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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: www.museumoftheamericanbison.org 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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The Eco Prayer Park at Trinity Lutheran Church, Rapid City

Plans for the Trinity Eco Prayer Park.
. . .
Some retreat writers might recognize Ken Steinken's name from seeing it in the house journal. During the years when I didn't live on the ranch, Ken came often to Homestead House, at least once riding his bicycle twenty-some miles from Rapid City, to write in the retreat solitude. He signed the house journal, saying he'd tried to erase all testosterone from the premises before a women's writing retreat started.

Ken's new project is to help establish an Eco Prayer Park on one fourth of a city block now vacant on the corner of Fourth and Saint Joseph Streets, beside Trinity Lutheran Church in Rapid City.

"Our goal is to create a peaceful, natural place downtown that will preserve open space and enhance the vitality of the downtown experience," Ken says.

The park will contain a circular path leading visitors past four zones representing different biomes: Black Hills, midgrass prairie, shortgrass prairie and wetlands. The park will be practical as well, with swales that will conserve stormwater runoff from surrounding asphalt parking lots, allowing it to seep slowly into the ground instead of entering the city's storm-sewer system. Designed to contain water from a 100-year flood event, the park will have no standing water elements. It will provide examples of native species that local property owners can use in their own water-conserving landscaping.

Here's how Ken Steinken explains the name of the park:

The Name: Trinity Eco Prayer Park
* Trinity -- connects the park to the Trinity Lutheran Church
* Eco Park -- a park that uses and encourages others to use sustainable landscaping
* Prayer Park -- a peaceful place downtown to pray and reflect
* Eco Prayer -- a prayer for the care of the planet; a plea to work with nature instead of against it

I was a little concerned that the word "Eco" might be a little too political; it's a goofy, trendy word but it allows us to avoid "Sustainable" which is clunky; and "Natural" is just too vanilla. The word "Prayer" has been overused and abused, and may unsettle folks on both ends of the political spectrum, so it sets up a creative tension that I like. The official name collects all the elements, but perhaps the park will be best-known simply as Trinity Park, a place to reflect on how we relate to God, one another, and the planet.


The project is planned for completion by 2014, in time for the church's 100th anniversary celebration. Ken hopes most costs will be covered by in-kind donations from church and community members and volunteer labor. "We need every kind of help imaginable," he says.

I'll be donating plugs of buffalo grass and other native grasses as well as any wildflower seeds the project needs and can find on my land.

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For more information:

Website for the Trinity Eco Prayer Park. This is a bare-bones Google Group website that has newsletter-type updates on the park and links for further information.

Read an article about the park in the Rapid City Journal. Includes a photo of the existing bare lot and depictions of what the park will look like.

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