Tag Archives: Sitting Bull

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.

Sitting Bull and the Government Shut Down

A photo I snapped while in D.C. in August 2013. It is of the National Archives. The inscription at bottom-right of the photo reads, "Study the Past."

A photo I snapped while in D.C. in August 2013. It is of the National Archives. The inscription at bottom-right of the photo reads, “Study the Past.”

Today, October 1st, 2013, the United States Government momentarily halted its business. Perhaps the best story I’ve read on this comes by way of Joshua Keating of Slate.com, and it takes the shut down as an opportune moment to describe how American media would report on this if the shut-down happened in a non-American, or non-Western, nation-state. It is enlightening. This is the first installment of the article. An excerpt from it, and a direct link if you click right here:

The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards…

…The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.

This story is fascinating for a number of reasons. To historians, it reminds me of how we are disciplined to develop histories of past societies by using the individual words of the people we are talking about. So, for example, yesterday around the graduate seminar table we got to talking about how the British mounty Walsh characterized Sitting Bull during the Hunkpapa chiefs short tenure north of the 49th parallel in Canada. Sitting Bull was thinking things over, and the Anglo-North American Walsh decided to refer to the chief as “Mohommet.”

I’m not sure how Walsh meant it, but it caused me to speak up and note that when Walsh called Sitting Bull “Mohommet,” it said more about Walsh than it ever could say about Sitting Bull: of course Sitting Bull was not Mohommet. Walsh hailed from Prescott, Onterio, though, and that was part of the St. Lawrence Seaway and The Atlantic World, and that world indeed was privy to imaginings of European Christiandom, and so on. This is why Walsh’s analogy is the most non-analogous attempted analogy in the history of analogies (okay, I’m exaggerating, but sometimes a person gets sucked into the amplified media craziness which, in turn, speaks to the point of this blog). Sitting Bull is Sitting Bull. He was by and for the Hunkpapa, the Seven Council Fires, the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, and the northern Great Plains. Period.

A gratuitous government shutdown photo, this snapped before the shutdown was known or talked about during a DC site visit in August 2013.

A gratuitous government shutdown photo, this snapped before the shutdown was known or talked about during a DC site visit in August 2013.

This is easily the same for today’s media, though, where reporters are given a couple minutes or hours to cobble together something on a non-American or non-Western topic, and make it vaguely intelligible for a news-absorbing public. Then we can all sit in our living rooms and either nod in approval or shake our heads in disagreement about what country we need to consider invading next. In the second half of the 19th century, this is what a reading public did on the east and west coasts of North America as they read about the actions taking place on the North American steppe. “What could possibly go wrong here!?” Right.

An aside on how Keating of Slate.com describes Ted Cruz, with addition: certainly Ted would be described this way if he were the reverse operating in Mesopotamia and Persia and the Levant (in a kind of opposite world, though). But the media would also say something like, “Ted Cruz is from the adjoining Christian country of Canada.” Then listeners of that media would sit in their living rooms and be mind-boggled at how one Christian could have different ideas in North America from another Christian. “Honey, get this: they don’t all think the same way! At least that’s what the news is saying… Should we order pizza tonight? Or go for Chinese?”

Anyhow, happy government shut down. I’ve rolled up my sleeves to get through it all.

The Killdeer Mountain Battlefield Landscape

Basin Killdeer Proposed Route

The Bismarck Tribune’s graphic of the proposed route through what essentially is the Gettysburg of the Northern Great Plains, the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield from 1864. Historical actors involved included Sitting Bull, Inkpaduta, Gall, Sully, among others.

This morning a story broke in The Bismarck Tribune on a proposed transmission line route directly through the core area of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. North Dakota State University’s Center for Heritage Renewal, led by Professor Tom Isern, responded with the following media release:

Aug. 30, 2013

Media Advisory

The Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University is preparing a submission for the North Dakota Public Service Commission hearing in Killdeer on Sept. 4. The subject is an electrical power transmission line and substation proposed to be built, by Basin Electric, in the core area of the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield. The topic has been covered by North Dakota media, starting yesterday.

The Center for Heritage Renewal was established to identify, preserve and capitalize on the heritage resources of North Dakota and the northern plains. One of the center’s objectives is to assist state agencies, private organizations and the people of the state and region in generating prosperity and quality of life from heritage resources. Another objective is to provide expertise and action in the fields of historic preservation and heritage tourism.

The center recognizes the efforts of Basin Electric to support regional development but is concerned that the environmental impact statement for the project takes no cognizance of the historical significance of Killdeer Mountain. 

The center has signed a contract with the National Park Service to survey and study the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield, which the park service has identified as a significant Civil War-era site in North Dakota. The contract is with the American Battlefield Protection Program of the National Park Service.

Killdeer Mountain was the chosen ground on which Dakota and Lakota fighters, including Inkpaduta and Sitting Bull, confronted the Northwest Expedition, commanded by General Alfred Sully, on July 28, 1864. This was the largest military engagement ever to take place on the Great Plains of North America, and a crucial episode in the Dakota War of 1862-1864.

University Distinguished Professor Tom Isern, founding director of the center, observes, “Killdeer Mountain is the Gettysburg of the Plains. It is, arguably, the most significant historic site in all of North Dakota.”

Isern is available to discuss this issue. He can be reached at 701-799-2942

More to come…

Killdeer Mountains 150 Years Later: Rescuing the Fallen and Forgotten Veterans from the Past

North Dakota State Capitol meeting room locations. Missouri River Room is #16, bottom-center of map.

North Dakota State Capitol meeting room locations. Missouri River Room is #16, bottom-center of map.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 7, 2013, at 1400 hours (CST), North Dakota Senator Connie Triplett (District 18, Grand Forks) will collaboratively sponsor SB 2341, a bill that seeks to carry out an archaeological and historic-archaeological study on the Killdeer Mountains in Dunn County, western North Dakota. I’ll be attending this hearing (it will take place before the Senate Government & Veteran’s Affairs Committee in the Missouri River Room), and Triplett has circulated an e-mail asking historians, landowners, archaeologists, Natives and others for testimonies to support this bill. The Killdeer Mountains figure into our nation’s history and the US-Dakota Wars that spanned from 1862 in the Minnesota River Valley, and carried on through 1864 at Killdeer Mountains in western North Dakota.

Taken from the cover of Robert W. Larson, "Gall: Lakota War Chief" (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007).

Taken from the cover of Robert W. Larson, “Gall: Lakota War Chief” (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007).

What we know right now about Killdeer from 1864 is limited (the State Historical Society of North Dakota has a nice and thoughtful write up of it here), and further archaeological and historical research is needed. It was an action between the Union Army and various Dakota nations, and some key players involved were Sitting Bull, Inkpaduta, Gall (among others), and General Alfred Sully and his Union soldiers. In many ways, just as this nation recognizes and respects fallen Union and Confederate combatants and non-combatants, this nation owes it to honor the Dakota soldiers and non-combatants killed in Dakota Territory during the Civil War. To extend this honor requires and necessitates a deliberate and culturally sensitive systematic archaeological and historical study like the one proposed in SB 2341. We understandably honor Americans that have fought and died in 21st century warfare, and we ought to also be honoring and rescuing those fallen and forgotten from the Killdeer Mountains from July 1864.

Note: according to Sioux County Veterans Service Officer Roster, today in 2013 Standing Rock has a veteran population of 357.