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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!

Filling the Collection’s Gaps with Horse-Related ND History

The North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum will open a new temporary exhibit called The Horse in August 2018. Once a topic for a temporary exhibit has been chosen, the curatorial staff examines what we have in the current museum collections and what we may need to fill the gaps. Filling the gaps involves reaching out to the public to find needed objects, not just for the exhibit, but also for the continuity of North Dakota history by adding historically significant objects to the permanent collections. After we have compiled an inventory of artifacts needed, we add those items to our proactive collecting list.

Over the past couple months, we have accepted multiple horse-related objects into the museum collections. First, we were offered a western saddle with tooled leather and a saddle pad, which had been used as a training saddle for a young horse named Piper. The saddle has a broken tree and is not fit for riding, so the owner retained the saddle after selling the horse to a family for use in equine therapy. Since the donor’s current horse is much too large for this saddle, she decided to offer the saddle and saddle pad to the State Historical Society. We did not possess any saddles that post-date 1950 in the museum collections, so even though it has a broken tree, we accepted the donation.



A toy to entice the imagination of a child is invaluable. We were recently offered, along with other toys and household goods, a stick horse from the 1950s. Once it was determined that we did not have a stick horse already in the museum collections, this was unanimously accepted by the museum collections committee. The stick horse has a red-painted wooden stick and a tan velvet horse head.

Stick horse


Veterinary medicine has come a long way over the centuries that people have been taking care of domesticated horses. One of the ways people keep their equines healthy is with medications both prescribed by a veterinarian and those purchased over the counter. The Museum Division was recently offered a box of Zimecterin Gold, an equine deworming paste, along with the administering syringe. The actual deworming paste was discarded because, over many years, the properties of the medication might be detrimental to the syringe and container.

Zimecterin Gold


Protective horse gear has also evolved over the years. In an attempt to relieve some anxiety and stress from insects, horses may stomp their feet, causing stress on their legs and hooves. They may also rub their faces, body, and tail against posts or corners, causing potential cuts, injury, and tail loss. The increased stress load of pests can quickly compromise the health of the horse. Using a horse mask, flysheet, and fly boots helps alleviate stress from biting, sucking, and irritating insects such as flies, gnats, midges, ticks, mosquitos, as well as protect the face, body, and legs from sun damage.

Horse wearing protective face mask

The donor’s horse is named Raleigh, and here he is modeling the fly mask and fly boots recently accepted for the collection. (2017.00073)

If you have horse-related objects that the State Historical Society should consider adding to the museum collections, such as toys, post-1950 western or English saddles, rodeo equipment, riding clothing (boots, jeans, show shirts, or jodhpurs), bridles, or lariats, please let us know by filling out the donation questionnaire. We look forward to hearing from you.

Benefits of Volunteering at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum: Making Our Community A Better Place

While doing research for a recent project, I stumbled across a website that proposes that the act of volunteering has numerous health benefits, both physical and mental.

The website goes into specific detail:

  • 76% of people who answered a recent survey indicated that volunteering made them feel healthier
  • 94% said volunteering improved their mood
  • 96% said volunteering enriched their sense of purpose
  • 95% said by volunteering, they were making their community a better place
  • 80% felt they had more control over their mental health and depression
  • 78% said volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • 49% said it helped their career in the paid job market
  • 56% said it helped their careers

Volunteer in the Paleontology Lab

A volunteer at the Paleontology lab working while a tour of students looks on.

According to Beth Campbell, Visitor Services coordinator for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, volunteers are a large part of the agency’s success. She said there are currently more than 200 Heritage Volunteers working statewide at various sites.

Every summer, a Heritage Volunteer recognition social is held at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck. In the 2017 program from that event, Claudia Berg, agency director, included the following remarks:

“Each and every one of you brings your life experiences, skills, abilities, passion and compassion, intellect, and humor with you when you volunteer … For whatever reason you volunteer, you make a difference to our organization. You give your time generously without expectation of reward … Last year (2017) that time totaled 11,711 volunteer hours. Since the program’s inception in 1981, Heritage Volunteers have donated over 425,764 hours.”

What Claudia didn’t mention is that we volunteers (all 200+ strong) are surely deriving all the benefits detailed in the study quoted above: better moods, sense of purpose, lowered stress levels, and so on.

Volunteers sorting in the Archaeology Lab

Volunteers working in the Archaeology lab.

I can’t validate the numbers in the study cited above, but I can attest to the following perks of volunteering at the State Historical Society:

  • studying dinosaurs with professional paleontologists
  • studying artifacts with professional archaeologists
  • learning research methods from professional archivists
  • learning object preservation from museum preservation experts
  • participating in programs developed by the Communications and Education Division
  • assisting gallery guides with public presentations
  • meeting and interacting with ND Heritage Center visitors from around the world
  • building a personal network of other volunteers with similar interests
  • spreading the word and recruiting other volunteers
  • eating way too many cookies (That should probably be at the top of this list.)

Volunteer working on computer in the State Archives

Erlys Fardal has contributed in excess of 6,500 hours of volunteer time at the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum.
She is pictured here doing research in the Heritage Center archives division.

I, personally, have had the great satisfaction of logging in excess of 2,000 hours of volunteer time at the ND Heritage Center & State Museum. I have been asked numerous times how I became a volunteer and why I continue to do so.

I am a firm believer in the old adage of “use it or lose it.” While there are physical benefits to volunteering at the ND Heritage Center, (it is a healthful walk from the west visitor entrance to the coffee shop on the east side), I became involved because of my interest in North Dakota history and archaeology and the mental benefits of continued study and research after my retirement. I have to admit that the first step was a little scary. I came from a profession far removed from history and archaeology. My early apprehension quickly dissipated after working with staff members. They were willing to share their knowledge and expertise in a manner that was neither threatening nor discouraging. After 2,000 hours, I am just getting a good start.

Volunteer sorting in the Archaeology Lab with the help of a staff member

Volunteer working in the Archaeology lab.

As Claudia mentioned in her quote above, we all come to the State Historical Society with our own “life experiences, skills, abilities, passion and compassion, intellect and humor.” The ND Heritage Center is a great place to enhance all of those qualities. In addition, our moods have improved, our stress levels have diminished, we have contributed to the community, and our experience and knowledge has continued to grow.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer for the State Historical Society of North Dakota, contact Beth Campbell, Visitor Services coordinator, at bcampbell@nd.gov or give her a call at 701-328-2674. She will get you pointed in the direction that most suits you and your skills and passions.

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” (Author Unknown)