Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Trip to Fort Buford and Back, a Photo Essay Part 2

The new Sitting Bull statue is unveiled at Williston State College.
My Trip to Fort Buford and Back
Photo Essay Part 2
By Dakota Wind
WILLISTON, N.D. - Williston State College wants to challenge and change the sense of place that the community of Williston has of it. The campus has what this writer could only describe as an industrial look to it. The architecture of the campus is heavy on brick, concrete, and pavement. Some locals have taken to calling it “Walmart.”

On July 15, 2011, Williston State College unveiled the Sitting Bull statue to commemorate the 130th anniversary of Sitting Bull’s return to the United States. Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa, or at least the Hunkpapa who followed him, numbered about 200 at Fort Walsh across the border. Sitting Bull actually returned to Fort Buford on July 18, 1881, just over five years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  

Michael Westergard created the bronze Sitting Bull statue which now stands at Williston State College. At the base is the speech which Sitting Bull was said to give as he handed his gun to Crow Foot, who in turn turned it over to commanding officer of Fort Buford. The speech is also in Lakota. Did Sitting Bull Surrender? On Standing Rock, where the Hunkpapa Lakota reside, some interpret the event as an exchange of one lifestyle that of the nomadic hunter-gatherer for that of a sedentary one.

Kevin Locke performed the hoop dance and some flute playing. Locke rendered White Cloud’s “The Indian Prayer” and an American Indian version of the 23rd Psalm in Plains Indian sign and gesture. I did not take pictures of Locke demonstrating the prayers.

Ernie LaPoint, great-grandson and direct lineal descendant of Sitting Bull, offered some words to the community of Williston and all present about his famous ancestor. He is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota on the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. LaPoint articulated his ill feelings about the people of Standing Rock to the people in attendance. I don’t know if LaPoint has ever met with the nearly 16,000 enrolled members living on and off the reservation. One can read LaPoint’s thoughts of Standing Rock by reviewing his book "Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy."

This writer isn’t trying to cut down the works or teachings of LaPoint. Far from it. LaPoint is seemingly a good man possessed of great humor and quick wit. This writer wants you, reader, to be aware that Standing Rock has good people too and is a great place to live and visit. There might not be lineal descendants of Sitting Bull on Standing Rock, but Sitting Bull’s own band are still there, the Hunkpapa Lakota (some are also on the Fort Peck Sioux Indian Reservation).

From Williston State College this writer went to Fort Union. The above picture is the view across the river much the same as Karl Bodmer knew it back it in the 1830s.  

Picture of Fort Union from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 1868.

It was once an American Fur Trade company outpost from 1828 to 1867. The Hunkpapa Lakota attacked this fort several times in the 1860s. The fort itself was a rendezvous for several tribes like the Crow, Hidatsa, Arikara, Mandan, Chippewa, Blackfeet, and the Dakota/Lakota.

Last summer, June 2010, this writer asked the ranger on duty in this room, the reception area for trade, for my allotment, to which he said after a stunned moment, “We don’t do that anymore.” 

Mr. Loren Yellow Bird was gracious enough to take a picture with this writer outside the commanding officer’s quarters within Fort Union. The walls were intended to keep out Indians, but now an Indian serves as superintendant of the site. Mr. Yellow Bird brings understanding of cultural and historical context to this national historic site.  

Fort Union along the Upper Missouri River seen today much as it would have been seen in the mid nineteenth century. The fort is inside North Dakota but the drive and parking lot are in Montana.  

A couple of miles east of Fort Union is Fort Buford, a North Dakota state historic site. It was in operation from 1866 to 1895 when the US Army abandoned it. The fort was established as a camp in mid 1866 and was attacked almost daily until the late fall. The Lakota saw the forts along the Missouri as representative of invasion. Fort Buford is where Sitting Bull exchanged one lifestyle for another (generally regarded as a surrender) in July 1881.  

The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center. If ever you, dear reader, get a chance to visit the northwest corner of North Dakota, take in this center. A museum is inside and the trails there offer beautiful riverfront walks. The staff are friendly and offer tours of Fort Buford.  

The North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


Another view from the other side of the Little Missouri River valley at the North Unit.

On my way home, I stopped by the Killdeer Battle site, a North Dakota state historic site. The signage says “Tachawakute (The Place Where They Kill Deer),” and far be it from this writer to disagree with interpretive signage, and though this writer has often heard it called “Killdeer,” it might be more correct to interpret the name as The Place Where They Hunt Deer, or in Lakota “Tahċa Wakutėpi.”  

Carl Ludwig Boeckmann painted this scene of Killdeer entirely from memory. The depiction of the landscape is surprisingly accurate. Look for similarities between this image and the following pictures.  

This is the east side of the Killdeer plateau. This writer parked and hiked and climbed the east embankment and walls to reach Medicine Hole, where the Dakota and Lakota say that some of them escaped the military by crawling through the tunnels. This author arrived as the sun was setting. A lonely coyote sung in the hills somewhere, dragonflies buzzed and kept the mosquitoes to a minimum. A slight breeze caused the leaves and branches to “shush.” It would have been an entirely peaceful visit if this author wasn’t aware of the gunfight that happened here in 1863.  

Medicine Hole.

A view from Medicine Hole at the top of the Killdeer plateau to the southwest.

A view from Medicine Hole (bottom foreground) to the sunset west-north-westerly.  

A view of the Killdeer plateau from the southeast facing northwest as the sun sank behind the geophysical feature.

A hawk flew into frame as this writer caught one more picture of the Killdeer site from the southeast looking northwest.