Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mankato, Minnesota: 150 Years Later

Today, December 26, 2012, marks the 150th year since the largest mass execution in United States history took place in Mankato, Minnesota. This execution has been remembered and suppressed for a variety of reasons, but it seemed reasonable to post and pass on at least two pieces of public history. The first is a story put together by This American Life, entitled, “Little War on the Prairie.” Here is a link to the transcript, and another link to the recorded radio program here. It aired on November 23, 2012, and I first heard it while driving back to Fargo from having Thanksgiving in Bismarck and Valley City.

Photo by David Joles of the Associated Press.

Photo by David Joles of the Associated Press.

What is often missing from stories such as these is a kind of non-discussion about what followed this hanging. For example, it wasn’t just as though the hanging happened, and Governor Ramsey clapped his hands together and said, “Well, that’s taken care of…” Instead, it marked the beginning of annual punitive campaigns that the United States Government launched against the Sioux — against every combatant and non-combatant, or every man, woman, elder and child — throughout Dakota Territory. When we look back on it, the 19th century kind of looks like a racist primer for the industrial genocide that characterized much of the 20th century, at least the first half. The world eventually had a post-WWII convention to consider all of this. It’s sobering to think about.

In the 1860s, Total War campaigns against the Sioux were organized by General John Pope, and he in turn charged generals Henry Sibley and Alfred Sully with carrying them out. Today there are namesakes of “Sibley” and “Sully” scattered all throughout North Dakota. These names were ascribed to the landscape, and they resulted from that earlier US-Dakota War that roared up and down the Minnesota River Valley in August-September of 1862. Below is another piece of public history called “Dakota 38 [+2].” It is excellent, and the documentary was put together in 2008.

This year’s riders are just getting to Mankato, as they do every year. Here is another piece on this from the Mankato Free Press.


Red River Punk Archaeology and a Global Punk Rock Warlord

Punk Archaeology handbill produced by Joel R. Jonientz, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Punk Archaeology handbill produced by Joel R. Jonientz, Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Ten years ago today, on December 22, 2002, Joe Strummer passed away. Joe was formative as a song writer and lead for The Clash and, later, the Mescaleros. Tom Vitale of National Public Radio did a story on Joe a couple days ago, the story linked to here. Local to North Dakota, Bill Caraher, professor of history at University of North Dakota, remarked on Joe here. And on social media, Kelly Hagen remarked on his reaction ten years ago when he first heard of Joe’s passing. He was in Fargo at the time (I think Kelly studied journalism — or, what today they call Mass Communications — at Minnesota State University Moorhead, but I better check with him first… yup, that’s what he said). Here’s what Hagen said a couple days ago on his social medias about the passing of Joe Strummer:

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I remember getting home from work at Wendy’s in Fargo that evening, grabbing my stuff to get on the road to Bismarck, home for the holidays, and hearing about this on my way out the door. And how it ruined everything, because there’d been rumors that the Clash were going to reunite, and I was super psyched about that. Still bummed. Blast some Clash for Joe, from here through Armageddon. No better soundtrack to finishing off your worldly commitments.”

This is true.

On February 2, 2013 in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, at Sidestreet (301 3rd Avenue North), the first global Punk Archaeology conference will consider stuff like this, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of Mediterranean, North American and global archaeologists and historians. The conference has 4 punk bands lined up (check out the poster above — Andrew Reinhard, with Barth on drums; June PanicWhat Kingswood Needs; and Les Dirty Frenchmen), and a round-table of discussants. Sponsors of Punk Archaeology range from the North Dakota Humanities Council to Laughing Sun Brewing to North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal, to the University of North Dakota’s Working Group in Digital and New Media, to the Cyprus Research Fund.

Kris Groberg, professor of Art History at NDSU, is bringing a local punk archaeology perspective to the conference as well, since punk continues to grow increasingly deep roots up and down the fertile Red River Valley of the north. This, I have been told, is a point of excitement for non-local academics, researchers and scholars (from Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, to Mediterranean archaeologists from Princeton, New Jersey, to Stanford University in California): from coast to coast and beyond, scholars will be descending on Fargo, and one point of consideration is that they get to hear about grass roots Red River Valley culture.

J. Earl Miller, former associate of Ralph’s Corner Bar and current photographer for The High Plains Reader, has considered putting together a parallel campaign the day of Punk Archaeology, and this would bring together t-shirt, record and poster collectors for a day of material punk culture and history swapping.

Now I’m going to play some Joe Strummer real loud like. Here is an official North Dakota Humanities Council link to Punk Archaeology. And below is a documentary of Joe Strummer. He was known to say that the future is unwritten. Punk Archaeologists agree with that, and would only add that much of the archaeological and historic past is unwritten, too.


The Archaeology of Kindness

No. 18/#26Acts I found this afternoon on my windshield in Jamestown, North Dakota.

No. 18/#26Acts I found this afternoon on my windshield in Jamestown, North Dakota.

About 20 minutes ago I finished up some grocery shopping (getting the crucial jultid ingredients for Swedish meatballs and gravlax) at the Coborn’s in Jamestown, North Dakota. After loading the pickup box with the staples for the weekend, I got into the cab, looked up and noticed that someone had put something between my windshield wiper and windshield. I got back out, grabbed it and inspected it. Someone, inspired by NBC News and the Twitter hashtag, #26Acts, gave me an act of charity and kindness to honor and remember Anne Marie Murphy, age 52, Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, Connecticut. On the front of the small envelope is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. It reads:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

This is true. There was a candy cane strapped to the envelope, and within was a Farmers Union Oil gas card for $5.00. Wow. That’s what I thought. A little backdrop on Anne Marie Murphy: she died while using herself as a human shield to cover 6-year-old Dylan Hockley (Dylan was also killed). Anne is a saint, and her final act on this planet is being recognized as such (as are many from Sandy Hook Elementary). And an anonymous person in Jamestown, North Dakota wanted to randomly share this 18 of 26 Acts with someone.

The note also says, “Pay it Forward,” so that charges me with sharing this information on the blogs to keep it in the pipeline. I’m inspired. I suppose if we’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the holiday season, it’s okay to pause for a moment, look at the person next to you, and imagine what life would be like without them. Go ahead and hug them. It’s okay to do that. Happy Christmas and merry holidays to all from the northern Great Plains.


Cultural Landscapes on the Northern Great Plains: From 1862 to 2012

This evening while toying around with Google Earth’s image overlay feature, I thought it would be interesting to see what a 2012 map would look like in contrast to the map of the 1860s in Mark Diedrich’s, Mni Wakan Oyate (Spirit Lake Nation): A History of Sisituwan, Wahpeton, Pabaksa, and Other Dakota That Settled at Spirit Lake, North Dakota (Fort Totten, North Dakota: Cankdeska Cikana Community College Publishing, 2007). I was keeping in mind how we — the Royal We — are all born into particular sets of cultural values that we consciously or unconsciously bring to bear on everything we process, do, and see. So in 2012, it’s a given that we can hop Eisenhower’s Interstate 94, lean heavy on the gas peddle, and within 1 to a dozen hours find ourselves anywhere between Minneapolis, Minnesota, Billings, Montana, Omaha, Nebraska, or Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1862, the reality would have required weeks worth of time to cover that amount of space. One hundred fifty years is quite the temporal gap. But Google Earth reconnects us with the spatial, or what we might consider as that sense of place.

Here, for example, is the Diedrich map imported into Google Earth with an approximate transparency of 20-40%. This is laid on top of a 2012 map (some specifics don’t quite line up, but considering that this took 3 minutes to put together, it’s not bad, and the general idea is conveyed).

1862 sans 2012 Geopolitic

Note the non-existence of the 2012 place names. We get the large type of Dakota in the east, Nakota in central Dakota Territory, and the Lakota primarily west of the Missouri River. Imbedded within that are several sub-national sets, including the Ihanktuwana, Sisituwan, Pabaksa, Assiniboin, Mandan (“Gros Ventre”), Arikara, and Blackfeet Lakota. It might be worthwhile to filter our 2012 mindsets through an 1862 landscape in the same way that we would consider today’s landscape in Central Asia, western Europe, or eastern Asia. To an outsider, “it all looks the same.” But try telling someone who hails from Hong Kong that Bangkok and Ulaanbaatar are just the same. Or try telling someone from Tashkent that they’ve experienced something similar because they once saw a picture of Moscow, they talked to a guy who visited Kabul, or they heard about the cultural mecca of St. Petersburg. Or try telling a Parisian that Germany is just like Italy. Or try… yes, the idea is conveyed. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the dynamics of Africa, Australia and so on.

In 1862, North Dakota was northern Dakota Territory to Abraham Lincoln, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey, and any immigrant Euro-American back east (many of our great- or great-great grandparents included). The names of Bismarck, Williston, Dickinson, Jamestown, Fargo, Casselton, Valley City, Grand Forks, Watford City, New Town, Devils Lake, Minot, Ellendale and so on wouldn’t have been on anyone’s cultural radar. Between the 1860s and today, though, several generations have come and gone. And through this amount of time, our perception of the landscape has altered as well. This Google Earth gadget is amazing in that regard. Here is Diedrich’s map with Eisenhower’s Interstate System and the industrial Geopolitics imposed on the landscape:

1862 and 2012

Above, the 49th parallel is quite pronounced, as is our national (or international) system of highways and byways. Today’s 2012 I-94 blasts east-west through former Native America. You can travel from Minneapolis through the 1860s Dakota (Red River Valley now), Nakota, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara (upper Missouri River) and Lakota country (now the Bakken Oil Fields) to Billings in about 20 hours (I cannot recommend any more efficient time). In North Dakota, we can sail past these 1862 landscapes at no less than 75 miles an hour, thermostat pumped full tilt, iPods routed through the speakers. This is the push and the pull between culture and landscape throughout time. I think that’s all I have for now.


Getting Students to Like School

In Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom (Wiley, 2009), a reader is at once subjected to a subtitle with 19th-century length (for example, click here to check out the length of 19th century titles). More importantly, though, the reader is reminded how reading and studies shape and reconfigure the mind, that “three-pound mass of cells, approximately the consistency of oatmeal, that reside in the skull of each of us” (Willingham’s opening words). In the fourth paragraph of the conclusion, Willingham says, “Reading is a mental act that literally changes the thought process of the reader.” (Willingham, 2009: 207)

Get this book. It is good.

Get this book. It is good.

When I read this I thought, “Of course!” immediately re-remembering the way reading alters our way about the world (my mind was changed to remember how the mind changes when reading). This, in turn, caused my brain to recall conversations years ago from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, chatting with fellow undergrads and agreeing with the statement, “Whenever I read something, it often changes my mind.” At its best this is the power of a classical liberal education, or a liberal education, an ability to allow students to wander around in the infinite of ideas and build arguments and perspectives about the world. It is up to the teacher, though, to consider how they might best teach this to students. This requires historians to embrace the methodological ethos of thinking about thinking, or thinking about the way another person might understand the world, including students. And this in turn leads to pedagogical considerations about how to teach, which in turn leads to how to engage students with narratives and stories (aka, histories).

Willingham brings about one approach, a broad 4-part outline used by good and great screen-writers in Hollywood. It is building a narrative around the four Cs: causality, conflict, complications, and character. In Willingham’s book, he uses the example of Star Wars as a narrative to explain to the reader how important narratives are to telling a story worth remembering, and how this model can be used to teach memorable science, math and history (come to think of it, as an adolescent in school, mathematics became amazingly interesting when it was humanized with the founding thinkers of particular theorems and formulas. At once it was not just a Cartesian grid, but instead a grid work developed by this insanely intelligent Renaissance thinker, René Descartes… this information was crucial, at least to break up the 50-minute monotone lectures presented on overhead projectors in junior high and high school).

With the Star Wars example, Willingham answers the title of Chapter 3, a question laid out as, “Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say?” To answer this with “Because you’re boring” would be true but incredibly unhelpful. The reason students remember Star Wars is because screenwriters have modeled the story or narrative around the 4 Cs (and also because Star Wars has permeated every facet of global culture, and also because of Star Wars dorkdom which propels some kind cult of Star Wars, but that’s another tangent for another time).  In Star Wars, there is a strong character development that is Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. The overarching cause or causality is hinted at in the opening: find the plans for the Death Star so the rebels can blow it up. Throughout the story, though, Luke, Leia and others face a variety of complications, including a show-down with Darth Vader, this played by the voice of James Earl Jones, and learning from Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and so on. Still, the overarching theme remains: find a way to destroy that bloody Death Star. What Willingham is telling teachers is to be sure to put time into organizing lesson plans to develop those overarching themes. Conflict and character development will push and pull a listener or student through the narrative, and the end-goal will not change. Students will appreciate these well-organized narratives and lesson plans. And if they appreciate that, the teacher will have their attention.


Global Cowboy Culture

Endless amounts of meat at Harvest Brazilian Grill, Mandan, North Dakota.

Endless amounts of meat at Harvest Brazilian Grill, Mandan, North Dakota.

On the afternoon of December 9, 2012, Edgar, the owner and operator of Harvest Brazilian Grill, sat down with me and chatted a bit about the cultural commonalities of the Great Plains cowboy and the Brazilian gaúcho in downtown Mandan, North Dakota. The cowboy and gaúcho professions revolve around, obviously, cattle, and this in turn brings up dietary similarities: if you’re around cattle, there’s a good chance your diet will consist of beef.

Edgar hails from Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, spent time with an e-company in Santa Barbara, California, then moved to Linton, North Dakota, and finally relocated the Harvest Brazilian Grill to downtown Mandan, North Dakota. Below are two video shorts, as Edgar obliged my request to reflect on his business, Brazilian churrascaria, and global gaúcho and cowboy culture.

The first video draws upon cultural and culinary similarities of Brazil and North Dakota, both cowboy and gaúcho, and German immigrants to the northern Great Plains and Brazil.

In the second video, Edgar explains where he comes from, Porto Alegre, Brazil, and why Brazil has dietary similarities to the northern Great Plains.

Harvest Brazilian Grill, 308 Main Street, Mandan, North Dakota. If you are ready to devour endless supplies of meat, and endure post-dinner meat sweats, here are the hours of operation:

Tuesday – Friday: 11AM – 3PM Lunch, and 5PM – 9PM Dinner

Saturday: 11AM – 3PM Lunch, and 4PM – 9PM Dinner

Contact Harvest Brazilian Grill or make reservations at 701-751-4393.


No Smoking in North Dakota: Local History and the Atlantic World

North Dakota Smoke Free announcement retrieved from the mail box on December 5, 2012.

North Dakota Smoke Free announcement retrieved from the mail box on December 5, 2012.

This evening from my post office box I retrieved several envelopes, one of which was the “SmokeFree!” announcement to inform North Dakotans of the latest smoke free Century Code 23-12-9 to 23-12-12. This got me thinking about tobacco in both a local and global historical context. Tobacco as a cash crop is one of the reasons Great Britain continued colonizing Virginia, and tobacco was cultivated by Native America long before the Columbian Exchange.

As for a local historical context, tobacco appears in a variety of sources. One of them is through Guy Gibbon’s thorough work on the Sioux. Gibbon indexed the word “tobacco” seven times in The Sioux: The Dakota and Lakota Nations (Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2003). Gibbon notes the archaeological sites around Mille Lacs Lake in east-central Minnesota as yielding a variety of botanics, or plant remains, including locally cultivated tobacco.

A cultural and socio-religious story concerning tobacco in the Lakota historical record comes in the form of “The White Buffalo Calf Woman,” a story set down by Black Elk, an Oglala wicasa wakan (“holy man”) and Catholic catechist. In 1931 and in the late 1940s, Black Elk embraced a hybridized version of Euro-American Christianity and Native ways, and he narrated a story where “the sacred messenger of the Great Spirit, brings the People the peace pipe, tobacco, and seven rites.” Students of American literature have considered this story for quite some time, and as Gibbon also notes, “A popular current trend is to devalue Black Elk’s teachings because they seem compromised by Christianity.” (Gibbon, 2003: 149) Whether it is used in customs on behalf of old and new ways, the role of tobacco remains central throughout Native America.

The second history of tobacco text to come to mind upon receiving the update to the new ND tobacco free century code was from James VI and I, a primary source from 1604 entitled, “A Counterblaste to Tobacco.” As the English found ways to bring this cash crop across the Atlantic from the new to the old world, King James felt provoked to respond for the sake of the mainland British common wealth. The paradox remained: England profited financially from tobacco on the one hand, and yet the aristocracy critiqued it on the other. Keeping in mind his use of elitist language, and his complete and raging mischaracterization of the use of tobacco throughout Native America, in 1604 the King of England, verbatim, said,

“…For Tobacco being a common herbe, which (though vnder diuers names) growes almost euery where, was first found out by some of the barbarous Indians, to be a Preseruative, or Antidot against the Pockes, a filthy disease, whereunto these barbaous people are (as all men know) very much subject, through the intemperate heate of their Climat: so that as from them was first brought into Christendome, that most detestable disease, so from them likewise was brought this vse of Tobacco, as a stinking and vnsavourie Antidot, for so corrupted and execrable a Maladie, the stinking Suffumigation whereof they yet vse against that diesease, making son one canker or venime to eate out another.

And this goes on for some length.

Don’t smoke cigarettes, kids, because yes, they do stink, they are unhealthy for you, and they no doubt will cause and/or contribute to cancer. Yet also remember that not every culture uses or has used tobacco the same way, individually and throughout history. Every cultural historical perception toward tobacco is always in flux. And also there is a difference between cigarettes and leaf tobacco: the former are jammed with additives (even with fiber glass, they tell me!) while the latter is not.