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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!

Timothy Reed's blog

Double Ditch Bank Stabilization to Begin Summer 2017

Extensive bank erosion since the 2011 flood has seriously impacted an important state historical site managed by our agency (http://blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/saving-double-ditch). After a long process to determine possible alternatives for funding and a stabilization plan, we’re relieved to have the engineering work begin.

Situated on the east bank of the Missouri River nine miles north of Bismarck, Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is one of the best preserved examples of an earthlodge village on the northern plains. The site was a regional trading center occupied for nearly 300 years (AD 1490-1785) by the Mandan people. At its peak the population of Double Ditch has been estimated to have been 2,000 or more people, with a richly developed culture based upon agriculture and seasonal bison hunting. Due to its archaeological significance, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bank Erosion at Double Ditch

Bank Erosion at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2016. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

The Missouri River is powerful, perhaps never more so than when it’s in flood stage. This stretch of the river lies between the Garrison and Oahe reservoirs. Those living along the Missouri know this firsthand, as we’ve seen rising floodwaters on more than one occasion impact lives, property, and cultural and natural resources.

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site was unable to escape the effects of the Missouri River’s catastrophic flooding in 2011. Large sections of the river terrace edge shifted in a process called rotational erosion. Rotational erosion simply means that large blocks of sediment at the site were rotating and shifting as slumping occurred along the river bank. This erosional process destabilized the bank and threatened a portion of the site, including parts of the public walkway/bicycle path.

Aerial view of geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating on rotational erosion area at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

To make matters even worse, the active erosion at Double Ditch has continued in an area known to contain human burials. Since 2013, 18 burials have been disinterred at the site as a result of this erosion. Because Double Ditch village was occupied for 300 years by thousands of people, more burials would be disturbed if erosion continued.

During the 2015 Legislative session, the State Historical Society of North Dakota partnered with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation to raise awareness about the immediate threat posed to Double Ditch by erosion. Project funding was allocated during the 2015 legislative session to stabilize the site.

Geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating on rotational erosion area at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site , October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

A geotechnical study performed in October 2015 confirmed that the erosion was a result of the 2011 flood. The study further determined that the existing threat to the site was even more extensive than originally thought. A new crack was developing below the surface, with the potential to progress 400 feet into the heart of Double Ditch Village. Left unaddressed, this newly identified erosional fault could be catastrophic, causing twelve acres (half of the site) to be lost.

Geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

Geomorphological trench being excvated

A geomorphological trench being excavated at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site as part of the geotechnical study, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

As the engineering plan was being developed in 2016, the project faced delays from a challenging permitting process. Thanks to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, project funding not able to be used during the last legislative session was carried over into this biennium. We’re also grateful to tribal members from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and other groups and individuals who supported efforts to keep this critical project moving forward.

Stabilization plans involve terracing the slope and building a Rock Key and Pipe Pile Wall to prevent further erosion. Site improvements include a new nature trail and the addition of native plants. Construction will take about five months.

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site bank stabilization diagram, March 2017. SHSND.

Various geotechnical studies and modeling were critical in developing plans for the bank stabilization. Ultimately the plan involved reshaping the bank by removing weight from the upslope and adding weight to the toe. The rock key/trench and pipe piles will provide mass and strength to stabilize the slope.

The riverbank will be revegetated with a variety of native grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees. Interpretive signs will be installed along the bank highlighting natural resources. The stabilized and reshaped bank will protect the Mandan village and enhance fishing access to the river, bird/wildlife watching, and provide a non-motorized landing for kayaks and canoes. In addition, this will prove a safe walking/bicycle trail.

Construction fence

Construction fence at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, June 2017. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

As of the date of this blog, the bank stabilization at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is anticipated to begin in late June. Construction should be completed in about five months. We’ll keep readers informed in this blog as the project progresses.

 

*Fern Swenson, Director of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and Kim Jondahl, Director of Communications and Education, were contributing authors to this post.

Advocates of Save Double Ditch

Advocates of Save Double Ditch, a grassroots organization, brave the cold in March 2017 to voice their support for bank stabilization funding. March- 2017. Courtesy Tom Stromme, Bismarck Tribune

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.