Many of the towns within this landscape have “no services,” let alone pretensions. There is culture, though — authentic, homegrown, inspired by place — from the prairie chicken dance at the Crow Creek Wacipi, to the eight-second bull ride at the Scottie Stampede, to the celebrations of folk and bluegrass at Gayville Hall.
And the state’s great artery, uniting them all is The River — the Big Muddy, the Mighty Mo, demarcating “East” and “West River,” where sodbuster country gives way to ranch land.
West River is where the cowboys drove infinite herds across an 80-mile-long, six-mile-wide trail cut through the grass sea to a boom-town-turned-ghost-town called Evarts. From here, ferries hauled the dogies East River to the iron horse, bound for the stockyards of Chicago.
I’ve approached The River a hundred ways, from East and West, and paddled down the middle, and yet it never fails to awe with its brown-green amphibian girth. And though the days of free grass and no fences are long gone, these lands still seem to unravel with an unfence-able feeling of freedom.