Tag Archives: Minnesota

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.


Looking Minnesota, Feeling North Dakota: Time in California

Redwood

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.


Punk Archaeology and Dissertation Progress

In the last week, the Punk Archaeology movement — specifically Bill Caraher — pushed a digital button and sent the first Punk Archaeology reader into the digital and hard copy world. It is the first of its kind, and the first publication from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota-Grand Forks. You can download the Punk Archaeology reader here, for free. Or you can purchase it in hard copy by clicking on this Amazon link here. Sometimes it’s just nice to have both. Yesterday I read that if you want a hard copy, but you don’t want to pay for it, Caraher will fax it to you. But I’m not sure if he was being 34% or 94% serious with that statement. Nonetheless, the reader is published. And it is dedicated to our late friend, Joel Jonientz.

Now, with that business cleared off the table, I wanted to get some thoughts down on a dissertation chapter I’ve been outlining. I am in the process of dissertating (now a verb), and I find that reading, thinking, analyzing and writing thoughts down is the best way to capture said thoughts. Broadly speaking, my dissertation concerns how and why the US-Dakota wars have been remembered on the northern Great Plains for the last 150+ years. The Public Historian published an article of mine on this in the August 2013 issue, (Caraher reviewed it here) and it covered the narrative tension surrounding how and why Whitestone Hill has been remembered: between 1901 and 1914, there was a kind of push and pull between ND US Congressman Thomas Marshall and the more reflective Episcopalian Reverend Aaron M. Beede, PhD.

I’m creating a chapter that looks at the historical landscape of South Dakota, and how early members of South Dakota’s State Historical Society sought to shape and influence how the US-Dakota Wars would be remembered in SD. This takes me to Doane Robinson, and his early 20th-century A History of the Dakota, or Sioux Indians. I am particularly interested in Doane’s background, and the culture he was swimming in: we are all swimmers in a particular culture at a particular time, and this no doubt influences the way we act and decide to act, whether we swim with or against the current.

I know Doane hailed from Sparta, Wisconsin (not far from Portage, where Frederick Jackson Turner hailed from), and he took a shot at farming in Minnesota after the Civil War. This would have put him well within range of the psychological terror-stories of the “Sioux Uprising” that seem to persist in the Minnesota River Valley to this day (full disclosure: my Swedish great-great grandparents were in Willmar, Minnesota around this antebellum, Civil War and post-Civil War time; and I’m supposed to be related to some famous Mattson Civil War hero from Minnesota, too).

Because Doane was in this area, I’m thinking this is one of the reasons Doane came to shape the narrative in the way he did: according to Doane and his friends, the Dakota didn’t have “civilization” until he and other non-Natives arrived (this is how Doane and others understood their world, and it is the historian’s job to understand how historical actors understood their world). I think Jonathan Lear has carved out some of the best intellectual territory in considering the implications of “civilization” and ethics and philosophy, and what happens when one culture collides with another, and how individual players navigated that.

Okay, though. I am going to sit down with Doane’s work this week for analysis and further writing. The key to finishing a dissertation, book, or monograph is to write. Nothing is ever going to be great or formed up in the first or even 5th draft. Keeping at it is the only way it will come to something. With that said, I have to go meet some historians for breakfast now, and that means this post has come to an end.


Flag Day and Thoughts on Art and Growing Gardens

On Thursday evening (06/12/2014), Molly and I strolled down to the Plains Art Museum to hear Sandra Menefee Taylor speak about her exhibit, Heart/Land: Sandra Menefee Taylor’s Vital Matters. This exhibit is on the 3rd floor of the Plains, at 704 First Avenue North in downtown Fargo, just in case you’re in the area and want to visit. Two things among many stand out as I think back on taking in the talk and the exhibit.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

The first was an all too brief conversation with Abby Gold about farming, or gardening, at the historic Probstfield Farm just north of Moorhead, Minnesota. Molly and I, and two of our friends, decided to go in on a small community garden plot, the idea being that the four of us can more easily tend to such a garden than two or one of us.

I told Abby that when one has a garden, or a farm, one is suddenly paying more attention to weather patterns, especially rain. If we don’t have rain for more than a day and a half, then it means someone has to go and irrigate: literally one of us has to coordinate with the others, and say, “Okay, we’ll run up to the farm this evening, walk over to the watering station with buckets, and haul water back to our plot and gently water each row.” This, in turn, means that we are connected to the soil and land, at least if we want a harvest (and at least if we want to harvest beans so we can pickle them).

I said all this (more or less) to Abby, with the broader idea of how gardens are healthy for the psychology and soul. If I did not have a garden like this, irrigation would not cross my mind, and I would not pay as close attention to rain patterns as well. This garden, too, is bringing Molly and I, and our two friends, closer together, since we are privileged with the obligation of caring for our small rows of crops. We are a team.

The second point that stands out in my mind from Thursday evening was brought up during Sandra Taylor’s talk. It dealt with four ways in which one might consider approaching life. The four ways are as follows (and it turns out a lot of us already carry out these ways, but it’s nice to have someone articulate them):

  1. Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I’ll also add: research and think about what will go on in front of you, and then actively pay attention when it is happening.
  3. Speak the truth, and do so without judgment. I’ll add: we can tell the truth all the time, and we can do so without judging. It does not have to become entangled in emotion, or polemics, or name calling, and so on.
  4. Be open to the infinite range of un-intended outcomes. Or don’t be attached to a particular outcome. Things will never play out the way we think they will. So we might as well remind ourselves of that, and carry on.

Okay, I’ll end there. I just wanted to set this down and float it out there into the blogosphere. Happy weekend all. It’s Flag Day by the way, too.


Pre-gaming for FX’s “Fargo” Premiere at The Fargo Theater in Downtown Fargo

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi.

Photo by Holly Anderson Battocchi by Tricia Fossum.

As the title of this blog entry suggests, since Molly and I live in historic downtown Fargo, we (like many Fargoans) decided to host a pre-game get-together before the 9:00PM (CST) sharp showing of FX’s “Fargo” television series at The Fargo Theater in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, a kind of Fargo-Fargo-Fargo post-modernity, or something along those lines. My mind is still reeling about the implications, since every North Dakotan knows that the glorious Coen brothers film Fargo was almost entirely filmed in Minnesota. You betcha. But that is less and less transparent the further one is from Fargo. So I am convinced and know that some kind of global Fargo diaspora has developed, and is only reshaped and pushed in different directions with this television series. It’s kind of like when someone who is born in Chicago with Irish genealogy listens to modern Irish music and says, “I’m Irish.” Actually, it’s not anything like that. Nevermind. On to the Fargo evening, though.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Hot dish and jello salad photo by Molly McLain. Hot dish and jello salads provided by Fargoans.

Yesterday evening Molly picked me up after work and we made it back to our apartment in just enough time for two things to happen before company arrived: we decided that I would make this fancy hot dish recipe while Molly would straighten up the dining and living room. It worked dontchaknow. Guests started pouring in our door just after 7:00PM, and there was much back-slapping and guffawing. Since we were celebrating Fargo and midwestern and northern Great Plains culture, there was also large amounts of passive-aggressive acknowledgement, and commands phrased as questions punctuated with a “then” at the end; as in, “Do you want to pass the hot dish then?”

The conversation flowed, as did the hot dish and jello salads last night. So much that I didn’t get a chance to snap any photos of the event. But several friends did. I pulled a few of the photos from the social media this evening. That is why you get a picture of the hot-dish spread, taken by Molly. The other photos are from our highly trained professional photographer friend, Holly Anderson Battocchi (yes, her Italian-American husband Dante lives in Fargo too). At the end of our get-together, one large group left the pre game Fargo-Fargo-Fargo get-together to take in the FX “Fargo” premiere. A smaller group (that’s us) decided to stay behind at our apartment. We rationalized us not attending “Fargo” by saying we don’t need to see “Fargo” because we are and live and create Fargo, everyday. Aw, geez.


Memory Groups

It’s closing in on 7:28AM as I type, and I thought I’d do a quick recap of this last week. Just yesterday evening on my walk home from NDSU campus, I was thinking how much more exciting blog posts on exploding trains are in contrast to posts about napping. Yet when it comes down to it, and if I’d have a choice, I’d rather read up on nap studies than exploding trains, since the former — naps — are much more likely to affect and influence a larger cross-section of society than, say, oil trains that explode near Casselton, North Dakota. Both are important. But I tend to enjoy figuring out how to find and make the otherwise mundane and boring (naps, or even a German-Russian homestead) interesting than focusing on the also important mushroom clouds rising up out of the northern Great Plains winter prairiescape.

Anyhow, I just confirmed a couple lecture-talks this semester at universities within the region, and these talks will build off published research on, broadly speaking, how and why the US-Dakota Wars have been remembered for the last 150 years in the Dakotas and Minnesota. I’m perpetually fascinated by this topic of memory. I suppose one reason is that by looking at how and why groups remember an event is just as informative as the actual event itself. And maybe even more. By studying these groups, we’re able to unpack the cultural, social and political set of ethos that various memory groups brought to bear on the interpretation of historical events.

These groups, in turn, are responsible for advancing the general topics in history that we know today. There is, for another example, the world historical event of the Second World War. But there are also the memory groups — in this case led by Tom Brokaw (also from South Dakota), Tom Hanks, and the late Stephen Ambrose — who study, popularize, and consider America’s involvement in the Second World War. These memory groups have reasons for studying what they study, and I want know the philosophy and technics behind it — the why and the how.


Minneapolis Winter Walk

Downtown Minneapolis, looking southwest from the Central Avenue NE bridge. The reflection from the Mississippi River is visible in the lower-left corner of this photo.

Downtown Minneapolis, looking southwest from the Central Avenue NE bridge. The reflection from the Mississippi River is visible in the lower-left corner of this photo.

Yesterday (12/09/2013), between the late-afternoon and the early evening, I caught up a bit with friend and colleague (Brett Ewald) in Dinkytown, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and after I had to get to downtown Minneapolis proper. I thought about riding some kind of public transportation, but since I normally wear outdoor winter gear, it seemed just as good to walk. The temps were hovering around 0°F.

My typical winter gear run-down is as follows: a wool sweater, this over an undershirt and collared shirt. Exterior layers include a down-filled wool coat, a thermal neck warmer, a merino wool scarf, leather choppers, a thick Carhartt winter cap, merino wool socks, and a pair of classic Sorel winter boots. I think I’ve had these Sorel winter boots for about two decades now, purchasing them long ago at a hardware-tractor supply store in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Back to Minneapolis for the walk, though. It was rush hour, and I worked out that it would take just a little more time walking than by any other means. I’m glad I walked. I went northwest from Dinkytown on 4th Street SE, took a left at 11th Avenue SE, and followed this up to Central Avenue NE where I turned left. Traffic intensified at this intersection, as I was again on a main artery.

From there I crossed the bridge, one of the many that spans the Mississippi. I noticed while walking across this bridge that the temperature warmed up a bit. This warmth came from the Mississippi River — the frigid water not as frigid as the exhilarating air. It was also humbling to hear the mighty roar of that water, and this induced a sensation that was similar to what I felt while looking at the verticality of the glacial fjords of New Zealand. The water reflected the neon Gold Medal Flour sign, among others. Whenever I see agricultural industry in Minneapolis-St. Paul, it reminds me about North Dakota history, and why NoDakers banded together to form a state bank and state mill. I also think about how Minneapolis-St. Paul, one of nature’s metropolises, is a distillation of the agrarian world. The city would not have been possible without all the agricultural and natural resources from the Dakotas.

The Mississippi River reflects the neon Gold Medal Flour signage (among other signs). Photo taken from the Central Avenue NE bridge, view to the south.

The Mississippi River reflects the neon Gold Medal Flour signage (among other signs). Photo taken from the Central Avenue NE bridge, view to the south.

Anyhow, after crossing the Central Avenue bridge I was in downtown Minneapolis proper. I turned right on to 1st Street, and I occasionally gazed up toward all the windows in the various high-rises and skyscrapers, noting several Christmas trees framed by their large picture windows. I imagined that a good majority of these folks had jobs as high-powered lawyers, executive officers, banking executives, and Wall Street types. Perhaps they were affiliated with the Timberwolves, Vikings, Wild, or Twins, too? Perhaps. This is why it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase, “big time Minneapolis and good old St. Paul.” A couple bundled up Minneapolisians emerged with their dogs here and there from the ground floor of these skyscrapers for a brief walk around the block to let the dog take care of evening business.

From 1st Street I turned left onto Marquette Avenue, and headed southwest to my destination near the corner of Marquette Avenue and 9th Street South. I think the walk totaled approximately 2 miles, or about 24-25 city blocks. I think the only other piece of cold weather gear I’ll invest in are a pair of light thermal underwear.