This Smithsonian link here is a good write up on a hard, sobering chapter in American western history. The Sand Creek Massacre, like the Whitestone Hill massacre (September 1863, northern Dakota Territory), and the Bear River Massacre (January 1863, Idaho), were never forgotten. This article says the Sand Creek Massacre was lost and rediscovered: it’s highly doubtful that Lakota, Cheyenne, Dakota, among others, “forgot” what happened in 1863 and 1864 when they converged on Custer and the 7th in late June of 1876. Not in the least. And if chatting with the descendants of the historical participants of these conflicts, you’ll know that the memories and stories were never forgotten. In some cases the stories went underground. They are re-emerging today, and justly taking the place as the official interpretation. It is powerful stuff. It continues to compel me to listen, study, and reflect.
Tag Archives: Public History
Yesterday I took a jaunt around downtown Bismarck to capture some images of historic buildings. Autumn has turned to winter, and this means the glorious deciduous leaves are no longer. At least until spring. This also means that it is a great time to take photos of historic buildings (or buildings in general): just like the presence of leaves gives some good angles for photography, so does the absence of leaves. I ended up sauntering around the beautiful Bismarck Auditorium, renamed the Belle Mehus some years ago during a much-needed and -deserved rehabilitation and restoration. An excellent history of the Belle is linked to here on the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony’s Orchestra’s website.
Erected in 1913 and opened in 1914, this auditorium was typical for its time, at least in the sense that opera houses provided the entertainment before the rise of television, radio, movies and iPhones. Traveling opera companies would make the rounds on railroad, stopping in one town after another (much like touring bands today). When visiting historic opera houses, take note of how close they are to the historic railroad: one can imagine an opera company arriving by rail with all the graceful bustle of offloading at the train depot, making their way to a hotel and preparing for one or three days worth of performances.
It is fantastic to see opera houses restored, or repurposed. It is literally hard to come by this type of stone and brick monumental architecture, at least today. So that’s what I did yesterday: enjoyed the rehabbed and preserved aesthetics of the Belle Mehus, the Bismarck Auditorium in historic downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. I snapped a photo of the copper Victorian medallion centered at the top of the Belle, too. Michael Gilbertson even drove by, managing to roll down his window in time to give me a drive by “Hi Aaron!”
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.
This morning I have returned to selecting one Dakota word to learn, ideally every morning, the idea being to create for myself a type of vocabulary for unpacking more of the US-Dakota Wars. Language is the way in which we perceive and see our world. So by understanding another language, such as Dakota, one can start arriving at new perceptions in the infinite quest of knowledge (we have these brains, so we might as well put them to use).
I am using two dictionaries to accomplish this, and uploading the Dakota word and English definitions to Cobo cards. The dictionaries are Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Dictionary (first published in 1890; Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992), and John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary (first published in 1902; Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992).
Like any deliberate language study, I use the English-Dakota dictionary to first locate the word. So if I look up “anxiety,” it takes me to Caŋ-te´-ši-ča. I use the Dakota-English dictionary to unpack the larger Dakota word of Caŋ-te´-ši-ča: large words are, after all, combinations of shorter words. By unpacking the large words, and defining them in the smaller portions, one can start learning the basics and foundations of the language. This, my friends, is a transferrable skill.
Yesterday morning I decided on the word “Anxiety,” and today I picked the word “Hero.” Here is what definitions the dictionaries turned up:
Caŋ-te´-ši-ča = to be sad, sorrowful, or anxious. I need to unpack this word a bit more. I will log some more time on that this evening, or tomorrow morning.
Itaŋ-caŋ-ka = Hero. The breakdown of Itaŋcaŋka, according to Riggs’ dictionary, is along the defined lines of someone who is “fire-steel,” and who is on a, or your, side. Okay. That makes sense. Fire-steel by your side. Here is the breakdown below.
Itaŋ, adv. of taŋ; on the side. From this we get the word mitaŋtaŋhaŋ, which means at my side.
Caŋka, n., a fire-steel.
While Bill (Caraher) blogged a bit on Punk Archaeology and PKAP today, in a separate but related sphere (parallel trajectories I call them), I stumbled across an audio-video short that David Pettegrew recorded during the PKAP 2012 field season in Cyprus. I uploaded this to my YouTube channel, and I will share it here.
In May and June of 2012, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Dr. William Caraher, Dr. David Pettegrew, and Dr. R. Scott Moore) charged me with trench supervisor duties for an excavation unit located outside of Larnaca, Cyprus. Here in Pettegrew’s video is a wall emerging out of the excavation unit from a 3rd-century BCE Hellenistic coastal fortification. This site is contemporaneous with Alexander the Great and Zeno, the Stoic from Citium. Within the excavation unit, I am to the right, and sorting out the stratigraphic layers with a student and colleague. The student and colleague to my left continues uncovering bedrock at an industrial pace.
A couple weeks ago Molly and I, along with my parents, took a Sunday trip to the homestead of Lawrence Welk. To be more specific, this was the homestead of Welk’s parents in rural Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. The homestead is just south of Braddock, North Dakota, the place where my great grandpa Barth established his homestead and family. The Barth’s were Ohio-Germans imbedded within this larger German-Russian migration group.
Earlier this afternoon I stopped by North Dakota State University’s German-Russian Heritage Collection to pick up a Gary P. Miller reproduction print from 1930. It is what today we might call a mash-up: Miller painted Welk and his Hollywood roadster into the Emmons County homestead setting. In an effort to unfurl this print, I placed four of books at the edges. It seemed fitting to deliberately use Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History; Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota; Prairie Peddlers: The Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota; and The Quartzite Border: Surveying and Marking the North Dakota-South Dakota Boundary, 1891-1892.
The Welk homestead today is undergoing continued rehabilitation. One can get a guided tour of the original sod homestead, and a couple outbuildings and the summer kitchen. This latter building, the summer kitchen, still speaks to the utilitarian sensibilities often inherent in North Dakotans: the summer kitchen kept the heat out of the otherwise cool sod home in the June, July and August months. It was straight-forward practicality that German-Russians brought with them when they migrated to North America from Odessa, Russia. Within Miller’s 1930 print, the summer kitchen is center-right in the reproduction, and the sod house is just to the left.
It is June 5, 2014, which means it is one day away from the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or D-Day. This also means that either this evening or tomorrow evening I’m going to fire up Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s rendition of Stephen Ambrose’s 1992, Band of Brothers (2001).
I’m also drawn to thinking about what my late Grandpa Barth and his brother (my great uncle Charles “Bud” Barth) did during WWII. They both came from a farm near rural Braddock, North Dakota. During the war, Grandpa Barth was shipped to the central Great Plains to build bombers (I remember him talking about how he was charged with buffing the glass bubbles for the bombers). And Uncle Bud was sent to Army training, eventually becoming a front line medic in the Battle of the Bulge. Bless those for blessing us. I think that’s about all I got for now.
It’s Friday evening and Molly and I are sitting on the living room futon which now faces west. It points us in the direction of a screen porch, and beyond this we can see the youthful spring green of deciduous trees and leaves set against a background of grayish-blue sky. A storm is brewing out west for sure. You can smell it. Something to do with the ozone.
We live in pre-WWI construction, so we are also treated to a kind of pre-WWII sense of place. I haven’t been able to put words to the smell, but the smell I’m smelling reminds me of my late Grandma Christy’s house on the 700 block of North 4th Street in Bismarck, North Dakota. That house, too, was built prior to the First World War. Anything built before the Second World War has this sense of smell and place to it. The homes and apartments all have hard wood floors, radiator heating, and super tall ceilings. They were built before the invention and ascent of conditioned air.
So now that it is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would post the epitome of Americana. I love this stuff. Baseball and cowboy charcoal grilled burgers. Memorial Day weekend is a grand extension of Decoration Day, a Civil War day of remembrance.
This evening also got me thinking a bit about all the German-Americans that poured into the United States when, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine, people were getting out of Europe while the getting was good. Massive religious and political upheavals in the 19th century (this is the most focused brush stroke I’m going to use right now) induced hundreds of thousands of Europeans to simply leave Europe. They crossed the Atlantic and poured in the United States. A large swath of these immigrants came from Germany, or German-speaking countries (I have often hypothesized that the reason Germany started two big ones in the same century had to do with this intellectual emigrant drain from the previous century). And the Germans, when they arrived in the United States, took up numerous causes. In some cases they played baseball. And in other cases they agitated for emancipation. I like to imagine that they also grilled burgers, too. Baseball and burgers. Happy Memorial Day.
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.
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.
Yesterday in the late afternoon I found myself finished up with fieldwork in Grand Forks, so I thought I’d drop in and catch the digital Ed Ayers being beamed in from the University of Richmond to the University of North Dakota. To history nerds, Ayers is a big deal. Bill Caraher mostly if not entirely lined up the talk. Bill received his undergraduate training in Latin and Classics at the University of Richmond, and today Ayers is the president of said U of Richmond. They met on that common ground.
It was great to hear Ayers chat about his foundational website in digital history. At some point in 1993, The Valley of the Shadow went on-line. You can link to it here. And there is even a Wikipedia page to it here. Ayers noted that with digital projects, it is not only important that they be started, but also that they come to completion. So this, as he pointed out, is why we see 1993 and 2007 at the bottom of the web site. Ayers also noted that in the 1980s, historians thought they could revolutionize the discipline through qualitative analysis. Ayers said that qualitative idea “lasted three weeks.” History certainly requires data. But it is in large part about stories and narratives, and about figuring out ways to make the raw data accessible.
Through this, says Ayers, we are now witnessing what he calls generative scholarship. By this, it is meant that scholarship does not come to some sort of final conclusion. Instead, generative scholarship encourages anyone and everyone to engage with the historical data, or texts, and speak up and out about what they see. This, in turn, adds to the dialog, thus keeping it alive.
Life is a series of short and long term stories. This is how we make sense of it all, and also how we make sense of lives lived. This is what I thought about on my drive back from Grand Forks to Fargo.