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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!

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.

Collecting History from Dakota Access Pipeline Events

In March 2017, our colleague Geoff Woodcox wrote about the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Museum Division proactively collecting contemporary objects. Specifically, he wrote about staff going to the Oceti Sakowin camp where many of the water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) resided. That blog post explains some of the activities staff took part in as they gathered stories and objects from camps near the Missouri River and Cannonball River confluence in south-central North Dakota.

Along with this kind of fieldwork, we have also requested objects from various entities involved with the protests. To cover the many sides of the DAPL protest story, we collected from as many sources as feasible within our staff time and budget capabilities. These sources include, but are not limited to, the Oceti Sakowin camp water protectors, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Emergency Services (including Morton County Emergency Management), the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the North Dakota National Guard, and media who spent time in the camps. The following is a small sample of those collecting endeavors:

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services provided us with a piece of concertina wire, also known as razor wire. This wire was placed in coils along the perimeters of various protest sites. (PAR-2017.044)

Concertina Wire

Morton County Emergency Management gave us riot gear including this riot shield, and other equipment like these flexi cuffs used by law enforcement. (PAR-2017029)

Riot Shield

Lauren Donovan, a reporter with the Bismarck Tribune, collected items while gathering information for stories at the camps. We now have multiple items representing camp life, such as this sign with camp rules and a can of baked beans. Lauren also donated the badge she wore identifying her as press. (PAR-2017009)

Sign reading Welcome to Satellite Camp! Respect that you are on indigenous land. If possible, get oriented by the folks who infited you. Hot to Plug In: Attend campwide orientation, which is daily @ 9 am in the geodome (in the center of camp, south of main road.)

Major French Pope III, of the Army Corps of Engineers, was at the Oceti Sakowin camp negotiating evacuation of the remaining occupants in February 2017. This placard was placed in the window of his vehicle to grant access to the camp. (PAR-2017025)

Plackard reading US Army Corps of Engineers. Oceti Sakowin Camp Cleanup Approved Vehicle

The Department of Water Resources at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe received donated items from across the country to support the water protectors. This handmade flag was sent in by an army veteran from California and is signed with well wishes from a myriad of people. (PAR-2017014)

Flags reading Protect Our Way of Life and Tame the Black Snake! Stand With Standing Rock

Likewise, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department received donated items in support of law enforcement actions. They provided some of those items for our collections. The handprint and drawings are thought to be from a daycare in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017045)

Painted American Flag with blue stripe reading Blessed are the Peacemakers... and three pictures supporting law enforcement

The North Dakota Highway Patrol donated a few items from the Oceti Sakowin camp and from the protest on Thanksgiving Day 2016 that blocked Main Avenue in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017041)

Sign with red arrow on top and water on bottom reading Kill the Pilgrim Save the Water

The Museum Division is actively collecting additional items from other sources and the agency would like to begin collecting oral histories. These items will be preserved to tell the North Dakota DAPL story for generations.