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Ah, Wasta—Developer Renovating Redwood Motel to Serve Veterans in Need

My suggestion that Indian Health Service place an anti-suicide treatment facility in Kadoka rather than Rapid City drew criticism from readers who thought that site, while geographically central to its client population, doesn’t offer enough other amenities for the staff and intended clientele.

So what do we think of putting a housing facility for homeless veterans in Wasta? Developer Larry Fuss rents to veterans in Rapid; now he wants to renovate the old Redwood Motel into low-rent, pet-friendly housing for homeless vets. Wasta town board member Norm Current says the locals love the idea:

“Anytime you have vacant buildings, it’s not good,” Current said. “They were kind of an eyesore, and it’s nice to see someone willing to maintain them. Everybody is in favor of it that I’ve talked to” [Tom Griffith, “Wasta Motel Project Would Create New Home for Veterans and Their Pets,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.04.11].

Now I like Wasta as much as the next guy. The Cheyenne River Valley at Wasta is a scenic and poetic highlight of the long trip across South Dakota on I-90. And if I were homeless, I’d be hard-pressed to turn down any opportunity to get in out of the wind and rain and snow.

But does sleeping in Val Kilmer’s room in Thunderheart and being able to take the dog for a long walk along the muddy Cheyenne make up for the long drive for most provisions? Wasta residents can get groceries in Wall, just 13 miles away on I-90, but those veterans need access to jobs and services as well. Will the cost savings of renting a Wasta flat be eaten up by the necessity of buying a car and driving to Rapid City all the time? Or will the Veterans Administration and Pennington County veterans service office be able to provide reliable transportation and maybe even some visiting staff to provide a new concentration of vets in Wasta with the support they need?

Wasta is an English corruption of the Lakota word wašté, meaning good. Maybe getting away to Wasta will be good for the 34 veterans and their pets whom Fuss hopes to house by this time next year.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-04-13 08:30

    Since you brought up the Movie-Thunderheart- is the Cheyenne River the one called the “Little Walking” river in the movie? In the movie the river looked like it just received heavy rains. Terribly muddy looking. Is that normal?

  2. grudznick 2016-04-13 09:18

    An entire Iowa cornfield of dirt is carried down the Cheyenne every few minutes, Mr. Mike. And at the end of the movie when Mr. Kilmer is shown driving up from the Chamberlain pass onto old highway 16 it symbolizes him leaving his Indian ways behind and rejoining the world of the white man while deep in his thunder heart beats the drum of his ancestors.

  3. Paul Seamans 2016-04-13 09:37

    mfi, the river in the movie is the White River. Probably 50 miles south of Wasta. The White River flows through the Badlands. Most of the movie was filmed in the Badlands and Pine Ridge Reservation. At the end of the movie Val is pulling onto old Hwy 16 about 10 miles of Kadoka ( which by the way is Lakota for Hole in the Wall). The wall being the escarpment between an upper level of ground and a lower level of ground. On I90 you go from the lower level to the upper level at Wall (heading west).

  4. grudznick 2016-04-13 09:45

    Mr. Seamans is right about the hole in the wall but road 7 hits old highway 16 about 9 miles west of highway 73. Right near a big water tank for West River Lyman Jones rural water.

  5. leslie 2016-04-13 10:06

    the above was from wiki repubs here love to critique.

    mfi, White River is always, ah “white” (muddy with fine, fine badlands volcanic ash [20-70 million years ago] runoff) (Makhízita wakpá; “White Dirt River”). Paul, I didn’t know that meaning of Kadoka. Last spring’s HEAVY thunderstorms flooded, taking out the highway to Pine Ridge, repair of which took months and months causing residents to take long detours. that wouldn’t happen off the reservation. we drove thru those early morning storms on gravel, completely blinded by the amount of rain fall.

  6. Paul Seamans 2016-04-13 10:10

    You are right grudznick. I think of that road as the Chamberlain Pass road. Any idea why it is called Chamberlain Pass? Does it have anything to do with the Chamberlain to Deadwood Trail which ran close to I90 in that vicinity?

  7. leslie 2016-04-13 10:30

    white river comes from Nebraska and Wyoming I think, and is the thoroughfare in the old days that Crazy Horse used to come into Ft. Robinson from the powder river country. that route will be in a series of activist walks in support of the Harney Peak Name Change, the next starting April 29 from the Blue Water village of Little Thunder, lewellyn NE, to Ft. Laramie.

    USBGN may have come to a decision yesterday.

    Previously the state board spent “the most time…on the proposal to change the name of Squaw Humper Dam in Oglala Lakota County. The board was working with the landowner to persuade him to use the new name selected by the Oglala Lakota Tribal Preservation Office, said Jay Vogt, from the State Historical Society.

  8. Porter Lansing 2016-04-13 11:12

    This is an example of people from German heritage judging other people by what people from German heritage believe is proper. Homeless vets don’t want to live out in the wilderness. Homeless vets want to live around as many people as they can so those people can see what the military did to them and the hardships they’re dealing with. How can their situation improve if no one will acknowledge it. Dakotans of German descent (highest per capita in USA) are adept at hiding their problems and this is a perfect picture of that perloining practice.

  9. mike from iowa 2016-04-13 11:30

    Thanks for the enlightenment, one and all. I feel smarter already.

  10. grudznick 2016-04-13 12:10

    Wasta is a darn nice little town, and right next door to the Redwood motel is a place called, I think, the Old Wasta Hotel. It is an even more swell motel place these fellows might stay. Mr. Lansing, where did the German people come into this story?

  11. leslie 2016-04-13 12:21

    take a look at google maps where white river dumps into the Missouri river 10 miles south of chamberlain. discolors the clear water for miles, forever almost. well at least 6000 years. I like maps.

  12. jerry 2016-04-13 12:42

    Good point Mr. Grudznick, where did the German people come into this story. Soon Mr. Porter will be speaking of Oktoberfest in Wasta I guess and wanting to open a Der Wienerschnitzel there for the new customers. Here is the vision of what to expect next

  13. Porter Lansing 2016-04-13 13:17

    You’ll have to excuse my brevity but I’m in the middle of a culinary photo shoot. Gorgonzola Fettucini Alfredo w/ roasted pecans.
    It’s your culture, South Dakota. It’s who you are as much as SouthWestern culture is where I live and Scandanavian culture is Minnesota and Jewish culture in NYC. As I mentioned, y’all are pros at sweeping things under the rug and your German heritage is rarely mentioned, regailed or self-identified.
    Many who post here and many more who post on Powers have little qualms about addressing Native Americans as a group. Or Black Lives Matter as a group. Or undocumented Latino y Latinas or homeless vets as a group, open for criticism. How does it feel to have your tendencies, trends and transgressions judged as German Americans instead of just generic Dakotans? Not very good, huh? Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve become enlightened to what your culture totally is. If it’s stressed enough the pride you should feel would bloom and the growth you need might happen.
    In conclusion… German Americans are prone to judge people by how well those people do what German Americans do well. Not so good at judging those people by what those people do well. Everyone is good at something. Expecting those people’s conduct to “ape” your culture is often a cause for disappointment.

  14. jerry 2016-04-13 13:50

    And your point is what exactly Mr. Porter?

  15. Rorschach 2016-04-13 13:55

    Ven Porter look at ze inkblot he sees only schwartz, not ze white part. Vaht could be wrong wis one man seeking a solution to homelessness for veterans? Should everybody just give up?

  16. Rorschach 2016-04-13 13:57

    Ven I’m homeless I vant to live in Wasta.

  17. Rorschach 2016-04-13 13:58

    I may just buy a vacation home in Wasta. $5,000 should cover it.

  18. Jenny 2016-04-13 14:02

    Sounds like a good idea to me. If these boys are from rural SD they’ll be used to the desolation, and it’s better than them being on the street. I’m sure Wall has a medical clinic also.

  19. jerry 2016-04-13 14:03

    In all seriousness though, homeless vets are no laughing matter. I tip my hat to this developer and hope that this is a huge success. This will not only help us veterans, it will also help the town itself.

  20. jerry 2016-04-13 14:07

    23 bucks will get you from Wall to Rapid City on the bus and I think there is bus service that is not for profit that services the area as well.

  21. mike from iowa 2016-04-13 14:11

    iowa added a Mr H to Wasta (a few miles N of Correctionville(Eof Sioux City on Hiway 20) and made Washta,iowa-the official coldest recorded temp in iowa-at 47 degrees below zero on Jan. 12, 1912.

  22. happy camper 2016-04-13 14:35

    I suppose I’m gonna sound racist but Germans are cold, uptight, and boy do they love their rules. If you think the decedents are bad (I’ve got a last name to prove it) go to Germany. If you do something just not exactly their way they get tense. They don’t know how to let their hair down. Worked there as a civilian I’ll never go back. They’re worse than us. When you get to Holland you can breathe. They’re easy going. If you’ve ever read the book My Antonia the main character falls in love with someone who is Czech or Romanian or something because they were so open and demonstrative. Willa Cather talks about this in her book. There are recognizable cultural differences. This is my own background and I see it. You don’t know how weird you are till you travel or live other places. When I moved to a southern state I was hugged for the first time in my whole life. At first it was like, hey, this is my space, but they do it over and over and they’ll break you down till eventually you like it. Haven’t gotten a hug since unless somebody visits. Why would anybody want to live here. Move for the hugs alone.

  23. Roger Cornelius 2016-04-13 15:17

    One size does not fit all.

    I worked for a time as a chemical dependency councilor at a very rural treatment center, even more rural than Wasta.

    Given that this was a long term treatment program many of the clients from larger cities had to acclimate themselves to the rural setting. On the
    other side many clients were used to a rural setting and had no real problems.

    What I did learn from the clients was that a some point most enjoyed the solace and did not miss the clutter of urban life.

    I don’t know if any of the vets planning to move to wasta have addiction problems, but I guess some probably do. In that case, the biggest problem for an addict living in a rural area is boredom. Hopefully there are some activities to help them become productive so boredom doesn’t conquer them.

  24. Porter Lansing 2016-04-13 15:18

    Since it’s hard for you to get my point, I’ll paraphrase. The plan is to use federal money to hide homeless vets in the middle of nowhere when they should be in the downtown areas of every city in the state. The white privileged among you see it as what a German would want so it must be what homeless vets want. It’s pathetic how you justify not wanting to see these underprivileged people daily. But that’s a pillar of white privilege. Now, tell me it doesn’t exist, DINO.

  25. jerry 2016-04-13 16:05

    Exactly Roger, sometimes solace is a very good thing. When you read and know about PTSD, you can kind of understand how devastating it is to those of us who were not fortunate enough to be able to deal with it sometimes. The reason I live here is because I can go into the country to my butte and forget for a while. The country around Wasta is good country with the Cheyenne to provide solitude and also a binding friendship. The fishing is damn good in several places that are easily accessible. I do not see this as somehow stashing away a problem, I see it as important as the women’s homeless shelter in Belle Fourche, not exactly something that Mr. Porter would approve of no doubt as it may have some kind of German ethnicity to its name, but it is there.

  26. Porter Lansing 2016-04-13 16:12

    I’m German myself, Jerry. Of course you wouldn’t see it because you only see things through the privilege of your background. Why is there a women’s homeless shelter in Bell Fourche? Why not downtown Sioux Falls? Never mind. A true German trait is to be “continually contrary” and finding enjoyment by denying yourself enjoyment.
    -When you see my ass you know where my donkey is goin’…

  27. Troy 2016-04-13 16:24

    Without commenting on the merits of the proposal (don’t have enough information), if one were to take the back roads north from Wasta (between the Elm Spring Road and the Cheyenne) coming out between Plainview and White Owl, one will see what I think is the most beautiful part of our entire state. Better than the Badlands, the Hills, the Coteau in Northeast SD. The trip has to be taken in late summer and one needs to be in a pickup/SUV as it requires crossing some creeks via fjords. You also need a good map as you are traveling “section lines” which are really dirt trails and even need to open/close a few gates if I remember correctly as I haven’t made the drive in over 25 years.

    If you are really adventurous, you can then go east a bit and go south on the other side of the Cheyenne but again you need a good county map as there is just one place to cross the Cheyenne. There are two choices heading south (east route is easier but less scenic while the west route hugs the Cheyenne but is really rugged and it is easy to take the wrong dirt road where you will hit dead ends). You’ll end up coming into Wall from the north.

    The entire route could take 2-2.5 hours if I remember right (and you don’t get lost which is probably less likely if you have cell coverage/GPS) but to get the full benefit of stopping and “smelling the roses”, I’d allocate at least 4 hours for your first time. Beware of rattlesnakes and if you have your dog with you make sure he knows to avoid snakes.

  28. jerry 2016-04-13 16:47

    German, well bless your heart Mr. Porter, as you surely would be familiar with an ass when you see one. I think that you should get acquainted with veterans and our issues. Both female and male you see as we both have served. Recently, women have made the same trip as men have to witness the trauma and the burdens of those before them. Belle Fourche is a much better place than say Sioux Falls for many reasons, one is solace. That is one thing that the developer in Wasta is trying to achieve, in my view, by allowing pets. You see Mr. Porter for many of us that have been ravaged by what we either did or what we saw, someone or something to care for is the pride of being who we were. We gave up thinking of ourselves in many situations and only thought of those around us. Therefore, the pet comes into play. We would not think of leaving or letting a comrade go without and neither would we think that way about what we are in charge of here, a simple pet that you become inseparable with. Why do you think that nursing homes have a pet or birds? When you are warehoused in one of them, you may understand the importance of a little kindness and understanding. Sometimes the only way to express that is with a pet.

    As for being privileged, I will not argue that point Mr. Porter. I am here and glad that I am, many were not so fortunate.

  29. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-13 17:43

    The Germans are the largest population in Minnesota too, Mr Lansing.

    Rank Ancestry % of Population
    1. German 36.7
    2. Norwegian 17.3
    3. Irish 11.2
    4. Swedish 9.9

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-13 18:48

    Troy, I’d like to make that backroads trip. If Fuss gets this project off the ground and creates a small veterans community, I’ll need to make a roadtrip and spend a couple days visiting the new Wasta residents and interviewing them about how well they adjust to the isolation and distance (optimistic headline already brewing: “On Safari with Wastafarians: So Far, So Good”).

    I like Roger’s point about the solace of rural places. There is an argument to be made here that certain populations at risk can benefit from getting away from urban distractions and spending a time where they can live a simpler life. A homeless guy is a lot more likely to get the crap kicked out of him trying to get a night’s sleep under a bridge in Rapid than he will sleeping in a secure rental unit out in Wasta.

    Fuss makes a reasonable point about the benefits of getting these guys out to a rural area where they can have pets, which as Jerry notes can have enormous emotional value. I don’t think you can bring a dog to a homeless shelter; most landlords will also make it hard to keep a pet. Now if the VA/Pennington VSO bus will just help the vets load their 50-pound bags of Alpo on their trips to town, we’re set!

    I don’t think this plan is trying to shove anyone out of the way. Is there any way that the VA could force homeless vets to rent an apartment in Wasta?

  31. grudznick 2016-04-13 18:54

    Uff Da, Mr. Porter. Norskie. And I would love to live for free in Wasta and have people bring me my dinner every day.

  32. Roger Cornelius 2016-04-13 19:34

    Where does it say anywhere that the vets will live for free and have someone deliver there meals.
    I think you have been smoking that demon weed.

  33. happy camper 2016-04-13 20:04

    Most of you just like to argue I’ve decided. Who has ever even heard of Wasta? Sounds like a vets paradise. There might be a few who would enjoy the serenity (depressing isolation) but sounds more like someone with very poor judgement just wants to cash in. Could they find adequately trained staff to deal with their specific therapy needs? Seems doubtful. Be skeptical. Thanks Porter for trashing the Germans that’s always fun. Since I’m German it makes as much sense to me to point out that some of what we don’t like about South Dakota has to do with our heritage as much as can be blamed on the opposing political party. My sister’s therapist said other Scandinavian countries are similar. Who really likes lefse? Nobody!

  34. grudznick 2016-04-13 20:05

    I guess I must have misunderstood, Mr. C. If it is not the case, I think they should get to live there for free and have their meals delivered. Maybe gratis laundry, too. After all, they’re veterans and we owe them much.

  35. grudznick 2016-04-13 20:10

    There used to be sort of a 50’s diner in Wasta. I wonder if it still operates. That would be a good place to have the meals cooked. And if you can’t walk your dogs right along the mud beach of the Cheyenne due to the cattle-pocked mud and private rancher property I bet they would walk down that gravel road towards that neat old railroad bridge and back.

  36. grudznick 2016-04-13 20:13

    Mr. Camper, you need to put a healthy helping of butter on your lefse, then slather it with sugar and roll it up before you stuff it in your maw.

    Another thing Wasta has going for it is that some of the vets who want to work could work at those rest areas, and the others might be able to set up booths to sell crafts and things there to all of the truckers and tourists who stop.

  37. Roger Cornelius 2016-04-13 20:24

    Dang! The restoration isn’t even complete out in Wasta and grudz’s has the lives and activities of the vets planned.
    I wasn’t aware that this complex was to be treatment or therapy center.

  38. grudznick 2016-04-13 20:45

    Optional activities, Mr. C. They can just sit and stare at the walls if they wish. Or maybe form a band and play there at the diner. I, for one, think Wasta has as many things to offer as those fellows can think up in their minds. They could even have a weekly road trip to Wall to eat at the Fat Boy’s BBQ or the Dairy Queen. Maybe enjoy the drug store there and then it’s all downhill back to Wasta.

  39. Bill Dithmer 2016-04-13 21:05

    Wasta has always been a fun place to party. I rode a bar stool many hours in the Wasta Bar. The vets could walk down to the old highway bridge east of town and fish or swim, I have.

    When they were making Thunderheart, we partied a lot with the cast and crew. One od the cast drivers told me that David Crosby was going to film in Wasta for two days so I took a chance and went up. I got to play guitar with a very sick and grumpy DC. He had a transplant a short time later.

    They had the cast party south of Kadoka, just across the Big White on the res at Letoy Browns. It was what you would call a very nice party with good food, gallons of fire water, an other stuff.

    When the movie crew left their head carpenter stayed there and still is. His name is Dan Smiley.

    Wasta can be laid back and mellow one minute, and rocking so hard the next it will scar hell out of ya. And there is more to do there then it looks like there is.

    If he can come up with the funding to make that place up to code good on him.

    The Blindman

  40. grudznick 2016-04-13 21:11

    Yes, Mr. Dithmer, that’s the bridge place I was talking about. I think you can see it from the 90. That bar is only a few blocks from this motel, if I remember.

  41. Douglas Wiken 2016-04-13 21:14

    Lefse is too good. Lutefisk on the other hand…..
    We just bought an electric lefse iron or cooker or baker. Haven’t tried it yet however. Making it is supposed to be easier with flaked potatoes instead of peeling, mashing, ricing, etc.

    Anyway, I hope this works out for Wasta and veterans in the area. It seems to me that saving buildings and communities is a worthy venture especially if it makes low-cost housing available for veterans who don’t need the care they might get in a veteran system facility.

    Put in a good internet system and they can be as well-connected as any of us if they choose…or they can be as isolated as they please.

  42. grudznick 2016-04-13 21:29

    For some of these fellows who might be young men they could put a bicycle lane along the gravel road going south from town. If you take that road far enough you will come to Mr. Howie’s insaner than all get out headquarters land.

  43. Jenny 2016-04-13 21:50

    Nothing tastes as good like the homemade lefse and krumkake the older ladies bring in to work at Christmas time – a MN Norwegian tradition.
    You’re right Lanny, I was surprised how many Minnesotans were of German heritage when I moved here.

  44. Don Coyote 2016-04-13 23:39

    What’s not to like? Solitude enough to gaze at your navel. Convenience store across the street. Dixie’s Cafe just down the street. Go fishing in the Cheyenne or get a canoe and go for a float. Beats sleeping under a bridge in RC curled up with a jug.

  45. Bill Dithmer 2016-04-14 08:37

    Grudz, that old river road south of town is one of SDs great drives. I’ve coon and cat hunted all the way to New Underware. Also south and west would be the rock quarry. I’m not much of a rock hound but there have been thousands of Fairburns found there, I found one.

    We spent two days getting a six wheeled atv out of the river after someone put a three hundred lb Ammonite in the back and tried a shortcut.

    If you go there, this is the right time of year. Its green, and the cottonwoods are getting ready to bust loose. And some of the best bred cattle in the world are having babys on both sides of the road.

    Grudz, if you take the road that crosses the bridge we are talking about you end up north of Wall going in the west end of Peno Basin and takes you all the way to either Quinn half way across, or the town of Cottonwood on the east end going by the state farm. Another great drive.

    I prefer a two lane highway as opposed to the super slab, and like gravel more then oil.

    Or you could always go north out of Wasta and go acroos the flats that are owned mostly by the Trasks, with a few also owned land along the way. If you stay on this road you end up at Elm Springs. Another great drive in western South Dakota.

    The Blindman

  46. ponylady 2016-11-11 18:55

    I’m looking for crew photographs of the crew party in kadoka at the club 27. I thought it was the thunderheart movie. May not have been…

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