Our first stop was Homestead National Monument, I remember learning about the Homestead Act of 1862 in high school and being so bored. I never enjoyed the Little House on the Prarie books, which, it turns out, might be dealbreaker had Zak not already spent over 20 years in our relationship. I guess you still have secrets to share this far into a marriage. My knowledge of the time period and the praries of the midwest grew today. I think my issue is that I don’t have a lot of empathy for homesteaders. Sure, life was hard for the Freeman family, the first to make a claim and eventually thrive on the homestead, but I imagine life was hard for most during the time period. As an ally for the voices of Indigenous Peoples, I kept returning to the questions: But who lived here before the homesteaders? What happened to them? Of course, we know that they were pushed off their land and onto crowded reservations. I did learn that the Otoe-Missouria lived on the land and were resettled in Oklahoma for little compenstaion for their land.
The second stop of the day was The World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Maybe. It might not be. Regardless it was the biggest ball of twine I’ve ever seen and I don’t need to make any other out of the way stops to see other big balls of twine.
Our final stop before the last leg of driving was Nicodemus National Historic Site. After the Civil War, free Blacks realized the promised freedom was a not happening. In 1877, 300 people moved from Kentucky to settle the first all Black settlement in the free lands of Kanas and called it Nicodemus. For $1 they could become a member of the community.
We were greeted by two NPS rangers at the Township Hall. One is a sixth generation resident of Nicodemus and one of the 20 remaining residents in the community. She shared stories of her family who were featured in the informational video we watched. In 1993, when the site was granted National Historical Site status, there were about 100 residents. Each year, many of the 1,000s of the descendants scattered throughout the country return to Nicodemus for home coming. The rangers were thrilled that this event will be taking place in person this year.
We walked around the community of a handful of buildings, most old and in bad condition, but the promise of restoration has been made by the Park Service. We explored the exhibits in the Township Hall, checked out the two churches, one of which has just been gorgeously restored, a school, and a hotel.
The purpose of the day was to travel the hours between Omaha and Colby, but we filled the miles with education and some confusion over the claims of big twine balls.