Written & Submitted by Dennis Edward Flake
The dream of leaving your cares behind and traveling out west for an adventure in the great National Parks is still very appealing today. In 1935, a trip to Yellowstone, Black Hills, Big Horn, and the Badlands was more of a pipe dream for most Americans than reality. Fortunately for my great-grandfather, Joseph Marion Flake, of Cottonwood Township, Cumberland County, Illinois, his dream came true on August 21, 1935. Family legend has it that he and a couple of other men from Cumberland County packed a car and departed Toledo for the Dakotas and Wyoming.
Joseph or commonly known as Joe was fifty-two years in August 1935, and he had been a farmer his whole life. He was certainly not a young man, but he still had a sense of adventure. By August 21, 1935, the Cumberland County Fair was over, and his crops must have been in good shape. The harvest was several weeks away, so this was the perfect time for a trip. He probably had a little extra money in the bank because his boys, Golden and Berlen, were grown, and there was less need to save money for tuition at Eastern Illinois. Finally, he had to get permission for the journey from his wife and my great-grandmother, Pearl Alumbaugh Flake.
I was able to locate seven post cards from this 1935 trek in the old papers of my great-grandparents. The post cards corroborated family legend that the trip was authentic. The dates on the post cards ranged from August 22 to August 25, 1935. The post cards that I found were probably not comprehensive, but they provided a very good overview of the outing. Unfortunately, I was not able to determine who also went on the vacation with Joe.
The first post card was dated August 22, 1935 from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The time stamp was 1PM. The post card contained a photograph of the “Memorial Building and Island Plaza” in Cedar Rapids. The post card required only a one cent stamp for postage. It was addressed to my grandfather, Golden Flake, in Lerna, Cole County, Illinois. My grandfather had graduated from Eastern Illinois in 1933. Due to the Great Depression, he had to make a living on a rented farm near Lerna. The post card, in the hand writing of Joe, stated “stayed last night at Rushville, ILL.” Rushville is located northwest of Cumberland County and is a distance of approximately 160 miles.
The second post card was also from Cedar Rapids, Iowa dated August 22, 1935. It had the same 1PM time stamp. The post card was addressed to “Mrs Joe Flake, Toledo, ILL.” The card said very briefly “arrived here at 11A.M. Joe.” The mileage from Rushville to Cedar Rapids is approximately 175 miles. The post card had a photo of the “El Kahir Shrine Temple and Iowa Consistory No. 2.”
The third post card was also dated and timed, August 22, 1935, 1PM, from Cedar Rapids. The card had a photograph of “St. Paul’s Methodist Church” on the front. The post card was addressed to Joe’s other son, Berlen Flake, in Toledo. Joe stated to Berlen that “I needed a new pair of feet last night.” Like most travelers, Joe had most likely done an excessive amount of walking, and his feet were extremely tired. There is no way to know why Joe selected these post cards of Cedar Rapids.
The fourth post card was dated August 24, 1935 or two days later from Custer, South Dakota. The time stamp was 5PM. It is about 740 miles from Cedar Rapids to Custer, South Dakota. The post card was addressed to his son, Golden, in Lerna. Joe succinctly wrote that it was “Saturday noon just out of the Black Hills Joe.” The front of the post card had a beautiful photo of “Among the Needles, Black Hills, S.D.”
The fifth post card was also dated August 24, 1935, but there was no time stamp on the back of the card. The post office was Wall, South Dakota or approximately 90 miles from Custer, South Dakota. The post card simply said “8 P.M” in the space for writing messages. The post office must have been closed by the time Joe had arrived in Wall. He probably wanted his family back home to know that he was fine and was spending the night in Wall, SD. The front of the card contained an impressive photograph entitled “View From Tunnel, Bad Lands, SO. DAK.”
The sixth post card was dated August 25, 1935 and timed at 12PM from Worland, Wyoming. The post card was addressed to Pearl or “Mrs Joe Flake Toledo ILL.” Joe said that it was Sunday morning and that he stayed on the “long horn.” He described an unseasonably “big frost last night.” He went on to say that he was only “150 MI from Yellowstone.” He was referring to the Big Horn Mountains, which are about 26 miles east of Worland. The front of the card contained a photo of “Angels Stairway to Leigh’s Monument, Ten Sleep Canyon.”
The seventh and final post card was also dated August 25, 1935. The time stamp was 6:30PM from Cody, Wyoming. The distance from Worland to Cody is about 90 miles. The card was addressed to Golden Flake in Lerna. Joe wrote his message on the post card at 5PM. During the day, he had seen the home of Buffalo Bill. He planned on spending the night in Cody. He stated that he was going to “…take in the Big Park tomorrow.” Cody, Wyoming is located just east of Yellowstone National Park. The beautiful photograph on the front of the card was the “Great Falls of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park.”
In the old papers of my great-grandparents, there were no other post cards from this journey to the west. Based on the seventh post card, we know that Joe did explore Yellowstone National Park on August 26, 1935. We do not understand how long he stayed or where he visited in this large and spectacular park. We also do not know if he toured any other parks or sights in the west. Was Yellowstone National Park the end of his western excursion? Finally, we do not know when he returned to Cumberland County, Illinois. Regardless of this lack of information, his adventure to the west had to be extremely exotic and stunning to a middle-aged farmer from Cumberland County, Illinois even by today’s standards and frequency of travel.