(Foot)Notes on Iowa - Day 17 - Rutland to McKnight's Point
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
The final day of Part 2 started off well enough. With the blistering heat of the previous week still hovering over the upper Midwest leading the area into further drought, everyone welcomed a forecast calling for potential rain. I carefully considered the forecast, knowing my window for successfully completing the last day of Part 2 might close if I didn't get moving early.
Continuing west on the Three Rivers Trail from Rutland, I hoofed it west at a steady pace heading toward Bradgate. A town of just 86 people nestled on the West Fork of the Des Moines River, Bradgate stands on the extreme edge of Humboldt County. Although my planned route dictated I head north toward West Bend from Bradgate, I determined I would head slightly west into Pocahontas County to view Avery’s Hill.
Avery's Hill, an unassuming ridge just to the southwest of the river along the trail represents a significant moment in Iowa's history. At the site, Waphekute Dakota engaged in a battle with members of the Ho Chunk (Winnebago) during 1854. The battle shows the Dakota asserting their sovereignty over the Iowa lands they occupied for hundreds of years. The Ho Chunk, arriving in Iowa after the United States government forcibly removed them from their Wisconsin homelands, often came into conflict with the Dakota throughout the area in which they relocated. Other notable incidents, including one at Clear Lake the same year, saw Dakota leaders attempting to assert their authority over early populations of American settlers.
O.F. Avery, for whom the hill was named, did not arrive until five years later in 1859. Dakota leader Coustawa led around twenty men in a surprise raid against the Winnebago at the site. Coustawa died in the melee, leading the Dakota to fall back. Many suggest Inkpaduta, famed attacker of the Spirit Lake settlement three years later, also took part in the attack. The battle represents the final recorded conflict between tribal peoples in Iowa. Today, the site of the battle stands on Clarence Stearns farm and the location is marked with a flagpole erected by the Pocahontas County Historical Society. When I visited, a group of cows soaked up the morning sun on the side of the hill.
Before departing Avery's Hill, I attempted to fly the drone, however, an erratic takeoff led me to immediately land. I decided I would try to get some views later on and headed back toward Bradgate.
Once back in Humboldt County, I headed north while I eagerly eyed the skies to the west where storm clouds started to appear. Checking the radar, I picked up the pace and started northward hoping to arrive at the famed Grotto of the Redemption before the storm hit.
About halfway to West Bend, I heard the familiar sound a vehicle slowing as it approached me. If I learned anything about Iowans over the course of my journey, it is that they will stop to see if you need help (especially with adverse weather looming). The friendly faces leaning from car windows to ask if I needed assistance proved almost a daily occurrence. As the motor slowed, I turned to see two people astride a motorcycle. "We've been following your walk and figured we might see you," they said before offering me a bottle of water. I thanked them, handed them a couple of stickers, and was lifted by their well wishes to continue pushing on northward.
As I arrived at McKnight's point, the storm clouds to the west continued to inch closer. Named for Edward McKnight, an early trader and resident of the area, the site today is marked with a giant rock. McKnight arrived in the area a wide-eyed 19 year old in 1854, and spent the summer trading with the Wahpekute Dakota in the area. The likelihood Inkpaduta and other important Dakota visited McKnight is high. Later in the 1850s the site saw action as a stop on the stagecoach route from Fort Dodge to Emmetsburg. Traffic still flows past the site nestled between the west fork of the Des Moines River, and the elbow of Highway 15.
I decided to chance wasting a few minutes to fly try and get some drone footage, a costly mistake. The calibration issues of earlier did not remerge when I took off, however, once I flew to about one hundred feet things went haywire. The drone started to fly in circles at maximum speed. First small rotations of a few feet, but as I scrambled to try to bring the drone back down the circles grew wider and wider. I scrambled to try and navigate while decreasing altitude, while also keeping in mind the busy intersection in front of me and the wooded river banks behind. A few moments felt like hours as I desperately tried to pilot the out of control flight. I watched in horror as the aircraft lodged itself in a tree about eighty feet above my head on the edge of the forested riverbank.
While I stared in disbelief at the drone in the tree, the wind started to rise out of the west. The storm clouds grew closer, and I found myself on the edge of despair. Did I really come this far, over 290 miles, to lose the drone in a tree and get stopped short of my ending by a storm? Frantically, I looked around for a few rocks and started to channel my frustration into attempting to knock the drone from the tree. My first few attempts ranged wide, I picked the rocks back up and tried again. And again. And again. And again. The once distant storm clouds inched closer as I strained my arm to try to dislodge the drone, and the wind started to pick up. As I picked up the rocks again for another set of throws, I hoped the rising winds might knock dislodge the errant flying aircraft. However, my next toss landed square and knocked the drone from the tree. It fell about fifty feet, and landed on another branch. Meanwhile, my phone began to ring. My mother, up in West Bend, said torrential rains had started. I told her to head south and we would meet to wait out the storm. Another throw brought the drone the rest of the way to the ground, and I packed it up as the first raindrops started to fall. Lightening cracked the sky and the west wind howled as I stood on the side of the road.
A few minutes later my mother arrived, and we took a moment to survey the situation. Looking over the radar, the situation did not look likely to improve for sometime. I fought against her suggestion we pack it in and head toward home, hoping I might get a window to finish the last five miles and cross the three hundred mile mark for the walk across Iowa. Ultimately, as the rain pounded the windshield I gave in. I took over the driver's seat, shifted the car into drive, and headed out. Frustrated, disappointed, and downright upset, I drove through the rain as Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" came across the radio airwaves of a local station.
"People call say 'beware doll, you're bound to fall' You thought they were all kidding you You used to laugh about Everybody that was hanging out Now you don't talk so loud Now you don't seem so proud About having to be scrounging your next meal
How does it feel, how does it feel? To be without a home Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone"