History 605: S2 Ep13 The journal of Earl Neller, who hitchhiked across South Dakota with six children
This episode is part of the History 605 podcast. See past episodes HERE.
Who would take his three children plus three more children hitchhiking through South Dakota? I don’t know anyone who would, but Earl Neller did just that in 1933. During the “dirty thirties,” Earl took six children hitch hiking 850 miles from Sioux Falls, to the Black Hills and then to Hebron, North Dakota.
Archivist Matthew Reitzel joins us on History 605 to discuss his article in the latest South Dakota History journal about their adventure. We discuss how their diaries and photographs came into our care and what an amazing South Dakota experience the Nellers and Kinkaids had.
The journal is a benefit of membership in the Historical Society.
Ben Jones: Welcome to History 605, the South Dakota State Historical Society's Podcast, where we talk to historians, curators, filmmakers, artists, and authors about how they interpret the past.
Speaker 2: We can meditate and wonder whether our descendants, because I think they'll still be here, what they will think about us, and let us hope that at least they will give us the benefit of the doubt.
Ben Jones: I'm Dr. Ben Jones, South Dakota State Historian and Director of the State Historical Society. Join me and our guests as we think historically.
Speaker 4: So it is most appropriate and fitting that in our first year of our second century that this should also be a year of reconciliation between the Indian people and the non-Indian people alike.
Ben Jones: History 605 is sponsored by the Groover Family Trust and done in partnership with South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Welcome to the show.
Welcome to History 605. Today on the show we have Matthew Reitzel. Matthew earned his degree in history from Northern State University and his MA in history from Oklahoma State University. He has served as the manuscript and photography archivist for the State Archives Program for the South Dakota State Historical Society for 17 years now. He also compiles a weekly history column for the Pierre Capital Journal.
Matthew, welcome to History 605.
Matthew Reitzel: Thank you.
Ben Jones: You have recently written an article which appears in the South Dakota History Journal, which is one of the benefits of membership in the South Dakota State Historical Society, and it's an article that really hearkens back to a different time in 1930s. The article is entitled, We Were Tramps Along With the Rest of Them, and it's about this gentleman, Earl Neller, who takes three of his kids and three children, family friends, on essentially a hitchhiking trip through South Dakota.
I'm wondering, how did you find out about Earl and his children and his adventures and how did these documents come to our care?
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah, the first time I heard about this was in June of 2020. I'd hate to call it my Covid collection, but there was a time when we were getting emails and calls where people were saying, "Oh, I have more time on my hands now and I'm finding this stuff." Right? "This stuff." I was contacted by, she was the daughter of Carolyn, the oldest Neller girl in this trip, and it was this travel journal that she had of Earl Neller and they were looking for a place for it. I think she figured South Dakota, because it's talking about South Dakota, it's traveling through South Dakota. Even though they were all from St. Louis, they all decided, or Earl decided, to take the kids on this trip.
It was 850 miles over 27 days. They basically started in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They were kind of dropped off there and Lydia was Earl's wife and she took the car and she went to Minnesota and then the see other family up in North Dakota. But the plan was Earl would take the six kids, they were ages eight to 13, and they were going to go through South Dakota. Their main goal, I think, was to go through the Black Hills, because that's where they spent the most of their time while they were here. Go through the Black Hills and then head up to Hebron, North Dakota, which is just about a mile west of Bismark. So that's where they were going to stop and meet up with Lydia again. That's where her parents were from and where they were at. So that was kind of the end goal.
Yeah. It just kind of described their trip through South Dakota, a day to day log that he kept. Both Earl and all the children had diaries that they kept on this trip. When you're reading through the article, it mentions, "We stopped and had lunch and the kids wrote in their diaries," or, "We played cards and the kids wrote in their diaries." So it must have been compiled kind of as they were going on this trip, they got back to St. Louis, and then Earl created this travel journal, which included his notes, his diary notes, and then he also included some of the children as well, which to me was very thoughtful, I guess, of him to do that.
Their age is eight to 13, so some of them are kind of like, "We got up, we ate, we walked, we stopped, and we're done." You know?
Ben Jones: Right.
Matthew Reitzel: But some those diary entries included a lot of information that Earl did not include. So within there there's some mentioning of, the two older girls, Carolyn and Dora, when they were in Keystone, they met up with some other teenage girls and they went swimming and stuff, and it mentions their names. Their last names was Owens. That's not in Earl's part at all, but it is in the girls. So there's things that you pick up from theirs.
There's another instance too when they were in North Dakota where they're just walking through, getting rides and stuff, but in one of the girl's entries, it says, "We picked up another hitchhiker and talked with him." That wasn't in Earl's, but it was the kids' journals. So there's little things like that that showed up from the journal itself.
Ben Jones: Okay. So you mentioned Earl, what was his profession? What did he-
Matthew Reitzel: He was a high school teacher. He taught, it was called Cleveland High School in St. Louis, which I do not believe is there anymore. He taught French and English and what was called then commercial subjects, which to me is economic business courses.
Ben Jones: Okay. Kind of a practical business economics.
Matthew Reitzel: Things like that, yeah.
Ben Jones: Okay.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. He got his master's degree in English and French. He taught in France for a little while and then they came back to St. Louis. He was also a veteran of World War I, which is mentioned a little bit in the journal. He mentions it a few spots.
Ben Jones: Well, they talk about the boys having bayonets, or their World War I era knives, and he's carrying a pistol which comes up I think once or-
Matthew Reitzel: A couple times, yeah.
So they're just a bunch of kids and a teacher from St. Louis who decide in 1933 let's go through South Dakota.
Ben Jones: Right. Right.
Matthew Reitzel: The journal article and the quarterly article basically explains their trip.
Ben Jones: Their day to day trip, yeah.
Well and that explains too so what might be a typical day? So when they woke up in the morning, depending on the weather and the heat and so forth, they would kind of schedule their walk, but they wouldn't necessarily know where they'd be sleeping that next night?
Matthew Reitzel: No, not really. Because they did walk quite a bit and it talks about blistered feet and sore shoulders and a few tears he had to start especially. But most of the time they would get rides from people, from trucks, from cars. There's a lot of instances where the kids are yelling, "Give us a ride," and someone would pull over, and it could be almost anybody. It mentions all the different stock trucks and gas trucks and then they would get in a car where they would all fit. Sometimes it would be like a coupe and they'd have to sit on the fenders or something as they were driven down. Some of their rides would be several miles, some of them were just short little trips, and then they'd go there.
They were somewhat lucky, I guess, in that they did get a lot of rides from start to the finish. They had one from Montrose to Mitchell, and then there was another long one from White Lake to Presho. Then at Vivian is where they hopped on a railroad car and took a ride to Rapid City.
When they were out in the hills, they got rides all over the place. One of the subjects mentioned is the CCC, the Civil Conservation Camps that are all over the hills. They're almost as thick as mosquitoes, I think, because they run into CC workers all the time.
Ben Jones: All the time, yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: They're getting rides here and there. Then when they were in Lead, they got a ride from one of the... The Kincaids is the other group of children that went along and they had an uncle who was a doctor at the Homestake Mine, and they got a ride from his wife from Lead to Bowman, North Dakota. So those are big jumps.
Ben Jones: That was a big ride.
Matthew Reitzel: That was.
Ben Jones: Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: One of the girls, later in the eighties she had made copies of this for her family and did an introduction, which is mentioned towards the end of the article here, and she just mentioned how there was a lot of worry from the relatives telling Earl, "What are you doing? This is crazy. You're going to kill all these kids. What do you do if someone gets sick, if someone sprains an ankle or something? What are you going to do if that happens?" He decided to take them anyway and, like you said, they didn't know where they would be. But fortunately, I think it helped that they were children. I think people saw them on the side of the road and were like, "Are you guys okay? What is going on here?"
Ben Jones: Yeah, they were checked in a lot.
Matthew Reitzel: They were checked in a lot. There's a couple instances, one near Custer with one of the youngest boys, Virgil, where he was just walking and he just sat down and must have been by a tree and just put his head back and this car just comes to a stop and there's some women in there. It's like, "Is he okay? Is he all right?" Earl was like, "Oh, he is just fine. He's taking a rest or whatever. We're okay." But there's other instances too where there was a married couple and the wife must have made him pull over because there's these girls and she's like, "Oh, these poor girls are walking in the heat." They ended up giving the girls a ride and they took all their bags a couple miles down the road and helped them out. So they got a lot of assistance in drives and also they stopped at a lot of farmhouses.
Ben Jones: Yep. They seemed to think if they saw a farmhouse they would know, "Well, there's milk and eggs there and we can buy them from the farmer"
Matthew Reitzel: Yep. They can get a lot of water and things like that as well. I found it interesting because Earl would always mention, "We came to this farmhouse and there was a sign that says do not enter, private keep out, and then we'd walk in and they'd be like, 'Oh yeah, let me get you some stuff and let me do this for you.'"
There was one instance where a woman gave them milk and cookies and then she took some of Earl's money and went grocery shopping for them and brought groceries back to them to take. So there's just a number of stories like that where people are helping them out along the trip.
Ben Jones: It's ironic then that the family members that were concerned about the health of the children, the fact that they were children proves to be a strength so in attracting friends or help along the way from strangers.
Matthew Reitzel: Yep. From strangers, and they played and interacted with other kids along the way.
I didn't really bring it up, I guess, in the article, but as I'm thinking about it more, it's like I think it was pretty obvious that the fact that they were children, like you said, it did help them out because people were like, "Why are these six kids on the side of the road? What is going on here?"
Ben Jones: Right. Right.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah.
Ben Jones: Yeah. Let's talk about the scene a little bit. You mentioned that the heat and the CCC, and those are kind of telltale signs of two things that are happening in the environment at the time. Franklin Roosevelt is in his first year in the White House and the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC, is a Depression era government program to put people to work. So around the hills, if you go to, I was just talking to somebody about this the other day, I think it's Wind Cave where the pathways inside the cave were built by CCC young men hauling bags of cement and building this in the 1930s in the heat of that timeframe and doing this manual labor and so forth. They're everywhere and this is a kind of symbol of the Depression. What are the other things? Then the heat and so forth. Grasshoppers are mentioned. What are the other kind of telltale signs? We got the dust bowl going on and the Depression.
Matthew Reitzel: There's a section of the travel journal where in their ride from White Lake to Presho where he specifically mentions the crops are looking all burnt out, the grasshoppers, all the cars that are coming by them have grasshoppers on their grills and all over the place. He also mentions bad storms. I don't know if that's necessarily connected with the drought, I guess, but there's mentions of hail storms and things like that and that kind of damage.
You mentioned the heat. I don't know for sure if it's just always hot in June and July-
Ben Jones: It sure is yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: ... in South Dakota and Western North Dakota.
Ben Jones: Even in North Dakota. Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: But when they're in North Dakota, that's where you can really tell I think they knew they couldn't be hiking in the afternoon and they had more trouble getting rides. They're waking up at 4:00 in the morning and hiking because it's still cool outside. There's a part, and I don't know if it's in North Dakota, I guess, but where they wake up early, they're walking and it's nice and cool and breezy, and then you can tell it's like it just gets hot.
Ben Jones: Abrasively hot.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. Earl refers to it as punishment.
Ben Jones: That's right.
Matthew Reitzel: So that's kind of showing how bad it's getting and how they the kids will, and there's a photo of it in the article where the kids are draping their blankets and stuff over the fences to make shade. So you really do pick up on that.
Also, in North Dakota, they meet up with Elizabeth Roberts and Ellen Pope, and she's talking about how the turkeys are eating the grasshoppers and the turkeys are the things that are getting them some money, I guess, for things to do. There's a quote from her where she basically says, and I'm paraphrasing I guess, but it's like, "Year by year we're slipping a little bit farther behind."
Ben Jones: Yeah. Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: I think the part where you can see the Depression the most, other than the CCC camps, is when you're in Western North Dakota and it's hot and it's oppressive. There are some places they will buy eggs and milk. There was one story where they were getting milk from someone and he's like, "Milk isn't worth anything, just take it."
Ben Jones: Yeah, milk isn't worth anything, just take it. Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: So there are these little nuggets of you can tell there's a drought going on, you can tell that there's a Depression going on just by who they're talking with. But the reverse of that too is there's a guy driving a milk truck and a stock truck and a gas truck. There's people they are meeting at gas stations. They're going to grocery stores and buying stuff. When they're doing all these cave tours, there's people taking tickets for stuff. So there's still this notion that things are not going well in certain aspects, but there's still this economy, this tourist economy, that is in South Dakota.
That's kind of parallel to what's happening nationally at this time. There's the drought and Depression. Not as many people are traveling, but there's still the Yellowstone and Niagara Falls and places where people want to go. Then there's also these businesses that help support them. Restaurants, hotels, things like that. So there's that national story of people are still traveling.
Then this journal connects with that a little bit as far as South Dakota. There's Mount Rushmore, still just only has Washington's face kind of done. There's Wind Cave and they're in Hot Springs and Custer going to different places. Sylvan Lake. They're in Deadwood at Mount Moriah and Adams Museum. So there's places for them to go, places for them to see, and then like I mentioned, there's some hotels and post offices and there's the Chamber of Commerce in Rapid City where they visit a couple times. There's this other stuff going on for them to take a look at.
Ben Jones: Yeah. Right. But in their diaries they're not lamenting the national economy, they're not lamenting unemployment, they're not lamenting this, they're not mentioning FDR. It's like a micro history really. This family and friends are traveling and you see them kind of enjoying you call it the tourism trade that's emerging in South Dakota, built by Gutzon Borglum and people like Governor Norbeck who has by now carved out Custer State Park. They mentioned Custer State Park and Sylvan Lake and all these things.
Matthew Reitzel: I mean, there was tourism in South Dakota before this time.
Ben Jones: Right.
Matthew Reitzel: I think what you would see now in the 1930s is that something from people today would recognize.
Ben Jones: Sure.
Matthew Reitzel: It's like, "Oh, there's a Mount Rushmore to go to. There's a Wind Cave to go to."
Ben Jones: Yep.
Matthew Reitzel: They recognize that and would see it as that early modern tourism, I guess. Not to get too fancy with words, I guess, but things like that.
Ben Jones: Yeah. Yeah. So from time to time you mentioned that they have a lot of downtime, have a fair amount of downtime, and in fact, one of the things that the kids do besides write in their diaries is they study French. I think Earl has them, these students. He's used to French students because that's his profession. He's teaching them some French and so that's one thing they would do. What else would they do in their downtime?
Well, one of the habits that they collect that winds up becoming an impediment to their travel is they're rock collecting. So how does Earl handle that? I thought that was funny that the way he handles that.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. You could tell they had started to accumulate rocks, they all became rock hounds sort of, and like he said, he felt bad to just tell them to just leave it.
Ben Jones: Right.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. I think they were in Hill City and they went to a garage and asked a guy for a orange crate and some hammer and tools. He was like, "Yeah, whatever." They boxed up all these rocks and mailed them back to St. Louis. So that was one of the things.
They would run into other kids, other children, and there was one instance where they've hiked for most of the day and they get into town and then the kids asked to go play with other kids. He's like they're basically struggling the whole day and then they get into town and, "Hey, we're happy," and then they're running around and doing all of the kinds of stuff.
Ben Jones: Like kids would do.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. They also played cards. There was a lot of card playing. They whittled sticks. That was another thing, when they were out in Custer, the younger boys built a fort out of sticks and it was like everyone had to come and give them a little admiration for this work that they have done.
Ben Jones: Because they're going to leave it behind.
Matthew Reitzel: Right.
Ben Jones: Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: Because they were going to leave it behind. But you mentioned what they do in a typical day. They wake up, a lot of times I think they start walking before they even have breakfast or anything. It's just like, "Get ready." Earl mentioned that too. In a couple places they learned how to be mobile at a moment's notice so if a car or something did come by, they could just pack up their stuff and leave. So they were always ready to go. They'd walk or try and get a ride in the early morning as much as they could. Earl had a gas can and a cooking stove with him so they would have things like oatmeal quite a bit. There was a time where they would boil their eggs. So they did have, again, another thing you got to carry with you, gas and a stove.
Ben Jones: How much weight is he carrying and how much weight are the kids carrying?
Matthew Reitzel: It's mentioned in the article. I think he says around 50 pounds of stuff and the kids were maybe around 20 pounds or so.
Ben Jones: Right. So when the kids are laboring under... If the kids can carry 20 pounds and 15 are rocks, then it's not groceries. Right?
Matthew Reitzel: Right.
Ben Jones: So that's why it becomes a logistical concern to mail this stuff back home and kind of an argument with the kids.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. And water. They're always looking for water, but that usually is not a problem for them. The food thing always interests me because that would be the struggle. It's like there isn't a Walmart they can go to in every town, but there's always a grocery store. They're always buying. They buy a lot of canned food and bread. A lot of their meals were bread cut up into seven slices. They referred to it as the lucky seven. They would put beans on it or something like that.
He'd make some reference. The one time they were having a can of peaches and he made some reference to like, "Okay, let's see who drops the first peach today," he said, because kids are always dropping something like that.
Ben Jones: Right.
Matthew Reitzel: They had blankets and they referred to it as tarpaulins, but basically like a tarp I guess to keep them out of the rain. Occasionally it would rain and they would find some spot to hang out or keep them dry a little bit.
Ben Jones: In all this, the little kids, do they ever get scared? Is there some incident that provokes any kind of fear or homesickness?
Matthew Reitzel: Not directly. There was one instance where they were out in the hills and they were ready to go to sleep and Earl mentions someone is walking kind of back and he's noticing them like, "What is this?" You had mentioned that he did have a gun along. He said he loaded the gun and then the two girls had their trench knives ready. So I think there was that notion of we do have to protect ourself whenever something is going wrong.
The cattle car trip from Vivian to Rapid City, that to me would be the most panic. There's the migrant workers in their late teens, early twenties. You don't know who these guys are. Earl refers to the one guy as a wrestler by the size of his muscles and stuff. It's like, I would be concerned hopping into a rail car with a bunch of men with a bunch of kids. What's going on here?
Ben Jones: You don't have the choice of when you can leave.
Matthew Reitzel: Right.
Ben Jones: Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: But he just kind of talks with them. Again, I think the whole notion of these are kids, it diffuses the situation, I guess.
Ben Jones: Yeah. Yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: So the big issue is they are always concerned if someone is sick or if someone is getting sick. That was one of the issues that came up as they were beforehand planning the trip. A lot of the family was saying, "What are you doing? If something bad happens, how would you be able to get to a place where it's safe?"
One of the youngest Kincaid boy, Albert, he had a cough and he was sick for a while and there was that, "Uh, what are we going to do now?" But they kept through and made it through and he got better eventually. Elaine, the middle Neller girl, there was one night where she was sick and they had to stay in Hill City an extra day. It was kind of like, we need to stay here a little bit and recuperate a little more. But then she ended up getting a ride from Hill City to Rapid City on another CCC truck.
Earl had mentioned he's trying to give the kids a experience. That's the word that he uses frequently, we're doing it for the experience, what we can learn from this. That was one of the things where if she wasn't there at the exact time, they never would've gotten the ride, and they got all the way from Hill City to Rapid City. So in a way it helped that they had to stay a day.
So there was just little stories and things like that that are throughout this article here of the kids. I think they generally had a good time. I think there was a lot of excitement. The boys got to ride a few horses every now and again. The youngest one mentions how, "Now we'll have something to write in our diaries about," and things like that. So there wasn't a lot of negativity, I guess. It seemed like it went okay.
Ben Jones: Well, one of my questions is why would Earl do this? I think you answered that. He talked about he wanted to provide these kids this experience, and what an experience. I mean, you think about it, they learned how to fend for themselves. They certainly learned some self-reliance. They learned how to talk to adults. Strangers come along and ask them and they learn when to speak to them and how to speak to them.
Matthew Reitzel: And how to help each other. [inaudible 00:26:20].
Ben Jones: And how to help one another. That's right. One thing I noticed is, I mean, anybody who's been a parent and has taken his kids on a long trip, the bickering in the backseat is rather profound at times, but there doesn't seem to be, at least not that makes it into the diaries, there's not a lot of bickering.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. There was a interaction at the start. It didn't make it into the article. As a parent, I appreciated it. But no, it was when they were in Sioux Falls, they had just driven from St. Louis. All the kids got out of the car and one of the girls had this ball and the kids were playing catch with the ball. One of the boys throws the ball, it gets stuck in a tree and they start yapping at each other. It's like, "Oh, you're going to get it." They're throwing rocks up in the air trying to get it out. Earl has to climb the tree and get the ball out.
But yeah, as a parent, I could just see that. How are these kids not yelling at each other?
Ben Jones: Constantly, yeah.
Matthew Reitzel: I couldn't imagine going with a group of six kids, ages eight to 13, without some fighting going on. There was, like I said, a little bit at the start, but I think as they started going, that whole idea of camaraderie and this is our group and we're-
Ben Jones: We're sticking together.
Matthew Reitzel: We're sticking together. I think that is shown too throughout the journal.
Ben Jones: Right. Right. What did the mom think of all this? So what's the look on her face? They run into each other in an unplanned way. Has she got any letters from them on the trip?
Matthew Reitzel: There is some instances where they are getting letters from each other, but they're not always connecting. When they were at Sylvan Lake, they had gotten some letters, one from Earl's family and one from the mom. He doesn't really explain what she thought of this whole thing, just she allowed it to happen, and that's kind of where it's at, I guess.
But I mean, fortunately nothing bad happened. I could see why by the family is just, "This is a bad idea." Even today, if you were to say, "I'm going to go with six kids and we're going to walk through South Dakota and the Black Hills and then go to North Dakota," I mean, you say, "Okay, maybe this is not a good idea." Then you got to say, "Oh yeah, by the way, it's 1933 and here's everything going on." But it was a different time compared to now.
I've had one woman who's read the article came up to me and she said, "Yeah, my," I think it was her mom way back in the day, "would have to hitchhike to school because they lived out in the country and they didn't have a car." I think that was something that was done back in the day. People would get rides and it wasn't a big deal, where I think today it's just not the thing you do for a number of reasons. So I don't think a trip like this could be done today. I don't know if it would be allowed.
Ben Jones: Right. I wanted to ask you too what other hidden gems might be in the archives that you're thinking about writing up?
Matthew Reitzel: I don't know of any right now, I guess.
Ben Jones: Okay.
Matthew Reitzel: I got done with this one and I'm very thankful to Cody Ewart with the Press and just the Press for allowing this to be done. We had talked a few times like how would we do this? It's a little different. One of the issues I had is there is that small stuff that I didn't want to lose. Like someone lost their hat in a truck or someone broke a glass jar with water in it. Or one of the boys helped, there was a dog that had porcupine quills in his nose, and he like, "Hey, can we help with this dog?" Earl was like, "Yeah, go ahead, whatever." Then they had porcupine quills as souvenirs. So there was all these little things that as we were going through, I was how can we keep this and still have this be considered a scholarly article, I guess? It was a good process that I went through and I think most of the stuff that I wanted to keep in there was still in there. I think it turned out pretty well. Pretty well.
Ben Jones: Yeah. Well, when I heard that this was coming out and working on it, I thought, methodologically, what's the question? When this woman calls you up and sends these diaries in, it can be guided by the artifacts instead of the question. Which is not necessarily bad, but the challenge then becomes how do you show change over time or what's the... I think that just become the questions or the effects of having a question emerge over the time instead of being stated boldly and clearly up front.
I think what you can learn about South Dakota in the 1930s is pretty rich based on this kind of, I guess, very personal almost micro history of what Earl and these kids experienced. It's very revealing and we see some things. Well, there's no interstate highway.
Matthew Reitzel: Right. Yeah.
Ben Jones: As you said, Mount Rushmore is only Washington at the time. So things were emerging.
Matthew Reitzel: All the roads, 70% of the roads, are gravel roads at this time. So you're thinking of it not so much as I'm in Sioux Falls, I'm going to hop on the interstate and go 80 miles an hour and I'm in Rapid City in four hours or whatever. Think of it more as I'm in Sioux Falls and I need to take all the country gravel roads to get out to the hills. It's just a different mindset of how did they get out to Rapid City? How did they get through the Black Hills? All the roads are still there. You can get from point A to point B, but they're tramping. That's the term from the day when they're basically hiking. There's no glamping in this journal.
So it was difficult, it was hard, but I think that also created an experience for them as well. It wasn't something they remember and I think at the end of the journal, I mentioned the two girls who made copies of the travel journal for their families, they remembered doing it and they remembered being there. I think as kids, kids tend to remember more things like that, like it's a big deal. We're leaving home or leaving the big city of St. Louis and now we're going out into the Wild West of South Dakota and we'll ride horses and see cows and go through caves and all that kind of stuff.
Ben Jones: Yeah. There's one quote in here that's toward the end of the article where they meet up with a rodeo cowboy. I think this is in Deadwood or Sturgis. "The cowboy with a lariat stopped to talk to us and Earl informed the cowboy of their travel of the past three weeks, to which the cowboy replied, 'Then it is no need to tell you what wildlife means.'" He's very impressed with Earl and what the kids are experiencing and the fact that they've learned a lot of stuff they're not going to get from books.
Matthew Reitzel: Yep. I think when you read through this, it almost seems like he's creating some fictional character of some type. It's like the man with the loud whistle, and the woman with a sweet voice, and the war veteran, and the mountaineer and his wolf-like dog. He's describing things, he's describing people. The cowboy. There's jolly cowboys as well. It almost seems like it's a mythical adventure of some kind.
But they talk with these people and they interact with them and they're always asking questions. They would ask the kids, "What are you doing here? Where are you going?" The kids would then reply to them. On the 4th of July, they went up Harney Peak, now Black Elk Peak, and they got to, Earl calls him one of Uncle Sam's Forest Rangers, and that interaction between them, it's like, "What do you do here?" It's like, "Well, I look for fires." "Well, how do you look for fires?" It's like, "Well, I use this." It's like, "Well, how do you tell people?" "I use the phone." Then they're like, "Where do you get water from?" "It's over here." It's like, "How do you get your food?" There's just that interaction that the kids are having with people and they're learning. Like you said, they're learning how to work with adults and deal with adults.
One of the eureka moments I guess I had with this is when Earl just has a one-sentence mention of it in the journal where they're in Presho and he said, "I talked with a newspaper man today." I went and I looked in the Lyman County Herald and in the next week's paper it had a little column in there on him and it said, "Hitchhikers bound for the Black Hills" and stuff. It mentions their names and it mentions that the kids are with them and all that stuff. That was just kind of a point in time where it was like, wow. I always thought this was real, I didn't think this was made up or anything like that, but then you have that concrete proof saying these kids and this Earl Neller were in Presho on this day and they talked with somebody and it helps explain the whole journal that it actually happened.
Also, they were in the newspaper in Custer as well. There was a mention of them as well. It didn't have their names, but it was like, "A man from Missouri was walking through town with six kids and they were going to the Black Hills." So there's little things like that.
The photographs. There were nine photographs altogether that came with the collection. Eight of them are either on the cover or within the journal itself. The ninth one is just a picture of cows, so it isn't anything too historically relevant, I guess. That was something that I found that no one knew were in there.
The journal itself, it was typed out double spaced, an 80-some page journal. It was wrapped in this brown paper bag type wrapping. It was a little thicker than that, actually, but it was all just wrapped up all in there. As an archivist, I'm like, "Yeah, we can't keep it in this acidic environment." Then I was unwrapping it and there was just this thud on the table and there was this little envelope. It was like a magazine envelope to order another year of magazines or whatever and those photos were in there. I asked the donor, I said, "Did you know about this?" It's like, "We had no idea those photographs were in there." So it was new to everybody. That also added to this.
Ben Jones: Sure. These photos are amazing.
Matthew Reitzel: Yeah. A lot of the images on here are from the South Dakota Digital Archives and it's showing Mount Rushmore and out in the Black Hills and Presho at the time period and stuff like that. But to have the picture of the kids, the kids sitting by the side of a building, the kids taking a picture on Iron Mountain Road and out in the Black Hills, and they're in the Minnetonka Plunge at Hot Springs, it just makes it look like this complete story. So I'm glad, like I said that this has all come to fruition here and this travel journal will be able to be published by the Press and yeah.
Ben Jones: Well, Matt, thanks for your hard work on this and kudos to Cody too for getting it in the Press. Again, this is entitled, We Were Tramps Along With the Rest of Them, and it appears in the South Dakota History Journal, Volume 52, Number Three, in the fall edition of this year. So Matthew Reitzel, thanks for being a guest on History 605.
Matthew Reitzel: Thank you.
Ben Jones: We'd like to thank Howard and Dorothy Groover for their passion for history and the support of the South Dakota State Historical Society. It's through gifts such as theirs that we're able to tell South Dakota's history.
We'd like to thank our partner, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, and most importantly, we'd like to thank you for listening. Please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to find podcasts. We'll be back in a couple weeks with another episode of History 605.