One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.
Pedestrian archaeological surveys necessitate long-distance hiking (hence the name, pedestrian survey). This evening I was trying to remember the first time I started thinking about how the work of archaeologists is to re-assemble or attempt to reconstruct how people worked in the past. In this blog entry, I’ll assert that I started thinking about this during a pedestrian survey in Carter County, southeastern Montana, summer 2008. I remember two archaeological comrades on that project, Mark Luther and Chandler Herson.
I also remember the fantastic mosquito swarms, and this in turn led me to recall a segment from John Finerty’s War Path & Bivouac (1890), a chronicle assembled by the Hibernian-American correspondent with the Chicago Times. And this is what happens when the humanities intersects with the social science of archaeology. When it came to contending with mosquitoes during pedestrian surveys in eastern Montana in the summer of 2008, I also thought about how Finerty interfaced with them while attached as an imbedded reporter with General Crook’s frontier column. While traversing the snowy range, Finerty said mosquitoes “bothered us terribly while the sun continued visible.” In another instance, Finerty said mosquito repellant was created by burning “damp sage brush and weeds,” this raising “a tremendous pungent smoke,” working “wonders with the intolerable pests.”
In eastern Montana, a grey silt has built up from millennia of the eastward-flowing Rocky Mountain run-off. This is incredible mud with incredibly terrible drainage, and it holds rain-water well. Thus, millions of these mud pockets hold rain water after said rain, and they create brilliant breeding grounds for the mosquitoes. On August 21, 1879, Finerty, reporting from eastern Montana, said, “The gigantic mosquitoes nearly ate us alive that night. They and the rains make life very uncomfortable in northern Montana.” Even at full gallop on a horse, Finerty said mosquitoes took to drafting in the breeze: “We went at a gallop [on horse] most of the time, but even the breeze created by rapid motion did not free us from the winged tyrants.” I, as well as Chandler and Mark, can testify that these mosquitoes operated in full-force during the summer of 2008. The mosquitoes, no doubt, made sure that our hearts were in it for the archaeology, and the historical sense of place.
I’ve been fiddling with the “Panoramic” feature on the iPhone 4s. I realize that everyone but me knew about this. But I thought I’d upload at least one photo snapped yesterday approximately 5 miles east and 2 miles south of Kulm, North Dakota. The photo is looking to the northeast and east, just on the ridge of the coteau that drops into the James River Valley proper. To my immediate east, the water goes into the James River. To my immediate west, the water ultimately finds its way to the Missouri River. Both water streams merge around Yankton, South Dakota, and ultimately empty into the Mississippi, then the Gulf of Mexico. Hydrology kind of connects us to the land that way.
To get to your “Panoramic” setting, at least on an iPhone 4s, turn on the camera, tap the “Options” button top-center of the screen, and then tap “Panorama.” Then start experimenting.
This last week, from Sunday evening to Friday evening, I camped with a small cadre of highly trained artists at Stump Lake (the Dakota called it Wambduska Bde, which means “Snake Water” or “Creeping Thing Water,” this translation courtesy of good friend Dakota Goodhouse), Nelson County, North Dakota. When we (meaning Molly McLain and I) first approached Stump Lake, and since it had been our first time each, everything was new. So it came as a kind of pleasant shock to find a massive historic pavilion situated at the end of the road at the campsite. My eyes widened large when I first saw it. The pavilion has been used as a roller-skating rink since, I was told, it was constructed. And while I was there, I heard banter about the pavilion either being on, or wanting to be on, the National Register of Historic Places.
A panoramic photo of the pavilion at Stump Lake, North Dakota. Photo from August 2, 2013.
I also heard from Dwight, one of the overseers of Stump Lake campsites, that a raging international polka festival goes on at Stump Lake every summer. Dwight also chatted with me about the stories old timers have told him about their experiences at the Stump Lake pavilion. Dwight said one individual told him how throughout the 1930s they used to polka at the pavilion throughout the night, running down to cool off with a swim in Stump Lake, and then returning to the hard wood polka floors to continue dancing. Does this seem like something out of Prairie Home companion? Of course, anyone from North Dakota knows that the Prairie Home Companion is actually based off reality that has and continues to take place in said North Dakota. It is where Garrison gets all of his best stuff.
An exterior shot of the pavilion from the last week of July 2013, Stump Lake, North Dakota.
There are numerous Bohemian enclaves throughout northern Dakota (check this one out here). One just has to devote the time to stop and listen for the accordion. Note: a future research project will have me investigating whether or not the pavilion is on the National Register of Historic Places. If it is, then yes, the universe is in accord with itself. If it is not, well, then there is more work for all of us to do. Might this be an excellent place to consider a future ND Humanities Council Chautauqua, too?… Perhaps, folks. Perhaps…
Pavilion interior, from hardwood floor to exposed rafter ceiling.