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

Museum of the American Bison, Rapid City, South Dakota

The museum is in downtown Rapid City.
Park and walk to see street art and many locally-owned businesses.
. . .
I've finally visited the Museum of the American Bison at 607 St. Joseph Street in Rapid City. I urge you to do the same, perhaps while on a walking tour of the rejuvenated downtown area.

Even if you know a lot about bison, you can learn from this museum! Dedicated to the story of the survival of the American bison, it’s filled with information, all presented in a manner accessible to adults and children alike.

Stare Bruno, a full-grown, beautifully mounted bison in the eye. Watch an interactive video describing how the tribes used every part of the buffalo. See historic photos of early hunts, or those who hitched bison to wagons, of hunters and sharpshooters.

Kids can unearth bison bones in the huge bison dig box. Or they can visit the “tracks and scat” table for down-to-earth information about wildlife. The shop stocks locally made souvenirs, tastefully decorative and useful items, as well as vintage jewelry including buffalo nickel necklaces. A rotating art gallery features stunning work from local artists.

The museum shows the story of the bison from its prehistoric beginnings through its near extinction to the eventual resurgence of the animals in the 20th century, certainly one of the most captivating stories in the history of the American West-- and often neglected for human history. Operators promise to constantly update exhibits, include rotating exhibits and guest lecturers, so I plan to go back often.

My favorite part of the museum is the display devoted to the people responsible for saving the American bison when the hide hunters and even the government was determined to eliminate them. As usual, the men got the credit, but all of them had wives who were deeply interested in saving the bison. Frederic Dupris, a French Canadian who moved to South Dakota and married Mary Good Elk Woman, a Minneconjou, saved five bison calves which founded his herd. Later, Scotty Phillip, also married to a Lakota woman, continued Dupris’s work of keeping the bison herd pure and strong; when he died, he had more than a thousand head.

After years of encouraging shoppers to throng malls and vast parking lots on the outskirts, Rapid City has finally figured out the benefits of a lively downtown, not only for tourists but for citizens. This delightful museum is only one of dozens of shops close together downtown, so that you can walk from one fascination to another. Park and stroll.

The Museum is a nonprofit organization, the dream of its proprietor, relying on donations, grants and admission receipts, so enjoy your visit and then donate generously.

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For more information:

Visit the museum website: or call 605-791-3266.

Bison: Monarch of the Plains, for which I wrote text to illustrate photos by David Fitzgerald (published by Graphic Arts), is still available, usually at a reduced cost, through various online outlets. Because the book was primarily photographic, much of my text was cut, but there’s still good information-- and terrific photos.
See my website page about the book by clicking here.

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Kitty Cat's Family: The Rest of the Story

Kitty Cat with some of her kittens, May 2013.
. . .
For more of Kitty Cat’s life, see the Cat Stories page of this website and see my blog post for June 15, 2013.

But here’s the rest of the story.

We first began seeing the stray we called Kitty Cat in November, of 2012. We didn't especially want a cat, but when she was cold and hungry, we took care of her. In return, she cut the population of rabbits considerably. We think she hunted so efficiently that the great horned owls had to go elsewhere for sustenance.

On April 18, she presented us with five kittens. We immediately began providing food and a litter box and all five kittens quickly adapted. When they were several weeks old, Kitty Cat hauled all but one of them to the woodpile beside Jerry’s blacksmith shop, where we found them: cold, scared and yelping. We hauled them back to the heated shop and kept them all confined for a few more days.

Then she moved them again, to the blacksmith shop where she and the kittens could come and go under the big sliding door. So we left them, thinking she was trying to teach them to be independent. And she continued to hunt: almost every day she brought in a rabbit, several baby rabbits, several ground squirrels, or birds. The kittens grew and used the litter box and ate expensive food while we began trolling among our friends for folks who needed cats.

We took out ads in the newspaper. We put up posters in local pet stores, grocery stores, vet clinics. We told our friends, endlessly, that the cats needed homes.

Finally we had to have Kitty Cat spayed or the cycle would continue. I wrote the following letter to the newspaper.

The Cost of Your Abandoned Cat

Someone dumped a sweet half-grown cat near our ranch, perhaps thinking she could “live free in the country.” We took her in.

Spaying the cat and giving her essential shots cost $430.52. Neutering her five kittens and providing their shots would cost $1000 we can’t afford. We’ve fed them, at $10-15 per week, since April. The kittens are playful, litter box trained and love to be petted, purring vigorously. Unless we give them away soon, we must kill them; we have all the pets we want. If we stop feeding the kittens, they will decimate our birds or be killed by a coyote. Daily the mother cat brings in a rabbit, or several gophers or birds, trying to teach them to live on their own.

When you adopt an animal, you are honor bound for its life time to feed it, neuter it if you can’t care for its offspring, keep it healthy, or find someone who will. Please do not adopt animals without being responsible. Want a free kitten? Call me at 255-4064.

Within a day or two, we had multiple phone calls. Some offered advice about low cost neutering and spaying, others offered homes. Now she and all five kittens have found permanent homes elsewhere.

I have just written the following letter to the newspaper:

To the Editor

Here’s a followup to my letter about our abandoned cat. She and her four kittens are now in permanent homes. Here’s some of what we learned:

The nonprofit West River Spay and Neuter Coalition,, holds regular clinics and will help neuter cats for $35 female, $25 male. South Dakota West River Spay and Neuter Coalition, P.O. Box 286, Deadwood, SD 57732; Telephone: 605-593-5550; The group always needs volunteers and donations; call 605-593-5550 for pickup if you can donate to their Wish List.

Rapid Spay, (PO Box 200) Peaceful Pines Plaza, 7410 Black Hawk Rd., Suite 5, Black Hawk SD 57718; 605-721-SPAY (7729) FAX: 605-721-7728; e-mail:; offers low-cost neutering.

Ask a veterinarian; some will provide low-cost services. Local humane societies are usually overworked and underfunded. Before abandoning a pet, post notices in pet stores, vet clinics, groceries; newspaper ads. Many individuals make great efforts to adopt or place these pets in good homes.

Experts say neutered cats will stabilize the population in an area, keeping wild or stray cats from moving in. Thanks to everyone who called and offered homes and information.

Of course we will miss Kitty Cat and the lively kittens. We seriously considered keeping her and one or two of her kittens, neutered, to provide a stable population here. But in fact, the great horned owls and other natural predators keep the mice and rabbits in check. As I have previously written, cats have a tendency either to slaughter needlessly or to become complacent and eat only the food provided.

And then there are those litter boxes for cats that are allowed to live in shelter in the winter.

There are many ways to keep pets responsibly and we have made our choice; we wish everyone who has adopted these and other pets very well and hope that we don’t have to go through this process again.

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Extending the Celebration: my birthday month

Linda admiring a glass birthday turtle from Suzan.
. . .
I highly recommend the Birthday Month, introduced to me by my good friend Suzan.

The idea of extending a birthday is not about getting more material goods as gifts. Instead, the extension allows me time to accept the gifts that arrive every day, special occasion or not.

Suzan and I have joked that we adopted the birthday month because, as we age, celebrations take longer. When we were twenty, we could pack enough fun into one day of birthday celebration to last us a whole year. But aging and, one hopes, increasing maturity, mean one learns to slow down, to take more time to appreciate just what “fun” can mean.

One might do this in an orderly fashion: a Birth Day in one’s twenties and thirties, for example, followed by a Birthday Week in one’s forties and fifties. We weren’t that organized; I leapt right to the Birthday Month as soon as she suggested it and now that I am officially “in my seventies,” I find the concept particularly appropriate.

Instead of material goods, the gifts I receive derive from the way we usually behave on our birthdays. A birthday is traditionally a time to feel special, to relax into enjoyment of the day, whatever festivities are planned. I try to give in to impulses that take me out of my daily routine. In the darkness of my bedroom, I reflect on age and what it has brought.

Celebrating my birthday month, I’ve begun each day since my natal day with a short reflection on what it means to be 70 years old plus one day, and so forth. I’ve recalled my mother’s stories about my birth. She said she was really tired of being pregnant and unwieldy in the heat of a Texas July. Her doctor had planned a vacation, so with her agreement, he induced my birth.

Birthdays after we moved to the ranch sometimes meant that after a day of haying, and after eating supper, opening gifts and sampling the birthday cake, we would drive into “The Hills” and enjoy the cool of the woods.

Extending my birthday this year has taken several forms so far. First, yes, I’ve bought one or two things I might not have bought otherwise. But I followed my usual practice of giving to the local second hand outlets more than I purchased new. I learned this from a student at Christian College for Women in the 1960s. She said that every time her daddy bought her a new dress, which was often, he marched her to her closet and she had to choose right then two dresses to discard. Then he marched her down to the sharecroppers’ cabins on their Arkansas farm and she gave her dresses to one of the girls her age.

More birthday celebrations: I took the scenic route to Hill City to deliver a package to a friend, walked through his gardens and enjoyed a long, relaxed visit. And he’d baked me a cake! When a meeting was cancelled, I spent extra time in the library, taking notes on my day and people-watching. And while I watched people, I tried not to be critical. The thirteen-year-old girl in the off-the-shoulder blouse that exposed her bra strap and most of her left bosom tested my resolve greatly!

I re-read all my birthday cards and wrote several letters to friends and relatives. Looked through a magazine and found a recipe for roasted vegetables and shrimp that I served at lunch today.

Made honey butter, a treat I recall from my childhood. (1/4 to ½ C honey to each stick of butter. At room temperature, cream together until well mixed. Store in refrigerator. Heavenly on toast, biscuits, even potatoes.) I seem to remember honey peanut butter too, hmm.

Headed home from town, I took the road along the creek that I never take because it’s often hazardous with deer, joggers and golf carts. I drove five miles under the speed limit, mightily frustrating the folks behind me. Inhaled the scent of mint growing along the creek, the flavor of hay curing in the fields. Heard a golfer curse. Laughed. Remembered making this drive once very late at night and knowing I was nearly out of gas; remembered that I got to within a mile of home, tucked my car into a side road and walked across the pasture in the dark, hoping I didn’t fall into a badger hole.

With Jerry, I sat on the patio (an elegant misnomer for the concrete slab outside our basement) and just looked at the tomato plants, honeysuckle bushes, bachelor buttons and sweet William, potted herbs, and other plants. OK, I lasted two minutes before I leapt up to water them, but I plan to repeat the experiment every night until I can sit still for longer than five minutes. Listen to the nighthawks peent! and boom. Inhale the sweet scent of autumn clematis. Sway with the breeze through the bee balm and black-eyed susans and sage.

I’m a collector of apt quotations I can never remember when I’m speaking, so I keep them in files. Here’s one that summarizes how I’ve spent my days since my birthday.

Go on listening, carefully, respectfully. After a while the earth feels free to speak. It's the way it is in a trance, when everything and everyone speaks freely. The things you'd least expect speak. There they are: speaking. Bones, thorns. Pebbles, lianas. Little bushes and budding leaves. The scorpion. the line of ants dragging a botfly back to the anthill. The butterfly with rainbow wings. The hummingbird. The mouse up a branch speaks, and circles in the water. Lying quietly, with closed eyes, the storyteller is listening. Thinking: let everyone forget me. Then one of my souls leaves me. And the Mother of something that is all around me comes to visit me. I hear, I am beginning to hear. Now I can hear. One and all have something to tell. That is, perhaps, what I have learned by listening. The beetle, as well. The little stone you can hardly see, it's so small, sticking out of the mud. Even the louse you crack in two with your fingernail has a story to tell. If only I could remember everything I've been hearing. You'd never tire of listening to me, perhaps.

--- Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller

Happy birthday to you, too.

--- Linda M. Hasselstrom, aged 70 years and 5 days

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For more . . .

See the Home Page Message Archives to read Linda's essay on friendship and aging. Look for "The Glitter Phase of Life" written for the fall equinox, September, 2011. This essay includes two poems inspired by Linda's friendship with Suzan, mentioned in the blog above-- "Dear Suzan" and "We're Sixty-Eight."

See the archived Home Page Message "Summer’s End: From Magpie Mind to Turtle Tranquility," written for October, 2012, to learn about Linda's connection to turtles.

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