A 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.
Tag Archives: Minnesota
Looking Minnesota, Feeling North Dakota: Time in 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.
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.
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):
- Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Today is Friday the 6th of December, it is approximately -11°F, I am looking out beyond the laptop screen through a south-facing window to the light blue snowscape, the time when the approach of the sun-rise appears eminent. I plan on finishing my opening dissertation chapter (which might turn into an introduction) that deals with the public remembrance of the US-Dakota Wars. One of the main thrusts in this disquisition is to look at not only how various generations have remembered and memorialized the US-Dakota Wars, but to piece together why.
I chatted with an engineer about this a couple days ago, albeit briefly, and I found in myself another reason that I hadn’t articulated so well: whenever we, the royal we, are frustrated with the way things are, sometimes it helps to track the history so as to see how we got where we are today. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will agree with it, but one doesn’t have to agree with something in order to understand it. To my right on the floor is a stack of published monographs on world and public history — historiography (or the history of history) having spoken to and shaped what we know today.
I also picked up and have so far read the introduction of Denise Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (U of Massachusetts Press, 2012) from the dutiful Inter Library Loan-ists at NDSU. A couple months ago Bill Caraher and I were chatting at Laughing Sun in Bismarck, and he suggested I check it out. It is good. More on that later, either in blog or dissertation form. To my left is Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Diectionary and John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary. I continuously re-re-rediscover that language, or the study of it, provides insights into the past, as do oral traditions and oral histories. But okay, enough of all this blogging for now. I’m just going to get after finishing this draft. Happy Friday to you.
Dakota for Blizzard: Icamnatanka
Since it is snowing now and we’re bracing for a blizzard on the northern Steppes of North America, it seems appropriate to look at and unpack the Dakota word for these storm systems. Dakota, after all, was one of the original languages of the Dakotas and Minnesota.
Blizzard in Dakota is icamnatanka, prounced roughly as ih-cha-mnah-tan-ka. In the case of icamnatanka, the word is a combination of two slightly smaller Dakota words. The first is icamna, which means “to blow, bluster, storm, drive, as wind and snow.” Mna in the word icamna is related to yumna. The yu in yumna expresses causation in some way. Thus the entire word yumna denotes a causation that means to rip a seam with scissors, or to rip a seam in anyway by pulling.
The second word in icamnatanka might be a bit more familiar. The word tanka means large or great. It is easy by now to see how icamnatanka comes to denote blizzard. It is a large or great blowing, blustering storm driven by wind. And mna is a word also connected to ripping at the seams. If we use our historical imaginations, we can envision a Dakota, Lakota or Nakota on the northern Great Plains in what we know today as early December. When an icamnatanka would strike, this blizzard would indeed bluster and blow snow through or rip at any kind of seam, whether in a tipi, earth lodge or through the seam of a hide-garment.
I posted a short version of this to social media the other day and a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, texted me and said, “The Lakota use ichamna for snow storm or blizzard too, but use Iwoblu for severe blizzard.” The variations in language are mind-blowing. In the paraphrased words of John K. Cox at North Dakota State University, to learn a second language means that one learns to grow the other half of their brain. This is true.
Anyhow, as I continue the joyous struggle to learn second languages, it has always seemed to make more sense to me when individual words are unpacked. And by “joyous struggle” I mean just that: learning languages, at least for myself, is difficult. But I’m up for the task. To understand another word and language is to begin to understand another culture. Language is so very connected to culture, and is the way a culture describes itself, immediate surroundings, and the world. When one opens a language they open up a new way of seeing yesteryear, today, and even tomorrow.
The unpacking of icamnatanka came by way of help from one of Clifford Canku‘s Dakota Language I worksheets, and A Dakota-English Dictionary by Stephen R. Riggs (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992). Riggs started developing the dictionary in the 1830s with Samuel W. and Gideon H. Pond, and Thomas S. Williamson. They worked directly with Michael Renville, David Grey Cloud, James Garvie, and Walking Elk, a Yankton tribal leader.
This blog entry has been cross-posted at North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal here and here.
Rough World Historical Thoughts on Castle Larnach
There are two items to blog about today. The first is the short record as to what we did yesterday, and the second is what is on the itinerary for today. They blend together, as life does, and I’ll try to make sense out of that below. Of the former:
Yesterday morning Matthew, Molly and I walked a couple blocks to the center of downtown Dunedin, to what I’ve been calling the undisputed octagon (because the city center was laid out like an octagon; not because it has any association with Ultimate Fighting). I learned quickly to watch for the little green man, an indicator that lets pedestrians know when it is a guarded time to cross the street. We also found a grand little breakfast shop. One contrast between NZ and ‘merica is that restaurants and cafes are, generally, a bit more spendy than the States. But this is offset by the reality that NZ servers are paid a greater wage than State-side servers, and this also means that when in NZ one is not expected to tip.
Also, the breakfast was delicious. Matt had French toast and Molly and I split a breakfast of egg, toast, bacon and sausage. It was a very traditional breakfast, at least if one grows up on the northern Great Plains of North America. In many ways NZ is like a parallel universe to the English-speaking Atlantic World, which in turn gives a person pause as to the influence the 18th– and 19th– century Great British world had on the globe. This is going to be a point of conversation for the second item today, which is the Writing Histories of Empire and Colonialism, this put on at St. Margaret’s College at the University of Otago, Dunedin.
One of the aims of this history workshop is to bat around and consider ideas about how to write solid global history. One of the potential problems with writing world history is that one is dealing with a large topic, and there is always a danger of saying nothing in an attempt to say everything. So this is why we don’t do that. Instead, a different way to go about it, at least as I’m sitting here and typing, is to 1) work in topics of 3s and 4s; 2) give the reader a personal element to fixate on; and 3) carry a theme/thesis that runs through the entire historical essay or monograph — this, arguably, can be a model for any writer’s workshop.
So to return to the first blogging topic for today: I’m thinking a bit about yesterday afternoon, when we all visited, had high tea, and took an afternoon stroll at and of Castle Larnach, a late-19th century industrial Victorian “home.” While wandering through this castle, I thought about simultaneously how great a view one had from the top of the castle tower and about the excessive absurdity of this kind of built la-la land. I say la-la land because castles, in their original utilitarian form, were built as defensive positions, often in an attempt to protect the feudal lord and local populace when mean outsiders wanted to be mean to the said lord, baron and locals.
In the case of Castle Larnach, this banker and politician made a ton of money off the New Zealand and Australian gold fields, and then decided to conceive of himself as some kind of varietal noble. It reminds me of super late-19th century castles in America, such as the James J. Hill home in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is these sorts of industrial wealth concentrations that, after the turn of the 19th century, Progressive Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt thundered against, or sought to break up. (Out of this period in world history, we get self-validating, hyper-dodgy theses that the über-rich came up with, such as Social Darwinism and the Social Gospel — we’re rich because either nature or God made us rich). The notion here, though, is to consider how or if a world historical theme is reflected on the local level. Then, in theory, readers might think of their own regional histories as being both local and global.
Another point to consider is that the James J. Hill home, and this Scottish castle in Dunedin, could not be sustained for any length of time, at least not by a singular family. Today they have turned into public historical enclaves, administered by private or public entities, and the public has access to them in ways that they wouldn’t have in their original historic context.
Anyhow, and moving along, I’m excited to get after this first day’s seminar/workshop. All of the world history workshop attendees are required to read three different essays which, of course, I did on the flight over. The readings include Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh (2007), Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (2011), and Tony Ballantyne, “On Place, Space and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand” in the New Zealand Journal of History, 45, 1 (2011). But enough about all this. It’s almost 8:00AM Dunedin time, and we need to track down this thing in Australia and NZ called breakkie.