Tag Archives: North Dakota State University

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.


Crosby Threshing Show

On July 20, 2014, Molly and I went to the Crosby Threshing Bee in Crosby, Divide County, northwestern North Dakota. Years before my Grandpa Barth passed away, he had always asked me to attend the threshing bee in Braddock, Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. For whatever reason, I never made it to the Braddock threshing bee (and I wish I had). I did go to my Grandpa’s farm with him on numerous occasions, though, sometimes stopping at the small-town local bank in Hazelton, and always stopping for lunch at the local deli/cafe.

So yesterday, while walking around the threshing bee in Crosby, I was continuously reminded of my grandpa. And of the advent of industrial agricultural practices, at least as it looked at the turn of the 19th century. I also thought of the novel history, Big Wheat by Richard Thompson. A year or more ago, Larry Schwartz, librarian at Minnesota State University Moorhead, recommended me this book. It’s good, and it gives the reader an idea of what it was like to be a migratory laborer employed by one of these outfits. In North Dakota, large bonanza farming took place in Cass County at the Dalrymple bonanza farm, and the Chaffee bonanza farm, amongst others. I was catching my historical bearings and thinking of all this while wandering through the Crosby threshing bee with Molly.

Below is a short clip of the tractors, complete with coal-burning stoves, whirring gears, and popping pistons.


Happy Mother’s Day

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota.

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota. That is Vivian’s handwriting at the top of the photo too.

It’s Mother’s Day (of course, every day is mother’s day). It is a holiday with origins in the post-Civil War (American) generation, championed by Anna Jarvis just after the turn of the 19th century. The idea was to get together all the moms who had sons die in the Civil War. Today we use it to recognized the heroine feats of motherhood.

Molly and I drove over to Bismarck, North Dakota, to spend Mother’s Day weekend with Julie and Paul (my parents). I also got flowers for Molly’s late mother a couple days ago, because mothers are all around us. Always. Last night, before bed, Molly and I (or Molly and Me, which has a nice ring to it) stumbled into a family archive in Julie and Paul’s basement. Numerous photos from my late grandmother, Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, who passed away a year ago this month.

There are a lot of photos within the archive, and a personal project goal will be to digitize them, get family members digital copies, and then consider conversations with archivists at the State Historical Society of North Dakota or NDSU’s North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies or UND’s Special Collections for eventual curation. This is why we have state historical societies and regional archives: it captures what us global locals have been on about from one generation to the next. And it is better to digitize and then curate them with a sound archives than to keep them in a box in your basement (which can flood, or something like that).

But back to Grandma Barth, and a couple photos I digitized for uploading purpose here. To celebrate Mother’s Day. The photo at top is of Vivian, taken likely in 1918 or 1919, just northeast of Bremen, northeastern Wells County, North Dakota. The second photo is of Vivian in the mid- to late-1930s, likely when she moved off the farm to Bismarck, North Dakota. And the third photo was taken likely during or around the time Vivian was attending one of those late-1930s college programs to train as a secretary. She later held positions at the Bank and state capitol of North Dakota. She did this while tending to her three boys and husband (a total of four boys). She was loving (and still is), hard-working (I remember she gardened up until she was 91), and she babysat us grandkids countless times.

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Vivian in the late 1930s.

 

When I was real little, I remember being bummed out when my parents left for a couple weeks of vacation (I am blessed with great parents, so I tended to get bummed out in their absence). To set me at ease, before bed that night my grandma recounted a story of how her dad at the age of 13 boarded a boat in Sweden with his uncle, and set out for Ellis Island and America. She reminded me, “He was only 13.” Grandma had a way with bringing gravity and reason to any situation that was or seemed stressed. She also made extra ordinary chocolate chip cookies, Swedish meatballs, and, well, you name it. Here’s to you, Vivian. And Grandma Christy (for another blog, perhaps next Mother’s Day). And here’s to the memory of all mothers, and to making memories with our mothers today.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I'm thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I’m thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.


History Mash-Up: O’ Brother the Tennessee Valley Authority

I call this slide, "TVA O' Brother," a combination of the map from Roark, et al., "The American Promise" (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)

I call this slide, “TVA O’ Brother,” a combination of the map from Roark, et al., “The American Promise” (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)

For the second lecture on the Great Depression tomorrow at North Dakota State University in Fargo, I’m showing a map of the Tennessee Valley Authority with the handbill for “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” (2000) the backdrop of the movie set in the TVA of the 30s. My reasoning is that 1) this is a fun visual; 2) the Coen Brothers are great; and 3) students in the future are much more likely to see “O’ Brother” than a TVA map. The idea is that both of these visuals will leave a singular imprint, and from here on out when they hear George Clooney lip sync, there’s a greater possibility that they’ll think about the history of the TVA, the Great Depression, FDR’s responses, hydroelectric power dams, etc.


Visiting Dickinson State University

Left to right, Historian Frank Varney, Aaron Barth, and Political Scientist Steven Doherty.

Left to right, Historian Frank Varney, Aaron Barth, and Political Scientist Steven Doherty on the campus of Dickinson State University, western North Dakota.

Yesterday Dickinson State University (via Frank Varney) invited me to speak about a component of research concerning how and why the US-Dakota Wars (1862-1864) were remembered at the turn of the 19th century throughout the Minnesota River Valley and on the northern Great Plains. It was great to get west of the upper Missouri River and spend some time with Varney and other fellow history and humanities nerds. I like this topic — thinking about how the US-Dakota Wars were remembered — because it mitigates what I call historical anxiety. I’ve thought about this phrase for a while, and loosely define it as that anxious feeling of not knowing how and why something happened in a particular place in time. A way to mitigate historical anxiety is to head into the archives and cobble together a narrative from the disparate bits and pieces. Through this I’ve been able to understand why the US-Dakota Wars were memorialized the way they were at the turn of the 19th century.

I’m using this, in turn, to push the way in which we think about the US-Dakota Wars today: largely as genocide, the word invented and deployed by Raphael Lemkin first in 1944. At the root, genocide comes from the Greek genos, which roughly means people or tribe; and the Latin cide, which means killing. Don’t take my word for it, though: visit Sully and Sibley in their own words. One humanistic universal I pitched out there to the group was that if the United States concerns (as it should) itself with genocide taking place today in Syria, and in other parts of the world, the U.S. should also concern itself with and consider the genocide that took place in our own past. Otherwise it just gets awkward, as the question will invariably come up time and again. So we can either chat and consider this, or just pretend like it doesn’t exist. If we pursue the latter, it just ends up leading to long bouts of awkward, uncomfortable silence. More on all this scholarship later, at least as it applies to the US-Dakota Wars, and the broader 19th-century Anglosphere.

Just a real quick warranted amplification of Varney’s work (he is in the midst of preparing a second volume that builds off his first monograph), General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War (Savas Beatie, 2013). Click on that link. If you enjoy history, or have thought deeply or superficially (there are only so many hours in a day) about memoirs, or Grant’s memoirs, definitely give it a go.


Three Dakota Words

Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon I sit in on and learn a bit more of the Dakota language with Dr. Clifford Canku (pronounced “chan-ku”), Dakota elder and professor of Dakota language at North Dakota State University (NDSU). The classroom setting is both structured and informal, and it has been incredible thus far. By this I mean eye-opening, as in language is the epitome of culture. It is the way we perceive of and describe our world. To understand a culture and its history requires us to understand the language. It’s a basic rule but it bears repeating.

On Tuesday Canku instructed our small student squad to select 10 Dakota words in which non-Dakota/Lakota/Nakota speakers have difficulty enunciating. Here are three from my selection, all of which begin with the letter č. This is a hard c, making a kind of “ch” noise. Also, you can always consult and listen to Canku going through the Dakota alphabet at this link here, too.

čáǧa (v.n.), to freeze, or become ice.

čantiŋ’za (v.n.), to be of good courage. — side note: this might be required to endure the season of čáǧa.

čanza’ni (v.n), to be well in heart; to be tranquil; or of good cheer. — again, see side note above.


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