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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!

Mastodon Repair

Museum staff often have to walk a fine line when it comes to displays. Sometimes we get it right, and other times a little modification may be needed. If barriers are put up (such as Plexiglass, metal railings, etc.), some people feel offended or think that we’re trying to keep them away from the object on display. However, if we have no barriers, sometimes people get a little…too…up close with the artifact or specimen.

One of our first priorities is to keep the object on display safe. Without them, there is no museum! A gallery filled with photographs of fossils isn’t the same as seeing the real thing. Safe for the fossil? Yes. Good for museum patrons? Not so much. Another priority is to keep our museum visitors safe. For the most part in this state, we see a good dose of “North Dakota Nice,” which helps us keep our barriers to a minimum and objects close for viewing. There is the occasional mishap however.

Mastodon repair wrapped up with bandaid sticker on it

Plastic shrink-wrap and a touch of humor to hold the bones in place while the glue dries.

Someone trips over untied shoelaces, and bumps into a painting. Perhaps you wish to show everyone where you are, and during a selfie opportunity lean too far back, knocking into a display case. Or maybe an over-exuberant child who has escaped the watchful eye of parents runs into the leg of a Mastodon.

Becky Barnes lying down to paint the mastodon repair.

Not all repairs are conveniently placed! Becky touching up some spots of plaster with brown paint.

This last case did happen. No one was hurt, but the Mastodon legs did suffer some…dislocation. So what happened then? We fixed it. After making sure the bone was still in good condition, we looked for what went wrong with the display mount and how to counter the problem in the future. The radius (lower arm bone) was previously only glued into place. To repair it the bone was first cleaned, then we re-glued the bone and added some wire support. The wire was painted brown to match the bone and make it less distracting than shiny silver. To give the bone a little extra support while the glue was drying, we added a temporary layer of shrink-wrap.

Becky painting the mastodon repair

Becky concentrating on painting the newly installed silver wire.

The physical railing around the Mastodon is very low, so it doesn’t distract from the skeleton itself. There’s not a whole lot of modification that can be done on that aspect. So – can people touch it? Even though the physical opportunity is there, the museum staff sincerely hopes you will use photo opportunities, rather than tactile ones. Help keep our museum safe – safe for you and safe for the specimens and artifacts – and enjoy North Dakota’s history!

Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure

One of my favorite heritage tourism programs is coming up very soon: Heritage Outbound! The Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure, an annual day of activities and learning at Fort Clark State Historic Site, will be on February 11, 2017. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with this outreach program for nearly 15 years, and it’s always been a great experience!

Playing flute in earthlodge

Allen Demaray plays traditional flute music in the earthlodge at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site during the 2016 Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure. Image courtesy of Brooke Morgan.

We help participants focus on the history and culture of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara peoples at the confluence of the Knife and Missouri rivers. The State Historical Society of North Dakota has once again partnered for this year’s event with the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, the Knife River Indian Heritage Foundation, and the North Dakota Archaeological Association.

It’s been fun to watch the Heritage Outbound program evolve over the years. The program got its start in the period leading up to the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial of 2004-2006 (remember those two guys?), with Heritage Outbound starting as a multi-day affair offered during the winter and summer seasons. The winter program introduced participants to seasonal activities like snowshoeing and winter camping in below-freezing weather. My friend, Calvin, had remembered to bring a bison hide to keep warm the one year when we winter-camped at the historic Lower Hidatsa earthlodge village, but I had to make do with two sleeping bags! The Heritage Outbound summer program focused on the Missouri River as a transportation corridor, and we put the participants into expedition canoes. We camped overnight in a wonderful camp by the river, holding educational programs and sharing traditional stories under the summer stars.

Pointing out locations of Fort Clark fur trade post

State Historical Society of North Dakota Curator of Education Erik Holland points out the locations of Fort Clark fur trade post and Mih-Tutta-Hang-Kush earthlodge village to Heritage Outbound participants – February 2016. Image courtesy of Doug Wurtz.

This year’s adventure will begin with a morning snowshoe hike at Fort Clark State Historic Site. The site is the location of the historic Mandan earthlodge village of Mih-Tutta-Hang-Kush .  The village was later occupied by the Arikara people, and an important fur-trade era post was established there during that time. During our site visit we’ll discuss archaeological investigations recently conducted at Fort Clark by the State Historical Society and the PaleoCultural Research Group.

Walking through trees

Heritage Outbound participants enjoy a pleasant (snow-free) walk on the Two Rivers Trail near the Big Hidatsa earthlodge village in Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site – February 2016. Image courtesy of Doug Wurtz.

After lunch, we’ll learn about the lifeways of the Hidatsa peoples. We’ll be hiking and learning as we explore the Lower Hidatsa and Sakakawea villages, two important earthlodge villages located in Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. Outdoor activities like fire-starting, using atlatls to throw darts (always a fun time) and other traditional winter games keep the afternoon lively and fun. We’ll also be joined during this year’s activities by living history presenters Chris Floyd and Terry Madden of The American Mountain Men.

Demonstrating flint and steel fire-starting

SHSND Curator of Education Erik Holland demonstrates flint and steel fire-starting during the 2016 Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure. Image courtesy of Brooke Morgan.

Atlatl dart throwing

2016 Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure participant Brooke Morgan demonstrates the proper form used in atlatl dart throwing. Note the reconstructed earthlodge at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site visible in the background. Image courtesy of Doug Wurtz.

Atlatl target practice

2016 Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure atlatl target practice. Image courtesy of Brooke Morgan.

The day-long program concludes with a traditional meal, story-telling, and songs around a warm fire in the recreated earthlodge at Knife River. We’ll be joined this year by the Baker-Demaray family of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation. The evening activities in the earthlodge are among my favorite. The warmth of shared experience and camaraderie among new friends around the fire in the earthlodge all make for a magical conclusion to a great day.

If you’re interested in registering for this year’s Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure on February 11, please register at heritageoutbound2017.eventbrite.com.

Baker-Demaray family and Amy Mossett

The Baker-Demaray family and Amy Mossett of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation gather in the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site visitor center at the conclusion of the 2016 Heritage Outbound Winter Adventure. Image courtesy of Brooke Morgan.