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Published: October 4th 2015
Those who follow my blog regularly or who know me personally are aware that state Vietnam veterans memorials are something near and dear to my heart. Last week, I visited the Minnesota Vietnam Memorial in Saint Paul MN and plan to visit the South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial next week; however, the only reference I could find for a North Dakota State Vietnam Veterans Memorial was for the Tri-State Vietnam Memorial Wall
in Fargo ND. The aforementioned folks also know that my itinerary is fluid. Initially, I had planned a one week stop in Fargo, but that stop had been eliminated as the 2015 journey evolved. I did, however, decide to break up the 428 mile, 8 ½ hour drive from Minneapolis MN to Bismarck ND with an overnight stop at in Fargo, in part so I could pay my respects.
Since the sponsor of the Tri-State Vietnam Memorial Wall is the Fargo Air Museum, I took a chance that there would be adequate parking available with the Pilgrim in tow; and, also since, I had secured an RV site that was long enough for the rig such that I wouldn’t have to disconnect the truck from the trailer, my first stop in Fargo
was the Fargo Air Museum. According to the memorial’s web site, “As the Wall's sponsor, the Fargo Air Museum hopes that this memorial to our brave soldiers lost in Vietnam will be displayed throughout the tri-state area demonstrating our lasting gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice and that you enjoy this well-deserved and long overdue memorial.”
I wasn’t sure exactly how to interpret that statement but decided the memorial probably had been 1) erected on a flatbed trailer, 2) on skids that would allow easy placement on a trailer or 3) was light enough that a forklift could place it on a trailer such that it could be “displayed throughout the tri-state area” as requests were submitted. My hesitation was that Murphy’s Law might find the memorial on display in some other jurisdiction when I stopped; however, that was not a big deal since I plan to stop in Fargo for a week in due course. I never dreamt in my most vivid nightmare that the memorial was disassembled and stored in a warehouse. When the lady at the Fargo Air Museum informed me, my knee-jerk response to her was, “You gotta be shitin’ me!” I guess, “As the Wall's
sponsor…” means providing warehouse space when the memorial is not on display in some other location.
Still in a state of disbelief, I headed for the Lindenwood Campground. I literally can count the states without a Vietnam veterans memorial on one hand, so not having a memorial to call their own should be, at the least, slightly embarrassing to North Dakotans. Obviously, the citizens of Minnesota and South Dakota reached beyond the Tri-State Vietnam Memorial Wall and went to the effort of having their own state memorial. However, to have a memorial and THEN to have it stored in a warehouse out of public view is a disgrace and does not even approach “demonstrating our lasting gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.” I cannot say that this experience equates to the disdainful reception we received when we returned from Vietnam; however, North Dakotan or not, this is an insult to every Vietnam vet that would like to pay his respects and “… enjoy this well-deserved and long overdue memorial.” Shame on whoever made this irresponsible and short-sighted decision. I’ll betchya it wasn’t a Vietnam vet or a KIA family member!
On the way from Fargo to Bismarck, I stopped
at the National Buffalo Museum
in Jamestown ND – a stop that wouldn’t have been practical had I not made an overnight stop in Fargo. The facility is yards from I-94, is adjacent to Frontier Village
and, therefore, is surrounded by tourism razzmatazz. Of course, one has to drive through all that glitz to get to the museum, but the navigation is easy and there is plenty of parking. The herd of about 30 bison, maintained by the North Dakota Buffalo Foundation, roams on about 200 acres of rolling pasture land on both the north and south sides of I-94 which makes spotting an animal somewhat of a coin toss. What makes this attraction unique is the membership of White Cloud, an extremely rare female albino bison born on July 10, 1996. An albino bison, revered by some Native Americans as a symbol of rebirth, is rare; and the birth of a true albino calf, by some estimates, is a 1-in-10 million occurrence. White Cloud’s first four calves – three females and a male – were normal-colored bison; however, her fifth calf, born on August 31, 2007, was born white and was later named Dakota Miracle. Then, in 2008, a brown buffalo gave
the herd yet a third albino, Dakota Legend.
About half way through the very nice, well done museum I found access to an observation platform. I stepped outside but saw no bison. I was somewhat disappointed but realized that seeing the bison herd would be gravy on the taters. I surveyed the horizon for 10-15 minutes looking, particularly, for movement. Movement is one of the best giveaways for animals that blend into their natural environment. I spotted nothing, so I returned to the museum. The museum has informational placards that highlight prehistoric bison, early bison/human encounters, buffalo exploitation, the bone trade and saving the buffalo from extinction.
Of course, there is extensive coverage of albino bison in general and White Cloud specifically. Art with bison as the subject matter is prevalent, but other native critters are not forgotten nor is the lifestyle of the Native Americans who so depended on the bison for sustenance. I departed the museum, but, as I was walking to the truck, I spotted a small portion of the herd in the distance. I returned to the viewing platform, snapped a couple of futile photos and then returned to the Ram to resume the
journey to Bismarck. The National Buffalo Museum, with its proximity to I-94, makes it a nice break in what might be a lengthy drive.
My entire trip from Lowry Grove RV Park in Minneapolis to General Sibley Park in Bismarck ND went smoothly and without any glitches, except as unbelievably noted above. General Sibley Park is huge, and I was assigned a site near the end of the main loop such that I didn’t have much coming and going traffic or foot traffic to the shower house. Except for the weekend when the grounds were pockmarked with rigs, I actually expected to see some critters looking for a meal but none made an appearance.
I suppose when one thinks of Americana embodied in a person who lived during my lifetime, one thinks of John Wayne, Red Skelton and Neil Armstrong to name but a few; however, I contend that Lawrence Welk should find his way onto the list as well. We didn’t get television until I was 6 or 7 and then received only two stations. Life was simple – if there was disagreement, a coin settled the issue EXCEPT on Saturday evening. The Lawrence Welk Show was
so engrained in my family’s lifestyle that I have no idea what program aired on the other station. The other station just was not an option! I didn’t object too vigorously anyway because Janet Lennon was close to my age and quite pleasing to the eye. Since The Great Adventure
is all about Americana, I had to make a stop at the Ludwig and Christina Welk Homestead
in Strasburg ND.
Strasburg was a German-speaking community so Welk grew up speaking both German and English, thus his thick accent. Ludwig and Christiana had emigrated from what is now Ukraine to America in 1892. Their ancestors had moved to Ukraine due to years of religious strife, political chaos and economic hardship in Germany and an enticing offer from the Russian Czarina Catherine the Great, a former German princess. She promised colonists autonomy and farm land in Russia should they choose to emigrate. Catherine believed these highly skilled farmers and tradesmen would promote progress leading to a more modern Russia. Many accepted her offer.
Alexander III, Catherine’s grandson, rescinded Catherine’s generous offer and, essentially, made life so difficult for the Germans that many chose to leave. Those who immigrated to North America settled throughout the
Great Plains from Saskatchewan to Texas. Ludwig and Christina Welk arrived in New York in 1893 and traveled by rail to Eureka SD where they acquired a wagon and a team of oxen for their trek to Emmons County ND. The couple had lost their first child before leaving Russia, and when they arrived in North Dakota Christina was carrying their second child. They spent the winter of their first year in North Dakota under an overturned wagon covered with sod.
Lawrence Welk, the sixth of eight children, left school in the fourth grade to work full-time on the family farm but decided that life as a farmer was not "Wunnerful, Wunnerful" and that he would pursue a career in music. He persuaded his father to buy a mail-order accordion for $400 (equivalent to $4,709 in 2015) in exchange for his promise to his father that he would work on the farm until he was 21 in repayment for the accordion. Further, any money he made doing auxiliary farm work or performing with his accordion during that time would go to the family. None of the resources I used noted when father and son made their deal; but one,
two, three or fours years of labor for $4,709 2015 dollars was a good deal for dad!
Welk left home on his 21st birthday and never looked back, playing weddings and radio barn dances until he debuted on national TV in 1955. His parents weren't around to see it; they had been dead for 15 years. According to some reports, that probably was fine by Welk. It is reported that he hated farming, hated his parents and, perhaps even, hated North Dakota. Although he often donated money to Strasburg, he specifically requested that none of it go to the farmstead restoration. He was invited many times to view the work in progress, but refused every offer. In fact, Welk never saw the years of effort that his neighbors and friends put into restoring his birthplace.
Was Welk an ungrateful native son? You decide. His life is well documented with numerous diverse perspectives so I’ll let those who are interested pursue that avenue. The homestead itself is nice but is unusual only from an historical perspective. Two videos are available and are, indeed, the difference between this attraction being just another Midwestern homestead and the Welk homestead. One video
was produced by the Biography Channel and the other outlines the history of Germans from Russia. Both videos are well done and informative. I would suggest that those who would be inclined to skip the 1 ½ hour commitment to watch the videos save the gas and skip the attraction altogether. The history revealed in the videos is what sets the attraction apart.
Relatively unusual for me, I managed for the first time in quite a while to get my three self-imposed requisite attractions on my agenda for the same day. First was the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum
in Bismarck. One feature of the museum is seldom addressed issues that impacted the Native Americans of North Dakota: What is a reservation? What is a powwow? The transition to reservation life. Remembering the Indian boarding schools. I don’t remember ever seeing these subjects covered as extensively in any non-Native museum.
A second feature concentrates its effort on highlighting North Dakota’s nearly 100 inventors and their inventions. A timeline lists the year, the invention, the inventor and their home town. A third feature is the Cold War. Huh? Yes, North Dakota was (and remains) home to an undisclosed number of Minuteman nuclear weapons.
The display addresses life on a 24-hour shift every third day (I can relate to that) 50 feet under ground (I cannot relate to that!). The fourth and final feature I will note is the extensive coverage of North Dakota natural resources with particular emphasis on the recently newsworthy Bakken, Lower Lodgepole and Three Forks Formations.
What REALLY sets the North Dakota facility apart from any other museum I have seen is the creative use of numbered dice to augment artifact documentation. A standard-size, numbered dice is stationed or affixed next to an artifact and the key is revealed adjacent to the display. What a phenomenal, economic use of space; what a tool to keep the exhibit area clean and uncluttered; and what a great way to make the artifact documentation near enough to the visitor to make it READABLE, especially for us oldsters. Two birds, one stone! That always works for me.
Next, I walked over to the North Dakota State Capitol
also in Bismarck – yup, that’s still the capital of North Dakota! The original North Dakota State Capitol building, which was built during the territorial period, burned to the ground the morning of December 28, 1930. Does THAT
sound familiar? The fire was said to have been started by oily rags that had been used to clean and varnish the legislators' desks in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. Some records and official documents were saved, including the original copy of the state's constitution, but many others were lost. While the fire was still burning, Governor George F. Shafer assembled a team of state legislators and officials to discuss plans for coping with the loss of records and work space. The day after the fire, 40 state prison inmates went to work salvaging as many records as possible from the ashes. Did you catch the date of the fire? The disaster required construction of a new building in the midst of the Great Depression. Ground was broken on August 13, 1932. The central tower and west wing were completed in 1934 at a cost of $2 million. Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers were initially paid only 30 cents an hour but went on strike for 50 cents an hour.
The North Dakota State Capitol is unique among the capitols I have seen – the central feature is not a dome but a 19 story tower. At 241
The North Dakota Hall Of Fame
North Dakota State Capitol - Bismarck ND
feet 8 inches tall, it is the tallest building in North Dakota and is known as the Skyscraper on the Prairie
. The tower houses the office of the Governor while, at the tower's base, the west wing contains the two chambers of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly and the North Dakota Supreme Court meets in the east wing. The 18th floor of the tower is an observation deck, making it the highest vantage point in the state. No nonsense officials eliminated much of the ornamentation from the architects’ original design. The lack of aggrandizement does not distract from the simplistic beauty of the structure, but declares to all that it is a functional facility rather than a piece of art. My tour guide was knowledgeable and provided an interesting tour. Of course, the North Dakota State Capitol is highly recommended.
I next walked to the North Dakota All Veterans Memorial
also in Bismarck. What, ya think I wouldda walked to Williston? I could find no information for a memorial specifically dedicated to the warriors of any conflict (save the Tri-State Vietnam Memorial Wall noted earlier) and could find no mention of any state veterans’ memorial prior to the construction of the North Dakota
Note The Globe Amidst The Bronze Tablets
North Dakota All Veterans Memorial - Bismarck ND
All Veterans Memorial for the North Dakota centennial in 1989. The memorial is dedicated to all North Dakotans who served in the armed forces in war and in peace. The memorial itself is sheltered by a dome and covered by a cube. A light well (hole) is positioned such that at the eleven hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the sun shines on a bronze globe to honor all veterans on Veterans Day. The names of over 4,000 North Dakotans who have died in defense of our country since statehood was granted are inscribed on bronze tablets that surround the globe. A representation of the Medal of Honor ribbon is affixed next to the names of those KIAs so honored. For me, a must see. For many of you, probably not so much. Thank goodness it’s not tucked away in a warehouse!
Back in the Ram, my next stop was in Mandan ND at the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
. Fort Abraham Lincoln was once an important infantry and cavalry post and is rich in both military and early Native American history. It was from this fort that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry rode out on
their ill-fated expedition against the Sioux at the Little Big Horn. I knew going in that none of the buildings were original and that only portions of the military post, including the Custer House, had been reconstructed; however, I also knew that daily tours of the Custer House would be available and thought some very interesting history might be imparted so, therefore, paid the interpretive pass fee in addition to the vehicle entrance fee to garner that knowledge.
Additionally, I did not know that the tour of the Custer House would be done in period as though the group were guests at the home for a dinner to be held later that evening. The tour guide told the group that since he would be in period, we should translate his prompt to “take special notice of…” to equate to this artifact is a relic that was actually owned by the Custers. In period is a fun way to portray a lifestyle from a “period” but is not an effective way to conduct an informational historical tour. It didn’t take long for me to grow weary of, “When the Custers return later today…”, “After the Custers arrive…”, “When Col. Custer
… As Are The Interior Appointments
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park - Mandan ND
retires after dinner…”, etc., etc., etc. The effort of the tour guide was cumbersome and ill-suited to the experience. Obviously, nothing was revealed about the activities of Ms. Custer after the Little Big Horn since the battle had not yet occurred!
I also knew beforehand that, because of the 90+ temperatures, I would not be taking advantage of the park's nature and historic trails which are advertised to have panoramic vistas of the Missouri River nor did I plan to visit the reconstructed historic fort buildings or the reconstructed earthlodges in the On-A-Slant Indian Village which depict the lifestyle of the Mandan Indians who occupied the area from about 1575-1781. Perhaps a visit to the entire park would provide a pleasant experience, but a visit to the Custer House alone is a waste of time and fuel.
On Tuesday, August 25, 2015, I decided to step back in time to the winter of 1804-05 and to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition in this part of the Louisiana Purchase. Actually, all three of the facilities on my agenda for the day function as first cousins to each other. Each facility focuses on the Lewis and Clark experience
in that specific area, which vary markedly. I started with a visit to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
in Washburn ND. For those who have not experienced “Lewis and Clark Country” there are numerous Lewis and Clark Interpretive Centers throughout the Midwest and Northwest, thus the “North Dakota“ differentiation.
The Interpretive Center relates numerous snippets about the men and their journey. One story relates how an attack on a Mandan hunting party by Sioux and Arikata raiders posed a threat to the village. Clark and 23 of his men rushed to the rescue. The attack on the village never materialized, but the reaction by the men of the Corps of Discovery revealed the good intent of the white men to their new allies and strengthened the newfound friendship. Another interesting tidbit is that the Mandan chief invited expedition members to a hunt when a herd of buffalo was discovered nearby. Mandan custom dictated that a dead bison with no arrow, died ala old age or during childbirth (or would that be calfbirth), was subject to the “finder’s keepers” rule. Of the ten buffalo killed by the men of the Corps of Discovery on the first day of the hunt, only
five were retrieved by expedition members! The other five arrowless carcasses were “found first” and claimed by Native American hunters. The four-day hunt generously restored the expedition’s supply of meat.
Significant space is dedicated to Sakakawea, the Shoshone wife of a French explorer and trapper who lived in the village, Toussaint Charbonneau. Indeed, all of Clark’s journal entries mentioning Sakakawea are related chronologically on placards in the exhibit. Reliable historical information about Sakakawea is very limited, but it seems she was born in May 1788 between Kenney Creek and Agency Creek near Salmon ID. When she was 12, she and several other girls were kidnapped by a group of Hidatsa and were taken as captives to a Hidatsa village near present-day Washburn ND. At age 13, Sakakawea was taken as a wife by Charbonneau. Charbonneau also had taken another young Shoshone, Otter Woman, as his wife. Charbonneau reportedly either won while gambling or purchased both wives from the Hidatsa.
Sakakawea, which has numerous spelling variations and translates to “Bird Woman,” was pregnant with her first child when the Corps of Discovery arrived near the Hidatsa villages to spend the winter of 1804–05. After Captains Meriwether Lewis and William
Some Of the Art Is Three-Dimensional
North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center – Washburn ND
Clark had built Fort Mandan, they interviewed several trappers who might be able to interpret or guide the expedition up the Missouri River come springtime. When they discovered Charbonneau’s wife spoke Shoshone, they agreed to hire her as an interpreter because they knew they would need the help of the Shoshone tribes at the headwaters of the Missouri.
In April 1805, the expedition left Fort Mandan and headed up the Missouri River in pirogues. Sakakawea, with her newborn son in tow, was with them. On May 14, 1805, when one of the pirogues capsized, Sakakawea rescued items that had fallen out of the capsized boat, including the journals and records of the expedition. Lewis and Clark praised her quick action and named the Sacagawea River in her honor. By August 1805, the Corps had located a Shoshone tribe and was attempting to trade for horses to cross the Rocky Mountains. They used Sakakawea to interpret and, interestingly, discovered that the tribe's chief, Cameahwait, was her brother. Sakakawea traveled with the Corps between 1804 and 1806, accompanied it from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean and back, established cultural contacts with Native populations and helped achieve the Corp’s objectives during
its exploration of that portion of the Louisiana Purchase. Other areas the Interpretive Center examines include camp health, blacksmithing (and the creation of or the repair of expedition equipment) and the return of the keelboat to Saint Louis; and provides the visitor an abridged chronology of the expedition.
I headed down the road a spell to the recreation of Fort Mandan
. The precise location of the fort is not known for certain and, since the time of the Corps of Discovery, the Missouri River has slowly eroded the bank and shifted course to the east. The original site is now believed to be under the waters of the dynamic, ever-changing Missouri River. The men of the Corps of Discovery started the fort on November 2, 1804 and wintered there until April 7, 1805. The Corps spent much of its time during the winter preparing for its travel in the spring – repairing equipment, making clothing and processing dried meats and vegetables.
Not knowing if they would survive the journey, Lewis and Clark used the winter to compile their descriptions of the tributaries of the Missouri River, their observations about the Native nations they had encountered and compiled their descriptions
An Artist’s Representation Of Mandan Village
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site - Stanton ND
of the plant and mineral specimens they had collected into a manuscript they called the Mandan Miscellany. In the spring, when the keelboat returned to Saint Louis, the captains sent a copy of the Mandan Miscellany to government officials. When the Corps passed through the area on their return journey in August 1806, they found the fort had burnt to the ground for some unknown reason. Again, I lucked out and had a one-on-one tour of the fort with a very knowledgeable guide.
On the way to Stanton ND from Fort Mandan, I made an impromptu stop at Fort Clark State Historic Site
. As soon as I arrived, I remembered what it hadn’t made my agenda – there’s nothing there except walking paths and protected archeological sites. I resumed my journey to the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
in Stanton. In general, three villages occupied the area known as the Hidatsa villages – Awatixa Xi’e (lower Hidatsa village), Awatixa and Big Hidatsa village. The area was a major trading and agricultural area, and one of the villages was home to Sakakawea before her marriage to Toussaint Charbonneau. I learned that, since war parties did not allow women and children to accompany them, the presence of Sakakawea and
A Replica Of An Earth-Covered Lodge
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site - Stanton ND
her son on the expedition caused the Natives to see the Corps as nonthreatening and was crucial to the safety of Lewis and Clark and their party.
The Knife River Villages served as an important major central trading and agricultural area. The Native Americans served as middlemen in a trading business that largely consisted of furs, guns and metals. The Knife River Villages thrived until 1837, when a series of smallpox outbreaks nearly wiped out the population. The two Mandan villages that had been in contact with Lewis and Clark experienced the most serious effects of the virus. The smallpox outbreak lasted from 1804–05 and, out of 1,600 villagers, only 31 survived. Another smallpox outbreak of 1837–40 had a 90% death rate among the infected. The smallpox epidemics were spread, largely, through the trading business, and, despite warnings of outbreaks, Natives still visited the trading posts and exposed themselves to the virus. Once the infected Mandan villages were empty, neighboring villages would raid the village and carry back the virus via blankets, horses and household tools.
At the Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site, there are the visible sign of the remains of the earth-lodge dwellings and
A Cross Section Of A Cache Pit
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site - Stanton ND
cache pits. The dwellings were as large as 40 feet in diameter, and many were once large enough to house up to 20 families, a few horses and some dogs. As the dwellings were abandoned, the walls and roofs collapsed and created visible outer circular rims. The visitor center has an interesting introductory video and plaques detailing Hidatsa agriculture, life in the villages during the different seasons, food preservation and leisure activities.
The three attractions are synergistic – the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center provides the information that gives meaning to Fort Mandan while the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site provides a view of the same subject through a different pair of glasses. Visiting the three attractions makes a nice day trip but is not an easy “while we’re here” add-on – ya gotta wanna; however, all three are worth the effort if you have an interest and the time. If I were forced to choose between Washburn (the first two attractions) and Stanton, there is no question that I would select Washburn.
I had a nice time in Bismarck. The North Dakota Heritage Center is one of the best state museums I have seen, and
A Replica Of A Cache Pit
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site - Stanton ND
the capitol is anything but a carbon copy of some other statehouse. The city and the countryside are clean and easy to navigate, the people are friendly and the attractions reveal an interesting saga. I do have plans to someday make a trek across the northern part of the state on US 2 and to revisit Theodore Roosevelt National Park which I haven’t seen in oh, so many years. Time to head south!
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