No one would dispute the fact that Sioux City prides itself on being one of the key focal points of the Voyage of Discovery when the Lewis and Clark expedition poled its pirogues up the swollen waters of the Missouri River in 2004 then back in 2006. In fact, the city has the distinction of having the remains of Sergeant Floyd, the only person to have died on the expedition - ironically of appendicitis, an affliction that would likely have claimed him in the largest city on the Eastern Seaboard in early part of the nineteenth century.
Perhaps that is why Sioux City has always looked to the west, where the intrepid explorers departed for a place that still held in their mind's eye an imaginary river to the Pacific. A river that didn't even exist.
It was that sort of Western vision, in fact, that may well have led Sioux City to regard its Civil War commemorations in a different light than did Keokuk, a city on the state's opposite border that sent many of her sons to the South, never to return.
Estherville Lincoln Central High School teacher Tony Klein published an article in the fall 2012 edition of The Annals of Iowa, the publication of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The Remsen native wrote of differing attitudes in Civil war commemorations in Sioux City and Keokuk from 1868-1938.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
Estherville Lincoln Central High School instructor Tony Klein has written about the distinct way in which the two communities historically held Civil War observances in his journal article in fall 2012 issue of The Annals of Iowa, "Memorializing Soldiers or Celebrating Westward Expansion: Civil War Commemoration in Sioux City and Keokuk, 1868-1938". The journal is published by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
Klein found himself in a unique position to study the Civil War in his master's studies at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, known fondly as "Old Miss". In his article he thanks his professor, Dr. John Neff, for his guidance and encouragement in publishing the article.
Klein said one can immediately see a difference in the historical focus in Sioux City by viewing a mural at the Southern Hills Mall. "That in itself will tell you what Sioux City thinks of itself."
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By contrast, said Klein, Keokuk has a Civil
War reenactment every April.
So why the difference?
"There just weren't very many people out here," said Klein, with just 1,000 residents in Sioux City in the 1860s. Indeed, Ida County had a population in the single digits in the same period.
Contrasting themes of victory and reconciliation eventually gave way to reconciliation in the North starting in the mid-1880s, said Klein, adding, "But not everyone agreed."
Klein's research for the article started at Old Miss when he was given an assignment in a seminar using primary sources. He started his research the summer of 2009 at Oxford, and that was when he really started thinking about the differences between how Civil War observances were held in Sioux City and in Keokuk. "There's a difference in the way Keokuk remembers the war," said Klein.
After completing his paper, Neff urged him to publish it.
That was easier said than done.
Klein made a lot of changes from the original manuscript and sent a different version of the article to the journal for peer review the summer of 2011. They suggested changes, including more quotes and secondary sources. So he made them, and the article was published in this fall's issue.
As he looks back on his research, Klein sees how he was in a rather unique position - a Northerner researching an article on the Civil War while attending a university in the heart of the Old South.
"I was always the go-to person for a Northern perspective," said Klein.
By contrast, many Southern families had ancestors who had fought and died in the Civil War. And so did Keokuk. By contrast, Sioux City was relatively removed from the war.
The thing about both communities, though, is that they have their heroes. Keokuk has its monument to General Samuel R. Curtis while Sioux City has its monument to Sergeant Floyd. In his article, Klein observed that the Sergeant Charles Floyd Monument was dedicated on Memorial in 1901 in a ceremony that overshadowed any previous or later Memorial Day observances.
The important thing, though, is that both towns have their heroes.
And that's all that matters.