July 3, 2016 – Corn Palace and Prehistoric Indian Village, Mitchell, SD

Several years ago, we bypassed stopping in Mitchell on our way East across South Dakota.  This year, we planned to stop to see the Corn Palace, along with Wall Drug (been there – done that), the most visited places in the state east of Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and the Badlands, which we’ve visited.  From people we’d spoken to and reviews we’d read, most people enjoyed the Corn Palace.

Corn Palace (a), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (c), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (g), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (f), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

A Moorish Revival building is decorated with crop art.  The murals and designs covering the building are made from twelve varieties of corn

Eleven of Twelve TYpes of Corn Used at teh Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-0311 of the 12 varieties are shown

and other grains; primarily rye, sour duck grasses and milo.

Corn, Milo (Frame top), Rye (Frame sides) and Sour Duck Grass (Frame bottom), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD - 2106-07-03Corn surrounds the frame, the sides are made of Rye, the bottom is composed of Sour Duck Grass and the top is Milo

While the process is pretty simple, a version of paint-by-the-numbers, it is still amazing that they can create as many realistic images as they do!

Corn Palace (How It's Done - a), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03\ Corn Palace (How It's Done - b), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

The exterior designs and themes are changed annually … this years is “Rock of Ages” and features the images of rock ‘n’ roll icons of the past (how many can you identify) while period music blared from speakers on the roof. ,

Corn Palace (b), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (Side Murals - d), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (Side Murals - a), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (Side Murals - b), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (d), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Corn Palace (Side Murals - c), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

The interior crop art murals, however, remain the same, although they need to be refreshed with new corn and grains every seven to ten years.  They relate the past

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Peace Pipe), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Native Americans planting corn

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Peace Pipe - a), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Whites and Native Americans smoking a Pipe of Peace

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Missionary), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03A missionary

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Panning for Gold), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Panning for Gold

and present history of the state,

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Mt Rushmore - Black Hills - Wildlife), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Mount Rushmore – Broken line symbolizing the Black Hills and the deer the diversity of wildlife in the state

Corn Palace Inside Panels (Hunting Pheasant - State Bird), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Hunters shooting Pheasant, the state bird

including the original tensions between the white settlers and Native populations.

Corn Palace Inside Panels (White and Indian Chasm), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Initially, there was no peaceful dialogue or intercourse between the two populations

Corn Palace Inside Panels (White versus Indian), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03The white man (left) lived in houses, raised cattle and placed an emphasis on western education … while the Native Americans (right) lived in teepees, hunted the bison and relieve in native lore.  The center symbol is the bridge of peace and friendship finally achieved.


Corn Palace Inside Panels (Children Playing and Adults Drinking Coffee), Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD -2106-07-03Indian and white boys playing and as adults drinking coffee together

If only it were that simple! 

Some interesting facts about corn we learned today:

  • Corn is native to the Western Hemisphere
  • Corn outside North America, Australia, and New Zealand means any cereal crop. Maize is a more formal and internationally recognized name for corn
  • The word corn is an English word used to describe any type of grain, but using it most people are referring to maize.
  • Maize is an Indian word meaning “sacred mother,” or “giver of life.”
  • One bushel of corn contains about 72,800 kernels and weighs 56 pounds.
  • Corn is a domesticated grass
  • Corn does not exist in the wild
  • There are more than 3,500 different uses for corn, and is in all sorts of products from peanut butter to batteries.
  • Corn is a major component in many food items like cereals, peanut butter, snack foods and soft drinks.
  • The starch in corn can be made into plastics, fabrics, adhesives, and many other chemical products
  • 40% of corn is used in ethanol production.
  • Only 14% of corn grown in the United States is irrigated.
  • An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows.
  • A pound of corn consists of approximately 1,300 kernels.
  • 100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels.
  • Each year, a single U.S. farmer provides food and fiber for 129 people – 97 in the U.S. and 32 overseas.
  • In the U.S., corn production measures more than 2 times that of any other crop.
  • Over 55% of Iowa's corn goes to foreign markets. The rest is used in other parts of the United States.
  • Our bacon and egg breakfast, glass of milk at lunch, or hamburger for supper were all produced with U.S. corn.
  • U.S. researchers have led the way in finding many uses for corn – like in vitamins and amino acids.
  • Corn is used to produce fuel alcohol. Fuel alcohol makes gasoline burn cleaner, reducing air pollution, and it doesn't pollute the water.
  • The "Corn Belt" includes the states of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.
  • Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Minnesota account for over 50 percent of the corn grown in the U.S.  Other major corn growing states are Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky.
  • Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica.
  • The area known as the "Pacific Rim" region (in Asia) is emerging as the world's fastest growing market for U.S. corn. There, most of the corn is fed to livestock to produce food for humans. The majority of the world's population is located in the Pacific Rim region.
  • Exports are critical to the well-being of American agriculture. Nearly one third of our nation's corn crop is targeted for exports.


We also spent time at the Prehistoric Indian Village, the only archaeological site in South Dakota that is open to the public.   It was discovered in 1910 by a student from Dakota Wesleyan University. 

Students from the University of Exeter, Exeter, England and Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota come each summer for the annual Summer Archaeology Field School to continue excavations of the site.  Over the years much has been learned much about the people who lived here 1,100 years ago.  The site was a major bison processing center, and were processing bison on an industrial scale to extract bone grease for the manufacture of pemmican. 

Pemmican was used as a winter food and easy meals for hunting trips.  It was a valuable trade item with other tribes and villages.  For the epicures in the group, take the large bones, preferably the leg bones, of one large buffalo and break them into small pieces.  Boil the bones until the fat is rendered.  Take the meat from the buffalo (allegedly the females taste better) and dry.  Once the meat has dried, grind into meal.  Pound 16 pounds of chokeberries into a course meal, keeping the seeds and skins.  Mix the rendered marrow and fat with the dried meat and chokeberries.  Place into a bladder or water-tight container and seal.  The pemmican can last for as long as 80 years.  Sounds yummy!

These people were skilled farmers, growing crops such as corn, beans, squashes, sunflower, tobacco and amaranth.  They lived in earthen lodges (teepees are a "modern" convenience – it was after the introduction of horses that made it possible for the nomadic tribes to live in teepees) that were built on a bluff overlooking what was then a creek.  There are 70 to 80 lodges buried on the grounds. 

Prehistoric Indian Village (Lodge), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Prehistoric Indian Village (Lodge Interior), Mitchell, SD - 2016-07-03

Interestingly, a bit more “plush” than many other native lodges we’ve seen, most dating from several hundred years later

This also has a replica of a Bullboat, made from a tree limb frame with a single buffalo hide as its hull.


In talking to the lead Archeologist, Dr. Adrien Hannus, we learned that it is estimated perhaps 200 people lived at this site, one of many along the river, each of about the same size.

We watched as a skilled artisan was replicating the methods of Native Americans shape arrow heads, spear points, and cutting and scraping tools from raw flint.

Arrow a

Arrow b

Arrow c


Unearthed tools

We met, talked with and listened to a quartet of internationally recognized musicians were also playing nearby, in which they used a wide variety of native flutes.

band a

band b

The next stop was the “Dig Site” where the summer college students, mostly from England, were actively working on excavating, screening, cleaning and trying to assemble (a painstaking process which makes trying to put a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle together seem easy).

Dig 2

dig 3

Dig 4

Dig 1

dig 5

In one of the excavation pits, the skeleton of an ancient bison is clearly visible.

Bison Skeleton a

I also had an opportunity to practice throwing a spear using an Atlatl, a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity when throwing pears or darts, and one of man’s earliest weapons.  I clearly need lots more practice!


By the way, if the American buffalo had looked like this when the hunters nearly wiped them out, the heads would still dominate the West today!

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