I grew up in West River South Dakota — barely. My family's ranch is just 30 miles west of the Missouri River, which pretty much cuts the state in half. It's a ranch — not a farm. Just a tip to anyone who decides to visit West River (which is pronounced Wes Triver).
After moving out of West River, I came to realize that it could almost be its own state. The difference between West River and East River — heck, the rest of the world — is striking.
First off, cattle are branded in West River South Dakota. I never knew until recently that branding was a West River thing. Branding was an event when I was growing up. Extra hands were hired and people had to be prepared to get dirty, possibly roughed-up and get used to the smell of burning flesh. Calves are flanked, given vaccinations, have a change of ear tags, branded and castrated — provided the recorded birth weight called for the last procedure. The faint-of-heart or vegans would not last.
Second, prairie dogs are abundant and reviled. Also known as "prairie rats" or "prairie rodents," these four-legged, buck-toothed squeakers bring devastation to valuable pasture-land. A prairie dog town wreaks havoc as new holes spring up and grass is laid waste. Prairie dog hunters are welcomed and celebrated, and there lives a hope that the plague-infested (NOT KIDDING THERE!) species will meet extinction. At Reptile Gardens near Rapid City, SD, there is a prairie dog exhibit — with live prairie dogs - and they are not used for target practice. I found it mystifying at the age of 10 that people were "oohing" at these critters and not shooting them.
Those last two entries made me think of how much West River residents tend to enjoy a rough-and-tumble lifestyle, which goes into overdrive at the summer celebrations.
Annual small-town celebrations almost always include a demolition derby, a rodeo, a LOT of drunk cowboys and plenty of fights. West River is also home to the Sturgis Bike Rally — enough said.
West River people need to have a tough and self-sufficient attitude. The closest fully-stocked grocery store could be an hour away. To drive that point home, there is a stretch of road between Faith and Newell on Highway 212 in which there is 75 miles of nothingness. There is a teeny town called Mud Butte, but it is too small to have a store.
Driving an hour or two to pick up groceries or see a doctor is nothing for West River folk. But, that's OK, because time takes on a completely different meaning there. In fact, people call it "West River Time."
Speaking of small-town West River celebrations, another common feature is the Indian taco feed. Nothing draws people in West River together like an Indian taco feed. Fry bread is a food group all by itself. If you go to West River and utter the words "I've never had an Indian taco," be prepared to get swarmed by the locals who overheard that and carried off to the nearest feed. Do not worry if you cannot afford it. Chances are, someone will pony up the bread (see what I did there?).
Warning: your stomach will stretch as the fry bread carries a mountain of taco meat, cheese, lettuce, the works; but don't worry. You are not required to finish it. Another warning: If you do not enjoy the Indian taco, never say it out loud. That's blasphemy.