Tag Archives: Montana

When the Eagle Statue Landed in Bismarck

The eagle statue in Custer Park, Bismarck, North Dakota. View to the south.

The eagle statue in Custer Park, Bismarck, North Dakota. View to the south.

I dropped into Bismarck yesterday, and after having breakfast with my folks this morning I decided to visit downtown Custer Park. It is beautiful outside.

The park itself is a kind of border between the historic western edge of downtown Bismarck and one of the historic residential areas. To the south is Elks Aquatic Center, and just to the east is a Dairy Queen. You can see how this is triangulated and primed to be a serious summer hangout for those on summer vacation.

While at Custer Park, I also visited the huge metal eagle sculpture. This eagle was dedicated in 1988 (or thereabouts), and I have a vague recollection of my cub scout troop being at the dedication. At that time, when the sculpture was new and sans rust, we were told how the eagle would take on a more eagle-like color because the metal would oxidize and rust over time. This is about all I recall, but every time I drive by the eagle, I think of that dedication.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed fitting to take and post a couple pics of this winged statue, as it is swooping into the park with a handbill that reads “We the People…”

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Neary’s “weld” signature from 1988 at the base of the eagle statue.

The dedication plaque below reads as follows:

This sculpture was dedicated to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the constitution of the united states of America on October 1, 1988. 

Commissioned by: Bismarck Park District

Funding Provided by: Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Bismarck, Aerie No. 2237

Sculptor: Tom Neary

Design Assistant: Wayne Pruse

Today, artists have pushed metal sculptures in different directions, now using found metal objects to craft works of industrial public art. Here is a link to some of that at the University of Montana in Missoula, and some more from Lemmon, South Dakota.


Weekend in Montana

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

I’m currently blogging from downtown Bozeman, Montana, after Molly and I hit up Chico Hot Springs (click here for a history of Chico Hot Springs) last night and earlier today, visiting her uncle in Livingston, and a scattering of her family in Paradise Valley. While at Chico we relaxed, and reflected on how Molly’s late father, Harley, loved this place. Harley grew up in Livingston, and Molly explained how her dad used to love taking summer time dips in the Yellowstone River throughout his entire life.

Of that Yellowstone, yes: the mountain runoff feeds it direct. This water meets up with the upper Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota border. For the long hydrology of it all, this water eventually empties into the Mississippi near St. Louis, and then it runs to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s nice to catch it fresh up here in the glorious Rockies, though.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

Here are a couple photos from when we left Fargo up to Bozeman. The above photo is the evening sky from March 20, 2014, around the Crystal Springs exit on I-94 in North Dakota. What the photo didn’t catch (or what we just observed rather than photographing) was the sun reflecting off the aqua blue of the melting ponds (kind of like a light turquoise, and highly reflective from the couple inches of water on the surface of the ice). 

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Gil’s Goods in downtown Livingston, Montana.

The middle photo is the Yellowstone River from earlier this morning, and the final is from downtown Livingston, Montana. If you visit Livingston, go to Gil’s Goods for food. It is good at Gil’s. I think tonight we’ll try to track down one more hot springs dip, this at the Bozeman Hot Springs. Yes: make a vacation out of the hot springs scattered throughout our glorious American West. It is good for the muscles and spirit.


Industrial Indigenous Art at the University of Montana

"Charging Forward" (2001) by Jay Laber. Photo taken in July 2013.

“Charging Forward” (2001) by Jay Laber. Photo taken in July 2013.

This last July, Molly and I took a solid but much-too-short tour of the northern inter-mountain American West. This was in part vacation, part research (ever since reading John Barnes 2008 article in The Public Historian on the Bear River Massacre, I had been determined to visit the site myself), and part visiting and catching up with our family and friends. We dropped in on Livingston and Missoula, Montana; Salmon, Idaho; Salt Lake City, Utah; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Spearfish, South Dakota; and Bismarck, North Dakota.

Another part that comes along with a research-vacation-visitation such as this is that one invariably stumbles into the unanticipated, and that’s exactly what happened while on the University of Montana campus.

The sculpture pictured here is by Jay Laber (Blackfeet), “Charging Forward” (2001). When we came across this work of industrial indigenous art, it reminded me a bit of how two worlds were blending: the pre-Industrial world of the plains indigenes portrayed through the industrial and post-industrial medium of welding and scrap metal (those found objects). In my own memory bank, it caused me to think about Mad Max films and a scrap yard that used to be on the east edge of Main in Bismarck (just behind the Big Boy). Art is fun that way, whether poetry or sculpture or you name it. The randomness triggers the unanticipated, those memories we forgot about or didn’t know existed. Laber has inspired me. 


Archaeological Mosquito Ramblings

One of the only known photos to survive the pedestrian survey from southeastern Montana, summer 2008.

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.


More On the Civil War and Plains Indigenes Then and Now

Yesterday evening, while sitting around a campfire in northeastern North Dakota, I looked into A People’s History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom (The New Press, 2005) by David Williams, and this morning I am finally getting to Thomas Yellowtail, Native Spirit: The Sun Dance Way (World Wisdom, 2007). I’m primarily interested in different interpretations of Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota culture, specifically how this might bear on the historical record (which is why I’ve been blogging on it here, here, here, and broadly on the topic of war here).

In Chapter 7 of A People’s History of the Civil War, Williams says that due to the advanced positioning of the North and South, “Federal forces used the war as an excuse to quicken the pace of killing Native Americans and driving the survivors from their homelands.” (Williams, 2005: 390) This is true, and Williams is upfront about it. An internal American war gripped the eastern 1/3 of the nation (a nation that was both trying to stay together, and expand by overtaking indigenous lands), and certainly the South and North looked at the various territories and newly fabricated states to the west as part and parcel to the overall wartime efforts. Meanwhile, and at the same time, Britain watched America from Canada, and France and Mexico were having it out south of the Rio — think Cinco de Mayo, or the Battle of Puebla, where the Mexican army routed French imperial forces. If Native America could be removed or restricted to reservations, the newly acquired lands could be put into intense farming production. Williams’s work follows the intellectual stream of Howard Zinn, who championed the monograph and who also sparked the intellectual drive. If contrasting the standard Civil War historiography with Native scholarship, though, one starts to understand in much greater detail what else was at stake.

The building of a Crow Sun Dance Lodge from the 1940s. (Yellowtail, 2007: xviii)

The building of a Crow Sun Dance Lodge from the 1940s. (Yellowtail, 2007: xviii)

The introduction of Thomas Yellowtail’s work was written by Joe Medicine Crow, then (in 2007, when the book was published) a 92-year-old Crow tribal historian. Medicine Crow says his grandparents “were pre-reservation Indians who lived before the reservation was set up. They would go camping, hunting, and the men went on the war path.” (Yellowtail, 2007: xi) In reading this, it is important to understand that these activities — camping, hunting, and the war path — mean something much different than they do to us today. They were the very substructure of Plains indigene culture, and to camp and hunt and go on the war path meant one was able to support what we would today call a household (Jonathan Lear goes on in great detail and at length in his excellent work that everyone should read, Radical Hope). Being told by an outsider (or a colonizer) that you need to change the way you do things and that everything you did up to this point is now meaningless are also things that continuously need to be understood. It’d be likened to spending the time and energy to train as a professional welder, and then being told by an outsider that your efforts were for nought. And now here is a new way we’re going to do things. So put away that senseless welding torch and abandon the culture your fore-fathers and -mothers spent generations cultivating. In 1884, this is what the United States ordered, as Medicine Crow says: “The ‘Secretary’s Order’ of 1884… prohibited the Indians from practicing all activities related to their culture, including singing, dancing, and all traditional ceremonials.”

I’m afraid I’m getting a little preachy here, but the idea behind this has universal implications. If one ethnic group is able to do this to another ethnic group, then this means it can happen at any time to any one of us. In looking at that, is that a problem that could continue echoing through time? Yes. Certainly this — 19th-century Manifest Destiny — is something we can understand as happening at a particular time and place, and we can try to distance ourselves from it and say, “Well, we need to understand the historical actors on their own terms.” Yes, this is true (I’m as big of a fan as R.G. Collingwood as the next) But we still need to understand that the terms from yesteryear reverberate throughout the reservation and non-reservation world today (on July 11, 2013, Byron Dorgan had a excellent piece on these implications in the New York Times).


The Ethics of Plains Indigenes

Radical HopeHere on the northern Great Plains, we are increasingly considering what the Dakota Wars from 150 years ago meant then and what it means today. A piece of scholarship I stumbled across while visiting the bookstore of Pompey’s Pillar in eastern Montana (where, famously, an Anglo-American incised his graffiti on some tall rock) is Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press, 2006). Lear uses the historical documents from Plenty Coups, a Crow leader who helped his people navigate the turn of the 19th century. What makes Lear’s monograph interesting is how he uses his training in philosophy and ethics to approach a previously unexplored topic of the Crow.

Throughout this book, the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota are mentioned, and how they and the Crow were ferocious enemies in the 19th century. Lear looks at this philosophically, though, and says,

One of the ironies that comes to light is that groups of people can be bitterest of enemies in real life, yet ontologically they are on the same side; and a real-life ally can turn out to be one’s ontological nemesis. The Crow and Sioux were bitterest of enemies… Still, their standoff sustained a world in which battles, planting coup-sticks, and counting coups all made sense. One has only to read Chief Sitting Bull’s pictorial autobiography to see that he was every bit as much concerned with counting coups as Plenty Coups was. And yet, with the United States as an ally — a questionable and unfaithful one to be sure, but still an ally in many ways — the Crow moved into a position in which their world fell apart. (Lear, 2006: 50-51)

The rearrangement of this way of life came to an end due to the advanced encroachment of Euro-Americans who, among other things, obliterated the bison food source of the Plains indigenes. Lear doesn’t just stop with the known history of how the bison were wiped out, though. Instead, he expands and explains how the bison food source was a serious component of the Crow’s cultural and ethical telos. Bison had been incorporated into nearly every element of the Crow way of life, and Lear gives excellent examples by unpacking phrases that Crow used for dinner. For example, Lear notes that there was no such thing as simply cooking a meal. Instead, the cooking of a meal had a greater social-psychology behind it. The phrase cooking and eating dinner was inextricably bound to “the cooking-of-a-meal-so-that-those-who-ate-it-would-be-healthy-to-hunt-and-fight.” (Lear, 2006: 40) See how the telos — the psychological extension of an immediate act providing a base for the future — is connected to the food, and that the food comes largely from the bison? Yes, of course. And so when Euro-Americans — whether Sully at Whitestone Hill, or Euro-American riflemen — obliterated the bison, it struck not only at that food source, but at the very culture of Plains indigenes. In short, read this book.


World War I Memorials: Missoula, Montana and Wahpeton, North Dakota

The other day I took some photos of the World War I memorial situated outside of the Missoula County Courthouse in Missoula, Montana. Once I saw the statue, I started snapping photos like crazy because I thought one or two of them would figure into a comparative presentation some day on the public remembrance of World War I in American History. I have also snapped photos of the WWI statue outside the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. This got me re-visiting one of the infinite ideas of history.

If one wanted to, one could organize the historical record in two ways: the events that actually happened, and the long historical and never-ending process of how and why those events are remembered. I haven’t much to say beyond that point, so I’ll just upload some photos of the two related WWI statues from Missoula, Montana and Wahpeton, North Dakota.

The WWI statue outside of the Missoula County Courthouse. Photo from 07/13/2013.

The WWI statue outside of the Missoula County Courthouse. Photo from 07/13/2013.

The WWI monument outside of the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Photo from November 2012.

The WWI monument outside of the Richland County Courthouse in Wahpeton, North Dakota. Photo from November 2012.