Monthly Archives: March 2013

Aaron Beede on Women’s Rights in North Dakota Circa 1915

Aaron McGaffey Beede, Digital Horizons collection,  State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Aaron McGaffey Beede, Digital Horizons collection, State Historical Society of North Dakota.

In the last couple weeks I took a day to visit the special collections and manuscript room at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. While sifting through one box and folder after another, I came across a 1915 excerpt where the Episcopalian Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede, PhD, opined on the way the North Dakota legislature treated women at the state capitol. Beede was disgusted with the legislature. The local story, as Beede set it down, is as follows in his February 19, 1915 journal entry:

…The House voted for ‘Equal Suffrage’ to get rid of the mob of women at the capitol… then when the women have gone and scattered from the city to their homes celebrating, the House recalled the bill, to get rid of the bill. I call that ‘double crossing.’ I am fully in favor of allowing all women to vote, not withstanding some heroic ‘suffragettes’…

Thank you Beede for calling out legislative double crossing. Women’s suffrage required individuals at all levels to make that kind of difference. And sometimes local state legislators were not with the times. In this case, a national amendment eventually brought them up to speed. (A pertinent John Stuart Mill 1869 link here.)

US-Dakota War Memory and History

This last Friday (03/22/2013), I attended one of the four US-Dakota War Panel Discussions, this one at Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, Standing Rock Nation, North Dakota. The events are co-sponsored by the North Dakota Humanities Council and the Center for Heritage Renewal. The discussions are a give-and-take, where three Native and non-Native historians and discussants give introductory remarks and impressions of where we are “at” today, 150 years after engagements, battles and massacres — what today we call Total War — started in the Minnesota River Valley in 1862, and concluded albeit temporarily at Killdeer Mountains in 1864. (I say “albeit temporarily” because the Battle of Greasy Grass [aka, Little Big Horn] and Wounded Knee had yet to come).

Two of the many impressions I had at this particular event are as follows:

The US-Dakota Wars panel discussion at Sitting Bull College on March 22, 2013.

Photo from the US-Dakota Wars panel discussion at Sitting Bull College on March 22, 2013.

1) This public format remains one of the best ways to open a discussion that broadens the exchange not just with the “official” panel discussants, but with the audience members as well. The quasi-lecture and conversational format brings new voices into the fold, and this is important in that it allows researchers an opportunity to hear about historical particulars that simply do not exist in the archives or in “official” histories.

2) In this Sitting Bull College context, one audience participant noted how they, as a Native, felt a bit more comfortable opening up and chatting about the history and memory of the US-Dakota wars: depending on social contexts, individuals may or may not decide to talk about particular points of memory and history. This is an interesting intersection between our Sense of Place and Sense of History: the history we will talk about is largely dependent on where we are and who we are with. This also made me think about how it would be interesting to track how each one of these discussions played out. For example, in chatting with Richard Rothaus after the discussion happened on March 23, 2013 in Watford City, North Dakota, Rothaus noted how the audience contributed a completely different set of voices, and asked a completely different set of questions. This no doubt is due to the different range of cultural back-drops everyone comes from, and also how our vision and memories of the past are shaped by the different cultures we are born in to (for example, the first panel discussion was approximately 240 miles from the second panel discussion, both of which were in North Dakota: the first was at Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, the second in Watford City, North Dakota).

This is the first of 4 discussions, and each discussion is happening (or happened) at a different location.  The third discussion will take place on Friday, April 5, 2013, at the Ellendale Opera House in Ellendale, North Dakota, and the fourth discussion will be at the Lake Region Heritage Center in Devils Lake, North Dakota on Saturday, April 6, 2013. More details at the following links here and here.

Revamping the North Dakota Industrial Commission

Signage at Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch. Photo from September 2012.

Signage at Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch. Photo from September 2012.

Theodore Roosevelt passed the American Antiquities Act of 1906 after experiencing what unencumbered industrialization had done to the American West. Since 1906, this initial piece of legislation has been amended and updated to reflect the changing times. I was thinking about that when I read this morning’s story in The Dickinson Press, “Oil Company Stakes Out Area for Well Pads Steps Away from Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.” A subsidiary of ExxonMobil, XTO Energy has staked an area immediate to Roosevelt’s 1883 Elkhorn Ranch just along the Little Missouri River in the badlands of western North Dakota.

With the American bison nearly extinct (and who knows what other species), when Teddy was president he decided to draw some boundaries around sections of wilderness for preservation. He did this for both applied and philosophical reasons. By setting aside and declaring these spaces sacred, us Americans would be able to engage in recreation (when unpacked, the word means re-create), and we would also have a kind of common cultural datum that we could all associate with from one generation to the next. These cultural datums provide society with stability in that everyone has a common point of reference. “Hey, did you go to Elkhorn Ranch last weekend?” The response is, “Yeah,” and both individuals know they experienced and perceived the same looking landscape, the same space, but at different points in time. This is what David Glassberg was getting at in his 2001 work, Sense of History. After attending two meetings in Bismarck that concerned the Killdeer Mountains in January and February, 2013, I and others increasingly believe that this is fairly meaningless to the majority party bottom-liners in our state government. I’ve thought about this, and wondered if there was a better way to bring our State Industrial Commission up to speed.

Sometimes folks go to the Elkhorn to read about the Elkhorn. Photo from September 2012.

Sometimes folks go to the Elkhorn to read about the Elkhorn. Photo from September 2012.

The State Industrial Commission was originally formed in 1919 with the idea that it would guide industrial development in the state. I am not against industry. In fact, I don’t know how someone could be “against” industry. It would be impossible. I recognize it as the substructure upon which the superstructure of our culture rests: if you like the arts and humanities, you gotta have an industrial foundation. In 1919, only 30 years after North Dakota had gotten its statehood start, a three-person industrial commission worked. Almost 100 years later, we are learning that an industrial commission with only 3 voices on it is not working for a state with a population of approximately 700,000 (and growing).

As of March 19, 2013, the only three voices on the commission are as follows: 1) Jack Dalrymple, who was born into family Bonanza farming in Casselton, and received a bachelors in American Studies from Yale (I think under Howard Lamar, who wrote a great piece of scholarship entitled, Dakota Territory 1861-1889: A Study in Frontier Politics [1956]); 2) Wayne Stenehjem, who has a juris doctorate from the University of North Dakota (Wayne’s father was a former president of our Bank of North Dakota; and 3) Doug Goehring, who operates a 2,000-acre farm near Menoken (note: at the end of this blog posting, I have cut and pasted the public Meet the Commissioner profiles to this blogspot).

These three are supposed to listen to Lynn Helms (who holds a bachelors of science in engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines), and Lynn is supposed to be an expert at informing the commission on approving drilling permits. At the last meeting I attended on Killdeer Mountains, Lynn attempted to explain the archaeology and history to the three commissioners, and this was unfair to him: Lynn’s training is in engineering and his professional life history has been in the oil business. He indeed is familiar with the workings of his profession. But when it comes to history and archaeology, he is tasked with learning about and briefing the public on two disciplines that professional historians and archaeologists think about incessantly, 24/7, 365 days/year, for their entire lives.

Public visitor sign-in list at Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch in western North Dakota. Photo from September 2012.

Public visitor sign-in list at Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in western North Dakota. Photo from September 2012.

The three of these commissioners reflect just a small cross section of North Dakota society, yet they are tasked with the job of making decisions for one and all. This isn’t 1919 anymore. It is 2013, and it is only fair to modify the industrial commission accordingly. Here is one idea: the industrial commission needs to be expanded to a board of 12-to-15 members. For example, in addition to the three members already on the commission, we need to add the following: 1) a medical doctor; 2) an economist; 3) a pastor, priest and two nuns; 4) a biologist; 5) a historian; 6) an archaeologist; 7) at least two Native elders; 8) a cattle rancher; 9) a banker; 10) an ASE-certified mechanic; 11) a philosopher of ethics; 12) an IT/Web-2.0 expert; 13) an English major; 14) a soldier-veteran; 15) and so on. To be quick and short, this would reflect a much greater cross-section of North Dakota society. It is just an idea, nonetheless. And it is unlikely to gain any traction in this legislative session (North Dakota’s 63rd). But perhaps in number 64 or 65.

As promised, here is a distillation of the public profiles of our industrial commission as of March 19, 2013:

Jack Dalrymple, Governor

Born October 16, 1948, Dalrymple grew up in Casselton on the family farm, established in 1875 by his great-grandfather. He graduated with honors from Yale University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and then returned to North Dakota to manage the farming operations.

Dalrymple came to the North Dakota Legislature in 1985, representing a rural Cass County House district. He served eight terms, including six years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. In 2000, he was elected North Dakota’s 35th Lieutenant Governor with Governor John Hoeven and was re-elected in 2004 and 2008. He was elected to his first full term as Governor in 2012.

Dalrymple is a nationally recognized leader in value-added agriculture. He was the founding board chairman of Carrington-based Dakota Growers Pasta Company, the third-largest manufacturer and marketer of dry pasta products in North America. His work in helping to found the company earned him the 2007 Ernst and Young Midwest “Master Entrepreneur of the Year” Award. Dalrymple served as chairman of the North Dakota Trade Office and the Governor’s Commission on Education Improvement.

Wayne Stenehjem, Attorney General

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem was born in Mohall, North Dakota.  He graduated from the University of North Dakota and received his law degree from the UND School of Law in 1977. 

Stenehjem was elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives in 1976, serving for two terms until his election to the ND Senate in 1980.  He served for twenty years in the Senate until his election to the Office of Attorney General. Stenehjem served on the Judiciary Committee throughout his tenure in the Legislature, and was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995-2000. He was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate for the 1999 Legislative Session. In January 2001, Stenehjem was sworn in as the State’s 29th Attorney General. He was reelected in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Stenehjem is a member of numerous boards and commissions, including the Board of University and School Lands, Industrial Commission (which oversees all state-owned industries including the Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator), Drug and Alcohol Commission (chair), Judicial Council and Pardon Advisory Board. 

He was named one of Ten Outstanding Legislators in the US by the Association of Government Employees, and is the recipient of “Champion of the People’s Right to Know” award; SBAND Legislative Service Award; “Friend of Psychology” award; the 2005 North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association’s Lone Eagle Award, was inducted into the Scandinavian American Hall of Fame in 2007, and was named the 2011 Bismarck State College Alumnus of the Year.

Doug Goehring, Agricultural Commissioner

Doug Goehring has been North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner since April 2009 and was elected to a full, four-year term in November 2010.

A third-generation farmer, Commissioner Goehring, along with his son, Dustin, operates a 2,000-acre, no-till farm near Menoken in south central North Dakota, where they raise corn, soybeans, spring wheat, winter wheat, sunflowers, and canola. In the past, the Goehrings have also produced durum, barley, mustard, millet, safflower, alfalfa, lentils and field peas, and have had a feeder cattle operation.

Commissioner Goehring is the former president and chairman of the board of Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. and a director of American Agricultural Insurance Co.

Long active in farm organizations, Commissioner Goehring has served as vice president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and is a member of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the North Dakota Grain Growers, the North Dakota Soybean Association, the North Dakota Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Corporate Directors. An early supporter of agriculture-based, renewable fuels, he is an investor in the Red Trail Energy Ethanol Plant at Richardton.

Commissioner Goehring is a former director of the United Soybean Board where he served as chairman of the sustainability committee, domestic research committee, industrial uses and international marketing committee. He was a former director of the North Dakota Soybean Council, a former secretary/treasurer of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association and a member of USDA’s Area 4 Research Farm Steering Committee. He is the former president of the Menoken School Board and past chairman of the Bismarck Mandan Chamber Agriculture Committee.

He chairs the Biotechnology Task Force of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and is president of the Midwest Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

Commissioner Goehring attended Bismarck State College and is a licensed medical laboratory technician. He attends Evangel Assembly of God in Bismarck.

Lynn Helms, Director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission Oil and Gas Division

Helms earned his bachelor of science degree in engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1978, but his oil field career began as a roughneck in 1976 working summers and holidays. After graduation Helms worked for two years as a production engineer for Texaco in all of the producing areas of Montana.

In 1980, Helms joined Amerada Hess in Williston, N.D. While in Williston he worked as a production engineer, reservoir engineer and asset team leader on projects in Abu Dhabi, Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Bloody Bull from the Northern Great Plains

A ceremonial bloody bull just 10" to my left.

A ceremonial bloody bull, a Smithwick’s northern Great Plains beer back, and a salty anchovy snack just 10″ to my left.

The following is a morally decent sacrament for St. Patrick’s Day this March 17, 2013. The drink combination is Irish and English in origin, but has northern Great Plains-inspiration. Some years ago I was made aware of the Bloody Bull, or what some folks call the Bull Shot (The New York Times has the former Ben Benson’s Steakhouse Bloody Bull recipe linked to here). For the bloody bull pictured: into the glass goes, approximately, 1.5 ounces of tomato juice, 1.5 ounces of vodka (Ed Phillips & Sons Prairie spirits from Benson, Minnesota), and about 2 ounces of beef broth. Then a dose or two of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce, a couple lemon wedges, and some ground pepper. The linked to recipes I found insisted on “Campbell’s double-strength beef broth.” But Nash Brother’s Trading Company broth was on sale, so I added that. To substitute the Campbell’s sodium content, I added just a sprinkle or two of Himalayan Pink sea salt.

Also note the Smithwick’s Irish Ale. At least in Minnesota and North Dakota, we refer to this as a “beer back.” When someone puts a beer back in front of you, it is unnecessary to question it, or its origins. Were I writing from the Otto von Bismarck, North Dakota on St. Patrick’s Day, I would have purchased a growler of Laughing Sun’s Irish Red Lager, especially brewed for today. But we sometimes just have to grin and bear it, and take what we can get. Also pictured are King Oscar’s anchovies. These are a good salty snack, and when company is around, you rarely need to concern yourself about having to ever replenish the plate.

Anyhow, back to it on this end. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the northern Great Plains.

The North Dakota NAYS against the History and Archaeology of the Killdeer Mountains

In the last couple months, Killdeer Mountain land owners, professional historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, tribal historians, Native elders and biologists spent a good deal of time at the capitol in North Dakota to inform the legislature on the importance of being a bit more deliberate than usual when it comes to drilling for oil on Killdeer Mountains in western North Dakota. Ultimately, SB 2341 was created but voted down with moderate rather than extreme impunity by North Dakota’s 63rd legislature. Sigh…

The YEAS and NAYS for SB 2341, a bill that would have appropriated moneys to fund an archaeological and historical study on Killdeer Mountains.

The YEAS and NAYS for SB 2341, a bill that would have appropriated moneys to fund an archaeological and historical study on the Killdeer Mountains in western ND.

Earlier this morning I started to wonder about who voted against the bill. The results are linked to here, and the image is a copy of who voted against SB 2341. I have yet to chat with all the individuals who voted “NAY” on this bill, at least to garner an understanding as to what motivated them to do what they did.

Had the bill passed, it would have allowed moneys for the State Historical Society of North Dakota and North Dakota State University students, and professors of history and archaeology, to conduct an archaeological survey of Killdeer Mountains. I’m thinking I didn’t do a good enough job communicating that message to fellow North Dakotans who happen to be senators. Maybe next time around.

David Glassberg, “Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life” (2001)

In David Glassberg’s 2001 work, Sense of History, he says that to have a sense of history is to have a sense of the deep culture of a particular place. This historical sensibility is akin to having spatial and temporal sensibilities, or knowing what happened in particular locations at particular points in time. According to Glassberg, it is “not quit territoriality, as among other animals, but a sense of locatedness and belonging.” It is knowing and being conscious of kinship and ancestral bonds, and how these bonds are fixed to particular landscapes. For many, it is “at the core of who they are and the people and places they care about.” To have a sense of history is to know about previous generations that have traveled and inhabited the landscape. To have a sense of history is also to have a sense of Public History, a forum where ideas from the public and academics intersect, and how these groups bring infinite meanings to particular places in space and time. (Glassberg, 2001: 6-8)

The range of this sensibility is communicated through several case studies, from First World War memorials in Orange, Massachusetts to the thirteen-hour Civil War photomontage marathon organized by Ken Burns and financed by a variety of public and corporate sponsors. In his introduction, Glassberg references Wallace Stegner and Eric Hobsbawm. A Stegner quote fortifies Glassberg’s argument, as “No place is a place until the things that have happened in it are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends, or monuments.” (Glassberg, 2001: 19) In the case of the recently deceased Hobsbawm, Glassberg references his 1983 co-authored work, The Invention of Tradition. In short, this work explores how one generation after another envisioned themselves as having a kind of timeless connection with the customs of the past. Glassberg also aptly references William Faulkner, Toni Morison, and Louise Erdrich, individuals who through fiction and prose develop an identity by remembering land- and city-scapes from earlier years.

This developed identity means that when we think of, say, Erdrich, we immediately associate her with her descriptions of the Red River, or of Wahpeton, North Dakota, or with her sisters, or with her bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is similar with Stegner, as he is inextricably bound to East End, Saskatchewan, and the same goes for Walter Webb, N. Scott Momaday, Ernest Staples Osgood, Paul Sharp, Gilbert Fite, Willa Cather, and Glenda Riley, all of whom worked toward creating a sense of Great Plains history and culture.

David Glassberg, "Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life" (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001).

David Glassberg, “Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001).

Individuals throughout time can associate with, reject, or fix their own particular stories to perceptions that authors and historians have had about certain landscapes. When a culture becomes familiar with a common set of stories, that culture is able to fixate on and relate to one another. And when an economic developer sans a sense of history takes the reigns and proposes a new project, Historic Preservationists are, at best, there to kindly remind the developer that to alter the land- and city-scape is to rub out a livable past. In Glassberg’s words:

We live in landscapes dense with both histories and memories, idealized images of the past that compete to become the standards we use to evaluate and shape our present environment. Personal recollections of past places stand against a flood of place images created for us, from guidebooks and maps published by local civic organizations that recognize some “historical” places in our community but not others, to the generic images of past American landscapes and smalltown life… History in all its varieties guides our sense of where we live, contributing to our perception of the traditions that make our place distinctive. (Glassberg, 2001: 126)

To think of Glassberg’s work in a world historical context requires that we think of each location in space and time as having its own sense of history. This indeed complicates our understanding of the past, but this complexity is nothing new. Historians, for example, that boasted the virtues and lessons of Western Civilization had one understanding of, say, Herodotus and his world, and this was much different than the understanding that Herodotus had of himself and his surroundings. This is also similar of a historian from China writing about the Mongolian hordes, or the Mongolians themselves writing about a conquest of the EurAsian steppe, from Beijing to Baghdad and to the edges of Poland and eastern Europe. In large part historians, or Public Historians, absorb methodologies set down by R.G. Collingwood in the 1930s and 1940s, at least before he collapsed and died from a brain aneurism (arguably due to his synapse firing on protracted overdrive for the duration of his life). Collingwood called on historians to first develop a philosophy toward history. That philosophy was defined as a professional ability to understand the way in which people understand or understood their world.

The Great Hall in the Capitol of North Dakota

This last weekend I dropped into Bismarck to catch up with my folks, to do a bit of research, and to take in a bit of the WE Rise event with Molly McLain, Karis Thompson and others at the state capitol. The luncheon for the WE Rise gathering was also held in the Great Hall at the capitol. The Great Hall is, unsurprisingly, a really great room, with tremendous verticality. At least this is the perception I had, having grown up on the Great Plains which is more horizontal than vertical. The Art Deco aesthetics (from 1925 and on) also reminded me of the 21st century Steampunk movement. Below are a couple photos of the Great Hall from March 11, 2013.

The Great Hall of the North Dakota capitol in Bismarck. Photo looking west.

The Great Hall of the North Dakota capitol in Bismarck. Photo looking west.

The Art Deco chandeliers in the Great Hall of the capitol in North Dakota. This is an aesthetic and style that has been appropriated by the 21st century Steam Punk movement.

The Art Deco chandeliers in the Great Hall of the capitol in North Dakota. This is an aesthetic and style that has been appropriated by the 21st century Steampunk movement.

A chandelier close up in the Great Hall.

A chandelier close up in the Great Hall.

Memories and Material Culture for the State Historical Society of North Dakota

This is a historic pony truss railroad bridge that spans the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan. It is a cultural icon, and has an infinite amount of individual stories attached to it. If someone were to destroy or replace this bridge in the name of "progress," it would seriously hurt and damage the living local history and culture of Bismarck and Mandan.

This is a historic pony truss railroad bridge that spans the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan. It is a cultural icon, and has an infinite amount of individual stories attached to it.

Think of this for a second: one of the primary interests and concerns of historians is that memories are fixed to the stuff we use and live with. Memories are also fixed to the stuff that our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents used (landscapes, homesteads, historic buildings and structures included).

I recently received an e-mail forward from archaeological comrade and colleague Amy Bleier, Research Archaeologist with the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND). As the lot of us within range of Bismarck already know, the SHSND is experiencing a much-needed expansion. This also means that Len Thorson, the Registrar with the SHSND, is looking for material culture, or 3-dimensional objects, or what we call “stuff.”

Stuff is much more meaningful if it has those stories and memories fixed and secured to it. And it allows historians to do what historians are trained to do: track change through time.

Thorson sent out the following e-mail the other day. It is cut and pasted below. In Thorson’s words:

The Museum Collections Committee is looking for contemporary items from North Dakota businesses and organizations that you have purchased and/or used… or someone you know who would be willing to donate objects to the SHSND. The items should be relatively small (for space considerations). A history of the object(s), along with appropriate documents and photographs, would add much historical significance to the objects.

Examples include product packages from Cass Clay, Hugo’s Family Marketplace, Dakota Pasta, Noodles by Leonardo, Red River Commodities/SunGold Foods (SunButter), HIT Inc. products, or many other products listed on the Pride of Dakota webpage:

Other items (used in ND) we are seeking include: beekeeping equipment and supplies; Highway 10 memorabilia; items showing ND school consolidation; solar power devices; objects from the Bank of North Dakota; contemporary powwow related items; contemporary immigration related items; and modern agricultural items such as GPS equipment, and air seeder/drill parts, etc.

If this is something you wish to participate in, please let us know, but PLEASE don’t bring objects in for us to view. Simply reply to this e-mail, or even better, provide the information requested below. The information requested by us may also be sent online via the form at

Consider this. It is important. If you have some sweet modern artifacts — in the business, we often call this contemporary or modern archaeology and history — with a memory attached to it, you might contact Registrar Thorson, or anyone from the SHSND Museum Collections Committee. It is by and for North Dakotans.

Gerald Friesen, “The Canadian Prairies: A History” (1984)

Published in 1984, the synthetic work that is Gerald Friesen’s The Canadian Prairies incorporated hundreds of books, articles, and government reports to give readers a glimpse of the long historical processes — Fernand Braudel’s longue durée — that unfolded within the western interior of Canada from 1600 up through the middle of the twentieth century. The book begins with a general introduction of the geology that shaped the region’s physiography, an area that is organized into three parts. In the east is the prairie, and west of that is a step (or steppe) up to the parkland, and then higher yet the forest. The prairie is the area of the Red River Valley and Lake Agassiz basin, and as Friesen says it rolls “seemingly without end north and west.” The parkland region is composed of gentle rolling hills and valleys, with prairie potholes and fertile soil. Further west of the parkland is the northern extension of the Rocky Mountains and the Boreal Forest. This area has outcroppings of rocks, frigid lakes, and a portion of forest that is part of a broader network of spruce and pine that extends from Newfoundland to Alaska. (Friesen, 1984: 3-9)

"Fur trade posts of the west." (Friesen, 1984: 96)

“Fur trade posts of the west.” (Friesen, 1984: 96)

Throughout the narrative, culture constantly interacts with the natural world. The year of 1840, however, provides an industrial point of demarcation within this synthesis, and within the history of the Canadian interior. Prior to this, human inhabitants relied much on the broad and gradual swings of nature. Rivers served as transportation routes, and river courses often influenced the direction of trade flows and Native American diplomacy. Rivers, lakes and potholes also provided vegetation with a permanent water source, and where there was vegetation, bison would certainly gather. The global industrial revolution, though, eventually made available such things as steamboats, firearms, agricultural implements, and railroads, and by the latter half of the nineteenth century, the interior of the Canadian west had been altered as never before. The Canadian government favored settlers, and Native American nomads became “wards of the state — put bluntly, they would be treated as children.” (Friesen, 1984: 129)

Two of the passages in Friesen’s work that explain this cultural change come in the form of primary and secondary sources. As a primary source, Friesen quotes Isaac Cowie and his wagon-train experience when maneuvering through a herd of bison. Cowie said in,

…the midst of the herd, which opened in front and closed behind the train of carts like water round a ship… the earth trembled day and night… as they moved… over the inclinations of the plains. Every drop of water on our way was foul and yellow with their wallowing and excretions. (Friesen, 1984: 8)

First Nations and Native American boundaries circa 1820. (Friesen, 1984: 94)

First Nations and Native American boundaries circa 1820. (Friesen, 1984: 94)

Further in Friesen’s work is his own anthropological understanding of the furious alteration of old ways that were increasingly giving way to global industrialization. Commenting on the Cree, and placing the reader in that perspective, Friesen said,

A typical Cree youth might have been hunting buffalo and raiding for horses in the 1860s just as his grandfather had done sixty years before; in the 1870s, he might have succumbed to the whiskey trade or been struck by an epidemic; almost certainly he would have been removed to a reserve and perhaps even taught the rudiments of agriculture. In the 1880s, some of his children might have been attending school, and he, having faced starvation for three or four years in succession, might have participated in the violence associated with the 1885 uprising… the buffalo had disappeared, trains and fences and towns now dominated the plains, and the old ways had disappeared beyond recovery. (Friesen, 1984: 130)

Further thoughts on this induce a reader to consider how global population movements before and after the 19th century industrial revolution shifted and altered indigenous customs and habits with a rapidity never before seen or experienced. Localized accounts of this come in the form of Fort Whoop Up, and the expansive network of railroads that eventually eclipsed the smaller fur trade forts. Friesen is good at explaining this in a way that leads readers to envision themselves as individual Native Americans looking at endless waves of non-Natives and invaders colonizing their traditional lands. This, indeed, is the epitome of good history: it is not elevating one side at the expense of another. Rather, the good and excellent historian allows the reader to understand all sides, and how conflict and disorder came about and what resulted from it.

By the first half of the twentieth century, immigrants had flooded into the Canadian interior, and the result was cosmopolitan chaos. Again, Friesen’s prose shines as he places the reader into Winnipeg circa 1900.

To descend from the train at the CPR [railroad] station in Winnipeg was to enter an international bazaar: the noise of thousands of voices and a dozen tongues circled the high marble pillars and drifted out into the street, there to mingle with the sounds of construction, delivery wagons, perambulatory vendors, and labour recruiters. The crowds were equally dense on Main Street, just a block away, where shops displayed their wares in a fashion more European than British North American: fruits and vegetables, books and newspapers, coats and jackets stood on sidewalk tables and racks, even on the outer walls of buildings when weather permitted. (Friesen, 1984: 243)

This continues, as Friesen remarks on the smells of fresh earth and milled lumber from the Boreal Forest resulting from localized construction projects in downtown Winnipeg. He tempers the progress of nostalgic development with smells of “beer and whisky and sweat and horse manure” so that a reader does not get lonesome for a manicured past that never was.

Friesen’s synthetic narrative is a likely starting point for that long duration of the history of the Canadian west. In his introductory and concluding remarks, he chose to celebrate rather than chide the “superficial friendliness that makes daily contact between people of very different backgrounds not only possible but likely.” (Friesen, 1984: xiii) In 1984, Friesen looked kindly on the culture of the Canadian plains and prairie, and this is a marked difference from how Wallace Stegner portrayed it in 1955. For Friesen, curling represented “a most democratic sport,” while all Stegner could see in curling was the absence of tennis. In a large way, Friesen checked any kind of disappointment or snobbery at the door. This is not to throw Stegner under a bus or bison stampede. Rather, it demonstrates that throughout time, perceptions change, both for individuals who are direct participants in the past, and individuals who study and interpret their behavior. This, in a large way, is just as much a reflection of the culture the historian is studying as it is as the culture that the historian comes from.

Glenda Riley, “The Female Frontier” (1988)

Glenda Riley opened her 1988 work, The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of Women on the Prairie and the Plains, by lobbing a volley towards past Great Plains historians. Riley justified this volley by drawing from questionnaires she circulated to academics, students and lay people in the 1980s. (Riley, 1988: 14) She said that while academics were largely skeptical of the traditional myth and image of women on the Great Plains, it was students and laypeople that continued to accept these traditional images and myths. Within the first three paragraphs of chapter 1, she said Frederick Jackson Turner, George F. Parker, Everett Dick, Walter P. Webb, et al., were largely responsible for portraying frontierswomen as “one-dimensional stereotypes.” Women were often victimized as passive agents who were “gaunt and sad-faced… sitting on the front seat of the wagon, following” their “lord where he might lead” her. Or women were portrayed as “leathery, stooped, and lifeless figures who either begged to return home or persevered until they were broken entirely.” Riley uncovered a body of knowledge that undermined the “puerile stereotypes” ascribed to women on the Great Plains and in the American West, and she challenged a traditional way of looking at the past. (Riley, 1988: 1-2)

The historiographic crux of Riley’s argument elevated culture as the primary determinant of understanding how frontierswomen carried on their lives, and through this she discounted the environmental determinism Walter Webb advanced in his 1931 work, The Great Plains. (Riley, 1988: 12) Riley organized her work into two categories, and this included 1) women on the Prairie; and 2) women on the Plains. Women did much more than follow their lords. They managed households, preserved familial, religious and ethnic traditions by acting as local historians, Bible recorders, and genealogists, they shaped their domestic and local economy, and they participated in community and civics.

In this, Riley aptly accounted for the cultural roles of women, and also men. She said the socio-economic system of the nineteenth century required men to be “the primary breadwinners,” and this meant that women were expected to marry. (Riley, 1988: 15) If women wanted something else, they often would not marry, or they “forswore marriage entirely.” Instead, they could enroll in religious institutions that had missions dedicated to improving healthcare and education for the needy, unfortunate, or downtrodden. For example, in 1853 the Sisters of St. Joseph’s built the first hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1872, the Sisters of Charity (or the Grey Nuns) came to Dakota Territory. Eight years later the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary arrived. Once in the territory and on the Great Plains, they set out with the progressive mission of improving educational and healthcare facilities for otherwise marginalized groups. (Riley, 1988: 19)

Several thoughts came to mind while reading Riley’s work. The first was how breaking into established cultural orders and institutions can take on at least two forms. One way to change tradition and reframe the conversation is to go through back channels within the established institution, and try to reform it from within. Another way is to publicly denounce the institution. In the sense that Riley published her work in an academic press, it appears that she utilized both courses. She networked and made contacts within academic publishing houses, and they eventually printed her scholarship. This in turn brought about change in the historiography of the Great Plains and the American West, and this is at least one broad roadmap for any historian to incorporate and follow.

Another thought was that in 2013, Riley’s 1988 volley toward the traditional historians of the Great Plains and American West might at first read a bit bombastic. It does not read bombastic in the sense that Riley was out of line. Not in the least. Rather, it is a reflection of pathfinders and scholar-activists who, in some ways, appropriated and used the type of academic rhetoric that was used to marginalize them in the first place. In other cases, Riley’s rhetorical flourishes ensured that women — her included — would not be ignored. For Riley to call foundational historians of the American West “puerile,” and in an academic press, almost guaranteed that historians would have to bring their attention to bear on her and her scholarship. In this sense, Riley could also have a different sub-title to her book that read something along the lines of, The Female Frontier: A Comparative View of our Grandmothers and Great Grandmothers on the Prairie and Plains. This alternative and fictional sub-title might speak a bit more to 21st-century heritage and Public Historians rather than to 1980s feminist history.

A final remark about the continued shift in women’s scholarship looks to how Euro- and Anglo-American women view themselves, and how Margaret D. Jacobs treats this group in her 2011 work, White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940. But that is easily a topic and point of consideration for another review.