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Friday, August 26, 2011

Song of Hiawatha - Chuck Wagon Cook Off

Lost Creek Chuck Wagon
 Story by Roger Edison

An aroma fills the air of fresh brewing coffee as the sun begins to rise over the land of 10,000 lakes. Pans clattering echo through the Historic District Streets as cooks prepare for the annual "Song of Hiawatha-Chuckwagon Cook-Off."  Daybreak revels the authentic display of Chuck wagons. A reminder of an era when Cowboys as far off as Texas once moved needed cattle across the nation. Impeccable details from the wagon with it's cowboy gear, too authentic clothing worn by the camp cooks, is just a small part of the days competition. Each wagon team will sizzle up their best food for the bragging rights winning the "Song of Hiawatha-Cook Off"  held in Pipestone, Minnesota.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the 1855 epic poem "Song of Hiawatha." The American literary piece is the romantic tale of a heroic Native American Indian who resided in the Minnesota Territory an his love for his Indian maiden Minnehaha.  While Longfellow never journeyed to the area, it's ancient history dates back thousands of years when Native Americans lived in close harmony with nature along the tall grass prairie.

Philander Prescott, a fur trader who worked for North American Fur Company is the first known European to record a trip to the pipestone quarries in 1831. Prescott wrote,  "Indians have labored here very hard with hoes and axes, the only tools except large stones...we found a six pound cannon ball that the Indians have brought there from the Missouri to break the rock."

The Indians believed the grounds to be sacred,  and the pipestone rock be used strictly for ceremonial and religious purposes. Lakota Indian lore believes, The great Spirit sent floods to cleanse the earth. The red pipestone, the blood of the ancestors was all that remained. After the flood the Great Spirit gave the Lakota a pipe carved from red stone.

The tales of this Indian culture would intrigue others too follow. George Catlin who was a writer - artist heard of this red rock while visiting with Indian tribes along the upper Mississippi River. Confident that this rock was different from all other known minerals, he set out to find it.  In 1836 Catlin arrived by horseback to the area writing,  "crossing one of the most beautiful prairie countries in the world covered with the richest soil, and furnishes an abundance of good water, which flows from a thousand living springs."

Influencing many immigrates, mostly of Scandinavian and German descent, settlements of the Minnesota Territory took root. The United States government would negotiate a treaty for all Minnesota land through the general Indian Appropriations bill of 1851.  The Sisseton and Wahpeton tribes ceded their lands, including the pipestone quarry, in a treaty signed at Traverse des Sioux in 1851. Although the Yankton tribe, not being part of the treaty objected to losing the quarry.  The territory would be admitted to the Union as Minnesota, the thirty-second state on May 11, 1858. The state name comes from the Dakota word meaning "sky-tinted water."

Nevertheless, the Wahpeton tribe would participant in the Minnesota outbreak and massacre of 1862.  In the height of the Civil War between the states, Fort Pipestone would be erected as a stockade for defense against the Indians during the Sioux uprising.  Early morning on September 4th in 1863, with 240 settlers taking refuge, the Fort was attacked. Though the Indians driven off, the state would be under siege for 10 days before Company Nine of the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Regiment arrived on scene.

Charles Bennett, intrigued by Longfellow's poem, would later prospect the sight. Assisted with Daniel Sweet, the city of  Pipestone was founded in 1876. Despite blizzards, droughts, prairie fires and grasshopper plagues, the young village survived.  The town grew, adding the railroad.  Construction of attractive architectural buildings using the quartzite from the once sacred Indian quarry still stand along the Downtown District of Pipestone as an ambiance of the heritage.  Though the quarry remains sacred ground to the many Indian tribes, the United States would purchase the land in 1893. The Yankton tribe would resettled on a reservation 150 miles away, contesting the sale until 1929 for a total of $328,558 in principle plus interest was awarded. Upon payment of this judgment, title to the land passed to the United States, and all treaty rights of the Yanktons were at an end. Pipestone National Monument was signed into legislation in 1937.

Along side the walls of the Pipestone Gift Shop, the Chuckwagon camps were in full swing. Locals and tourist alike could easily find their imagination reminiscing what life was like operating on the trail drive. The wood frame wagons that yielded a canvas fly for shade, a cook that conjured three squares when not acting as barber or dentist, where bedrolls laid and cowboys gathered, this was home on the range as they herded cattle north. 

Coming all the way from Stoddard, Wisconsin, was the "LAZY A" chuck wagon team owned by Mike and Patty Aspelet. Their wagon began life at the turn of the century operating as a farm grain wagon. Mike stripped the wagon down to the running gear, extended the length of the reach by a foot, and then built the wagon bed, sides, and chuck box.  After learning how to Dutch oven cook, they began competing about six years ago.

The Lost Creek Chuck Wagon is owned by J.T. Hallson of Long Lake, Minnesota. He cooks with a crew of friends from the Old West Society of Minnesota that included the charming characters Boomer, Miss Tilly and Lady Slipper.  The Wagon was manufactured by
Weber Wagon Company – Chicago, Illinois Established in 1845 – Bought in 1904. This wagon spent many years working hearty on a farm in Iowa before J.T. bought it at auction.  Boomer recreated much of the iron work in his Robbinsdale blacksmith shop while J.T. crafted the woodwork. The Lost Creek Chuck Wagon team has been involved with Old West re-enactments and cooking for over seven years.

Jim and Susan Patrick of Watertown, South Dakota brought their “D  T” chuck wagon.  This Peter Schuttler wagon was originally manufactured in Chicago.   It is a restored wagon of the 1880’s era. Although tempted to concoct a story of finding this chuck wagon “as-is” in a barn in the Black Hills, James Patrick admits he has done way too much work on this wagon to allow someone else to take the credit. Jim has designed and built the chuck box and did all the blacksmith work, including forge-welding the chains.   In 2008, Jim Patrick took his team and the DT Wagon over the entire 250 mile wagon-train journey on the historic Ft. Pierre to Deadwood trail.

The Flying Star Chuckwagon Team was Bob and Vicki Heavirland from North Branch, Minnesota. Their wagon was manufactured by John Deer and used for farming in the south. The wagon had been owned by one family passed on from Grandfather, to father and to son before Bob purchased the wagon. The John Deer had a large 42" inch wide box bed that was needed to fit the Chuck Box Bob had already made, as it did not fit the standard 36" wagon bed width.  Over the last 5 years he has rebuilt the brake system, replaced the reach, added new tongue, double trees and single trees, new neck yoke and repainted the wagon. Bob began his cooking at a chuck wagon cook-off at Spirit of the West, held in Sioux Falls, SDBob and Vicki's son along with grand son operate the wagon during the competitions which allows plenty of bonding time for the three generation family.

The "Song of Hiawatha - Chuck Wagon Cook-Off " sponsored by the Fort Pipestone Gift Shop, Four Winds Association and other local businesses.  The Pipestone Four Winds Association was established in 2009 as a non-profit 501(c) 3 - organization dedicated to bringing tourism into Pipestone, educating people about the culture, heritage and history of the Native American people, and the surrounding area. 

As each wagon team readied their fires and Dutch ovens in anticipation of the $2,000 Chuck Wagon Challenge, they were given their ingredients to prepare a five course meal or Meat, Beans, Bread, Potatoes and Dessert along with cowboy camp coffee. Wagons are judged also for most authentic and best display which often includes antique saddles, harnesses, hams and horse collars, farrier tools and equipment needed to survive the long enduring cattle drives.  The Wagon Judges were Leroy Gorter and Allen Gilmore, both from Pipestone, Minnesota.
DT Chuck Wagon, Jim and Sue Patrick Owners

1st   Patrick’s DT Wagon, Watertown, SD
2nd Heavirland’s Flying Star Wagon, North Branch, MN
3rd  Aspeslet’s Lazy A Wagon, Stoddard WI

1st   Hallson’s Lost Creek Wagon, Long Lake, MN
2nd Aspeslet’s Lazy A Wagon, Stoddard WI
3rd Heavirland’s Flying Star Wagon, North Branch, MN

1st   Hallson’s Lost Creek Wagon, Long Lake, MN
2nd  Patrick’s DT Wagon, Watertown, SD
3rd Aspeslet’s Lazy A Wagon, Stoddard WI

1st Patrick’s DT Wagon, Watertown, SD
2nd Heavirland’s Flying Star Wagon, North Branch, MN
3rd Aspeslet’s Lazy A Wagon, Stoddard WI

1st Patrick’s DT Wagon, Watertown, SD
2nd Aspeslet’s Lazy A Wagon, Stoddard WI
3rd Heavirland’s Flying Star Wagon, North Branch, MN

Best wagon was a tie between the DT Chuck Wagon Team owned by the Patrick's along with the Lost Creek Chuck Wagon owned by J.T. Hallson. Runner up was the Lazy A owned by the Aspeslet family.

Sunday morning, the wagons served up a fabulous Dutch oven breakfast that included coffee, orange juice, bacon, sausage, eggs and hash browns.  Then, four youngsters were invited to participate in the American Chuck Wagon Kid’s dessert contest.  The children were given the ingredients to make an apple crisp and assigned to a wagons to cook with in a dutch oven.  Two wagons took two kids each, and it ended up being a bit of a “boys vs. girls” competition!

Emma, an 8 year old and Cloe, also 8 years old both cooked with the Flying Star Wagon, while Cole an 8 year old and Andrew, a 13 year old, cooked with the DT Wagon.  When it was all said and done, Cole won the contest with his blueberry applecrisp, while Emma, Cloe and Andrew were runner-ups. "The kids had a great time and enjoyed cooking with the chuck wagons," states Cassandra Swanson, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The fun loaded "Water Tower Festival" weekend came to an end. Each Chuckwagon loaded up heading off into different direction viewing the beautiful sunset.  "There were many great sponsors of this event, and we want to thank each of them for all of their support," stated Cassandra Swanson. For more information on Pipestone, Minnesota visit their web site and for Chuckwagon Events, view the American Chuck Wagon Association web page at        

Hiawatha, a legendary chieftain of the Iroquois, supposedly lived in about 1570. He is credited with having unified the Five Nations of the Iroquois for their protection against the stronger Algonquin people. According to legend, Hiawatha employed miraculous powers to protect his people from the evil forces of nature. He also instructed the Iroquois in the arts of medicine, agriculture, and navigation.

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