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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!

Guest Blogger's blog

Developing Curricula about Japanese American Internment

A colleague at the ND Heritage Center recently recommended author Ross Coen’s Fu Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America, describing the relatively obscure World War II story of unmanned paper balloons flown from Japan to North America using only high-level atmospheric currents-- the jet stream-- as propellants. The ultimate goal of these balloon flights was to ignite forest fires across Western America and Canada that would create terror and divert potential military personnel to homeland firefighting.

Before hearing of this book, I knew nothing of this action. As I read it, I became more fascinated with little-known stories related to people of Japanese descent and their involvement (or not) in wartime activity.

Little did I know that this book would soon lead me to another little-known story of World War II, namely Japanese American internment. As I was finishing Fu Go a few months ago, I received a call from Dennis Neumann, public information director at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC). Dennis requested that I become involved in a project being organized by the National Japanese American Historical Society to develop a high school curriculum related to Japanese internment in America during World War II.

Guard Tower

00996-00002 Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

The National Japanese American Historical Society was forming a team to investigate national resources including historic places, stories, images, and other archival material in the visioning process for “Untold Stories: The Department of Justice Internment Teacher Education Project.” Few people realize that many Japanese American people were interned at a camp in Bismarck, North Dakota, during the war. This camp, called Fort Lincoln Internment Camp, was located on land that is now the site of UTTC’s campus, and some of those internment camp buildings remain.

Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

00996-00002 Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

The team of invited scholars, educators, and cultural interpreters from across the country came together for three days of presentations and discussion about this interesting topic. Their team of curriculum developers helped us consider how high school students across the country would find this story relevant. We discussed historical trauma, cultural suppression, and even bullying as we explored ways this topic might support cultural healing and recovery using public discourse. At the team meeting, I shared some of our State Archives resources including photographs, newspaper articles, and a diary kept by an internee at the internment camp. You can read “Internment Diary of Toyojiro Suzuki” (translated into English) at history.nd.gov/textbook/unit6_3_intro.html.

I also shared details of how content, activities, and resources related to our North Dakota Studies eighth grade and fourth grade curriculums are delivered online.

The outcome of this project will be a high school curriculum that may be available online. There was discussion relating to developing opportunities for teachers across the country to participate in workshops, visit the sites of the internment camps, and view documentaries relating survivors’ stories and the impacts to their families.

UTTC is interested in recognizing that the impacts of government policies relating to Native Americans such as removal, relocation, and the formation of reservations have many parallels to those of Japanese Americans interned at the same physical site during WWII. It’s a fascinating beginning to a project worth exploring further.


Guest Blogger: Erik Holland

Erik HollandAs curator of education, Erik works with staff and volunteers to create, produce, and coordinate engaging experiences that help visitors make sense of North Dakota’s heritage. This history for everyone can take the form of public programs, museum and historic site visits, and classroom curricula.

History is Alive at Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site

The staff at Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site has great appreciation for history and a strong passion to teach others about the history and heritage surrounding the site. Visitors often mention that they studied history in school, but after coming to Fort Abercrombie and taking the guided tour with our staff, they can make a connection and understand what it was like to live here during the mid-19th century. As quoted by many visitors, “I feel like I am a part of history after that tour.”

That said, we do not want to be just a one-time stop. We have learned that programming needs to focus on getting people to return to the site for continuous learning and enjoyment. Our team is constantly working to provide effective programming, and those efforts have sparked a renewed interest among locals and tourists in the history of southeastern North Dakota. We are enjoying an increasing number of people who return each summer to attend events.

For example, each summer Fort Abercrombie hosts a Sunday history program, which focuses on many aspects of North Dakota history. This summer we’ll focus on the challenges of homesteading, local family history, environmental history of the Red River, and the Norwegian heritage of this area. Staff members Carole Butcher and Paul Nelson will spend countless hours researching in preparation for presentations that will allow people to make a connection to this history. Many local musicians will volunteer their talents in providing special music, and historical authors and storytellers will provide guests with entertaining and educational experiences during these programs.

We recognize that, for some people, seeing something with your own eyes can enhance your understanding of written history and create memorable learning experiences. For this reason, Fort Abercrombie hosts a Living History Weekend, as well as a Historical Authors and Crafters Weekend every summer. At this event, Michael Quade demonstrates the craft of blacksmithing in the 1860s at the fort, while Karl Schmidt demonstrates the craft of tinsmithing. These demonstrations give our visitors a way to visualize and engage with historical craftsmanship in the modern day. Visitors can also meet award- winning author Candace Simar, who has written about her family connection to Fort Abercrombie, as her great grandfather was one of the stagecoach drivers on the “Abercrombie Trail.” Historical author and storyteller Jan Smith will provide an entertaining history of real -life experiences at Fort Abercrombie and on the trail. Minnesota history educator and historical author Carrie Newman will help audiences understand different perspectives on the Dakota War. She was inspired to write the book War on the Prairie after taking a tour at Fort Abercrombie and becoming fascinated with Dakota War history. Carrie also demonstrates the craft of Civil War sewing while visiting Fort Abercrombie each summer.

The 5th Minnesota Infantry Company D Civil War re-enactment unit also plays an important role at Fort Abercrombie. The unit provides visitors with a real-life experience of what it was like to be a soldier at Fort Abercrombie and in the Civil War. History is truly alive at Fort Abercrombie. Come see for yourself at this year’s events!

May 13 Preservation North Dakota tour, 2–4 p.m.
May 27th 5th Minnesota Infantry Co. D. Training Day
May 27th Fort Abercrombie Opening Day, 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
June 4–August 13 Fort Abercrombie Sunday History Program, 2 p.m.
June 10-11 Fort Abercrombie Living History Weekend, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
July 29-30 Fort Abercrombie Historical Authors and Crafters Expo, 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
September 8 Richland School District 9-11 Program, 9:30 a.m.
September 10 North Dakota Archaeology Association Event TBA

Jessica Dickson dressed as officer's wife

Aber Days

1862 Mountain Howitzer Cannon

5th Minnesota Infantry Company D

Interpretive Center

Interpretive sign

Tinsmith tent at Living History Weekend

Blacksmith at Living History Weekend

Photo 1: 5th Minnesota Infantry Co. D Officer's Wife - reenactor - Jessica Dickson near original 1862 Guardhouse on fort grounds
Photo 2: Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site Aber Days - Paul Nelson & Mick Owen 2011
Photo 3: Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site Interpretive Center Gallery - 1862 Mountain Howitzer Cannon
Photo 4: 5th Minnesota Infantry Company D. Aber Days 2016
Photo 5: Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site Interpretive Center
Photo 6: Ghosted sites of buildings on grounds of Fort Abercrombie
Photo 7: Fort Abercrombie Living History Weekend June 2016 - Tinsmith Karl Schmidt and his wife Nadine
Photo 8: 1862 - Blacksmith Michael Quade - Living History Weekend 2016


Guest Blogger: Lenny Krueger

Lenny KruegerLenny has been employed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota for the past 6 years at Fort Abercrombie. He has enjoyed the role of site supervisor for the past 4 years. He has many roles as the site supervisor at Fort Abercrombie as the team leader, historical interpreter, custodian, store clerk, programming, publicity ,and community relations coordinator. He has the perfect summer job as site supervisor, as he is employed at Richland 44 School District as a Title I reading and math elementary teacher during the school year.