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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog

The Pipestone Meat Cutters Cap

Linda wearing the Pipestone cap.
. . .
Folks tend to stare when I wear my black corduroy cap labeled PIPESTONE with the crossed butcher knife and sharpening tool on the front. Of course, the cap came with a story.

The occasion was one of the many readings I’ve done at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. The reading took place after 1991, because the poem that occasioned this story was first published in Land Circle that year, and in 1993 appeared in Dakota Bones, published by Dave Pichaske, who still teaches in Marshall.

The poem I read that evening was “Butchering the Crippled Heifer.” This is not an easy poem to read or to hear. I consider it an important poem because it raises difficult questions about meat-eating and expresses the ideas in graphic images. I love to read the poem because it is dramatic; several people who have commented on it mention its strong religious overtones. Still, before choosing to read it, I try to determine if I will have the kind of audience that will appreciate the poem’s complexities.

At the end of my reading for the evening, people gathered around me to comment and to have their books signed. I noticed the quiet man wearing the Pipestone cap, but I couldn’t make out the insignia. Finally he was able to approach and did so with his cap in his hand.

He really appreciated the poem, he said, because very few people, even or perhaps especially people who eat meat, understand what it’s like to kill a bovine and to butcher it. He believed that I understood and respected the process-- as he did, because he was a professional meat cutter, his skills represented by the symbols he pointed out on the cap: a butcher knife and a sharpening steel. And then he said that because I understood, he was naming me an honorary professional meat cutter-- and he gave me the cap.

I wore it the rest of the evening. Sometimes I wear it when I’m reading the poem, and tell the story with pride.

Here’s the poem.

Butchering the Crippled Heifer

First:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp aim the pistol at her ear. Stand close.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp She chews slowly, eyes closed. Fire.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp She drops. Kicks. Sighs.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Cut her throat and stand back.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Blood bubbles and steams.

Then:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp wrap chain around each ankle,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp spread the back legs with a singletree.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp The tractor growls, lifting;
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp the carcass sways.

Next:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp drive the knife point in,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp open the belly like tearing cloth,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp the blade just under the skin.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Cut around the empty udder.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Don't puncture the stomach.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Sheathe the knife and reach in.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Wrap your bare arms around the slick guts.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Press your face against warm flesh.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Find the ridge of backbone; tear the
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp membranes loose. Hold the anus shut;
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp pull hard until the great blue stomach bag
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp spills into the tub at your feet.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Jerk the windpipe loose with a sucking moan,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp her last sound.

Straighten.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Breathe blood-scent, clean digested grass.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Plunge one arm into the tub, cut loose the heart,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp and squeeze the last clots out; slice the liver
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp away from the green gall, put it all in cool water.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Eat fresh liver and onions for supper,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp baked heart tomorrow.

Finally:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Cut off the head and feet,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp haul them and the guts to the pasture:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp coyotes will feast tonight.

Then:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp pull the skin taut with one hand,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp slice the spider web of tissue with care.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Save the tail for soup.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Drape the hide on the fence.

Let her hang:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp sheet-wrapped, through three cool October days,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp while leaves yellow and
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp coyotes howl thanksgiving.

Cut her up:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp bring one quarter at a time to the kitchen table.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Toss bones into the big soup kettle
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp to simmer, the marrow sliding out. Chunk
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp scraps, pack them in canning jars.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Cut thick red steaks, wrap them in white paper,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp labeled for the freezer.

Make meat:
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp worship at a bloody altar, knives singing praises
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp for the heifer's health, for flesh she made
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp of hay pitched at forty below zero last winter.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp Your hands are red with her blood,
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp slick with her fat.

You know
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp where your next meal is coming from.


Copyright Linda M. Hasselstrom

# # #

For more information:

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
published by Fulcrum Publishing.
This poem may be found on pages 317-319 of the 1991 edition (cloth)
and on pages 356-358 of the 2008 Anniversary Edition (paper).

Land Circle is a featured book on this website. Click here to read all about the book.

Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
published 1993 by Spoon River Poetry Press (now Plains Press).
This poem may be found on pages 54-55.

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Balloon Races and General George Armstrong Custer

The Balloon Races in Custer, SD.
Taken in 1988.
. . .
Early in January, 2012, I attended a talk on the early balloon ascensions from the StratoBowl near Rapid City by Arley Fadness of Custer, who worked on balloon design with famous aeronaut Ed Yost. The ascension of 1935 was the beginning of the space age, but earlier experiments with balloons of various types had occurred all over the world.

I was surprised to learn that George Armstrong Custer, later a General, was involved in surveillance ballooning during the Civil War. The flamboyant Custer was said at the time to dress “like a circus performer gone mad.” His nickname was “Cinnamon” because he slicked back his long hair with a cinnamon-scented pomade. Assigned to balloon surveillance, he reportedly insisted on being accompanied by an experienced aeronaut and sat in the bottom of the gondola. Fadnes didn’t explain how he was able to spy out enemy movements from that position.

Custer’s connection with ballooning surprised and delighted me because a few years ago I wrote a poem about attending the balloon races in Custer, SD-- named for the General. When General Custer insisted on becoming part of the poem, I wasn’t especially happy but I did allow him to march onstage. The poem ended with evidence of my dislike of the General and his treatment of the Indians in the West. Now that I know more of the history of Custer’s experience with balloons, my poetic speculations about what Custer might have done with balloons in Western warfare seem less far fetched.


At the Balloon Races in Custer, South Dakota

In this green and granite canyon Horatio Ross found gold;
Yellow Hair wrote dispatches while the miners met.
In this green and granite canyon
we find sunrise and balloons.

Coffee steams as balloonists talk
to ranchers; breath explodes in still air;
three women in shorts jostle in a patch of sunlight.
Seven baskets lie beside seven fans,
chill air swells silk pockets bigger than the bank,
the blue and white one looms over the courthouse,
twice as high as the sheriff's office.

Patchwork colors shimmer, as if
christening dresses and ball gowns
were sacrificed and stitched
into flight.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspNo man can steer a balloon;
wind is its only master.

Seven balloons inhale flame;
Bags of air high as mountains
bob like boats on a bowl of air.
Like fat men in bright nightgowns
bumping bellies, the balloons quiver.
A burner blazes. There is no signal.
A balloon rises. No one cheers.
The man below the burner waves;
we all wave back.
&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbspSeven balloons lift
over the broad green valley where the ghost
of Custer rides. Eight hundred spectral men
pick pale flowers to garland spirit horses.

Custer nods, waves, smiles to see
they sent balloons to meet him;
his worth is recognized; now
he can send the gold dispatches,
begin wresting this land
from the savages
who don't appreciate him either.

# # #

This poem appears in Land Circle, published 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing.

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Dandy Ice Cream

Grandmother Cora Baker Hey in the 1970s.
. . .
In my Home Page message recently I wrote that I’ve been trying to learn more about the lives of some of my ancestors as part of a new book project. I pointed out that the ordinary possessions from a life may be valuable aids to memory or even to factual research.

One of the items I mentioned was my grandmother’s recipe book:

Every blank page of her recipe book has been covered with recipes handwritten or clipped from newspapers, clues to the household’s prosperity and interests. Liver Sausage; canning beef by the cold method; chow chow and mince meat from green tomatoes. (Our short growing season probably meant they ate more tomatoes green than ripe.) Many kinds of cucumber pickles, beefsteak and oysters, venison mincemeat for pies, suet pudding, Bavarian cream, dandy ice cream, Jelly Roll, mustard and catsup, taffy, cracker jack, peanut brittle and cream puffs.

-- from “Looking for Grandmother”
Linda's Home Page Message for the Winter Solstice, 2011


Here is the recipe for that “dandy ice cream” mentioned in my Grandmother Cora’s recipe book.

Dandy Ice Cream --- Cora Baker Hey

1 quart milk

Let come to a boil

Mix 1 pint sugar and 1/2 Cup flour together

Add to boiling milk

Cook two minutes, stirring constantly.

As it’s taken from the stove, add beaten yolks of two eggs – keep the whites for later.

(I added a couple handfuls of chocolate chips while it was hot and made chocolate ice cream.)

When cold, add 1 quart cream, 2 stiffly beaten egg whites, and 1 tablespoon vanilla.

(If you toss in chocolate chips at this point, they don’t melt-- but they do sink to the bottom of the bowl.)

You need not have an ice cream freezer; just place ice cream in the freezing compartment of your refrigerator for six hours or so. Because the ice cream sets up very hard, consider freezing it in small containers so it will warm more quickly to be extracted from the container. We usually get it out of the freezer a half hour or more before serving.

I hadn’t seen flour as an ingredient in ice cream before, but an online search and our own experience proves that the ice cream has a smooth, custard-like consistency.

# # #

For more information:

"Looking for Grandmother" the Home Page Message for Winter, 2011
may be found in the Home Page Message Archives if it is no longer on the Home Page.

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