Mormon missionaries in Valentine


By Andrew Dickinson

Mitt Romney did his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris. Elder Young and Elder Cannon are doing theirs in Valentine.

These Mormon missionaries walk, as many missionaries do, a lot. I spent three hours walking with them two days ago, and my calves are still sore.

“Some missionaries ride bikes, but you don’t talk to as many people that way,” Cannon said.

“Yeah, I prefer to walk,” Young responded.

Cannon is one of the first two missionaries to come to Valentine in about ten years – he came with Elder Spencer who has since left to continue his mission elsewhere. Young arrived in Valentine about two weeks ago.

More to come on these missionaries in the coming weeks as I spend more time with the pair.


Posted in Blog

Sandhills hospitality


By Nick Teets

Photos by Lauren Justice

You could smell them before you could see them. Laid out before us were a dozen decomposing buffalo heads, fresh from the garage they’d been left in since February. Aldo had been busy skinning one for a while in the afternoon heat when he asked if we wanted to get our hands dirty, and I admit I got reluctantly excited.

For the next hour and a half, Lauren and I tore chunks of skin from the rotten head of the beast. The hot summer sun, the rancid smell, nor the legions of maggots buried deep in the skull of this sacred animal could have stopped me from having a great time.I knew I was going to remember this forever.

That’s the story I was telling Mike Burge during a radio interview at KVSH, the Heart City Radio, when Andrew’s phone started going off. If you listened close enough between talking about the Sundance and the Buffalo Jump youth center, you could hear Andrew fumbling around his pockets, trying to silence his phone.

We left the studio, and to my surprise the same number called me and had left a muffled voicemail. Jean Stolzenburg had been listening to the radio and called during the middle of the show to invite us out to the ranch. So the next day we did.

Lauren and I drove 45 minutes west of town, past Crookston and out of cell service. Past cornfields and country roads, we came upon the Stolzenburg ranch, and were greeted by a handful a kittens. Kittens are my weakness, so I knew we were in for an awesome day.

Jean rushed out the front door as I was chasing a kitty around, and brought us inside to meet her husband, Bud. To our surprise, they had known all about the project for weeks, and completely understood why we were doing it. As Jean prepared lunch for us, Bud told us the history of his family’s ranch, tales from the 100 years it had been there. After some delicious BBQ pulled pork and pasta salad, we ventured into the basement.stolzenburg_lj9

The next hour and a half was spent exploring the mineral collection Jean and Bud had collected over the past 48 years. Over three hundred beautiful specimens dazzled on the shelves of the Stolzenburg basement, but the best of them were the fluorescent minerals. Lauren and I spent the better part of an hour in complete darkness, taking video and long exposure shots with a blacklight, while Jean and Bud laughed as we awed at their collection.

Bud then showed us around his workshop, where he polishes his stones and does woodworking. We walked out of there with our pockets heavy with minerals he wanted us to have. After a short video interview, he let us in on a jam session on his slide guitar.stolzenburg_lj14

As we collected our new minerals and photo gear from around the house, Jean handed us an ice cream cone and a couple jars of her homemade jam. We tell them we can’t thank them enough, and as we walk back toward the car I run into the garden to snap a few more kitten photos for my Instagram. The ride back to Valentine was full of conversation about the generosity and kindness of these old Sandhillers, but it felt more like we were leaving home than heading toward it.

Posted in Blog

Youth camp on Rosebud



By Jacob Zlomke

Photos by Andrew Dickinson

There is a familiar pain that I cannot place. My face is dirty and wind burnt, my forearms glisten and ache in the sun, my ankles sore from twisting in deep, soft sand. This pain is far more (or maybe far less) than physical, though. It extends infinitely inward, touching every atom, pressing persistently at that place in my chest that feels as though it must be the core of my being.

I want to say it’s a metaphysical kind of growing pain. Maybe one night you stared in silence at the stars too long and began to feel very small, and maybe it was the first time you truly believed you are very small. And then you use that realization as a point from which to move forward, a crux on which to adjust how you view yourself and everything around you.

I want to say this pain is like that, I think that’s a relatable metaphor. But at the same time, it’s not that. The time we’ve spent this past week on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota has acted, like so many other things in life, as a point from which to shift a worldview.

This recalibration of how I view my own position didn’t make me feel small, though. It made me feel incredibly large. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we were at an equine therapy summer camp for kids from 12-22 ran by Shane and Noella Red Hawk. The camp provides opportunities to learn horse-riding, and this year bull-riding, skills as well as camping skills. Most importantly, it allows these youths a chance to be a part of something that closely ties to their Lakota culture, a chance they otherwise may not have had._MG_3399

I remember going to summer camps similar to this one. It was all pre-registration and meticulously planned and scheduled. I’ve never considered an agonizingly detailed day a product of privilege, but maybe it is. Noella tells me they can’t pre-register youth for the camp because not everyone can say whether they’ll have a reliable form of transportation on the day camp begins. During the week, kids come and go. It’s hard to tell who is a registered camper and who is just there.

Noella and Shane provide every camper with identical necessities like shower supplies, a water bottle, a sleeping bag. Maybe not every camper would be able to provide these things on their own, and they believe that no camper should feel disadvantaged for situations beyond their control. The two of them and a group of volunteers, mostly friends and family, prepare six meals for their campers, and it’s not like peanut butter and jelly and a bag of chips. More like fresh buffalo burgers and homemade tacos.

And they do it all free of charge, with their own money. Shane told us they end every camp with almost nothing left. It’s not about the money, he said.

It’s difficult to approach writing about this kind of thing. Spending three days with excited children and some of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, I’m glad to be in such company. But how can I tell about it?

I’m a white male. In that sense, my people have never been oppressed. My culture has never been threatened. I don’t need to work to preserve it because it’s ubiquitous. On a more personal level, I’ve never known suffering of any kind. Especially not the kind that’s par for the course for many youths on Rosebud. To me, hunger is waiting more than six hours between meals.

So, yes, this vague sort of pain I described earlier does make me feel very large. But it doesn’t make me feel important. It makes me feel shallow and dumb, like I’ve been playing too many video games. I’m certain I could not do what Shane and Noella do.

I try to work out these incongruities between my comfortable life nine miles south of the reservation and Rosebud, where, if it weren’t people like Noella and Shane, some kids would have nowhere to go but to gangs or alcohol or drugs. It’s something I can relate to only in the vaguest sense.

Maybe for now it suffices to understand that within our own borders, yes, people face serious problems every day, but at the same time people are working just as seriously to solve them. For Shane and Noella, it begins with the youth._MG_2684

Posted in Blog

The fifth of July

_MG_0613By Andrew Dickinson

It’s some time after 3 a.m., probably closer to 4.

Three full carloads of people arrive at a dock in the Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area during these early hours on July 5. The passengers haven’t slept yet – most of them went to the demolition derby, watched the firework show, went downtown and then to an “afterbar” in a garage with Christmas lights on 7th Street. There, the spontaneous decision to drive the 30-odd miles to Merritt was born.

They keep the headlights of the car closest to the water on, allowing just enough light to see. Most are swimming in their underwear, but one girl says she isn’t wearing any, so she takes everything off.


It’s really, really dark. 30 second exposures are working sometimes. I keep shooting mostly because I don’t want to get in the water and partly because I know this isn’t something that happens often. I want to have a record of it.

One guy, on his way toward land to grab another beer from the center console of the car blaring country music, stops and asks me why I don’t get in. I’m sitting on the end of the dock, cross legged, with my camera propped up on a pack of fifty-cent-off Pall Mall cigarettes and my phone to hold it steady. But the water is rocking the dock anyway, and there’s movement in every picture.

I don’t say anything, but I turn the camera and show him the blurry figures underneath the stars on the small LCD screen.

“Oh shit, man, well okay. That’s a beautiful picture.”



Posted in Blog

Working on the Niobrara



By Andrew Dickinson

It’s hard to call it work, really.

Jacob and I spent the whole day driving between landing points on the Niobrara National Scenic River – Lauren and Nick did too until around 11 a.m. when they had to leave to get to the rodeo on the reservation.

The day started at 7 a.m. when we were supposed to arrive at “the bowling alley,” which is the office of Brewer’s Canoers and Tubes outfitters. It’s called that among the employees probably to avoid confusion with Brewer’s bridge, a common stopping point for tubers who want a four hour trip instead of six, and the office in Valentine is also a bowling alley during the winter months.

The river workers, many of whom we saw at the Derby bar with a beer in hand the night before, showed up mostly on time. They admitted to being hungover.

Jacob rode in one Brewer’s van and I followed out to Berry Bridge, a starting point for most of the day’s tubers, canoers and kayakers. Lauren and Nick did the same.

A few hours passed by without much activity. The Brewer’s guys put life vests on what they thought were enough tubes for the reservation list they had on a clipboard, and waited for shuttles to start arriving. There was plenty of yawning, lots of cigarette smoking, and one employee, who was off the clock for the day and floating in a few hours, started drinking a Coors Light.

You could tell when the yellow school buses started arriving that most of these people were out of towners. We get it a lot too, but you can just tell when a family or group of people is from the city and when they’re not. I tried to meet as many groups as possible so that when we ran across them again later in the day, they’d know who that guy standing on the bridge with a few cameras was.

We’re well received for the most part, many people started their drinking early and were very friendly. Loading was incredibly hectic, so many groups arrived at once, but it was organized chaos. For many of the Brewer’s employees, this is a job they’ve done every summer for years.


Finally, around noon, most of the groups were on the river. At that point Jacob and I split and took  a quick trip back to town to pick up more business cards and download the morning’s footage and photos.

Our next destination was Smith Falls, where nearly everyone stopped. If you didn’t know, it’s the tallest waterfall in Nebraska, and it’s a beautiful place. You’re allowed to climb essentially wherever you want on the falls, and the cool air surrounding it was refreshing. Jacob and I spent a few hours shooting video and photos of the people who passed through the area. Most of the time, if I promised to e-mail people pictures, they would let me do my thing without a problem. Even without the offering, most people were friendly. A good chunk of the visitors at Smith Falls are obviously well on their way to being drunk, and maybe that made the cold, cascading water feel even better.

Next we went to Brewer’s Bridge.

It was a good spot to sit and people watch. Many tubers got off the river here – some had a few more hours to go down to Stan’s Landing. Lots of people offered to toss us beers while we sat on the bridge, and eventually a group of about 20 stopped and yelled at us for a group picture. One girl flashes us, at a male member of the group’s prompting.

“Are you guys the Fly Over Nebraska people?” a girl who was raised in Valentine yelled from the water.

Admittedly, it felt good to hear that, even if she didn’t quite get the name right.

She didn’t believe us when we say yes, we’re the Fly Over Me people, so we walked down and showed her a business card as proof. They let us hang out for a while, many of them were from Hartington, a small town in northeastern Nebraska where I spent a summer three years ago.

They told us where they’re camping and promise us venison if we showed up later. Of course, we headed back to town to get ready and went straight to the campsite.

There, we sat for a few hours and talked with the group. They were all tired now – a day full of drinking will do that to a person. One person was already asleep in a tent at 8 p.m. and he was snoring like a bear. Another said he’s “riding the struggle bus,” later he’s “driving the struggle bus,” and eventually, with two shots of Fireball, a cinnamon whisky, he’s “yanked the emergency brake and is off the struggle bus.”


Nick and Lauren came back out with us, and Nick joins a few of the tubers to take camping chairs and sit in the river.

I was content sitting on the edge of a picnic bench, staring at the trees across the Niobrara and watching the golden light change.

It’s hard to call it work, really.

Posted in Blog

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: