Sunday, December 29, 2019

Birthday, Wounded Knee Remembered

On this date in 1919 Lawrence Eldridge Kurtz was born fifth of eight on a rock-strewn, hilltop farm in Richland Township, Brookings County, South Dakota.

Milking cows, burning corn cobs for heat, sleeping three to a bed, taking turns at the outhouse with diarrhea, trudging behind a horse-drawn plow for what must have seemed like years, walking (or, if Gus didn't need it that day, two to a horse) a mile and a half uphill both ways to Richland School #48 maybe through blowing and drifting snow at -20, day followed humble day. For sixteen years his greatest joys were the Christmases when each child was presented with an orange. A favorite story recounted a day in 1935, when, in the worst of the Dirty Thirties, he and brother Kenneth walked across a completely dry basin that had formerly held Lake Benton.

For two boys growing up in South Dakota, one attending a single-room schoolhouse and one a Catholic grade school, this day on the calendar had no other significance. It was not until college that this student learned it represented the most heinous event in South Dakota history.
At daybreak on December 29, 1890, Col. Forsyth ordered the surrender of weapons and the immediate removal and transportation of the Indians from the "zone of military operations" to awaiting trains. Specific details of what triggered the fight are debated. According to some accounts, a medicine man named Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance, reiterating his assertion to the Lakota that the ghost shirts were bulletproof. As tension mounted, Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle; he was deaf and had not understood the order.
The narrative that follows that passage is too horrifying to appear here.

One of the first jobs we kids learned after moving to the farm in the Spring of '64 was picking rock. I was almost ten, sister Lynn was eight. We learned to drive taking turns at the wheel of that old tractor and wagon moving at a half a mile an hour while Dad did most of the real work. Finding stone hammers was our reward for clearing glacial till from those fields not knowing that they had been left there by the ancestors of those killed at Wounded Knee. Blood from our oft-smashed fingers is still on some of those rocks.

In about 1970 or so, my very furious retired Air Force, Republican father wrote the Sioux Falls Argus Leader after it ran a photo during the Vietnam War. Dad cited Senator George McGovern with what he believed was the unforgivable offense of a civilian wearing a USAF flight suit. The letters in the paper that followed afterwards accused Dad of nitpicking while he got volumes of support in the mail from the likes of the John Birch Society. Dad never forgot it: clearly I haven't either.

In '71, after I used Mom's Singer to sew an American flag upside-down on the back of a fatigue jacket from Korea that Dad had given me, he threw it into the burn barrel, poured gas on it and set it afire. That he didn't throw me in there too is testimony of his love for my mother.

1972 was my first time to vote. I was a stupid punk, had a very high draft number, ignored a Presidential appointment to the United States Air Force Academy (an entitlement for a dependent of CMSgt Lawrence E. Kurtz, USAF (Ret)) because Richard Fucking Nixon was Commander-in-Chief; and, my glasses prevented me from being a pilot. Filling in the oval for Gus Hall, the Communist Party candidate, was a protest to somebody else's failed democratic adolescence. In the late 60s and through the 70s Dad won conservation awards for terracing the farm, planting trees and avoiding atrazine.

In the 80s when he visited us in Spearditch Dad was able to see how most of the fertile land in Lawrence County was incrementally being covered with concrete and housing for white people. In the 90s and 2000s he wept as shelter belts were being cleared for center-pivot irrigation and fossil water was being pumped from fragile aquifers for the industrial agriculture now killing his once-beloved Brookings County. Lawrence the Elder, whose often-close proximity to B-24s saw history's remembrance of George McGovern's military service as fabrication supported fellow Strategic Air Command alumnus Tom Daschle through his entire career but gave up on voting after his home state turned Senator Daschle out for earth hater, John Thune. Dad died in 2010.

Today, the Senate companion to the Remove the Stain Act that would rescind Medals of Honor for twenty war criminals responsible for the slaughter of children, women and men in 1890 at Wounded Knee in occupied South Dakota is at risk to career criminal Donald Trump who just pardoned three American mercenaries convicted of butchering civilians.

So, despite your mysterious belief Bill Janklow was the Second Coming of Christ, Happy 100th Birthday Dad!

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