Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy


Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Culinary Interlude: The Case For Pork-Barrel Spending

| Tue Aug. 31, 2010 8:15 PM EDT

Why They Hate Us: Pork ribs from Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, Missouri (Photo: Tim Murphy).Gratuitous: Ribs from Arthur Bryant's in Kansas City, Missouri (Photo: Tim Murphy).

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Is Mt. Rushmore Too Close to Hallowed Ground?

| Tue Aug. 31, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Omaha, Nebraska—By now, I've had a little bit of time to chew over the Wounded Knee massacre monument, and it's still kind of gnawing at me. So I'll just give you a short sketch, to give you a better sense of what the place is like:

Try to imagine a national cemetery, immaculate and regimented, and then visualize the exact opposite of it, and you'll maybe get a decent mental image. When you approach the monument, grasshoppers the color of honey dijon scatter at your feet as if tossed from a see-saw, and the wind cuts through the prairie from the south like entrance music. Cook Islanders had 32 words for wind; I can't speak for the Oglala, but here on the northern plains, in the poorest patch of the richest nation on the face of the Earth, amid acres of wavy wheatgrass and milkwort and sunflowers, and badlands like so many miles of drip-castles in a desert, the wind is the life that rushes through the land when all else has gone to rest.

The cemetery—which includes the monument to the victims of the Wounded Knee massacred by US troops in 1890, along with the graves of Oglala spanning a century—sits on an elevated plot of ground with views of the valley below, provided you're standing outside the chain-link fence that surrounds the central area.

The physical monument itself, which is only a small part of the Wounded Knee cemetery, is more like a collection basket. Well-wishers have left pennies, nickels, dimes, bundles of dried prairie grasses, small rocks, suggested reading materials, feathers, incense, bottles of Dasani, a Bhutan prayer flag, and one very lonely butterscotch sucker. To complete this scene, add a few brigades of ants, because people keep on leaving food, and nothing must go to waste.

How To Make 4.6 Million Cans of Beer Disappear (Updated)

| Sat Aug. 28, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wounded Knee, South Dakota (Photo: Tim Murphy)Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Wounded Knee, South Dakota (Photo: Tim Murphy)Whiteclay, Nebraska—We'd barely gotten to the Oglala Sioux Pine Ridge reservation before we were told we should probably leave. The main road through was under construction, and we stopped to ask a woman holding a stop sign how to get to Wounded Knee. She set us straight, but then, as we were ready to go, offered some helpful advice: "Don't get out of the car."

Excuse me?

"Don't stop anywhere. Don't get out of the car."

Of course, I don't think she meant we should stop in Whiteclay either. For the uninitiated, Whiteclay is the very first outpost* you hit driving south out of the reservation, folded just under the Nebraska state line. On this trip, I've seen cities that have died and cities that have been left for dead, but I've never passed through a place quite like Whiteclay, so one-dimensional in its horror it feels undead. Maybe the best way to fully understand the town's purpose in life is to just run the numbers, Harpers Index-style:

6–14: Estimated number of full-time residents of Whiteclay.

8: Number of people I saw drinking or passed out on the sidewalk at noon on a weekday.

4: Number of full-time liquor stores.

0: Number of city adminstrative buildings, churches or civic centers.

4,600,000: Number of cans of beer sold in 2009.

90: Percentage of those beer cans that were purchased by American Indians.

You get the picture. Alcohol sales are illegal on the Pine Ridge reservation, so Whiteclay emerged, like so many fireworks shacks and casino parlors across the continent, to give its neighbors across the border a quick fix. Nice, right? It's what capitalism must have looked like to Leon Czolgosz.

The View From My Windshield: Hallowed Ground

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 4:35 PM EDT

Wounded Knee, South Dakota (Photo: Tim Murphy)Wounded Knee, South Dakota (Photo: Tim Murphy)

Where the West Begins (or Doesn't)

| Wed Aug. 25, 2010 3:04 PM EDT

Interior, South Dakota—Ask any 10 sources where the West begins and you'll get 10 different answers: St. Louis tells us it begins at the Arch; Rapid City tells us it's the Black Hills; the writer William Least Heat-Moon says it's the tall-grass prairie of Chase County, Kansas. Someone in the UP once told me that the West begins at the Cumberland Gap. It's like unobtanium.

Except, I think I've actually found it.

Drive west through South Dakota, head south at Wall, and cut through the Badlands, and sooner or later find yourself in Interior, population 77, perched off to the side of the highway like a just-ripened piece of fruit.

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