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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!

Melissa Thompson's blog

Imperfect Recent Acquisitions

Throughout the year, the State Historical Society accepts hundreds of objects into the museum collection, all with interesting stories to tell. Occasionally, we accept objects under non-ideal conditions. For instance, there may be gaps in an object’s history, or a donation arrives damaged.

In June 2018, Curator of Collections Management Jenny Yearous purchased a Native American jingle dress with military patches at a garage sale in Bismarck, North Dakota. The proprietor of the garage sale had received the jingle dress from someone at the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow in Bismarck and no longer wanted it. Unfortunately, the owner did not have any additional information, so we had to do our own investigating.

The dress is believed to have been worn by a member of the Native American Women Warriors (NAWW), a color guard of female veterans. They also perform a jingle dance, which some tribes regard as a healing rite traditionally performed by women. Founded by Mitchelene BigMan, NAWW is a nonprofit group based in Colorado. Their mission is to support U.S. veterans and their families.

Jingle dress with American flags, American Bald Eagle, and other decorations


The back of the silver bodice has a series of patches sewn onto it, including “Native American Veteran,” “Iraq Veteran,” “Operation Iraqi Freedom/Woman Veteran,” and a “Bring Home or Send Us Back POW-MIA” patch. There is also a red, white, and blue ribbon with the words “Native American” on it, and in the center a large patch with an eagle head and the words, "THE NATION WHICH FORGETS ITS DEFENDERS WILL ITSELF BE FORGOTTEN / FALLEN HEROES / IN MEMORY OF OUR TROOPS / DEFENDERS OF OUR FREEDOM."

The Museum Collections Committee decided to accept this jingle dress into the collection despite not having much history about it. We simply do not have many contemporary Native American regalia, or many female-owned items related to the military. We have only one other jingle dress, which is not military-related. Combining the lack in the existing collection with the connection to the military and women, this object has an important place in the collection, even without a complete history.

If you or someone you know may have additional information about who wore this dress, please contact Melissa Thompson at 701.328.2691 or methompson@nd.gov.

stone sculpture

broken pieces of a stone sculpture


Frances Reese donated a stone sculpture made of Colorado pink alabaster by the artist Tex Wounded Face. Wounded Face was born in Watford City, North Dakota, in 1955 and is of Mandan/Hidatsa descent. He passed away at the age of 57 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The sculpture was given to the donor’s husband, William F. Reese, when he and Wounded Face held a joint exhibit in Seattle in 1978.

The sculpture, titled The Americanization of the Native American, is the head and shoulders of a Native American with flowing hair, arms outstretched with a blanket covering the arms.

The box carrying the sculpture arrived at the North Dakota Heritage Center damaged. When unpacked from the box, the sculpture was discovered to have several pieces of rock separated from the base area. The Museum Collections Committee decided to acquire the sculpture for our collection despite its damaged condition. We do not have many pieces of contemporary Native American artwork, and the missing pieces do not distract from the overall aesthetic of the sculpture. The sculpture was placed in our collection with the hope that we would someday have the funds to repair the damage.

If you would like to donate to the collection’s conservation fund, please call 701.328.2666.

Enacting the Emergency Disaster Plan after a Storm

Near the end of June 2018, a storm with strong winds and heavy rain rolled through Bismarck. State Historical Society security received an alarm in the middle of the night for an off-site storage facility. Our security supervisor initially did not see any damage, but he went back in the morning to discover a section of the roof had blown off the building. There was significant water damage to an artifact room on the second floor. He followed protocol and immediately notified the staff members identified in our agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan to respond.

Damage from roof collapse

Part of a roof was damaged during a summer storm at the State Historical Society’s off-site storage facility. Ceiling tiles and water fell on some artifacts and some duct work for the HVAC system was destroyed.

Within a short time, Museum Division staff traveled to the storage facility to assess the situation. First power had to be turned off, since lighting fixtures were down and electrical wiring was exposed to standing water. The room was checked to make sure nothing overhead could fall and harm staff. The next step was to remove debris and wet artifacts from the room. As each artifact was moved to a different part of the building, water was blotted from the artifacts. Items were placed on newsprint near fans to dry quickly in order to prevent mold growth and further damage. A few upholstered pieces were packed with newsprint to help absorb water. Squeegees helped to remove standing water on the floor. Wet ceiling tiles and insulation were removed and thrown away. There was not enough extra space to move all artifacts from the damaged room, so plastic sheeting was put up to protect the remaining artifacts.

Artifacts set out to dry

Artifacts were placed on newsprint to dry. All of the crevices were packed with newsprint to draw out the moisture.

Inventorying artifacts

Staff members Len Thorson and Mark Halvorson inventoried the items being removed from the damaged room. Temporary locations were updated in the database for the displaced artifacts.

The damaged roof was salvageable as a temporary fix. It was secured until a new roof can replace it this fall. Administration staff arranged for a dumpster for debris and contacted insurance company adjusters, roofing contractors to examine the damage, and a heating and cooling company to check on a wet furnace and the destroyed ductwork. After it was deemed safe to do so, the electricity and some of the air handling units were turned on to help dry out the building.

Damage to roof

Temporary repair to roof

Before and after photos of the hole in the roof and the temporary repair.

A few days later, there was another storm with high winds and heavy rain. The plastic sheeting wall protecting the artifacts came down, and more water entered the building through the partially repaired roof. Luckily, no additional artifacts were damaged. The water was cleaned up and all of the artifacts still in the room were covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from future incidents.

Due to the agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan, all employees, from security to museum collections to administration, knew their roles and what they needed to do in such a situation. We did our best to take care of the objects in harm’s way, but there is still more to do. Staff continue to assess artifacts and update necessary reports. The roof and building need further repairs, and objects need to be moved back into storage locations following repairs. We plan to complete the roof and inside repair work in the next few months and are hiring an intern to assist with an inventory of artifacts and new storage solutions. Thanks to an agency staff that understood how to quickly respond because of the plan in place, numerous artifacts were saved and a team came together to smoothly resolve a disaster situation.