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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Hiddenwood #2: A One-Room Schoolhouse in North Dakota

It was a morning of total frustration. I couldn’t read the caption beneath the photo in a seventh-grade geography book.

In hindsight, the reason is clear. I was six years old, a first grader at Hiddenwood School #2, and l hadn't yet learned to read. The photograph I was puzzling over was of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. The “big kids” were reading the geography text; I was stuck with Fun with Dick and Jane.

old photo of teacher ad students

Teacher and students in a one-room country school (SHSND 0032-BK-05-07)

I was reminded of this experience during a recent visit to the Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. Next to the Nancy Hendrickson house is a photograph of a teacher and her nine students in a one-room country school. A date on the blackboard reads “October 20, 1910.”

One-room country schools were still prevalent in North Dakota in the mid-1950s. It is estimated 3,795 of these school buildings existed in 1955; 2,355 of those were actually in session.1 I attended the one-room Hiddenwood School #2. Hiddenwood #1 was three miles north; #3 was three miles south.

Even though I attended a one-room school decades later, my memories of Hiddenwood #2 are exactly as pictured in the 1910 photograph: the chalkboard (ours was green); the wooden desks; the stern, no-nonsense teacher; the self-conscious students; and the stack of books.

Even the number of students is the same: two of us in first grade, two in seventh grade, and one each in the grades between. The ratio of boys to girls was different, though; we only had one girl, Sylvia, who was in fifth grade. The rest were boys from farms as far as 2.5 miles away.

photo of Washington, Sir Salahad, and Regulator clock

Washington, Sir Galahad, and "Regulator" clock

Nine wooden desks faced the front of the room. On the wall over the chalkboard was the wooden Regulator clock that our teacher wound every morning. On either side of the clock were two pictures: Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington on the right, George Frederick Watts’ Sir Galahad on the left. The meaning of the Stuart picture was evident. We weren’t so sure about the Sir Galahad picture.

Recent research in the State Archives revealed the reason for Sir Galahad’s placement next to the clock:

In any event the teacher should decree that nothing but beautiful things shall be hung upon the walls. Better bare walls than debased or debasing art; better nothing in the way of decoration than decoration which is worse than nothing. The following list may prove useful to the country teacher who wishes to be able to name one desirable work of art…2

The list included Watts’ Sir Galahad.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I grew up in a slower, simpler time. I described my boyhood as one that could have taken place in the mythical community of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. This simple country school was a big part of the mystique, and there was no “debasing” art in it.

I remember the smell of the green sweeping compound scattered and then swept up before leaving for the weekend, the long walk to school every day (460 feet, door to door), and the house flies we imprisoned in the ink wells on our desks.

My most vivid memory is of the McLean County bookmobile that stopped at our school once a month. We were each limited to borrowing 10 books per visit. We had read and reread the books in our country school library, many of them missing covers and pages. The traveling bookmobile opened up a world that satisfied my curiosity about Mount Rushmore and introduced me to many other wonders.

Hiddenwood #2

Hiddenwood #2

I was frustrated to read the 2014 news story of the burning of the old schoolhouse. The building was beyond repair and was becoming an eyesore. I was content, though, to be able to read the story of its end, an ability I owe to my five formative years at Hiddenwood #2. While we can’t go back in time, I’m delighted to be able to use the State Archives to research information, find photos, and learn more about my childhood school.

1 Warren A. Henke and Everett C. Albers, The Legacy of North Dakota’s Country Schools (North Dakota Humanities Council, 1998), v.
2 O.J. Kern, Among Country Schools (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1906), 102.

Adventures in North Dakota Archaeology Collections: Amazing Things from Old Boxes

Sometimes amazing things come in old boxes. Unfortunately, those old boxes are not usually archival to best preserve the items inside. As I have been re-housing some of our older collections, I have come across so many amazing things and want to share them with you!

This summer our volunteers in the archaeology lab helped the staff process artifacts owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This involved repackaging artifacts in archival materials, cataloging and labeling artifacts, and archiving paper records and photos. These collections are from sites in North Dakota located on federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife lands.

Some of the pottery sherds in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife collection from Sargent County are net impressed. This means that the potter used a net to finish the outer surface of the vessel. If you look closely, you can see impressions of the knots and diamond-shape pattern made by cords on the sherds. This is not something we see every day, so it was very exciting when Fern Swenson, our division director (and a ceramicist) confirmed that these were indeed impressed with a net!

net impressed sherds

Net impressed sherds from site 32SA211 (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Collection, 2015A.30.1370, 2015A.30.1210, 2015A.30.1207, 2015A.30.1206, 2015A.30.1191)

We also cataloged two barbed fishing spears from the Irvin Nelson site (32BE208) near Devils Lake in Benson County. These are likely made out of bison bone and are the first that I have seen. But as I would find out a few weeks later, these aren’t the only fishing spear tips in North Dakota’s archaeology collections.

While going through a box that was part of an older, privately donated collection, I was excited to find another bone fishing spear tip! This tip is from a site in Burleigh County.

three bone barbed fishing spear tips

Bone barbed fishing spear tips from 32BE208--left and center (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Collection, 2015A.19.21, 2015A.30.20) and 32BL4--far right (SHSND A&HP, 1739)

Another item in the same box worth mentioning is a tchung-kee stone made out of a rock that has been pecked and ground into a smooth doughnut shape. It was broken in half at some point in the past, but the pieces still refit together.

tchung-kee stone

Tchung-kee stone (SHSND A&HP 1736)

These stones were used to play a competitive game of skill. You can see artist George Catlin’s 1832 painting of Mandan people playing tchung-kee at americanart.si.edu/artwork/tchung-kee-mandan-game-played-ring-and-pole-4407. The next time you visit the North Dakota Heritage Center & Museum, take a look at a scene based on Catlin’s painting in the cyclorama of Double Ditch village in the Innovation: Early Peoples Gallery.

illustration of people playing tchung-kee

Illustration of people playing tchung-kee at Double Ditch Village (SHSND, original art by Rob Evans)

Speaking of Double Ditch, I also came across two unique artifacts from that site. This projectile point with notched edges is very thin and skillfully made.

projectile point with notched edges

Projectile point with notched edges from Double Ditch Village (32BL8) (SHSND A&HP, 4607)

Another artifact is this ceramic effigy node—an animal-shaped piece of clay that was part of a pottery rim. The rim sherd is also cord-impressed--a cord or thin rope was pressed into the wet clay to make a pattern or design.

animal effigy node on a pottery sherd

Two views of the animal effigy node on a pottery sherd from Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site (32BL8) (SHSND A&HP, 4488)

The last old box that I inventoried contained a shell pendant. North Dakota’s Chief Archaeologist Paul Picha identified it as a “money cowrie” shell (Monetaria moneta), which likely came from Africa. These were used as trade goods during the 18th century fur trade.

money cowrie shell pendant

A “money cowrie” shell pendant from 32MO29 (SHSND A&HP 13629.X)

This week has been the week of atlatl weights (and that is not something most archaeologists get to say). In the same collection as the shell pendant, I found an atlatl weight. These are beautifully made, but not very common– they usually trump anything else on our “Find of the Day” board in the lab. Yesterday, a volunteer who is helping re-house a privately donated collection found the second atlatl weight of that week.

Find of the Day - Steve's Atlatl Weight! written on a whiteboard

The “Find of the Day” board in the archaeology lab is a fun way to find outwhat interesting things have been seen in the lab recently. If you ever are on a tour of the archaeology lab, be sure to notice what is listed on the board.I If the artifact is still in the lab, we will be happy to show it to you! (SHSND)

Two atlatl weights

Atlatl weights, the bottom weight is from 32MO29 (SHSND A&HP 13629.Z), the top weight is from 32MO37 (SHSND A&HP 1986.226.7595)

Atlatls were used to launch darts in North Dakota before the bow and arrow--from Paleoindian times through the Woodland Period. Weights were attached to atlatls to provide additional stability and balance.

illustration of hunter preparing to throw a dart using an atlatl

This hunter is preparing to throw his dart by fitting it to his atlatl. A stone weight is attached to this atlatl with a sinew cord (SHSND, illustration by Meagan Schoenfelder)

We have hundreds of boxes to re-house over the next few years, so I will share more with you from my expeditions to our collections storage rooms!