Siouxland Observer


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Tragedy In Little Sioux

“Frantic parents pounded their fists against a wall or buried their heads in their hand Wednesday night,” a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald wrote in June, "as they awaited word on the fate of sons attending a rustic Boy Scout camp that was hit by a tornado."

“Early reports indicated that four boys had died and 35 to 40 had been injured…”; thus the world learned that in Little Sioux, Iowa, people had died from incremental weather on June 11, 2008. The story broke on the BBC, and around the world—not so much linked to a local paper in Omaha, Neb., but because of the terrible weather many have experienced in the Midwest.

It is a tragedy what happened to the boys. No one knows this more than the survivors, their parents and leaders. But the scouts came to a place of history. The parents felt it, and the image of them frantically banging their hands on a wall against an act of nature (in a place where nature does not give up) was heartbreaking and truly remarkable. The compassion of the world goes out to them.

The Loess Hills, where the camp is situated northeast of Little Sioux, stretches from Sioux City, Iowa to northern Missouri. The hills, a 200-mile rolling band of bluffs along the river, have more in common with the Loess Plateau of China than farms.

Thus the otherworldly feeling of this place, especially around Little Sioux, is something only those familiar with the area, and the hills above the Missouri river, can truly appreciate. Perhaps this is why the Omaha reporter captured the angst so well. Not only did it most certainly happen, but in the darkest of dark in this most unusual place, it could have been expressed no other way.

Loess is a fine-grained, yellowish-brown deposit of soil left by wind. It is home to a strange world of plants found no where else in the area.

It is hard to put into words the feeling this land generates. Just south of Little Sioux a highway bypass heads up into the hills. A simple description at explains it thus:

“I-680 serves two purposes. In Nebraska, it is a bypass for Omaha; in Iowa, it’s a shortcut between I-80 and I-29 for, say, Sioux City to Des Moines traffic….”

But down this stretch of road a driver enters a portal-like world. The 43-mile stretch of interstate enters the hills and races to Des Moines over hills and valleys that feel nothing like this photo from

In fact, this scene is no more like the Loess Hills than the belief that Iowa is flat. Iowa is flat on I-29 below the hills because the area is a flood plain. As far as the eyes can see down there a huge swamp can be discerned. The contrast between the bizarre hills climbing out of the muck, and the flatlands, actually creates a Brontosaurus-like vision where creatures can be seen eating in the shadow of the luminousness hills.

Yes, “ early evening tornado swept through a Boy Scout camp near Little Sioux…killing four people and injuring at least 40 others who were attending a leadership event,” reporters for The Des Moines Register wrote.

It is sad and we humbly submit our awe of nature and sorrow for those who have suffered and died.

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Editor’s Note:Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), Inc. provides local leadership for the conservation and development of the natural and human resources in southwest Iowa. This photo of the Loess Hills by Little Sioux is from their site at