This Smithsonian link here is a good write up on a hard, sobering chapter in American western history. The Sand Creek Massacre, like the Whitestone Hill massacre (September 1863, northern Dakota Territory), and the Bear River Massacre (January 1863, Idaho), were never forgotten. This article says the Sand Creek Massacre was lost and rediscovered: it’s highly doubtful that Lakota, Cheyenne, Dakota, among others, “forgot” what happened in 1863 and 1864 when they converged on Custer and the 7th in late June of 1876. Not in the least. And if chatting with the descendants of the historical participants of these conflicts, you’ll know that the memories and stories were never forgotten. In some cases the stories went underground. They are re-emerging today, and justly taking the place as the official interpretation. It is powerful stuff. It continues to compel me to listen, study, and reflect.
Yesterday I took a jaunt around downtown Bismarck to capture some images of historic buildings. Autumn has turned to winter, and this means the glorious deciduous leaves are no longer. At least until spring. This also means that it is a great time to take photos of historic buildings (or buildings in general): just like the presence of leaves gives some good angles for photography, so does the absence of leaves. I ended up sauntering around the beautiful Bismarck Auditorium, renamed the Belle Mehus some years ago during a much-needed and -deserved rehabilitation and restoration. An excellent history of the Belle is linked to here on the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony’s Orchestra’s website.
Erected in 1913 and opened in 1914, this auditorium was typical for its time, at least in the sense that opera houses provided the entertainment before the rise of television, radio, movies and iPhones. Traveling opera companies would make the rounds on railroad, stopping in one town after another (much like touring bands today). When visiting historic opera houses, take note of how close they are to the historic railroad: one can imagine an opera company arriving by rail with all the graceful bustle of offloading at the train depot, making their way to a hotel and preparing for one or three days worth of performances.
It is fantastic to see opera houses restored, or repurposed. It is literally hard to come by this type of stone and brick monumental architecture, at least today. So that’s what I did yesterday: enjoyed the rehabbed and preserved aesthetics of the Belle Mehus, the Bismarck Auditorium in historic downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. I snapped a photo of the copper Victorian medallion centered at the top of the Belle, too. Michael Gilbertson even drove by, managing to roll down his window in time to give me a drive by “Hi Aaron!”
This afternoon I’m doing a bit of research and reading of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1884 diary from the digital collections of Dickinson State University’s Theodore Roosevelt Center. A very, very, very sad diary entry from February 14, 1884, the day his wife and mother died (on the same day!).
Teddy wrote an “X” on this page, and followed it with the short, heartfelt statement: “The light has gone out of my life.” Sad!
On June 9, 1884 he arrived at his Chimney Butte Ranch on the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota (then Dakota Territory). From here he proceeded to blow everything away for a while. For example, the June 13, 1884 entry reads, “One jack rabbit, one curlew. Both killed with double barreled express rifle, 50 caliber, 150 grains of powder.”
The next day, Saturday, he blew away two more cerlews. He must’ve took the day of rest on Sunday. But on Monday he was back in the saddle, blowing everything away again. He drilled “one badger; found out on [the] plains away from [his] hole, galloped up to him and killed him with revolver.” This hunting spree goes on for some time. I’m sensing a foreshadowing for future conservation efforts around the turn of the 19th century. We’ll see what happens next…
I’m looking at some of the original Teddy Roosevelt documents this evening from Bismarck, this provided by the glorious Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota. I came across a historical Halloween gem. It is a November 3, 1885 letter of Teddy describing Halloween in the Badlands of western North Dakota. It is accurately titled, “Hallowe’en in the Bad Lands.” I’ll analyze it after this blog post. I want to just transcribe it here because we’re getting close to Halloween in general. So here is for your historical Halloween sense of time and place. Writing from the Badlands of western North Dakota, Roosevelt said (run-on sentences were his style of the times),
While the young people of Bismarck paid me extraordinary attention to the fair Hallowe’en, the cow boys of the Bad Lands favored the stars and gaudy buttes of that land of earthen goblins with a celebration, which for brilliancy and spontaneity surpasses any thing of the kind on record. True there were no maidens to add the feminine charm to the occasion, but the pistol decorated gentlemen of the ranges were equal to every emergency, and that the conventionalism’s of the occasion might be properly observed, a number of the bovine guardians agreed to don the female garb, and while away the early evening hours in waiting for the coming of the sign changing hoodoos. There were no signs to tear down in the Bad Lands, but they could skim the jagged pasture land on their half breed plugs and rip the ambient air up the back with shouts and whoops and leaden balls. The proper hour having arrived, the cowboys on the outside, as representatives of the masculine gender rode up to the ranch and entered, to find that their female impersonators had been faithful and fifteen of their fellow cowboys were seated about the room in skirts and waists and what scraps of ribbons they could gather from their tanks and neighboring ranches. A dance was immediately opened and everything was as pleasant as a Fifth Avenue social, until the whiskey reached its zenith and the hour for shooting had arrived. The cowboy girls seemed to forget the modesty which their positions demanded, and in language of the prairie, “they turned themselves loose.” A general fusillade was indulged in, the meeting adjourning when the lamps were shot to pieces and the narrowed and improvised dresses were obliterated. It is said that had the celebration lasted an hour longer the climax might have a row, but as it is, a few loud words, a parting drink and a desperate attempt to shoot the blinking stars closed the memorable event.
I took this photo one evening a couple weeks ago, the view looking north on the west side of Broadway in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. I just wanted to share it, a slice of the eastern edge of North Dakota.
I’m in my 4th year of board membership with the North Dakota Humanities Council, and it is a duty I feel a privilege to be part of. This last Thursday (10/09/2014), the NDHC kicked off the first annual Game Changer series, a signature event that will continue to be hosted every October in cities throughout North Dakota (the 2015 Game Changer will be in Bismarck). This year’s Game Changer was titled, “Between Two Worlds: America and the Mid-East,” and the NDHC brought together a collection of journalists, poets, authors, and reporters in downtown Fargo. We also received some outstanding support from Forum Communications, Ecce Art Gallery, the HoDo, The Bush Foundation, and Wells-Fargo. This funding and donation of space helped the assembled group speak to an audience throughout the day, and also to have smaller round-table discussions that evening.
One of the speakers was Josh Rushing, a Marine Corps officer of 15 years and a current reporter with Al Jazeera English. I had a chance to take in Josh Rushing’s talk, and it resonated with some of my own ongoing research. I focused on Josh’s points about how the media presents stories today, and how there are infinite voices that do not make the immediate story. I thought about this in the context of the US-Dakota Wars, and how the media — the St. Paul Pioneer and the New York Times — presented a more sensationalized and monolithic version of the story in contrast to the complexities inherent on the ground and at the scene. This makes sense from a reporters standpoint, though, since they are trying to communicate a complex story in a very quick way to an audience that is already mentally and spatially disconnected from the event. At least that is one thought I had, a kind of then and now.
If you want to look into a bit of my research, you can click on this link here. Otherwise, below is about 7 minutes of video from Rushing’s talk at The Fargo Theatre from October 9, 2014. As well, if you enjoy this, and you think it is a good idea that the NDHC continue having these sorts of events, you’ll want to click here and donate. Any amount helps. One of the NDHC’s ideas is modest: we just want to create a more informed North Dakota. To do that, though, requires me to admit that there is a lot out there that I do not know. It’s Socratic in that way: I know that I don’t know, and I’m here to listen, and here to take in what others have to say, and give. But again, enough of that. Check out Rushing’s talk below. And watch “Control Room” (2004) if you want more. I’ve got “Korengal” (2014) in the Netflix queue for this Wednesday, and I’m wondering how it will build off my knowledge of “Waltz with Bashir” and “Restrepo.”
In the last week, the Punk Archaeology movement — specifically Bill Caraher — pushed a digital button and sent the first Punk Archaeology reader into the digital and hard copy world. It is the first of its kind, and the first publication from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks. You can download the Punk Archaeology reader here, for free. Or you can purchase it in hard copy by clicking on this Amazon link here. Sometimes it’s just nice to have both. Yesterday I read that if you want a hard copy, but you don’t want to pay for it, Caraher will fax it to you. But I’m not sure if he was being 34% or 94% serious with that statement. Nonetheless, the reader is published. And it is dedicated to our late friend, Joel Jonientz.
Now, with that business cleared off the table, I wanted to get some thoughts down on a dissertation chapter I’ve been outlining. I am in the process of dissertating (now a verb), and I find that reading, thinking, analyzing and writing thoughts down is the best way to capture said thoughts. Broadly speaking, my dissertation concerns how and why the US-Dakota wars have been remembered on the northern Great Plains for the last 150+ years. The Public Historian published an article of mine on this in the August 2013 issue, (Caraher reviewed it here) and it covered the narrative tension surrounding how and why Whitestone Hill has been remembered: between 1901 and 1914, there was a kind of push and pull between ND US Congressman Thomas Marshall and the more reflective Episcopalian Reverend Aaron M. Beede, PhD.
I’m creating a chapter that looks at the historical landscape of South Dakota, and how early members of South Dakota’s State Historical Society sought to shape and influence how the US-Dakota Wars would be remembered in SD. This takes me to Doane Robinson, and his early 20th-century A History of the Dakota, or Sioux Indians. I am particularly interested in Doane’s background, and the culture he was swimming in: we are all swimmers in a particular culture at a particular time, and this no doubt influences the way we act and decide to act, whether we swim with or against the current.
I know Doane hailed from Sparta, Wisconsin (not far from Portage, where Frederick Jackson Turner hailed from), and he took a shot at farming in Minnesota after the Civil War. This would have put him well within range of the psychological terror-stories of the “Sioux Uprising” that seem to persist in the Minnesota River Valley to this day (full disclosure: my Swedish great-great grandparents were in Willmar, Minnesota around this antebellum, Civil War and post-Civil War time; and I’m supposed to be related to some famous Mattson Civil War hero from Minnesota, too).
Because Doane was in this area, I’m thinking this is one of the reasons Doane came to shape the narrative in the way he did: according to Doane and his friends, the Dakota didn’t have “civilization” until he and other non-Natives arrived (this is how Doane and others understood their world, and it is the historian’s job to understand how historical actors understood their world). I think Jonathan Lear has carved out some of the best intellectual territory in considering the implications of “civilization” and ethics and philosophy, and what happens when one culture collides with another, and how individual players navigated that.
Okay, though. I am going to sit down with Doane’s work this week for analysis and further writing. The key to finishing a dissertation, book, or monograph is to write. Nothing is ever going to be great or formed up in the first or even 5th draft. Keeping at it is the only way it will come to something. With that said, I have to go meet some historians for breakfast now, and that means this post has come to an end.