Tag Archives: Dakota Territory

Bighorn and Little Bighorn Confluence

In the latter afternoon hours of this last Tuesday, May 15, 2018, I found myself at the confluence of where the Little Bighorn River empties into the Bighorn River in southeastern Montana. It was the first time I had been to this spot. And I stared at it for a while.

The Situation Circa June 1876

The National Park Service Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass map.

This is the location where Cpt. Grant Prince Marsh parked the steamer Far West and waited under orders of General Terry for the outcome that would go down in history as the Battle of Little Bighorn/Greasy Grass.

Confluence of Little Bighorn and Bighorn Rivers

This is the approximate location where Captain Grant Prince Marsh secured the Far West steamer under orders of General Terry.

At the time of the action, Marsh and crew and the Far West were 15 miles from it all. Marsh’s biographer, Joseph Hanson, noted that Marsh and crew tied up the Far West at this approximate location to wait for the outcome. The waters had become too shallow to go any further. It required more than 3′ of depth.

During the wait several of the Far West crew took to fishing. And they could see little contours here and there of smoke and/or dust rise up out of the horizon.

We know what happened. And it is always a fascination to view history from the infinite perspectives it can afford us. It’s similar to or just like listening to someone else’s experience that we will never be able to experience ourselves. We sit and listen. We wonder what it was like.

When I came across this location, the one thought that cleared up in my mind was how Cpt. Marsh initially could not confirm the correct location of the Little Bighorn River in his ascent up the Bighorn River.

Water moves fairly swift, at least at this time in mid-May. Marsh operated in a pre-dam world, too. In June and late-June.

Boots and LBH River Mud

What the Redwing boots look like after making it to the confluence of the Little Bighorn and Bighorn rivers. There is no rival when it comes to eastern Montana mud. It is the best mud out there. The best.

Once he was informed of what had happened, he ordered the crew to cut grass and lay it on the Far West deck. Then he ordered that to be covered with sheets. All of this was in anticipation of the wounded who would be put on the Far West. 

Once boarded, Marsh set off and set a never-again-to-be-accomplished record of making it to the Missouri River shores of Bismarck, Dakota Territory, in the late-late hours of July 5, 1876.

From there the officers swiftly made their way a mile up to what is today the historic downtown of Bismarck to wake Col. Lounsberry, the owner and publisher of The Bismarck Tribune. 

Lounsberry then communicated what happened by telegraph to the New York Herald, and from there the story fired around the world.

I still have Little Bighorn-Bighorn river mud on my Redwing boots from this last May 15 outing.

Bismarck Tribune and Far West

The Far West was a part of the Coulson Line on the upper Missouri River. This is an ad the Coulson Line ran in the Bismarck Tribune during the Dakota Territorial years.


Washington, DC and Dakota Territory: Then and Now

US Dakota WarsA Washington, D.C.-Minnesota and Dakota Territory historical note: the US Capitol cast iron dome approached final construction at the same time that the US-Dakota Wars unfolded in Minnesota and Dakota Territory from 1862-1864. On December 2, 1865, the “Statue of Freedom” was placed on top of the US Capitol dome. To bring this into the present, The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (SNMAI) has a Dakota-US War of 1862 exhibit up through December 29, 2015. This is a bulletin that speaks to that outside of the SNMAI’s entrance. The US Capitol’s cast iron dome in the distance is undergoing a much needed preservation/rehabilitation update. Here in the Dakotas, we are undergoing a much needed reappraisal of the US-Dakota Wars.


Teddy Roosevelt on Halloween in Dakota Territory

I’m looking at some of the original Teddy Roosevelt documents this evening from Bismarck, this provided by the glorious Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota. I came across a historical Halloween gem. It is a November 3, 1885 letter of Teddy describing Halloween in the Badlands of western North Dakota. It is accurately titled, “Hallowe’en in the Bad Lands.” I’ll analyze it after this blog post. I want to just transcribe it here because we’re getting close to Halloween in general. So here is for your historical Halloween sense of time and place. Writing from the Badlands of western North Dakota, Roosevelt said (run-on sentences were his style of the times),

While the young people of Bismarck paid me extraordinary attention to the fair Hallowe’en, the cow boys of the Bad Lands favored the stars and gaudy buttes of that land of earthen goblins with a celebration, which for brilliancy and spontaneity surpasses any thing of the kind on record. True there were no maidens to add the feminine charm to the occasion, but the pistol decorated gentlemen of the ranges were equal to every emergency, and that the conventionalism’s of the occasion might be properly observed, a number of the bovine guardians agreed to don the female garb, and while away the early evening hours in waiting for the coming of the sign changing hoodoos. There were no signs to tear down in the Bad Lands, but they could skim the jagged pasture land on their half breed plugs and rip the ambient air up the back with shouts and whoops and leaden balls. The proper hour having arrived, the cowboys on the outside, as representatives of the masculine gender rode up to the ranch and entered, to find that their female impersonators had been faithful and fifteen of their fellow cowboys were seated about the room in skirts and waists and what scraps of ribbons they could gather from their tanks and neighboring ranches. A dance was immediately opened and everything was as pleasant as a Fifth Avenue social, until the whiskey reached its zenith and the hour for shooting had arrived. The cowboy girls seemed to forget the modesty which their positions demanded, and in language of the prairie, “they turned themselves loose.” A general fusillade was indulged in, the meeting adjourning when the lamps were shot to pieces and the narrowed and improvised dresses were obliterated. It is said that had the celebration lasted an hour longer the climax might have a row, but as it is, a few loud words, a parting drink and a desperate attempt to shoot the blinking stars closed the memorable event.


German-Russian Migration to the Northern Great Plains

This last week while revisiting John C. Hudson’s 1976 article, “Migration to an American Frontier” in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 66, No. 2, pp. 242-265, I came across this photo of German-Russian vernacular architecture. As the caption says, this is from 1894, taken right around Kulm, LaMoure County, North Dakota — the county just east of Emmons County, where the Welk German-Russian homestead is located (recent articles on that here, here, and here).

1894 Sod House Kulm, ND

The Welk homestead, in turn, is just down the road from Braddock, Emmons County, North Dakota, where my great grandfather Barth homesteaded and farmed. Barth was an Ohio-German imbedded amongst the German-Russians, something not as difficult to pull off as it might sound. Anyhow, below is also a map of the German-Russian migration to the Dakotas, at least as it played out just before and after the turn of the 19th century.

German Russian Migration


Humanities Updates from the Northern Great Plains

CHRBefore this morning gets away from me, I thought I’d provide two humanities updates taking place in the great state of North Dakota, central North America. The first is a link-reference to the progress of our Punk Archaeology manuscript; and the second concerns the official press release from NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal on our continued Dakota book discussions. Of this latter, the discussions bring together the public and scholars to consider the Dakota Conflict and the subsequent punitive campaigns from 1862-1864, and where we, Native and non-Native relations, are today.

For more details, check out the uploaded hand-bill image to the left. Of this, the most recent discussion took place this Sunday past at the Opera House in Ellendale, Dickey County, North Dakota. This brought out a variety of topics, and the most attentive-grabbing and engaging at all of these events is that of Native historians and knowledge-keepers and scholars. After Tamara St. John, a Native historian and genealogist, spoke at this event, an attendee remarked on how (and I’m paraphrasing) they are starved for this kind of information.

For those of us up to our elbows in the history and historiography of the US-Dakota Conflict and Wars, we understand and often wrestle with accurate and precise and appropriate terminology, definitions, and so on. When we chat about this stuff with non-specialists, one of the most common remarks I have heard is this: “How come we weren’t taught any of this — attempted genocide, attempts at cultural destruction, attempts at forced assimilation — in our public education here in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota?” I’m uncertain. But I do always insist on using attempts and attempted when talking about genocide, cultural destruction and assimilation. I do this because the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota, the Seven Council Fires, are alive and well today. We are pushing ahead as well with these discussions, and every time we have another conversation and chance to talk about this, legitimate history is happening. And if that is happening, so is that large, amorphous thing we call culture and the humanities.

When it comes to the public school systems, I’m sure there are plenty of politics behind all of the curriculum decisions from yesteryear and now. Perhaps that is something we in the future can consider, and perhaps in the future bring before various departments of public instruction in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That would be at least one long-range goal to consider.

Nonetheless, the next discussion will be held at 2:00PM (CST) on November 10, 2013, at Sitting Bull College,  in the Science and Technology Center Room 120/101, Fort Yates, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota. And here is a photo from the discussion from last Sunday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


Historic Industry in Western North Dakota

Railroad workers in 1910, this one mile west of Regent, North Dakota.

Railroad workers in 1910 one mile west of Regent, North Dakota.

I just finished a lunch of homemade chicken soup (with lots of fresh lemon juice and cilantro), and before I grab a coffee and get back to the busywork, I thought I would upload a photo of historic railroad industry in western North Dakota circa 1910. The photo was taken about a mile west of Regent, as track was being laid to connect the rural agrarian areas of the American interior with the city centers and rail hubs of Dickinson, Bismarck-Mandan, Fargo, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and so on.

Looked at from an agrarian context, railroad construction was big throughout the world at this time, as nation-states increasingly relied on agricultural production to feed an ever growing populace, and this led to increased competitions over global resources. I suppose a modern public historical treatment of pumping Euro-Americans into colonizing the continent’s interior might come by way of AMC’s “Hell On Wheels” or HBO’s “Deadwood,” a kind of post-Civil War historical days of our lives with amplified skull-duggery, dodgy behavior, and shenanigans. But don’t simply rely on Hollywood to shape the way the past is understood. It’s best to get into those archives and see the documents for yourself.


Bringing American Public History to New Zealand

Just moments ago, from the northern Great Plains of North America, I submitted a short paper proposal to the other side of the planet, this to the New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) in Dunedin, New Zealand. It is for the NZHA 2013 Biennial Conference (click the blue link to the left for direct details) on November 20-22, 2013. My paper concerns the contested public memory of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with some World Historical considerations. It builds off landscape memory and history, and research from 2009 to the present. The intent is to join two additional landscape historians, Dr. Thomas D. Isern and Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, to make a complete panel. Tom and Suzzanne are considering the public memory of local New Zealand history specific to the Lindis. I am bringing some public memory from the northern Great Plains to the mix. I thought I would share my paper title and abstract here.

Photo of Whitestone Hill from April 2012.

Photo of Whitestone Hill from April 2012.

Title: Aaron L. Barth, “A Contested Site of Memory from the American Civil War: Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later”

Abstract: In early September of 1863, as the American Civil War raged in the eastern half of the continental United States, General Alfred Sully led a military column on a punitive campaign against the Dakota (aka, Sioux) on the northern Great Plains. The military goal was to punish the Dakota majority, en masse, for the atrocities committed by a small Dakota minority the previous year in the Minnesota River Valley. Sully’s 1863 campaign culminated in an action at Whitestone Hill, this in present-day North Dakota. In his official words, Sully said he engaged Dakota “warriors… squaws, [and] children” in a “melée” and “murderous slaughter” of a “promiscuous nature.” His command killed 150 to 300 Dakota, and if he had another hour or two of light, he said, “I could have annihilated the enemy,” giving “one of the most severe punishments that the Indians have ever received.” For 150 years, the public memory of Whitestone Hill has been contested, called a “battlefield” by a United States Congressman, and called a “mistake” by Sully and Episcopalian Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede. This paper tracks the public tension in the remembrance of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with samples of how sites of memory from this period are contested in World History.