Updates on Aaron Beede and UND’s Digital Press

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

One of the only known 6:23AM screen shots from the NDDOT road conditions website on January 21, 2015.

It’s about 6:20AM (at least as I sit down to type), and the snow is letting up. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Minot, Ward County, North Dakota, on the eastern edge of the Bakken. I have a short field-research trip to the west, but I’m temporarily yielding to the ND Department of Transportation’s road conditions map. Which appears like this, at left. I’m updating this blog post with a couple items on my brain.

The first is another public history sighting of Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede, PhD. Beede figures seriously in the history of North Dakota, and only a handful of scholars have sifted through his papers. Last week, during a lunch meeting in the Peacock Alley, in historic downtown Bismarck, I sat at a table and looked over the picture to my left. In addition to offering delicious food (I ordered the half-prime rib lunch special with chips), the owners of the historic Peacock Alley have reproduced numerous local historical photos to hang on the walls. This was one of them. There is a gentleman addressing the legislature, with cigar in left hand. I accidentally cut out of the photo the ash tray at the foot of the podium. Believe me: it was there. Those were different times.


Note the ND legislator from the ’20s or ’30s, with cigar in left hand, and the nameplates on the desks behind him. “Beede, Grand Sioux” is behind him.

Behind that, behind the name Saumur of Grand Forks, is “Beede, Grand Sioux” agency or county. It was great to see the photo, and that is about all I have on it right now. I’ll do some more tracking on this. Beede figures into a chapter of my ongoing dissertation which, roughly, figures into how and why the US-Dakota Wars were remembered on the northern Great Plains. Beede was formative in shaping and pushing that memory in one direction, arguing just after the turn of the 19th century that Natives need to be listened to and allowed to tell their version of history. It was serious push-back against the Social Darwinian and Manifest Destiny crowd (some of which is still around today).

And finally, the third item is a hot-off-the-digital presses book, the second title from University of North Dakota’s The Digital Press, Visions of Substance: 3D Imagining in Mediterranean Archaeology (edited by Bill Caraher and Brandon Olson). The work is an anthology of blog posts Caraher charged guest writers with publishing at his blogspot linked to here. Susan Caraher edited the blog posts to comb out any of the craziness that is inherent in on-the-spot blogs. Caraher and Olson told the guest writers to respond to the following questions in each post. The questions include:

  1. How do we understand the current crop of 3D modeling technologies in the context of the history of archaeological imaging? Are the most optimistic readings of this technology a mere echo of earlier enthusiasm for photography in an archaeological context or is this somehow qualitatively different?
  2. Is there an emerging consensus on best practices of 3D imaging of archaeological sites? What are the current limits to this kind of technology and how does this influence the way in which data is collected in the field?
  3. How do we understand archival considerations for 3D models and their dependent data? For example, what happens when we begin to prepare archaeological illustrations from 3D models collected in the field and processed using proprietary software? How do we manage the web of interrelated data so that future archaeologists can understand our decision making?
  4. What is the future of 3D modeling in archaeology? At present, the 3D image is useful for illustrating artifacts and — in some cases — presenting archaeological and architectural relationships, but it has yet to prove itself as an essential basis for analysis or as a viable medium for communicating robust archaeological description. Will 3D visualization become more than just another method for providing illustrations for archaeological arguments?

Without going further into this (it’s about 6:50AM, and I need to move forward with the morning), you can read the entire collection of academically produced and academically edited and academically published essays, for free, at this link here. Thanks Bill and Brandon and Susan for compiling this. I know there will be many more.

The Latest Theodore Roosevelt Scholarship

I’m sitting here with a couple fresh biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, getting a little downtime around the 10:04PM hour. To my right is Edward P. Kohn, Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt (Basic Books, 2014) and Paul Grondahl, I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt (Free Press, 2004). Being from North Dakota, these are nourishing reads since, naturally, North Dakota has claimed Theodore Roosevelt because Theodore Roosevelt claimed North Dakota.

They are nourishing reads because Kohn’s central idea challenges traditional TR scholarship (a Great White Battleship’s worth) which accepts TR’s ideas about himself as being a cowboy and American westerner. Kohn says no. He says TR was a New Yorker through and through. Kohn opens the introduction by saying, “Theodore Roosevelt’s path to the White House may have gone through the West, but it did not start there.” This is true.

Grondahl’s work situates TR as a young man in his freshman year with the New York State Legislature. In 1882, TR entered the assembly chamber in Albany, New York. In the second paragraph of the prelude, “Practical Politics,” he sets the stage for the reader, at least what TR was facing, using the present tense for added reality and to situate the reader in 1882:

“The atmosphere in Albany during the legislative session is part carnival, part college fraternity. Some of the city’s denizens are just passing through, looking to ride along on the political parade for a while. Others arrive full of idealism and a burning desire to make meaningful change. A few seem perplexed to be elected public officials in the state’s capital, as if they had awoken from a Rip van Winkle-like slumber to find themselves holding a seat in the Assembly or Senate. It’s a dream job for some, a nightmare for others. Many build their reputations here. A few sacrifice their respectability on the alter of politics, learning the rules only to abuse them. The Legislature is a closed system, a kind of political union shop. The principles of prep school secret societies guide its old boys’ network, clubby familiarity, oaths of loyalty, and rituals of initiation.” 

This is what TR faced when he caught wind of the plans of “Big John” McManus, one of Tammany Hall’s “persuaders.” McManus wanted to haze TR by tossing him in a blanket. TR, though, having fought his childhood through asthma and monetary privilege, made a bee-line for McManus and, flat out, said to him, “By God! McManus, I hear you are going to toss me in a blanket. By God! If you try anything like that, I’ll kick you, I’ll bite you, I’ll kick you in the balls. I’ll do anything to you — you’d better leave me alone.” This method, later popularized by Rooster Cogburn, worked.

While I’m only in the introductions to both, I don’t see the biographies by Grondahl and Kohn challenging the traditional TR scholarship so much as they do to humanize TR. Life is about change, and it is about evolving as human beings, and as circumstances warrant and dictate. It’s important to remember that, lest we think of historical actors as monolithic (a fancy way of saying 1 dimensional).

Northern Great Plains Cowboy Poetry: Shadd Piehl

Shadd PiehlWestern Americana persists and thrives on the northern Great Plains. A photo of a poem from cowboy poet Shadd Piehl, this commissioned by the Hotel Donaldson, Fargo. Shadd is a good friend.

The Bohemian pulse runs thick in the Piehl DNA (see here for detail). Some days I know we’re living out a long extension of a Willa Cather My Ántonia novel here in the 21st century. We’re sitting in the saddle of the 49th parallel on the northern Great Plains, North America.

2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 18,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Looking Minnesota, Feeling North Dakota: Time in California


Muir Woods, California.

Before we spill into the new year of 2015, I thought I’d get in one more running blog post. At least to set down a cross section of what happened in the last week. Molly and I originated in Bismarck, drove to Valley City and picked up Mira and Matthew, and then headed to Minneapolis. We overnighted at JB and Kris McLain’s, and then flew out of MSP to SFO, San Francisco. (Note: JB McLain is one of the horn players for Brass Messengers in Minneapolis, and you need to get a CD if you haven’t already).

Once landed in SFO, we picked up our car rental and headed up to Mill Valley. We stayed with and were hosted by Molly’s aunt and uncle, Barry and Mary. They are more than gracious. We rang in Hanukkah with Barry and Mary and family and company. It was also a time of reflection and memorial and remembrance. The first and last time I hung out with Barry and Mary was under sad and sober circumstances last February, at the funeral of Harley McLain. Harley and I only knew each other for a couple years. We had many more ahead of us. This is why I always love to hear from Harley’s siblings, as it adds for me more and more of who he was.

In Mill Valley, we had the privilege of visiting Muir Woods, California (the state which, when unpacked, means good [“cali” in Greek] growing/fornicating). While sauntering through Muir woods, I couldn’t help but think of John Muir’s friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, and how Teddy sought refuge in the Badlands of western Dakota Territory (North Dakota) after his mom and wife died on the same day.

Historical aside: Teddy retreated from New York City to the Elkhorn Ranch in the 1880s to reconsider and reflect on what was essential. Years later, he developed a friendship with Muir. In 1906, a couple years after he became the president of the United States (McKinley was assassinated and, since Teddy was VP, he took over), Teddy and Congress passed the Antiquities Act. It was and still is huge: Theodore used this act to designate Bear’s Lodge (or “Devil’s Tower”) as a national monument. Numerous other national parks and sites were created with this act.

A mosaic at a rest stop on I-94 in Minnesota. Redwood boots bottom of photo.

A mosaic at a rest stop on I-94 in Minnesota. Redwing (MN) boots bottom of photo.

As for the redwoods, these trees fascinate. One redwood is a clone of many redwoods. The DNA of a redwood growing today is that of the redwood it cloned itself after. So the DNA of a redwood today is the same as the redwood it descended (or ascended, since it’s a redwood) from 8,000+ years ago. A redwood forest is living and ancient, all at once. The smells of the forest are damp and piny. The majority of the time you can hear running water from the creeks and streams.

Beyond the woods, our group found fresh shucked oysters on the half shell at Bungalow 44 in Mill Valley on Christmas Eve. If you can make it to Bungalow 44 during happy hour, and on a non-holiday, they will serve you these for $1/oyster. It was a holiday when we visited. So we ordered 1/3 of our regular intake, and made sure to enjoy them 3x as much (whatever that means — I am set on returning to these places for $1/oysters).

There was much celebrating and feasting over the holiday. We returned to MSP, picked up our vehicle (I had it stashed at my Uncle Jim’s), and hauled back to North Dakota. Now we await the New Year here in Bismarck.

American Western Memory and History

This Smithsonian link here is a good write up on a hard, sobering chapter in American western history. The Sand Creek Massacre, like the Whitestone Hill massacre (September 1863, northern Dakota Territory), and the Bear River Massacre (January 1863, Idaho), were never forgotten. This article says the Sand Creek Massacre was lost and rediscovered: it’s highly doubtful that Lakota, Cheyenne, Dakota, among others, “forgot” what happened in 1863 and 1864 when they converged on Custer and the 7th in late June of 1876. Not in the least. And if chatting with the descendants of the historical participants of these conflicts, you’ll know that the memories and stories were never forgotten. In some cases the stories went underground. They are re-emerging today, and justly taking the place as the official interpretation. It is powerful stuff. It continues to compel me to listen, study, and reflect.

Victorian Medallions in Downtown Bismarck


A 2014 photo of the southwest elevation of the Bismarck Auditorium (Belle Mehus).

Yesterday I took a jaunt around downtown Bismarck to capture some images of historic buildings. Autumn has turned to winter, and this means the glorious deciduous leaves are no longer. At least until spring. This also means that it is a great time to take photos of historic buildings (or buildings in general): just like the presence of leaves gives some good angles for photography, so does the absence of leaves. I ended up sauntering around the beautiful Bismarck Auditorium, renamed the Belle Mehus some years ago during a much-needed and -deserved rehabilitation and restoration. An excellent history of the Belle is linked to here on the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony’s Orchestra’s website.

Erected in 1913 and opened in 1914, this auditorium was typical for its time, at least in the sense that opera houses provided the entertainment before the rise of television, radio, movies and iPhones. Traveling opera companies would make the rounds on railroad, stopping in one town after another (much like touring bands today). When visiting historic opera houses, take note of how close they are to the historic railroad: one can imagine an opera company arriving by rail with all the graceful bustle of offloading at the train depot, making their way to a hotel and preparing for one or three days wortOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAh of performances.

It is fantastic to see opera houses restored, or repurposed. It is literally hard to come by this type of stone and brick monumental architecture, at least today. So that’s what I did yesterday: enjoyed the rehabbed and preserved aesthetics of the Belle Mehus, the Bismarck Auditorium in historic downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. I snapped a photo of the copper Victorian medallion centered at the top of the Belle, too. Michael Gilbertson even drove by, managing to roll down his window in time to give me a drive by “Hi Aaron!”


The large copper, shield medallion with Victorian ornamentation centered on the west elevation at the top of the Bismarck Auditorium. In winter, it is possible to get this photo due to the absence of the leaves.