Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Trip to Fort Buford and Back, a Photo Essay

"A village of the Hidatsa tribe at Knife River," by George Catlin.My Trip to Fort Buford and Back
A Photo Essay, Part 1
By Dakota Wind
Hi!  So, I was invited to the 130th Anniversary of Sitting Bull's return from Canada at Fort Buford, a North Dakota State Historic Site. On my way up I thought that I'd stop at some sites along the way. I left my home north of Mandan and crossed the interstate bridge (I had to stop by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and drop off some really important stuff) then I headed north on HWY 85 to Washburn. I wanted to check out Fort Mandan, but the fort was dangerously close to sitting smack in the Missouri - due the flood. The Cottonwood Giftshop was surrounded by an earthen ditch and sandbags. I didn't want to show a North Dakota site when its in such a sad state so I took no pictures. Sorry.  If you don't know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 and you're American, shame on you and go look it up - however, if you're a foreigner, I can forgive you. The Lakota stole an iron-shod pony from the Corps of Discovery in February 1805 at Fort Mandan, then burned down an old Mandan Indian village to prevent the Corps from mounting chase. 

My first stop on the way to Fort Buford was at Fort Mandan up in Washburn, ND. All the Indians (as if there's a whole bunch of them up there - there's only one) on staff up there were gone. 

So, being that I didn't want to take any pictures of the reconstructed Fort Mandan as it was nearly surrounded by water, I crossed the bridge there in Washburn and made my way to Fort Clark. 

I took the bridge in Washburn across the Missouri River to Fort Clark. 

At Fort Clark, a prominent American Fur Trade Post in the 1820s and 1830s, I stopped to admire the majesty of the Missouri River. The site itself doesn't offer much other than shade and outhouses. Back in the 1830s, a smallpox epidemic struck the Mandan living at the fort and nearly wiped them all out, by 1838, there were maybe only 500 Mandan Indians left. The saddest story I heard about the fort was about a mother who had just given birth. The mother died of smallpox, they wrapped her and her baby up, thinking the baby died as well, and buried them outside the fort. For a day, the people around the fort nearly went mad because they could all hear a baby crying and none could remember where the baby and mother were buried. I was moved to tears the first time I heard this from Amy Mossett, a Mandan Indian from the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. 

An interpretive sign summing up the activity at the site, and the smallpox epidemic.

If you could see it from above, you'd see depressions of where earthlodges used to be, and outlines of the fort's buildings, including a rectangular ceremonial lodge about 65' x 120', about twice the size the biggest earthlodge at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. 

This lone building provides a modest shelter in inclement weather. There's also a log for visitors to sign in, but the size of the building only adds to the solitude of the site. 

From Fort Clark, I went up to Knife River, only a ten minute drive away. I sometimes like to measure my trips by how many songs I can get there in, and this one was about the length of Def Leppard's "Rocket (Extended Atomic Mix)" which is about ten minutes. 

Knife River Indian Villages is designated a National Historic Site. Behind the building and bushes is the site of three Hidatsa Indian villages and a late woodlands linear mound. I used to work here as an Interpretive Ranger. 

The main entrance of the visitor center at Knife River. The main foyer of the building is designed on the ground flood plan of an earthlodge. A roof window lets in natural light as the smoke whole in an earthlodge would too. 

Here's a Hidatsa Indian earthlodge. The entrance faces east, towards the rising sun. An earthlodge typically only lasts about a dozen years due to the wood decaying, but with a cement ring and treated lumber this earthlodge has been standing over twenty years and looks great.

The Hidatsa Indians were an agricultural society. Here is a garden, but due to the odd weather this year in North Dakota, the planting of corn, squash, and beans was put on hold, and tobacco was planted. You can see that it is flourishing with this year's unseasonably wet weather. The Hidatsa would even put up scarecrows too. 

A replica of Four Bears' robe. Four Bears was the last war chief of the Mandan Indians. Even though this rests in a Hidatsa earthlodge, it looks at home. 

Parfleche boxes hang from the ceiling.  I disk is suspended on the leather ties above the parfleche, so that if rodents tried to get at whatever may be in the parfleche (maybe food) they'd slip and fall to the ground. 

Two examples of horse saddles and robe hang on the posts near the entrance of the lodge. The idea that Mandans or Hidatsas bringing their horses into the earthlodge is debated today.  I think they brought their horses in after the 1781 epidemic of smallpox, because there was so few to protect their horses from theft, certainly by Karl Bodmer's and George Catlin's time they did (the 1830s). The low rise and light weight Plains Indian saddles were the basis for General George McClellan's saddle the US Cavalry used in the the latter half of the 1800s. 

Mandan and Hidatsa women produced pottery. Here's a reproduction. 

A bunch of stuff sits on a cattail mat.  I nearly helped myself to that beaded knife sheath. 

A catlinite pipe and stem among other implements (including a wing fan) sit at rest here in the place of honor. The Hidatsa call this spot the Ituka. I nearly took that pipe too, because I'm sure that the Mandan and Hidatsa would want me to have it. 

A bed made of bison robes and elk skins.  A buckskin pillow stuffed with bison hair completes this bed set.

An anvil stone. If one were to look closely and carefully around this stone, one would find flint chips and flakes. The stone has several grooves in the top of it. Its glacial granite from the Canadian Rockies. It was used for nearly ten thousand years to make flint arrowheads, knifes, hatchets, and other tools. 

This is the Sakakawea Site where the Corps of Discovery first encountered Sakakawea.  Natural grasses and flowers were reintroduced to the site back in 2006.  The earthlodge depressions are mowed regularly so that visitors may clearly see where the village used to be.  Jean-Baptiste Charboneau was born here in 1805. 

From Knife River Indian Villages near Stanton, ND, I drove to Dunn Center, or to privately owned land near Dunn Center to pay a visit to the ancient Knife River flint quarry. 

On top of this bluffline is the ancient Knife River flint quarry. Flint was quarried here for about ten thousand years and traded across the North American continent. It is a form of silicon, hard pressed over the ages of the world, and actually began as a plant. This quarry is on private property near the community of Dunn Center, ND. 

From the flint quarry, I took off to Williston State Collge.  I made it with ten minutes to spare for the social and unveiling of the Sitting Bull statue.  I'll post those pictures and my time at Fort Union and Fort Buford next.