Federal agency clarifies it would permit a replacement marker in South Dakota for mountain man
The Hugh Glass monument was originally placed on private ranchland near Lemmon, at the confluence of two forks of the Grand River. But it was later moved to make way for construction of a Bureau of Reclamation dam. (Courtesy of Joseph Weixelman)
LINCOLN, Nebraska — A federal agency is clarifying its stance on allowing a replacement marker to be installed after the removal this upcoming weekend of a monument to the heroic odyssey of a 1800s mountain man in a remote corner of South Dakota.
Elizabeth Smith, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said Wednesday that the agency is in “full support” of efforts to install a replacement that honors Hugh Glass, who reportedly crawled/limped 200 miles to safety after being mauled by a grizzly bear.
A week ago, after being asked by the Examiner, Smith cited a federal statute that “prohibits us from placing any new monuments” on the federally owned Shadehill Reservoir near Lemmon, South Dakota, where the Glass/Neihardt monument is located.
But on Wednesday, Smith said that statute only applies to markers placed by “the public” and that the Bureau, as well as the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, which operates a state park on the reservoir, are willing to coordinate in placing an new interpretive sign at the site.
“We’re in full support,” she said. “It’s a very exciting story.”
This tale began 100 years ago when Nebraska poet/author John Neihardt, along with some local officials, built a concrete monument on a rancher’s land near Lemmon dedicated to Glass, who was mauled by a bear and left for dead in the summer of 1823.
Glass’ heroic crawl was memorialized by Neihardt in an epic poem, “The Song of Hugh Glass,” and was recently the subject of a Hollywood movie, “The Revenant.”
Fast forward to 2023, when Neihardt had challenged students of Wayne State College to unearth a time capsule buried inside the concrete obelisk and celebrate like mountain men might have 200 years ago.
Questions over who owned the monument and whether it could be breached were resolved when the Bureau ruled that it was owned by descendants of Neihardt, the poet laureate in perpetuity of Nebraska, who died in 1973.
Original monument to be ‘snatched away’
The Neihardt family plans to remove the monument this weekend and transport it to a state historic site in Nebraska dedicated to the poet/author in Bancroft. There, they hope to retrieve the time capsule, said to contain an “original manuscript” by their grandfather.
The removal led to some complaints that the Glass/Neihardt monument was being “snatched away” from Lemmon, where the historic mauling had occurred. (A second, historic monument, erected by the State of South Dakota in the 1960s, is unaffected and will remain)
Coralie Hughes, a granddaughter of Neihardt, has said it was her intention all along to install an interpretive sign of some kind to replace what had been built in 1923.
That goal is also shared by Arden Saunders, whose grandfather Otto Weinkauf loaned his concrete mixer and helped Neihardt and others build the monument on his ranch. The ranch later was obtained by the Bureau on which it built the Shadehill Reservoir.
Saunders, who lives near Rapid City, South Dakota, said the unique tribute made 100 years ago needs to be memorialized.
His grandparents, he said, painted the monument more than once and faithfully maintained it, even after it was inundated by floods. Neihardt, he said, drove 500 miles in a Model A on dirt roads and cow paths to get to Lemmon and build the obelisk, which includes a bronze plaque.
“It’s not the greatest monument in the world, but it’s historic and it’s been there 100 years,” Saunders said.
He said Wednesday that it was “good news” the Bureau was in support of a replacement marker or sign.
Hughes said she plans to work with Saunders on what should be depicted on an interpretive sign.
Smith, the Bureau spokeswoman based in Montana, said it was important to clarify the agency’s stance given that many people feel that government agencies can be “impersonal and uncaring.”
That isn’t the case, she said.
“While there may be some difficult individuals in any organization, many government workers are dedicated to serving their community and genuinely care about the people they serve,” Smith said.
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