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.

Adventures in Archaeology Collections: Squash

Pumpkins seem to be everywhere this time of year — jack-o’-lanterns in October, pies in November, and flavored lattes in coffee shops all the way through the new year. What we call pumpkins in the United States are squash. And while the current pumpkin-flavored options might be new and trendy, squash are not new to North Dakota.

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people living along the Missouri River have grown squash for a very long time. The northern plains are not the easiest place to grow things — winters are long and cold while summers are usually short, hot, and dry. But Native gardeners developed and grew squash that survive in this climate. Traditional kinds of squash come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

three pieces of yellow squash

Replicas of traditional varieties of squashes grown on the northern plains, left to right: Omaha pumpkin, Arikara winter squash, Mandan-Arikara green and white squash (SHSND 841.2, 37, 22). These are on exhibit in the State Museum’s Innovation Gallery.

Many of these squashes are still grown today, like these Arikara winter squashes.

two squash, yellow and green

A winter variety of Arikara squash I grew in my garden this year

Traditionally, women grew squash in large gardens. Squash was an important food crop along with corn, beans, and sunflowers.

illustration of two native american woman preparing squash

Two women and a child processing squash together — detail from the cyclorama of Double Ditch Indian Village in the State Museum’s Innovation Gallery. (Original art by Rob Evans)

Some squash was eaten fresh. Dried squash was used in soups, stews, and other dishes. Squash was cooked many ways — boiled or steamed in a pot, roasted in the ashes of a fire, or boiled with other ingredients like squash blossoms, fat, beans, or cornmeal. Squash seeds could be boiled, parched, or roasted. Squash blossoms were also used in dishes either fresh or dried.

A lot of squash was prepared for winter food. In these photos, Owl Woman shows how squash was cut and prepared for the winter.

black and white photo of a native american woman harvesting squash

Owl Woman demonstrates four steps for squash preparation. First, slice the squash into rings using a squash knife. (Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0332)

Native american woman harvesting squash - photo 2

Second, after the squash are sliced, began stringing the slices on a spit. (Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0340)

native american woman stringing sliced squash

Third, finish stringing the squash slices. (Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0339)

Hanging up squash to dry

Finally, hang the squashes on a rack to dry. (Photo by Gilbert Wilson, SHSND SA 0086-0326)

The squashes were sliced with squash knives typically made from bison scapulae (shoulder blades).

bison scapula bone used as a squash knife

A bison scapula squash knife fragment from Larson Village (32BL9). (SHSND AHP 2013A.19, F26, south half).

Squash were used for other purposes too. Some squash seeds were saved to plant the next year.

Squash seeds

Squash seeds from Like-A-Fishhook Village (32ML2). (SHSND AHP 12003.258)

Squash leaves could be used as disposable spoons. At harvest time young girls would sometimes pick out squashes to use as dolls.

Recent Military Acquisition Honors Veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, I decided to highlight a military recent acquisition to the museum collection.

Radar bomb scoring sites were developed during World War II, by the Army Airforce Tactical Center, to more accurately bomb at night and in poor weather. The Strategic Air Command, established in 1946, controlled most of the US nuclear weapons until after the Cold War. The SAC supervised these radar bomb scoring sites to improve accuracy through training and practice. The 1st Radar Bomb Scoring Group’s mission was to provide the best training, which included simulated unguided bomb drops, and comprehensive evaluation of Strategic Air Command’s aircrews.

Staff and equipment for the Radar Bomb Scoring site (RBS), located off 43rd Street in north Bismarck, arrived from Marrakesh Africa in 1958. The building site was designated Detachment 10 and later redesignated as Detachment 14. A radio antenna is now located near the former site. An average of 80 to 90 air force personnel occupied the site at a time. They scored the bombing accuracy and countermeasure capability of the B-52 bombers out of Minot AFB and the B-58s from Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota.

vintage photo of a road sign that says "Detachment 14 Strategic Training Range"

Road sign to Detachment 14 in north Bismarck for an open house in September 1981.

Aerial view of site

Aerial view of Detachment 14 taken in the 1970s.

John Ringland made the radar site model in April 1975 to honor Col. Alvin E. Prothero upon his retirement from the US Air Force. Prothero was commander of 1 Combat Evaluation Group (1CEVG) from July 1, 1971, to April 25, 1975. Ringland was stationed at 1CEVG headquarters in Barksdale AFB in Louisiana from 1966 to 1975. Col. Prothero wanted the radar site model to remain at the 1CEVG headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base for display in the office as a visual example of a radar site. Eventually it was displayed at the Barksdale Air Force Museum and then returned to 1CEVG for display before being given back to Ringland.

radar site model case

close up of model radar site case

2019.00011 Model of a bomber radar scoring site, similar to that of Detachment 14 located in Bismarck. When plugged in, the plane rotates above the building and the radar rotates to track the plane. The motors running the plane and radar were removed from a plotting board used to track B-52s at Barksdale AFB. It is 13inches high (not including the legs), 24 inches deep, and 31 inches wide.

Our donor, John Ringland, was stationed at the Bismarck Radar Bomb Scoring (RBS) site three times throughout his Air Force career of 23 years. Ringland’s first assignment to the Bismarck RBS was in May 1965. He returned from 1975 to 1980, and again from 1983 to 1986, when the Bismarck site closed and moved to Forsyth, Montana. Ringland retired from the Air Force as a senior master sergeant in 1987.

blue military suit with insignia

2019.00048. John Ringland donated his Air Force uniform including the jacket, shirt, tie, pants, cap, socks, and shoes.

Thank you to those who served.