Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Killdeer Mountain Battlefield Landscape

Basin Killdeer Proposed Route

The Bismarck Tribune’s graphic of the proposed route through what essentially is the Gettysburg of the Northern Great Plains, the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield from 1864. Historical actors involved included Sitting Bull, Inkpaduta, Gall, Sully, among others.

This morning a story broke in The Bismarck Tribune on a proposed transmission line route directly through the core area of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal, led by Professor Tom Isern, responded with the following media release:

Aug. 30, 2013

Media Advisory

The Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University is preparing a submission for the North Dakota Public Service Commission hearing in Killdeer on Sept. 4. The subject is an electrical power transmission line and substation proposed to be built, by Basin Electric, in the core area of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. The topic has been covered by North Dakota media, starting yesterday.

The Center for Heritage Renewal was established to identify, preserve and capitalize on the heritage resources of North Dakota and the northern plains. One of the center’s objectives is to assist state agencies, private organizations and the people of the state and region in generating prosperity and quality of life from heritage resources. Another objective is to provide expertise and action in the fields of historic preservation and heritage tourism.

The center recognizes the efforts of Basin Electric to support regional development but is concerned that the environmental impact statement for the project takes no cognizance of the historical significance of Killdeer Mountain. 

The center has signed a contract with the National Park Service to survey and study the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, which the park service has identified as a significant Civil War-era site in North Dakota. The contract is with the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service.

Killdeer Mountain was the chosen ground on which Dakota and Lakota fighters, including Inkpaduta and Sitting Bull, confronted the Northwest Expedition, commanded by General Alfred Sully, on July 28, 1864. This was the largest military engagement ever to take place on the Great Plains of North America, and a crucial episode in the Dakota War of 1862-1864.

University Distinguished Professor Tom Isern, founding director of the center, observes, “Killdeer Mountain is the Gettysburg of the Plains. It is, arguably, the most significant historic site in all of North Dakota.”

Isern is available to discuss this issue. He can be reached at 701-799-2942

More to come…

Punk Practice Last Night

I’m about ready to dash out the door, pick up Molly from work and grab lunch at Lucy’s with two long-time friends, Tiffany Johnson and Justin Vinje. But I wanted to upload a photo from last night, my second practice with Fargo-based punk band, Les Dirty Frenchmen. Last January-February, two of the Frenchmen, Todd and Troy, collaborated with the Punk Archaeology un-conference at Sidestreet Grille and Pub. A couple months after that, they said their drummer was moving to a non-Fargo location (I think the Twin Cities), and they asked me to consider taking up the drums for LDF. I said sure, I’d be glad to.



I keep fiddling with the panoramic feature on my iPhone 4s, and so here is what it looked like from the drummer’s perspective last night in the LDF top secret practice space. I think we might start working on some new songs, too. One of those is titled, “Budget Fracking,” a kind of absurdist nod to the Bakken of western ND. Long live local punk.

Notes from Whitestone Hill: August 24, 2013

Last week I returned from the National Archives in DC, and over the weekend I attended and was one of the speakers for the 150th Whitestone Hill observances not too far south of Kulm, in Dickey County, southeastern North Dakota. There has been much said about Whitestone Hill (it is a piece of genocide in American history), and much more to be said too. I have a forthcoming article in The Public Historian (“Imagining a Battle at a Civil War Mistake: The Public History of Whitestone Hill, 1863-2013” Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2013) that concerns the remembrance of this site, and this induced me to note, at least to myself, how history is never final.

During the August 24, 2013 day of observances, I took some notes, photos, and video. Here is a link to the line-up. I thought I’d share some more notes from the day here, but they are not exhaustive (I tried to scribble when I could). Kevin Locke opened the observances around 9:00AM with a Native prayer, and he spoke to the temporality of life. He described this in Dakota and Lakota language, and also noted a word that defined something that was fleeting, a philosophical universal of life. Also, the essence of the word “Dakota” means peace, ally, friend.

Under the tent, the morning at Whitestone Hill. Ladonna is speaking at left.

Under the tent, the morning at Whitestone Hill. Ladonna is speaking at left.

Also: Frogs were everywhere at the site that morning. With every couple steps, a couple little jumps would happen in the grass below. Upon closer inspection, you could see the little frogs. This, of course, provided untold of amusement for youngsters and biologists, and basically any of us city types who don’t regularly get to see frogs in this kind of battalion strength.

I caught up with a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, and he said he arrived a little late because his son asked him to have breakfast. Note: having breakfast with your son is a good idea, especially if your son wants to.

One of the coolest things ever, especially at these sites and on our northern Great Plains, is coming upon a tipi. Even better, coming upon more than one tipi. And even better-better, coming upon one tipi, and the raising of another. Here is a short video of that. There is a charcoal marker on the top of the last tipi pole, the one where the canvas is fixed to and hoisted up (in pre-canvas days, before Euro-American industrialization nearly wiped out every last bison, these bison hides would be used). Notice the kind of community that simply “happens” with the raising of a tipi.

It’s akin to the pre-Industrial raising of a barn, or relocating a Mongolian ger from one pasture to the next: everyone gets involved, either directly or in supportive spirit. There are smiles everywhere as well. Architecturally the tipi is so fascinating because its verticality rises right out of the horizontal landscape that is the Great Plains. It gets your attention for sure. The new east-facing elevation of the State Historical Society of North Dakota has a brilliant entryway with, impressionistically, a tipi-looking piece of modern art. I think it is excellent.

Tipis at Whitestone Hill, August 24, 2013.

Tipis at Whitestone Hill, August 24, 2013. Note the verticality in contrast to the horizontal landscape of the Great Plains. Everyone should raise more tipis.


Understandable resistance to the name of Whitestone Hill as a "battlefield."

Understandable resistance to the name of Whitestone Hill as a “battlefield.” Photo from August 24, 2013.


Photos of the National Archives

I finished up what I needed to finish up at the National Archives in Washington, DC today, and I thought I’d post just a couple photos of this spectacular building. Within this building is an incredibly helpful and friendly staff, all of which is used to house and protect historical documents both foreign and domestic. These documents — hand-written memos, notes, and journals, and beyond — allow us insight into yesteryear, ever helping us develop a kind of deep culture and a philosophical and psychological connection and tension with the past. I’m glad my tax dollars go toward this institution. The hand-written docs I worked over today further humanized what we often read about in text books and historical narratives. I’ll try to remember to blog on those points later. For now, here are a couple photos.

East elevation of the National Archives.

East elevation of the National Archives.

Sipping on coffee and waiting for my documents to be retrieved with a bunch of dead Anglo-Americans in the basement cafe of the National Archives.

Sipping on coffee and waiting for my documents to be retrieved with a bunch of dead Anglo-Americans behind me, this in the basement cafe of the National Archives.

The 2nd floor reading room of the National Archives.

The 2nd floor reading room of the National Archives.

A Morning in Washington, DC

Before heading off to the National Archives, I thought I’d do a quick post on my personal perceptions of being in Washington, DC this morning. I’m looking out over Franklin Square about the corner of 14th and K Street. As I glanced at the brightening cityscape from the rising sun about 15 or 20 minutes ago, it reminded me of years ago, sitting in my parents’ livingroom in the mornings, usually my dad and I, watching and listening to the early morning C-SPAN Washington Journal, this from Bismarck, North Dakota. Some cereal or oatmeal eating would be going on, as well as orange juice and coffee drinking. On occasion the C-SPAN commentator would remark on the rising sun. So this is the view I have this morning, not from the television (before flat screens) on the northern Great Plains, but from DC itself. There is the reality of being in Washington, DC, and then there is the idea of Washington, DC from afar.

A view of Franklin Square in Washington, DC, from August 21, 2013.

A morning view of Franklin Square in Washington, DC, from August 21, 2013.

World War II: Charles E. (“Bud”) Barth Photos

Just over a year ago, a great uncle of mine, Charles E. (“Bud”) Barth passed away. Charles was a front line medic in the European theatre of the Second World War (also in the Battle of the Bulge). Years prior I had the chance to get to know him better, even interviewing him for the United States Veteran’s History Project.

Because I blogged on Charles both here and here, another relation of someone attached to the same medical unit was able to find what I blogged, track me down, and e-mail me additional photos of Charles with his WWII unit. Here are those two photos of Charles with his detachment, these sent to me by the daughter of S/Sgt Kutik (who served alongside Charles).

Note: Charles originally hailed from Braddock, Emmons County, North Dakota.

An informal photo of Barth's medical detachment. Charles (kneeling) is second from the left.

An informal photo of Barth’s medical detachment. Charles (kneeling) is second from the left, just next to the standing soldier. The case of beverages in front of them is labeled, “Pepsi.”

409th Medical Detachment, Barth is front row, second from the left.

409th Medical Detachment, Barth is front row, second from the left.

Adventure Science Raw Text Message Exchanges: Reinhard, Rothaus and Barth from April 22, 2013

Right now, as I type, Richard Rothaus is delivering a presentation at the annual Preservation North Dakota meeting. This is taking place at Richardton Abbey just off of I-94 in western North Dakota. Rothaus is speaking about the Adventure Science operation that took place in western North Dakota in late-April 2013. A couple weeks before he and Andrew Reinhard headed out, Rothaus texted and asked if I wanted to provide a kind of mobile base camp support. Because at the time I was bogged down with readings and technical reports I said “Yes, of course.” It turns out that providing mobile base camp support for an Adventure Science project on the death highway (85) in the industrial petroleum play land of western North Dakota also allows a person to get a good back-logged chunk of reading in.

Andrew Reinhard on the morning of April 22, 2013.

Andrew Reinhard on the morning of April 22, 2013.

Anyhow, it was later decided by Reinhard, Rothaus and I that after the first day of the Adventure Science outing, perhaps the best understanding of how things almost went to hell was captured by the exchange of text messages between the three of us. Some quick context: spring was increasingly realized, although by late April 2013, winter still held the evenings, nights and mornings. This meant that everything would freeze at night (the ground included), giving overland trekking crews a solid footing in the morning. By mid-morning the sun would warm the ground enough to thaw everything, enough so I had to move the truck off a dirt two track on to solid asphalt because it started sliding from a stationary position due to the melt. This proved to be highly educational to Rothaus and Reinhard who were completing the first leg of the project: they slid down from the finger-ridge buttes, and found it nearly impossible to climb up the slippery slopes. They restructured the way they would approach the routes.

But back to the text exchange between the three of us. As evening gave way to the setting sun and night, I started becoming really concerned. Reinhard and Rothaus had wet clothes from the day’s hike, and to overnight in below-freezing temps would be a certain dance with hypothermia. That would be bad. So I started sending off text-messages to them. On April 22, 2013, just off Highway 85 north of Grassy Butte, North Dakota, the text-exchange went something like this:

Reinhard and Richard Rothaus start the overland Adventure Science trek on the morning of April 22, 2013 in western North Dakota.

Reinhard and Richard Rothaus start the overland Adventure Science trek on the morning of April 22, 2013 in western North Dakota.

4:08PM, Rothaus to Barth: “We are in mud hell. This will take awhile. Hang tight. Could take till 7 or 8.”

Barth to Rothaus: “Okay. I’ll sit tight.” I somewhat jokingly added, “Let me know when I should call the National Guard.”

6:38PM, Rothaus to Barth: “We are up on a plateau heading toward 85. Will come out south of you. HAng tight. We are beat but good.”

Barth to Rothaus: “Okay. Good to hear. Can you see 85 from your locale?”

Rothaus to Barth: “No. But we are getting there. Andrew [Reinhard] is solid. I am short on oxygen. So no serious worries.”

6:50PM, Rothaus to Barth and Reinhard: “We will come out about a mile south. We are probably 2 it less to road. Still could be mud.”

Barth to Rothaus and Reinhard: “Okay. Tell me when you get to road. I will come pick you up. Would it be wise to hotel it for one more night? I’m fine either way. If yea, let me know and I will book rooms. 16 [F] tonight. 18 [F] tomorrow night.”

Reinhard to Rothaus and Barth: “I defer to richard. Almost at the rim. See you at 8:00.”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “Okay.”

7:36PM, Reinhard to Barth: “Barth: we can see 85 but it will take at least 2 more hours. Can you book 2 hotel rooms? This is crazy country.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Yup.”

8:05PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “We’re back at the Quality Inn tonight!”

8:47PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “Are you two walking together? Or is it going to be more like midnight when you get to the road?”

9:02PM, Reinhard to Barth and Rothaus: “We are together. Now on a ranch road so 1/2 mile easy walk. I think i see your truck. Move it forward ten feet so I can confirm. Tonight you drink all the beers… Saw you!!! We will come out there.”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “You south or north of me? Okay.”

Reinhard to Barth: “(I think)”

Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “It’s not as though I was looking up the number for the sheriff or anything.” You south or north of the truck?”

9:18PM, Barth to Reinhard and Rothaus: “The sun sets in teh west, so north is to your right, and south to your left.”

9:32PM, Reinhard to Barth: “South now I think. Maybe 1/4 mile? I am 100 feet og the road in the grass. I lost the ranch road. And Richard. He should head W to the road.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Can you both see me? WTF?”

The April 22, 2013 sunset in western North Dakota. Taken on Highway 85, just north of Grassy Butte.

The April 22, 2013 sunset in western North Dakota. Taken on Highway 85, just north of Grassy Butte.

Reinhard to Barth: “I will try to find a road sign. I am by a yellow road sign that is on southbound side indicating road turns to left. I will walk north to where i think i saw your truck until i see a mile marker”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay. I turned on the roof light. Just get to 85 first.”

Reinhard to Barth: “Kk richard is headlampinf so i can meet him, i will look for your light too”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay.”

Reinhard to Barth: “I see richard”

Barth to Reinhard: “Okay good. You guys see traffic on 85?”

9:45PM, Reinhard to Barth: “Line of 6 vehicles just passed northbnd.”

Barth to Reinhard: “Did a solo semi just pass? I’m gonna go back and forth on this road a couple times till you see me. Top light is on.”

Reinhard: “Yeah. Waiting on richard. Maybe 1,000 ft to go for him. Orange? I see yoy. I am .200 ft n of uou. Stop. We will come to you”

Barth to Reinhard: “Sounds good.”

Within a minute Rothaus and Reinhard were back at the truck. Temps were below freezing by this point, and they were exhausted. We drove back to Dickinson that night, and had a late-late dinner at Perkins.

One more note, and some unsolicited advice for policy planners, upper and lower level politicians, and so on: if you do not physically live and work in the Bakken and plan on visiting, and if you want a true cross section of it, don’t do it in an airplane. Take the same roads that the rest of us take. Go in the winter. And then do it again in the summer. Stay for at least a week, and spend a couple nights in a crew camp, and a couple nights in a hotel. Even grab a cup of coffee and watch semi-tractor trailer activity, too. You’re not going to be able to understand what goes on out in the Bakken unless you do this. A person is able to experience and understand a lot more with boots-on-the-ground than they are at 5,000 or 10,000 feet.

Remembering Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later: August 24, 2013

On August 24, 2013 (a week from tomorrow), the State Historical Society of North Dakota is hosting the 150th year of observances at Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota. You can drive to the site, and there is an official Facebook page which you can link to here. I also thought I’d just copy and paste the August 24, 2013 line up below. Here it is, verbatim, and I’ve also provided links with the particular names (just click on them to learn more):

Whitestone Hill 150th Commemoration event, Saturday, August 24, 2013
Schedule – August 2013
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Demonstration stations: all day
Dakota Lifeways, Dakota food demo, military life re-enactors, settler life re-enactors, Dakota drum and dance, Dakota War information, interpretive signs –either a prototype or actual sign that will be installed on site by SHSND
9 a.m. Kevin Locke – opening prayer 
9:15 0r 9:30 a.m. Ladonna Allard – Life in the James River Valley 
11 a.m. Richard M. Rothaus – “The Military Context of Whitestone Hill–Tactics, Artillery, and Non-Combatants.” 
11:45 a.m. Aaron Barth – “Remembering Whitestone Hill” 
1 p.m. speaker to be announced – Identity and Story of the Native People of Whitestone Hill
3 p.m. Speaker Panel – Preservation of Whitestone Hill – Past, Present and Future. Alden Flakoll, Board member of the Whitestone Hill Battlefield Historical Society, Dakota Goodhouse, Program Director for North Dakota Humanities Council, Ladonna Allard, Tourism Director for Standing Rock Reservation, Tamara St. John, Tribal Historian for Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Diane Rogness, Historic Sites Manager for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
4 p.m. Kevin Locke – dance
5:30 p.m. Buffalo supper, RSVP required

Directions to Whitestone Hill, North Dakota

The approximate location of Whitestone Hill.

The approximate location of Whitestone Hill.

I’ve decided that very few people know the location of Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota. This decision came to me after hearing the “Where is that?” response to my remark, “Whitestone Hill…” It is now 2013. This location, Whitestone Hill, is important since it is a site where the U.S. Army brought total war to a domestic encampment of northern Great Plains indigenes in early September of 1863. We are almost upon the 150th year of remembrance. So we need to make ourselves more aware of these sites, primarily because our history — whether we know or like it or not — informs us about how things are today. It is also the stuff that disparate groups identify with. This is why we sometimes hear things like, “History is about identity.” This is true. If we don’t know about Whitestone Hill, then we don’t know why things are the way they are today.

So people can more readily find Whitestone Hill, over the lunch hour I decided to scribble out a map, and also scan a DeLorme topo map of the location specifics. I’m blogging about it now, and I figure that if folks ask me, “Where is that?” instead of me gesturing in the air about the relative location of Whitestone Hill to Jamestown, Aberdeen, Edgeley or Ellendale, I can just send them this link. Above is a rough sketch of the approximate location of Whitestone Hill that I prepared while eating squash and cauliflower curry soup over the lunch hour.

A DeLorme map of the Whitestone Hill location.

A DeLorme map of the Whitestone Hill location.

If you’re on Eisenhower’s Interstate 94, just head south from Jamestown, North Dakota on Highway 281. If you’re in Aberdeen, South Dakota, head north on Highway 281.

If coming from Jamestown, drive about 40 or 50 minutes south until you hit Edgeley, North Dakota. From Edgeley, head west on ND Highway 13, and this eventually turns into south-bound Highway 56. Travel south of Kulm about 10 or 11 miles to 88th Street SE. Travel east on 88th Street SE for four miles, and then turn north (by this point you’ll see “Whitestone Hill” signage to direct you to the site).

If coming from Aberdeen, South Dakota, drive north to Ellendale, North Dakota, and head west on ND Highway 11. Travel west on Hwy 11 for about 20 miles, and turn north onto ND Highway 56. Drive 10 miles north on Highway 56, and turn east on to 88th Street SE. Drive the four miles east, and turn north at the Whitestone Hill signage.

Note: even though the signage on the DeLorme map reads “Battlefield,” and even though during your approach you will start seeing “Whitestone Hill Battlefield” signage, do not be tempted to call it that unless you are ready to define what is meant by that. Even then, it is not a good idea.


Stop and Smell the Russian Sage

When it was mid-Spring, just before the weather stopped dropping below 32 F at night, the sturdy Russian sage pushed up out of the soil. This is what it looked like at some point in April-May.

Russian sage in the spring on the North American steppe.

Russian sage in the spring on the North American steppe.

Earlier this morning I scrolled past this image while looking for some photos of the ongoing public humanities discussions we’ve been having concerning the Dakota Wars circa 1862-64.

Then I looked at what the Russian sage looked like yesterday evening (August 2013). The honey bees stay busy with all the blooms. Sometimes we gotta stop and smell the Russian sage — it appears the Europeans are better at it than the Americans. That is also what I thought.

Russian sage in August 2013.

Russian sage in August 2013.