(Foot)Notes on Iowa - Estherville to Mini-Wakan, Big Spirit Lake (Final Day)


19 miles. One final day to finish the journey across Iowa I embarked on over a month before at Montrose on the banks for the Mississippi. Walking 252 miles, largely up the Des Moines River, on the final day my focus centered on reaching the Iowa-Minnesota border before arriving at Mini-Wakan State Park on Big Spirit Lake.

Up early and onto gravel, I crossed Highway 9 in a fog. With large blisters on both my feet, I wandered through the early morning past Anderson Prairie on 360th Avenue. Several large herds of cattle represented my only company as I focused all of my attention on finishing. After hundreds of miles, the agricultural landscape offered little in the way of distraction so my mind stayed fixed on surviving the final stretch to Spirit Lake.

Although I left the Des Moines River the previous day, the river still dictated my route as I walked gravel roads mirroring the course of the river winding west and north. When I arrived just one mile south of the border, the road led me west.

Struggling past farms and fields, I just kept my focus on finishing. One step at a time, the miles slowly fell away. Eventually, I found myself on a hard surface road leading the last mile north to Minnesota.

700th Street straddles the border, and as I made my way slowly west on the road I couldn't help by hop back and forth across the imaginary line dividing Iowa and Minnesota. With only a couple of miles to go, the walk across Iowa rapidly neared an end.

I had envisioned arriving at Mini-Wakan State Park, a small twenty acre area located between the Iowa-Minnesota Border and Spirit Lake, many times since first deciding to end my 2021 walk across Iowa at the location. I envisioned a quiet morning broken by a loud splash as I dove into the lake. However, reality did not mirror my imagination. A busy squadron of men with mowers and string-trimmers stormed all over the small park, and several boats waited for access to the ramp. State Archeologist of Iowa, John Doershuk, led a group of eager students in an archelogical exploration at several small pits along the main road (full disclosure, John's dig influenced my decision to finish at Mini-Wakan, and later in the day I lectured to the students and many other people at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory on West Okoboji Lake; view at: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=807829829846832&id=120690734645190 ).

I momentarily bypassed the dig and headed straight for the dock. Over the previous weeks several discussions with different people led me to decide I would not jump into the lake out of respect for Dakota beliefs related to the spirits represented in the name Spirit Lake (or Mini-Wakan in Dakota). Instead, I slowly made my way to the end of the dock. I took a seat, looked out across the water, and considered how far my journey had taken me. 371 miles. 21 days of walking. Too many historical sites, interesting people, and other oddities along the way. I made it.

I spent the rest of the day focused on events from the distant past much more significant than my little walk across Iowa. Loading up, I headed for the Gardner Cabin Site in Arnold's Park. One of eight sites maintained by the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, the Gardner Cabin still stands under the oaks which bore witness to incredible violence in March of 1857 as Inkpaduta and his band of Wahpekute Dakota sowed destruction throughout the Iowa Great Lakes Region. Killing over thirty people and capturing several others, the Dakota left a bloody legacy for American history on the shores of lakes they had occupied for at least hundreds of years. If the topic interests you, I devoted much of the previous decade to carefully examining the conflict. You can find more of my research on the topic in the Summer 2021 issue of Annals of Iowa, in the video of the Lakeside Lab presentation, in a March 2021 presentation for the State Historical Society of Iowa (available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqePy8qQ_o8&t=21s ), or in my 2020 doctoral dissertation on the subject at Iowa State University (available at: https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/etd/17929/ ). I talked with an interpreter at the site for quite some time before eventually heading out to Lakeside to give my presentation.

By the time the day ended, I was exhausted. Happy to have done what I set out to do, I eased into a deep sleep and dreamed of Dragoons.


Keep an eye out for information in the coming weeks on what comes next for 'Notes on Iowa,' as well as other information related to upcoming presentations and publications related to the project. Thanks for following along!


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