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: Whitestone Hill
Dakota Language Update
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.
Humanities Updates from the Northern Great Plains
Before this morning gets away from me, I thought I’d provide two humanities updates taking place in the great state of North Dakota, central North America. The first is a link-reference to the progress of our Punk Archaeology manuscript; and the second concerns the official press release from NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal on our continued Dakota book discussions. Of this latter, the discussions bring together the public and scholars to consider the Dakota Conflict and the subsequent punitive campaigns from 1862-1864, and where we, Native and non-Native relations, are today.
For more details, check out the uploaded hand-bill image to the left. Of this, the most recent discussion took place this Sunday past at the Opera House in Ellendale, Dickey County, North Dakota. This brought out a variety of topics, and the most attentive-grabbing and engaging at all of these events is that of Native historians and knowledge-keepers and scholars. After Tamara St. John, a Native historian and genealogist, spoke at this event, an attendee remarked on how (and I’m paraphrasing) they are starved for this kind of information.
For those of us up to our elbows in the history and historiography of the US-Dakota Conflict and Wars, we understand and often wrestle with accurate and precise and appropriate terminology, definitions, and so on. When we chat about this stuff with non-specialists, one of the most common remarks I have heard is this: “How come we weren’t taught any of this — attempted genocide, attempts at cultural destruction, attempts at forced assimilation — in our public education here in North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota?” I’m uncertain. But I do always insist on using attempts and attempted when talking about genocide, cultural destruction and assimilation. I do this because the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota, the Seven Council Fires, are alive and well today. We are pushing ahead as well with these discussions, and every time we have another conversation and chance to talk about this, legitimate history is happening. And if that is happening, so is that large, amorphous thing we call culture and the humanities.
When it comes to the public school systems, I’m sure there are plenty of politics behind all of the curriculum decisions from yesteryear and now. Perhaps that is something we in the future can consider, and perhaps in the future bring before various departments of public instruction in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That would be at least one long-range goal to consider.
Nonetheless, the next discussion will be held at 2:00PM (CST) on November 10, 2013, at Sitting Bull College, in the Science and Technology Center Room 120/101, Fort Yates, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota. And here is a photo from the discussion from last Sunday.
Imagining Research and Teaching Tuesday
In a couple hours I’ll follow my established pedestrian transect to North Dakota State University (this is the fancy way of saying I’ll walk up to class) to provide a guest talk on archival research for Dr. Kjersten Nelson’s Political Science classes. Over the last couple days, I’ve thought off and on exactly what I could and should impart upon the class (she said there are approximately 17 students). Three thoughts came to mind, and here they are (note: a friend of mine, Don Paul, attended one of those Ford schools back in the day in Michigan. These were philanthropic schools Henry Ford set up for kids to attend — for free. Don said at those hands-on liberal arts vocational schools, the artisans and industrial manufacturing teachers would tell him to follow this rule when giving talks: start out by telling your audience the three things you’re going to tell them; then tell them the three things with explanation; and then conclude by telling them the three things you told them. This makes sense. Work in threes or fours if possible.):
1) Perhaps the best way to go about it is to initially do a bit of podium driving, explaining why research matters, and why professors at universities invest themselves in pushing knowledge in new directions. Just last Friday I chatted a bit with Bill Caraher in Bismarck, this after a invigorating ND Humanities Council board meeting, and in conversation he mentioned how he explains to his students exactly what he does with his time at the University of North Dakota. Students understandably want their professors to be attentive, and professors should definitely do this, both with class room lecture, discussion, and in office hours and over coffee. But the reverse of that is to make sure the students activate the auto-didactic — the self-taught learner — within themselves. The entire idea, I’ll tell the students today, is to do good on your archival research and paper skills because A) this may turn into a larger research project when you are off working on your own PhD in grad school; and/or B) this will give Dr. Nelson the ability to write you a glowing letter of recommendation that speaks to your abilities as a critical thinker, writer, and self-directed learner and problem solver; and C) your friends, colleagues, and current or future life-long partner will indeed dig these skills.
2) From there I’ll delve into the personal, at least how I managed to bring a topic I’ve cared about since 2008 to a manuscript form that was considered and eventually published by a top-flight academic journal. There are enjoyable struggles and processes of preparing such a manuscript, and one pours themselves into these things not knowing if a journal will consider them at all. That, of course, is why it takes the spirit within each person to be driven to figure out a problem in the social sciences or humanities that may, at the outset, induce confusion or frustration. Such was the case when I first heard about and then visited the Civil War monument at Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota some years ago. I was initially confused by it — “Why did North Dakota install a granite Civil War bugler on top of the largest hill in the area?…” There’s a tendency to be confused or frustrated by what is not yet understood. And one doesn’t have to agree with something to understand it, but agreeing with something and understanding it are two disparate things.
3) And finally, this might be a direction that students and researchers think about as they continue to consider their topics: is there anything in the world of politics or political history that induces confusion or frustration? Research always begins with questions, and sometimes if you one feels frustrated about something, they should indeed start asking questions. “Why is that the way it is?” I’m interested in hearing how far along the students themselves are in their research processes. A large part of archival research deals with imagining where the sources might be. Once a paper trail starts to emerge, it can help with imagining where other sources might be. I’ll again default a bit to the Whitestone Hill case study, but broaden it out to envelop which directions the students are pushing.
Official and Un-Official (authentic) Remembrance
This last July, Molly (an accomplished artist who is also my girlfriend) and I had a chance to tour the northern inner-mountain American West. One of the stops on this road tripped concerned a massacre site from 150 years ago, this at Bear River in southeastern Idaho. It seems appropriate to talk about and consider memorials and remembrance, especially today (09/11/2013).
While at Bear River, I documented the site, and this morning I thought I’d finally get around to posting an audio-video short to help others who aren’t immediately able to visit get a slice of the sense of place. In the video there are three official memorials, but what I was really pulled toward the day we visited was the un-official memorial tree. This in my mind was all the more authentic because of its un-official-ness: often times, official memorials get politicized (or they can), and this officialdom and politicization undermines the sacredness intrinsic to reflection and mourning that can be emotionally spontaneous. Infrastructure can also undermine that reflection, something Muir went on about at length in the 19th century, and something we’re contending with in the Bakken today.
Back to the July 2013 audio clip, though. Toward the end of the clip, I started closing in on the un-official memorial tree at the Bear River Massacre site. For a glimpse of some of the memorials and remembrances, click on the link referenced above (or the Bear River Massacre tag below). Or best of all, visit the site directly.
Notes from Whitestone Hill: August 24, 2013
Last week I returned from the National Archives in DC, and over the weekend I attended and was one of the speakers for the 150th Whitestone Hill observances not too far south of Kulm, in Dickey County, southeastern North Dakota. There has been much said about Whitestone Hill (it is a piece of genocide in American history), and much more to be said too. I have a forthcoming article in The Public Historian (“Imagining a Battle at a Civil War Mistake: The Public History of Whitestone Hill, 1863-2013” Vol. 35, No. 3, August 2013) that concerns the remembrance of this site, and this induced me to note, at least to myself, how history is never final.
During the August 24, 2013 day of observances, I took some notes, photos, and video. Here is a link to the line-up. I thought I’d share some more notes from the day here, but they are not exhaustive (I tried to scribble when I could). Kevin Locke opened the observances around 9:00AM with a Native prayer, and he spoke to the temporality of life. He described this in Dakota and Lakota language, and also noted a word that defined something that was fleeting, a philosophical universal of life. Also, the essence of the word “Dakota” means peace, ally, friend.
Also: Frogs were everywhere at the site that morning. With every couple steps, a couple little jumps would happen in the grass below. Upon closer inspection, you could see the little frogs. This, of course, provided untold of amusement for youngsters and biologists, and basically any of us city types who don’t regularly get to see frogs in this kind of battalion strength.
I caught up with a good friend, Dakota Goodhouse, and he said he arrived a little late because his son asked him to have breakfast. Note: having breakfast with your son is a good idea, especially if your son wants to.
One of the coolest things ever, especially at these sites and on our northern Great Plains, is coming upon a tipi. Even better, coming upon more than one tipi. And even better-better, coming upon one tipi, and the raising of another. Here is a short video of that. There is a charcoal marker on the top of the last tipi pole, the one where the canvas is fixed to and hoisted up (in pre-canvas days, before Euro-American industrialization nearly wiped out every last bison, these bison hides would be used). Notice the kind of community that simply “happens” with the raising of a tipi.
It’s akin to the pre-Industrial raising of a barn, or relocating a Mongolian ger from one pasture to the next: everyone gets involved, either directly or in supportive spirit. There are smiles everywhere as well. Architecturally the tipi is so fascinating because its verticality rises right out of the horizontal landscape that is the Great Plains. It gets your attention for sure. The new east-facing elevation of the State Historical Society of North Dakota has a brilliant entryway with, impressionistically, a tipi-looking piece of modern art. I think it is excellent.
Remembering Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later: August 24, 2013
On August 24, 2013 (a week from tomorrow), the State Historical Society of North Dakota is hosting the 150th year of observances at Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota. You can drive to the site, and there is an official Facebook page which you can link to here. I also thought I’d just copy and paste the August 24, 2013 line up below. Here it is, verbatim, and I’ve also provided links with the particular names (just click on them to learn more):
Whitestone Hill 150th Commemoration event, Saturday, August 24, 2013
Schedule – August 2013
9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Demonstration stations: all day
Dakota Lifeways, Dakota food demo, military life re-enactors, settler life re-enactors, Dakota drum and dance, Dakota War information, interpretive signs –either a prototype or actual sign that will be installed on site by SHSND
9 a.m. Kevin Locke – opening prayer
9:15 0r 9:30 a.m. Ladonna Allard – Life in the James River Valley
11 a.m. Richard M. Rothaus – “The Military Context of Whitestone Hill–Tactics, Artillery, and Non-Combatants.”
11:45 a.m. Aaron Barth – “Remembering Whitestone Hill”
1 p.m. speaker to be announced – Identity and Story of the Native People of Whitestone Hill
3 p.m. Speaker Panel – Preservation of Whitestone Hill – Past, Present and Future. Alden Flakoll, Board member of the Whitestone Hill Battlefield Historical Society, Dakota Goodhouse, Program Director for North Dakota Humanities Council, Ladonna Allard, Tourism Director for Standing Rock Reservation, Tamara St. John, Tribal Historian for Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Diane Rogness, Historic Sites Manager for the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
4 p.m. Kevin Locke – dance
5:30 p.m. Buffalo supper, RSVP required
Directions to Whitestone Hill, North Dakota
I’ve decided that very few people know the location of Whitestone Hill in southeastern North Dakota. This decision came to me after hearing the “Where is that?” response to my remark, “Whitestone Hill…” It is now 2013. This location, Whitestone Hill, is important since it is a site where the U.S. Army brought total war to a domestic encampment of northern Great Plains indigenes in early September of 1863. We are almost upon the 150th year of remembrance. So we need to make ourselves more aware of these sites, primarily because our history — whether we know or like it or not — informs us about how things are today. It is also the stuff that disparate groups identify with. This is why we sometimes hear things like, “History is about identity.” This is true. If we don’t know about Whitestone Hill, then we don’t know why things are the way they are today.
So people can more readily find Whitestone Hill, over the lunch hour I decided to scribble out a map, and also scan a DeLorme topo map of the location specifics. I’m blogging about it now, and I figure that if folks ask me, “Where is that?” instead of me gesturing in the air about the relative location of Whitestone Hill to Jamestown, Aberdeen, Edgeley or Ellendale, I can just send them this link. Above is a rough sketch of the approximate location of Whitestone Hill that I prepared while eating squash and cauliflower curry soup over the lunch hour.
If you’re on Eisenhower’s Interstate 94, just head south from Jamestown, North Dakota on Highway 281. If you’re in Aberdeen, South Dakota, head north on Highway 281.
If coming from Jamestown, drive about 40 or 50 minutes south until you hit Edgeley, North Dakota. From Edgeley, head west on ND Highway 13, and this eventually turns into south-bound Highway 56. Travel south of Kulm about 10 or 11 miles to 88th Street SE. Travel east on 88th Street SE for four miles, and then turn north (by this point you’ll see “Whitestone Hill” signage to direct you to the site).
If coming from Aberdeen, South Dakota, drive north to Ellendale, North Dakota, and head west on ND Highway 11. Travel west on Hwy 11 for about 20 miles, and turn north onto ND Highway 56. Drive 10 miles north on Highway 56, and turn east on to 88th Street SE. Drive the four miles east, and turn north at the Whitestone Hill signage.
Note: even though the signage on the DeLorme map reads “Battlefield,” and even though during your approach you will start seeing “Whitestone Hill Battlefield” signage, do not be tempted to call it that unless you are ready to define what is meant by that. Even then, it is not a good idea.
Visiting the Bear River Massacre Site
A couple days ago Molly and I made a site visit to the Bear River Massacre in southeastern Idaho. The massacre happened in late-January 1863 when a U.S. Army group of California Volunteers led by Col. P.E. Connor attacked a domestic, non-combatant encampment of Shoshone. It is interesting to contextualize this site with others throughout the United States.
Nine months later, General Alfred Sully described his actions at Whitestone Hill against families of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota as a “murderous slaughter” of a “promiscuous nature.” This action happened on the northern Great Plains (in presentday North Dakota) only 9 months after the Bear River Massacre. Massacre was, sadly and to put it mildly, a part of the Total War battle rubric (check out John Fabian Witt’s latest work on Lincoln’s rules for war). It is called genocide and ethnocide today.
Today, 150 years later, the Bear River Massacre site remains active with memorials of all kinds. If you are driving from Salmon, Idaho to Salt Lake City, Utah, take exit 36 off of I-15 onto Highway 91. You’ll need to follow the exits, because there isn’t any signage that will guide you to this painful chapter in American history. At the site is a stone obelisk, and for the last 150 years different groups have brought different interpretations to the site.
The Bear River Massacre site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Today a beautiful memorial tree has taken on the task of an anchor for remembrance and mourning. A variety of individuals have placed items in the tree. A cursory sample of items observed on the July 15, 2013 day of my visit to the site included numerous dream catchers; tobacco pouches; a pair of glasses; a penny; beads on leather necklaces (one read “HOPE”); a wood flute; synthetic flowers; a tin pale filled with beads and chewing tobacco; pieces of rawhide with art on them; and suspenders. The tree is active and alive, as are the memories.
In addition to this, if you want to read up on contemporary scholarship specific to the Bear River Massacre, check out Kass Fleisher, The Bear River Massacre and the Making of History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004) and John Barnes, “The Struggle to Control the Past: Commemoration, Memory, and the Bear River Massacre of 1863” in The Public Historian, Vol. 30, No. 1 (February 2008).
Bringing American Public History to New Zealand
Just moments ago, from the northern Great Plains of North America, I submitted a short paper proposal to the other side of the planet, this to the New Zealand Historical Association (NZHA) in Dunedin, New Zealand. It is for the NZHA 2013 Biennial Conference (click the blue link to the left for direct details) on November 20-22, 2013. My paper concerns the contested public memory of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with some World Historical considerations. It builds off landscape memory and history, and research from 2009 to the present. The intent is to join two additional landscape historians, Dr. Thomas D. Isern and Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, to make a complete panel. Tom and Suzzanne are considering the public memory of local New Zealand history specific to the Lindis. I am bringing some public memory from the northern Great Plains to the mix. I thought I would share my paper title and abstract here.
Title: Aaron L. Barth, “A Contested Site of Memory from the American Civil War: Whitestone Hill 150 Years Later”
Abstract: In early September of 1863, as the American Civil War raged in the eastern half of the continental United States, General Alfred Sully led a military column on a punitive campaign against the Dakota (aka, Sioux) on the northern Great Plains. The military goal was to punish the Dakota majority, en masse, for the atrocities committed by a small Dakota minority the previous year in the Minnesota River Valley. Sully’s 1863 campaign culminated in an action at Whitestone Hill, this in present-day North Dakota. In his official words, Sully said he engaged Dakota “warriors… squaws, [and] children” in a “melée” and “murderous slaughter” of a “promiscuous nature.” His command killed 150 to 300 Dakota, and if he had another hour or two of light, he said, “I could have annihilated the enemy,” giving “one of the most severe punishments that the Indians have ever received.” For 150 years, the public memory of Whitestone Hill has been contested, called a “battlefield” by a United States Congressman, and called a “mistake” by Sully and Episcopalian Reverend Aaron McGaffey Beede. This paper tracks the public tension in the remembrance of Whitestone Hill, and concludes with samples of how sites of memory from this period are contested in World History.