Killed Long Ago, These Outlaws Refuse to Die

The Wall Street Journal

September 6, 2001 - By Karin Winegar

Spurs jingling, duster billowing and a desperado gleam in his eye, Chip DeMann swings back in the saddle this week for his 32d year of robbery during the 125th anniversary of the Northfield, Minn. bank raid. The James-Younger gang's foiled September 7, 1876 bank robbery took seven minutes, triggered the largest manhunt in US history up to that time and launched an enduring national industry in the enjoyment and study of outlawry. The attempt is celebrated as The Defeat of Jesse James Days, a September afternoon when Jesse James, Cole Younger and their larcenous pals got their comeuppance from a bunch of Minnesota farmers and storekeepers.

Northfield's welcome sign offers "cows, colleges and contentment," but the raiders' conspiracy put this small town on the national map. Nothing since, not its two colleges (Carleton and St. Olaf) nor the birth here of economist Thorstein Veblen, has captured quite so much attention. As local farm woman Ida Bennett Porter said presciently a few years after the raid, "Nothing very exciting happened after that in Northfield." Nothing, that is, until Mr. DeMann, as Chairman of Raider Reenactments and official leader of the James-Younger gang, robs the bank six times each September to the delight of a crowd that reaches 200,000 -- 80 times the entire population of Northfield in 1876.

On Defeat weekend, the aroma of gunpowder mingles with the fragrance of toasted grain: Across the Cannon River from the bank, an 1869 building houses part of the Malt-O-Meal cereal company. The gang chose the Northfield bank in part for the milling fortunes in its bank vault, and the mill still produces tons of cereal annually. "It would be too easy to make the Defeat weekend a three day drunk," said Mr. DeMann, a Malt-O-Meal warehouse manager. "This is a time to recognize the history and the heroism of the local people. In 32 years as head bandito, I've tried to steer them toward historic accuracy. There's an entire generation now who realize the import of this in U.S. history."

Killed by a shot in the back in St. Joseph, Mo., at age 34, just six years after the raid, Jesse James is one of those iconic American rogues who has refused to die: his story has been told to date in a dozen documentaries, some 90 books, countless dime novels and comic books (in France and Germany as well as the U.S. ), and in TV specials ranging from Leonard Nimoy's "In Search Of" to this August's Warner Bros. release, "American Outlaws."

Jesse James' great grandson, retired Orange County, Calif., Judge James R. Ross, released his own book "I, Jesse James" in 1989. "It's surprising people don't realize he was a southern hero," said Ross, who was raised by his grandfather, Jesse's son, who graduated summa cum laude from the Kansas City School of Law. "I call my great-grandfather notorious instead of famous or infamous. I feel a dichotomy about him: you have to know what happened in the Civil War and then make your own decision about him, which is what my grandfather told me."

According to Mr. Ross, in 1937, when Darryl F. Zanuck was seeking a story to compete with "Gone with the Wind," he persuaded Mr. Ross's mother to sign a contract giving him the rights to the Jesse James story she had written with Billy Judson, a former gang member, for $10,000. "He brought her over and had her picture taken with Tyrone Power and really snowed her," said Mr. Ross. " This was the depths of the Depression, and she was supporting four people on $95 a month. She never heard from him after that." Mr. Ross, then 13, and his mother attended the premier of that 1939 movie starring Power. Afterwards, she was asked how true the movie was, said Mr. Ross. "She said, 'Well there were two men named Jesse and Frank James and they did ride horses.'"

The first Northfield raid re-enactment took place in 1948 as part of a fall harvest festival; it became a regular event in 1970. Now the rugby tournament, firemen's bingo games, rodeo, kiddie parade, art show and three dozen other sideshow events are subsumed to the re-enactment itself.

It takes place on Division Street where the bullet holes from the actual raid (some considerately circled in black marker) can be seen in the original limestone two-storey bank building. About 300 re-enactors have participated over the years, playing Pinkertons, passers-by, and Joseph Heywood, the bank teller who was shot and killed when he refused to open the safe. The DeMann clan supplies five of the eight robber-re-enactors: in addition to Chip, his brothers Jerry, Doug and Chris and his father Chuck (now 76) ride in raids. When brother Chris didn't show during the filming of "In Search Of" (it was prom night), Chip's wife, Jane Moline, became the first and only woman to ride in a re-enactment. Chip and Jane's two sons, Trip, 14, and Gus, 11, who ride in regional parades in their own scaled down hats, guns and dusters, seem likely to carry on the family tradition of filling outlaw boots.

Gunfire, slick pavement, spooked horses and unpredictable props have presented challenges that the original band never faced. Prior to the restoration of the bank in the late 1970's, when such anachronisms were removed, two parking meters and a plank served as a hitching rail for the gang's horses. When the guns went off, so did the horses, galloping riderless down Division Street with the makeshift hitching rail bouncing after them and the gang members in pursuit on foot.

There have been split trousers and a broken nose. One rider accidentally wrenched his horse over on top of himself. In one particularly action-filled afternoon performance, Doug DeMann shot himself in the leg. And once, as re-enactor Wayne Eddy playing robber Bill Stiles lay "dead" in the street, his pistol misfired, setting off his entire cartridge belt, his pants and his underwear. He stoically accepted the acclaim from the crowd, who assumed this was a stunt, then mounted his horse in charred shock.

At the following year's re-enactment, Mr. Eddy found two fire extinguishers strapped to his saddle.

"There is just shooting, shooting, shooting," said Jane Moline, who serves as raid choreographer. "So they don't run out of ammo, some of the men pack up to six guns. They are riding horses up and down a slippery street. They are a little wired. And these are real guns: although they are blank cartridges, if you are shot right, you'll be dead."

The popularity of the eight riders in dusters has spread far beyond Northfield: Chip DeMann, his friends and kin make up to 56 appearances a year from the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas to the Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, hauling their horses, costumes and firearms. Originally they rode in modern Levi's jeans, meat cutters' coats and 1920's cowboy boots. But today they appear on period-correct McClellan saddles, in custom made dusters, weapons, vests, pants and shirts appropriate to the post-Civil War south.

On Oct. 6, the gang will appear in San Angelo, Texas as guests of the National James-Younger Gang Association convention, a group of 160 amateur and professional historians, to put flesh on the many myths about the gang. The convention includes a barbeque on land believed to be part of the Peace Ranch where Jesse and Frank hid between bouts with the law. Thurston James of Sherman Oaks, Calif., is editor and publisher of The James-Younger Gang Journal that goes to the members of the Association, which was founded in 1993. He has been collecting books about Jesse for 20 years or more, since he discovered he is a sixth cousin three times removed on his father's side.

This fall also marks the publication of the definitive history of the raid, "Faithful Unto Death, the James-Younger Raid on the First National Bank" by historian and James-Younger gang buff Jack Koblas of Burnsville, Minn. The title refers not just to Heywood, who gave up his life to defend the bank, "But the Youngers never squealed on the Jameses," said Chip DeMann. "They took secrets to their graves."

Writers began shaping the James-Younger gang story since the year of the raid itself, when "the Guerillas of the West or The Life, Character and Daring Exploits of the Younger Brothers" was published. It was followed by 15 more books before the turn of the century including "Jesse James, My Father" by Jesse James, Jr. in 1899. Although dozens of witnesses saw the original event, time, pride and hearsay have resulted in "Rashomon"-like disputes about what happened, when and why. The last surviving bank robber of the gang, Cole Younger, died in 1916, and his stories sometimes contradicted one another.

The gang -- Jesse and Frank James, Cole, Bob and Jim Younger, Charlie Pitts, Clell Miller and Bill Stiles -- included several former Confederate soldiers; they chose the Northfield Bank because they believed money stolen from Confederates was deposited there by Adelbert Ames, a local mill owner and former governor of Mississippi and by his father-in-law, another former Union General, Benjamin Butler. Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers, Cole, Jim and Bob, along with some less nobly motivated accomplices, rode from Missouri to Minnesota to capture and return it to the suffering South.

Chip DeMann first rode in the re-enactment in 1970 at age 16, the year he was also mayor of Dundas (pop. 462), the youngest mayor in the U.S. Dundas is three miles from Northfield on the Cannon River, where the gang washed their wounds on their unsuccessful escape flight south west. They were captured in a slough near Madelia, Minn., two weeks later.

Mr. DeMann claims he's become fat (he's lean), old (he's 47) and bald (you'd never notice under his derby) portraying a man who will be forever young and, in the American imagination, dashing. (Even President Teddy Roosevelt once referred to Jesse James as "America's Robin Hood.") His affably chatty style makes him a winning ambassador for Northfield and for the raid. He will be at his best this weekend, as the gang takes on the town again. "But in the end," he says, "being bad guys, we always have to lose."

Racing Aboard the Great Lakes Schooner Denis Sullivan

Special to the Los Angeles Times

January 22, 2012 - By Karin Winegar

Reporting from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.—
At dawn on the dock, a few sailors kiss spouses and dogs goodbye. Then we muster on the quarterdeck: 17 crew (nine volunteers and eight professional sailors) ranging from a 19-year-old South Carolina college student to a 76-year-old Michigan farmer.

I have cruised the South Pacific, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean on the most luxurious ships afloat and have been crew on sailing and racing sailboats for decades in inland lakes, the Great Lakes and the Caribbean. As a volunteer on a tall ship, however, I knew I'd have a rare chance to learn classic skills and be part of a genuine adventure. I was leaving private staterooms, spa treatments and five-star table service far behind. Now I would sleep below decks in a narrow bunk, stand watch, eat shoulder to shoulder and scrub the galley afterward; it sounded grand.

Our ship is the Denis Sullivan, the world's only Great Lakes schooner, and we're heading out in a tall ships' race from Duluth, Minn., to Sault Ste. Marie, about 370 miles. It is a sunny, humid day in August, but I have brought foul-weather gear, long johns and a watch cap as protection from Lake Superior's notorious storms and chill.

In the 19th century, ships like the Sullivan were the freight trucks of the Great Lakes. Thousands of them hauled wood, iron ore and fish. Now they are at the bottom of a lake or long since broken up. Five years and a million volunteer hours in the building, this handsome replica was launched in 2000 as an educational vessel and flagship for the state of Wisconsin.

Capt. Tiffany Krihwan, a petite blond with cropped hair and freckles, is dressed for the day in a puka shell choker, khakis and a red "Seas the Day" T-shirt. The woman the crew calls "Tiff" announces man overboard, abandon ship and firefighting drills: "If there's a fire, we fight it. The longer it burns, the less ship we have. This water is 44 degrees; the best hope you have is the immersion suit. Better yet, don't fall in.

"When we wash the deck, if you don't close my hatch, I will dump water in your bunk. Also if find a bunk light on, you lose your light, and you'll have to do a dance or skit — I like show tunes." Then she adds a daily refrain, "Don't put toilet paper in the head," followed by, "Remember, have fun!"

The round, low call of a conch shell rises through the galley hatchway where, to the strains of U2 and Benny Goodman, ship's cook Angela MacIntyre has made breakfast. We fuel up, and we need it: Muscle moves this forest of wrist-thick lines and massive sails. Krihwan shouts commands; the crew echoes in "callbacks" communicating the length of the 98-foot deck, out to the tip of the 39-foot bowsprit or up three of the more-than-70-foot masts.

Nate Bray-Marks, the ship's chief engineer, pink faced and with a touch of Jack Black's manic jubilance, seizes lines surely and swiftly.

"Tiff, which headsails do you want up?" he shouts.

"All of them," she yells in return.

A dozen hands join him on the halyards as he bellows: "Haul away together: Two-six! Heave! Two-six! Heave! Ziggyzaggy, ziggyzaggy, oy oy oy!"

The Sullivan carries 10 sails used in combinations tailored to wind velocity and direction. This morning, with good westerlies behind us, we put up everything, including the raffee, a batwing-shaped sail unique to Great Lakes schooners.

"Ready on the throat, ready on the peak," Bray-Marks yells as we grasp lines to alternately hoist the inner and outer edges of the sail. "Throat! Peak! Throat! Peak! Get strong! Dig in and hold! Sweat it!" (Make it even tighter.) "That's well." (Stop.)

The Sullivan's sails up and trimmed, we watch our rivals, including the Pride of Baltimore II with its distinctive raked masts, the Europa flaunting about 20 sails, and the Roseway, distinguished by its tanbark (red) sails.

"Two steps back! Fire in the hole!" comes the word and the ship's cannon sends a gratifyingly loud salute echoing cross Superior Bay.

"Whose butt are we gonna kick today?" Bray-Marks calls out.

"Niagara's!" we roar back, eyeing a nearby square-rigged brigantine with gun ports.

While some crew handle sails and the helm, others scrub decks, wash dishes and clean the head. It's "like doing chores on an amusement park ride," says Becka Hopkins, a college sophomore. She has studied seamanship under the American Sail Training Assn. and was a deckhand from Bermuda to Charleston, S.C., aboard the tall ship Virginia.

Joe Ewing, Sullivan's volunteer coordinator and education officer, is aboard for the race. He helps teach youngsters about the Great Lakes ecosystem in trips for schoolchildren.

"They tie knots, raise the sails, take lake water samples and peer at benthos — microorganisms on the bottom," he says. "They learn to use a Ponar grab sampler [a metal box with jaws] to scoop up creatures such as worms and larvae and get a gander at invasive threats such as zebra mussels and Caspian quaggas."

During longer trips, passengers learn deeper lessons about the sea, themselves and other cultures, Ewing says. "At home, many of them have to have the latest video game and every comfort. Out here they change. On our trips to the Bahamas, kids see how happy people are without electricity or running water."

I'm part of the 11 p.m.-3 a.m. watch, standing on the foredeck as the masts inscribe arcs on the stars accompanied by the occasional faint thrum of distant freighters. The Big Dipper spills light on the Pleiades, massive cumulus clouds open and close like stage curtains, a meteor sparkles past Cassiopeia and rakes the forestay. Before me a sliver of moon rises, a shimmering shade of antique rose, and phosphor winks in rushing bow waves. Then spotlights pierce low clouds to the north, a wavering band of silver, purple and palest green: The Northern Lights dance above us.

Morning finds us passing the Devils Island light of the Apostle Islands, and we have not kicked Niagara's butt: It is 19 miles ahead. Europa, however, is on our starboard beam.

At midday, a green-purple fist of a thunderstorm bears down on us, the wind kicks up to 35 knots (10 knots is about 11 1/2 mph) and brings cold, stinging rain. With Krihwan shouting commands, the ship heeling sharply, we race to reduce sail, secure lines and put on foul-weather gear.

Isle Royale is somewhere to port, and the Keweenaw Peninsula is visible to starboard; some of the crew are playing the violin and ukulele. Two weary sparrows rest on the lines, and the German-accented voice of Europa's captain sputters from the radio.

At 6 p.m. we muster to the aroma of ginger, coconut vegetable stir fry and rice.

"We have wind 10 to 15 knots, the winds will be 25 knots from the west tonight, but let's keep the topsails up unless it gets really bad," Krihwan instructs.

The Pride of Baltimore II radios during mess, and the captains swap news. Ours signs off with "Nighty-night. We love you."

Now I share the 3-8 a.m. watch with Jeffrey Hicks, a retired Milwaukee theater rigger. We attempt to recall the words to "White Cliffs of Dover" as we balance on the foredeck, spotting 1,000-foot-long freighters. At dawn in mid-lake, the Europa is silhouetted against the red bands of sunrise, and a tiny brown bat hurtles aboard and crawls under a hatch cover to rest.

A stiff wind rises behind us, the Sullivan surges to 12 knots, the following waves higher than our stern, white caps tumbling alongside. It's going as fast as it has ever moved, and we grin at one another and take turns at the wheel. Hours early (although still behind Niagara), we shoot into Whitefish Bay, where the doomed Edmund Fitzgerald lies somewhere beneath us. To port, the sunset picks out the tawny headlands of Canada, the skyline pricked by wind turbines. To starboard, a deep, summer green forest slopes to the sapphire water.

At the Soo Locks wharf, spectators call out questions, take photographs and look at us with envy. We have set a schooner record of 50 hours for this trip. More than that we have had a rare chance to live a tradition and traveled with grace and excitement through great beauty.

Doug Leatherdale's Legacy Runs Deep and Wide

March 2016 - by Karin Winegar

They're known in Europe, Canada and the United States for their fine warmblood horses, yet Doug and Louise Leatherdale of Leatherdale Farms in Medina, Minn., are equally celebrated for their generosity to music, art, veterinary medicine, international relations, civic well being, human rights and higher education.

Click on the photo below to read PDF version of article

Can't We Stop This Plague of Errant Apostrophes?

Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial

Repeat after me: possession, contraction, possession, contraction.

That's it. That's all. All this little Jackson Pollock-like flicking of random little dabs of ink everywhere has to stop. There are rules and reasons for using the apostrophe, and you contribute to the collective befuddlement and the moronization of the culture if you don't follow them.

What some other grammar bore called the apostrophe catastrophe is epidemic.

Let's start with the ubiquitous "Employee's must wash hands."    An employee's hands must be washed, surely, but employees (like cats, dogs, trees, beers, snowmobiles) is a simple plural. Plurals don't require apostrophes.

I supposes it's classist, sexist and other -ist to expect We Rent Harley's, which irks me from the marquee of a chopper rental place in Minneapolis' sex district.

And I suppose the folks in Wisconsin who put up the billboard on Hwy. 94 that declares River Falls Finest Neighborhood didn't consider that a fine (which used to mean educated, not simply wealthy)   neighborhood might want to present itself as accomplished in grammar and punctuation.  And the Woodbury urban sprawl-ites have probably not noticed that St. Johns Drive should really be St. John's Drive (as in the drive belonging to St. John).

And no doubt the photographer whose (not who's) flyer I spotted advertising Cowboy's Needed (cowboys' what are needed?) at a local saddlery is good at things I'm not good at. And there are certainly worthy folks working for the philanthropy for troubled teenagers whose flyer read "Help One Kid, Off the Street's. Donation's $5," but they might want to set a better example.

Lately, it seems no one and no place is exempt, not even Edina. At Gabbert's in the Galleria I spotted a handlettered sign that directed me to "sofa's." A few yards away another sign in the same handwriting directed me to "chairs." This desperately random use of apostrophes indicates that someone is just guessing. There's (a contraction of there is) this thing called an analogy: if the word sofas has an apostrophe, why doesn't the word chairs also have one, hmm?  

I have even spotted this plague in the usually impeccable New York Times: a headline in the Sunday, March 24, 2002 arts section (p29) announced to several million readers that there were "Bravo's in the Hall." And then there was "The cartoon's aren't..." (Sunday March 31, 2002 pg. 10 Week in Review.   Shhh! We're Trying to Surf). If the most authoritative newspaper in the world can't get plurals and possessives straight, we are in dire straits (plural, no apostrophe).   

Bravos and cartoons are no different than Harleys. It's two cartoons, three Harleys, four bravos, five ignorant editors, six dim sign painters, etc.

As for contraction: an apostrophe is inserted where something is removed--like a fossil trace of the letter itself. For example: Don't (do not) think I'm (I am) not watchin' (watching) y'all (you all).

These little cotter pins of language and flyspecks of literature matter not only because they reveal who one is but because punctuation slackness betokens and maybe precedes inattentiveness elsewhere. Before Rome was sacked by the Vandals, Goths and Huns, no doubt citizens had decided that one L or C or X more or less didn't matter. And Roman teenagers went around mumbling the Latin equivalent of  "whatever" and "who cares" and wearing the laces of their sandals untied and the 2nd century AD equivalent of Zoobas, and then senators and scribes got sloppy and then bam! Tall, hirsute people who took one bath a year if they fell through the ice were heaving art onto bonfires in the Roman Forum and   playing dice with centurions' toe-bones, and indoor toilets didn't appear again for more than 1500 years,

The Circus Is Coming; on Wheels

The New York Times Travel Essay

June 30, 2002 - By Karin Winegar

I CRAVE a front row seat at passing spectacles, be it the Carnival dance parade called Ra Ra in the streets of Haiti, the parade-pilgrimage of El Rocio in Andalusia, Spain, where women in ruffled skirts ride in ox carts with men in bolero jackets, or the Halloween parade through Greenwich Village with floats bearing the ice cream moguls Ben and Jerry in cow costumes.

African-American drum corps? Bagpipe bands? Torchlight parades of sled dogs and snow queens? I'll be there.

I'm a devotee of the Minneapolis MayDay Parade with its gaudy pagan puppets and participants like Chinese dragon dancers, painted and pierced contingents of the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League and counterculture locals with their dogs and children in flower-filled strollers.

The essence of a parade for me, however, is horses, my appetite for them all the keener because they are fated to appear last. In the 1950's and 60's, watching the Rose Bowl parade on black-and-white TV, I waited impatiently for the palominos in fabulous silver-studded black saddles, bridles and breastplates, their creamy manes and tails sweeping the hot tarmac, garlands of roses on their necks. My imagination supplied the color.

I tried it a couple of times -- being part of the show, that is -- and found it disappointing. When I rode my own horse in parades, both as a child and recently as an adult, the ratio of time/stage fright/effort to fun was not favorable -- and worst, while the tourists were enjoying my horse and me in costume, I missed out on the show myself.

So I went back to seeking out parades and savoring them from the sidelines, perfecting the art by traveling with a folding chair, sunbrella, cooler, sunblock and camera in the trunk of my car.

Roaming the Midwest by myself a few years ago, I found my quintessential American summer parade, which has the bonus of starting from the shore of Lake Michigan with an old-time circus under a big top. At the Great Circus Parade each July in Milwaukee, 50 wagons from the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., original home of the Ringling brothers, roll out on the street just as they did in their heyday, pulled by more than 700 mighty draft horses, mules and ponies.

In addition to glorious horses, the parade has cyclists in knickers riding high-wheel bikes, a stilt-walking Uncle Sam, military marching bands and -- except for a fleet of tin lizzies and other antique cars -- not a single motor. It's ''The Music Man'' meets the Ziegfeld Follies, the summer diversion of my grandparents' era.

I have raced down to Milwaukee from St. Paul for the past three years. I almost prefer to travel there and watch the parade alone, since it frees me to be the totally entranced kid on the curb.

A joyful spirit seizes Milwaukee for a whole week before the parade, during which spectators stake out spots on the sidewalk. A tent city erupts in an orderly fashion along the parade route. The tents of Camp Barkinville -- named in honor of the parade's founder, Ben Barkin, a Milwaukee public relations man -- holds down the corner of Prospect Avenue and Mason Street, where the parade arrives from Veterans Park at the top of Lincoln Memorial Drive and swings south through the city.

No tents for me, thanks. On Saturday morning, I check into a room in the Knickerbocker on the Lake, an Art Deco-era hotel a few blocks from the park; an updraft carries the aroma of summer grass, the lake, sawdust, bratwurst, buttered popcorn and the haunting music of calliopes.

I hike down to the show grounds, wander through open-sided tents where huge draft horses champ and doze, tethered row upon elephantine row. Farm families camp alongside their horses on cots, snoozing in an alley of thick necks and coarse manes. We talk horses, and I follow them to the wardrobe wagons, where they swap feed caps and overalls for some of the 1,500 costumes from the Baraboo museum.

''This is the first time in years I've had hair,'' said Keith Stainer, a teamster from Menomonie, Wis., as the wardrobe mistress adjusted his tunic, which had enormous gold lamé sleeves, and slipped a wig over his head. ''Just so it don't tickle my ears, I can't stand that,'' Mr. Stainer grumbled.

I leave him to his fitting session and stroll on to peek into the works of whistling calliopes and thrumming circus band organs, and marvel at circus wagons displayed like so many folk-art sculptures: tableaus of Pocahontas saving John Smith, Mother Goose and her shoe, Columbus claiming the New World.

I buy popcorn and squeeze into bleachers to catch the ''Wild West Revue,'' which features cowboys and Indians, stagecoach holdups, trick roping and sharpshooting. In the big top I watch the Royal Hanneford Circus, with dancing white Arabian horses, lion tamers, trapeze artists and tightrope walkers.

As the stars come out over the lake, I savor the tinkle and rasp of the calliopes swinging into ''Can Can'' and ''Lady of Spain.'' Near midnight, I stagger to bed; fortunately the parade doesn't begin until 2 p.m. on Sunday.

At last it starts, massive horses driven by men decked out in red jackets with epaulets topped by pith helmets and caps. The ground shakes with the impact of hooves: sleek black Percherons, big blond Belgians, shaggy legged Clydesdales and Shires.

Round the corner, goggling gently as the crowd squeals and goggles back, rides a giraffe, and other cages contain a lion, a pygmy hippo, lemon pythons. A brindle-coated longhorn ox rides placidly in his own shaded wagon. The local corps de ballet in harem pants, veils and bare midriffs, waves from the backs of dromedaries.

I wave back and cheer. What's to cheer? Them (the 2,500 volunteers), me, us: I find this red, white, blue and gold vintage Americana acutely moving, an event from a lost and more innocent time when the tattooed lady was a sideshow feature, not the kid waiting on you at the Gap.

I hold my breath as a real daredevil act pounds up the hill: the Forty, a 40-horse hitch organized and driven by the Sparrow family of Zearing, Iowa. As a recreational buggy driver myself, I am in weak-legged awe of this feat. In the 1972 parade Dick Sparrow became the first to drive the hitch, consisting of four stout Belgian horses abreast, 10 rows long. Now his sons Tim, Paul and Rob join him at the reins of this herd, towing a circus wagon called the Two Hemispheres, two blue globes framed with the flags and seals of 14 nations amid a welter of gilded lions, tigers and eagles.

As I watched last year's Forty, something snagged and then snapped deep in the maze of leather, chain and horseflesh. The driver yelled ''Whoa!, whoa!,'' the brakeman struggled, the crowd froze and hushed, sensing the peril. Outriders leapt from their saddles, waded between plunging horses and untangled the fouled line. A runaway was averted!

In minutes, the show went on, horse people, wagons, horses and me, all of us bigger and better than life for one day. I'll be there again on the 14th when the antique circus parade wagons and glorious horses roll on, propelled by grace, nostalgia and help from friends.

The Fate of Horses: a Lesson in Unintended Consequences

Minnesota Public Radio Commentary

December 27, 2011 - By Karin Winegar

The grave isn't as big as you'd think, given the size of the animal.  The neighbor with his backhoe can scoop it out in 10 or 20 minutes if the ground isn't frozen yet, and that's when I must make the decision: Will this horse make it through the winter? Or is it better to call the veterinarian to bring the little violet box of pentobarbital?

I make the call while my horse can still walk to a patch of ground away from fences and buildings, where I hug his neck and kiss his forehead before the wordless, soundless moment of the injection when the vet says "stand back" and the great warm body drops over.  And the animal I have loved and ridden for 20 or 30 years is severed from me.

Most horses are not buried after a long life and happy old age, however.  So horse owners look this issue in the face, in its big moist brown eyes, often.

In 2005, Congress passed a rider to the USDA appropriations bill banning funds for federal inspection of horses being trucked to slaughter plants.  That put the last two U.S. plants — Belgian-owned facilities in Illinois and Texas — out of business.  Congress meant well; animal lovers and the Humane Society, which lobbied for the measure, meant well.  But rescues are overrun, horses are abandoned to starve, and slaughter is outsourced.  Last year, 138,000 American horses were trucked to plants in Mexico and Canada, according to the Government Accounting Office.  The number being slaughtered was about the same as before the ban.

"The horses are traveling farther to meet the same end ... in foreign slaughtering facilities where U.S. humane slaughtering protections do not apply," the report states.

So last month, Congress reinstated the funding for inspections.  Now, so-called unwanted horses may again be slaughtered in the United States and their meat shipped to countries that are no more squeamish about eating horse than eating chicken.

Most of us who own horses, and those who do not but have seen "Cavalia" or are familiar with "Warhorse" or "Secretariat" or "Seabiscuit" or "Black Beauty", want horses to have good homes forever.  My horses will, but most do not.

Too many are foaled with the best of intentions but something — job loss, farm foreclosure, illness, the price of hay — intervenes.  Too many horses are foaled because the owner hopes to profit from them at the track; then a fractured sesamoid or bowed tendon or lack of speed sends them to auction, where the slaughter buyers pay by the pound.  Too many horses are born because an owner didn't geld that colt soon enough and ran him with the mares. Too many foals are sent to slaughter because they were only created to keep a mare on a urine line producing estrogen-rich urine for Premarin, a drug prescribed to postmenopausal women.  Too many horses are born because when a mare is not in foal she's called "open" and somebody thinks she should be "full" because he might make a buck.  And he did, too — maybe not at the reining championships, but ultimately because she went to auction by the pound.

Many are "unwanted" because their owners didn't learn to ride well enough or got frightened or decided a horse, pony, mule or donkey was too much work, time, manure and money, or because the kids outgrew it.

For some Americans, horses are livestock that should be useful before and after death.  For others, not taking lifelong care of our horses is a bit like idolizing Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji and Marley while allowing their kin to starve and die.  We do that, too: Roughly 4 million a year are euthanized in animal shelters (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats) because there are no homes for them all.

But we are responsible for what we have tamed.  There's the good boy I rode through the pine forests and swam in the pond and taught to side pass, who nibbled apples and carrots from my hands, who is losing weight now no matter how much senior horse feed I pour for him, whose teeth are mostly gone, who stumbles and falls at times, whose spine and ribs are daily more visible, whom I no longer ride.  So I make the call.

For some, the Disappearance of a Post Office is Personal

Minnesota Public Radio Commentary

October 21, 2011 - By Karin Winegar

I was born in the 2 cent postcard and nickel letter stamp era, am living in the 29 cent postcard and 44 cent letter era (soon to be 45), and it looks as if I will exit life in a post-post office era.  I am sorry about this: glad to see trees spared for paper, certainly, but otherwise I see this as a loss of a democratizing and, to me, very personal institution.

My grandfather Harley Greenwalt was postmaster of the tiny town of Mount Auburn, Iowa (current population 160).  Somewhere I have a blurred black and white photo of him in his dark shirt, tie and hat, heaving the canvas bag of letters into the mail car of the train as it passed the depot door.

Grandpa Greenwalt ran to work, pursued as always by his own demons of urgency and time shortage, through his sheep pasture and apple orchard, past the henhouse and across the railroad tracks.  He ran, leaving the Studebaker in the garage for my grandmother Myrtle, the local nurse, to use.  He always wore a tie, his shirt was hastily misbuttoned half the time, and he had a hat or cap tugged down on his head against the breeze he created in his daily dashes.

I came barely up to the counter of the two windows in his tiny post office, where I fiddled with the combination locks on mysterious ranks of brass boxes.  In the back room behind the big wooden sorting tables, Grandpa filed mail into a rural delivery cupboard -- packages, envelopes and catalogues to be toted by car to the local farms.  Roads were poor, and the mailman, Walter Smalley, got stuck a lot.

It was a mom and pop operation, but so was everything in Mount Auburn: Next door to the post office was Sam and Lulu's cafe.  One or two people worked at the counter of the corner grocery store, the bar, the hardware store, the bank and the switchboard.

Presumably, this civil service job gave Grandpa time -- after sorting letters -- to sit in the back room and memorize poetry, of which he was fond.  And it was in that back room that Myrtle, my grandmother, had her first stroke.  Grandpa laid her on the sorting table and sent for help.

The Greenwalts stayed put in their village, but one of their three daughters -- my aunt Melva -- went on to live in various exotic places, including Bangladesh, where recipients must pay the mail carrier for the letters or the carrier tosses them in the canal.  Or so she told me.  My conscientious grandparents would have been apoplectic to hear that.

My two St. Paul neighborhood post offices still provide little adventures and small sweetnesses.  One employee addresses me as "dear .  Another shows me photos of his rescued dachshund and we discuss books.  One runs classic movies in the lobby for customers standing in line to watch.  And I snoop shamelessly at the return addresses of packages they clutch and then start conversations with them.

So far I have met, among others, the Norwegian consul, a Sami artist and a Somali woman who needed a passport photo.  I gave her a ride to a post office that provides that service.   God love you , she told me by way of thanks.

About 20 years ago, I drove down to Mount Auburn, navigating by memory, light and smell, like some kind of salmon returning home.  Grandma and Grandpa Greenwalt's post office had not survived.  It was towed out in the country to be used, I was told, as a chicken coop.

I don't know if email killed it, or Twitter, or cell phones, or the general precipitous decline in writing letters.  But it gives me some consolation to picture a Rhode Island Red laying eggs in Box 29, next to a leghorn in Box 30, and both of them clucking cheerily with a bantam or two down the line.

Dispatch from the Countryside: The Arresting Presence of Sandhill Cranes

Minneapolis Star Tribune

October 20, 2015 - By Karin Winegar

You could not miss them.

The sandhill cranes made a nest on the small island in the shallow lake in my horse pasture. We could not see the female, but we knew she was tucked down in the clutter of cattails and reeds, her big grey plumed body blending in perfectly. The male stood fiercely still near the nest, his red rimmed eye reproachful as we trotted to a stop on the opposite shore.

All summer my friend Laurie and I watched them and their two fluffy chicks with legs like elongated chopsticks. The chicks became slim juveniles foraging closely with their parents in the pastures and corn fields, then stately young adults picking gravel at the roadside.

"The cranes are on the apple tree hill!" I reported after my horse spooked, whirled and dislodged me at the sight of the big birds. "The cranes are in the beaver house inlet," I reported.
And later that month "the cranes are all out together in the soybean field."

The first time I encountered sandhill cranes many years ago, it was because of an eerie sound far above me as I rode on a gravel road in a Washington County. The cry was not swans, not geese, not like anything I’d ever heard.

"My god they sound like pterodactyls!" I thought. A pair floated far, far up in the sky, almost invisibly high and would never have been seen except for that far reaching purring croak.

Their complaining croaks echoed all this summer long on the little lake, particularly at twilight.

The lake has sheltered swans, coots, mallards and a pair of loons. Great horned owls roost in the oaks on the edges, wood ducks shoot upward from among the lily pads, crying and rippling the surface. A rare bewildered quail or two as been seen there, and in past decades, although not recently, the long grasses exploded with pheasant roosters. Lately, it’s been dominated by wild turkeys that perch in trees and crash noisily out of the branches when we ride beneath them. The hens scoot across the grasses, the turkey cocks stalk alone, their beards swaying like Scottish sporrans, the females with a passel of youngsters crouched and sprinting with them.

You could never miss the cranes.

At summer’s end, the parents stood 4 feet tall with 6 foot wingspreads and the chicks barely less. They grazed in the ditch at the edge of the cornfields now, four stately, eye catching grey presences. Their ancestors were not much different nine million years ago when they wintered in what is now Nebraska on the Platte River. It was time to catch the thermals to that route again, and I wished them a safe journey with their kind.

You could not miss the crane family.

As you drove north on the straight country blacktop, they stood out at least a quarter of a mile away. I can spot the snapping and painted turtles and salamanders crossing that road from hundreds of yards away. I straddle the caterpillars, and more than once I leaped out of my car to scoop up a turtle or salamander and turned to see my car rolling away down the empty road. You could not miss the huge birds as you came east to that curve, past the trim white farmhouse and the little depression in the cornfield where the cranes had waded earlier this rainy summer.

Someone chose not to miss them last week.

"They were still warm, so big when I held them in my arms," said Laurie, who found them minutes later. "Everything about them is beautiful, their feet, their long necks."

In killing both crane parents the driver probably killed the young ones as well, because the young had never flown the 500 miles to the Platte. How would they find their way? When would they know to depart? Where would they find rest enroute?

Dr. Jane Gooddall has written about the sandhill cranes, "Though they face an increasing number of threats from human activities, their age-old migration continues to be a most amazing phenomenon. To ensure that sandhill cranes continue to thrive, we must work harder than ever to preserve the Platte River…."

It’s not the Platte alone on which those cranes depend. It is on the kindness of drivers here in Minnesota as well. Someone saw them. Someone did not miss them.

Karin Winegar