Anyone who knows anything about our family knows that my mother was born in South Dakota. Mom’s great-grandfather, Michael Ryman came to Dakota Territory in the early 1880’s and settled near the town of Warner just a few miles south of Aberdeen in Brown County. When the Ryman’s arrived, Aberdeen was little more than a train stop.
I am reading a book by David Laskin called The Children’s Blizzard that tells the true story of one of the most unexpected blizzards in American history. It took place in 1888 and hit the Dakotas especially hard. Laskin tells that the family of L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz, moved to a farm just a few miles above Aberdeen and Baum lived there in the early 1800s when the Rymans arrived. For a while Baum tried his hand at a variety of stores in Aberdeen and failed miserably before eventually moving to Chicago where he wrote his famous book.
Everyone who has ever seen the movie of The Wizard of Oz remembers the line where Dorothy says, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” The funny thing is that Baum himself had never ever been to Kansas. The descriptions that he made of Kansas in the book actually were memories that he had written about Brown County in the summer of 1888, “Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the log blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere.” What he was describing wasn’t Kansas but the neighborhood of our Ryman ancestors. That is something to think about the next time I watch The Wizard of Oz.