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North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

Danielle Stuckle's blog

History Odysseys: Connecting with Places Where Interesting Things Happened

We all have moments in our lives that, when we look back, seem to define something important about us. One of mine took place on a hot summer day when I was in grade school. I was standing in the basement of the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. I remember my mom arguing with the librarian over how many books I could take home. It was the beginning of summer vacation, and we had placed two big stacks of Nancy Drew books on the checkout counter. Despite my mother’s assurances, the librarian was not convinced I could read all of those books in just two weeks. The librarian finally caved when she realized we lived on a farm. The library had a policy to extend book loans to a month for farm families. I was tickled to take my bag full of books out to the car, and before we got home, I was deep into The Secret of the Old Clock. A week later my mom was pretty tickled to return to the library to exchange my pile of books for a new stack.

Aisle full of books in a library

My favorite place to be--a library. Credit: Glen Noble on Unsplash.

Having learned this story about me, it probably won’t surprise you at all that I eagerly said yes when I was asked to help this same library with a new exhibit about Louis L’Amour. L’Amour, who spent his formative years in Jamestown, wrote about how influential the Alfred Dicky Library was to him as a kid. He credited the library with helping to shape his unconventional education. It was an education that led a high school dropout to become a bestselling author. Freshly renovated, the library is putting together a small exhibit about L’Amour’s years in Jamestown. More than two decades after his death, he is still a popular author. People often come through town looking for more of his personal story.

Exterior view of the Alfred Dickey Library

The Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Warren Abrahamson (NewsDakota.com).

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the library again and see the space where the planned exhibit will be installed. Walking up the flight of stairs into the library, seeing that beautiful stained glass, and smelling the library smell of my childhood brought a lot of memories flooding back for me. It’s moments like these that I remember how important the actual physical, tangible space of a place can be. You can read about a place in a book, but nothing can replace that experience of making a pilgrimage to that particular place. Smelling the smells. Hearing the sounds. Experiencing firsthand the scale of the space. This is an amazing experience that helps you better understand what really happen in a particular spot, at a particular time.

Contractors working in the Louis L'Amour Reading Room

Contractors finish work in the Louis L’Amour Reading Room at the Alfred Dickey Library in Jamestown, ND. Credit: Friends of the James River Valley Library System

Part of experiencing history, really getting into it, letting it seep into your pores and your imagination, is to make these pilgrimages, these odysseys, to the actual place where something interesting happened. The State Historical Society of North Dakota manages more than 50 museums and historic sites across the state where history really happened. Where will your journey take you?

Do Indians Still Live in Tipis? (and How to Find Answers to Other Questions about Native American Culture)

Working in the Communication & Education Division here at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, I find that a lot of people are looking for sources to learn more about Native American culture and history. However, they often aren’t sure where to start. People are really interested in this part of our state’s story, but often didn’t learn much, if anything, in school. Not that they remember anyway. I like to direct them to the Essential Understandings.

North Dakota Native American Essential Understandings

A graphic rendering of the Essential Understandings found at teachingsofourelders.org.

This is a relatively new resource from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction available through teachingsofourelders.org. This website makes videos and other information available to classrooms across the state. The videos feature elders from each of the reservations in North Dakota being interviewed about tribal traditions, stories, and history. The site also has lesson plans developed and vetted in conjunction with the tribes. The Essential Understandings identify the primary themes that tribes and educators want to make sure to convey to all K-12 students. The idea is to make Native American curriculum integrated into all subjects taught in school from math to music to science and history.

There are also great resources through the North Dakota Studies website where a person of any age or ability can begin to learn about the Native American tribes historically associated with what is now the state of North Dakota. The fourth grade unit for ND Studies is available at ndstudies.gov/gr4/american-indians-north-dakota. The eighth grade curriculum at ndstudies.gov/gr8 is also full of opportunities to learn about thousands of years of North Dakota history, up to the present day. There are also four digitized books covering each tribe that has a reservation based in North Dakota at ndstudies.gov/nd_indian_studies. These are all fantastic resources available free online through ND Studies at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

American Indians of North Dakota book cover

The fourth grade unit on American Indians of North Dakota.

For learners with a more academic interest, the History of North Dakota by Elwyn Robinson is also available free online through the University of North Dakota at commons.und.edu/oers/1. Robinson is thought by many who study North Dakota to be one of the most influential scholars to tackle our state’s history. His interpretation continues to have a huge impact on how we think about the history and culture of North Dakota.

Métis case containing quilt, saddle, and clothing

A display about Métis culture in the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples at the ND Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck

We also like to encourage visitors to come and experience the exhibits and programs at the 57 historic sites and museums managed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, sites at a number of state parks, national parks, and the reservations themselves. The United Tribes International Powwow, held annually the first weekend after Labor Day in Bismarck, is an excellent opportunity to learn about the culture and history of tribes from around the country.