died in a motorcycle crash, when his bike hit a deer.

Since 2011, the founders of the Kyle Evans Memorial Wagon Train have been paying tribute to the local singer by trekking through the prairies in traditional horse drawn wagons called prairie schooners.

The covered wagons were known under that name because the white canvas reminded the settlers and pioneers of sailing ships. Historically, these wagons were pulled by 10 to 12 horses or six yoked oxen.

About 30 wagon teams and 60 to 70 riders have registered for the event. The participants will meet at the John Christensen sale barn outside of Wessington Springs and start their journey south, where some of them will camp out on a hayfield close to the Alex Anson and Amy Christensen ranch. Others will retire for the night in their RVs and campers.

On Saturday, the Prairie Schooners and horseback riders will convoy into Wessington Springs, parading past the Avera Weskota Manor and arriving downtown at approximately 3 p.m., depending on the weather and trail conditions.

"We always route the wagons to go by the local nursing home and the people there get a kick out of that," said event organizer Elton Kaus. "We also coordinate with the Foothills Bull Bash to increase attendance for both events."

The train will continue on to the Foothills Rodeo grounds where multiple activities, like a special quick-draw shooters competition at 4:30 p.m., will be offered. The bull bash starts at 6:30 p.m.

The events have steadily grown in popularity and the proceeds of this event will be directed towards a common goal.

"We would really like to open up a western heritage museum in Wessington Springs one day," Mike Fastnacht, president of the nonprofit group, said.

The fee for the Kyle Evans Wagon Train is $30 and anyone on horseback or with a wagon train team is invited to participate.