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.

At the State Archives, We Want To Know You Better!

Two women and a younger girl sit at a wooden table looking at a number or documents and pictures.

Take the time to fill in the State Archives’ survey and help us serve you better.

The State Archives has launched a short demographic survey, the first in a series, and we invite you to participate! As stewards of the documentary history of North Dakota and its people, we want to know the people we serve, how we can improve our services, and how we can bring new interest to the wonderful world of archives and historical research.

A woman in a pink shirt and glasses with long hair sits at a computer using a microfilm machine to scroll through an old newspaper.

The State Archives’ resources can help patrons solve genealogical mysteries.

Our overarching goals are to get better acquainted with those we serve and increase services and outreach to grow all audiences. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of reasons for why getting to know our clientele will help us reach these goals:

1. Communication: We can devise the best strategies to communicate who we are and what we do.

2. Engagement: Those who have fun together learn better together. We can share our love of history with our users in more effective ways.

3. Collection description and access: We can prioritize the identification, description, and digitization of items and collections of significant research interest. 

4. Technology: We can utilize technologies that are familiar to our audience to provide better access to our collections as well as identify and assist with less familiar technologies. 

5. Programming: We can design programming to engage our current patrons and draw in groups of people not previously reached. 

6. Collection acquisition: We can focus on acquiring collections that align with the research interests of our users and identify and fill topical gaps in our collections. 

7. Overall experience: We want visitors to have fun here (and on our website), to use our resources to solve mysteries, answer questions, and formulate new ideas. We want the journey of conducting research and finding information to be as streamlined as possible. As archivists, we are proud of the history we get to work with every day and want to share our love of history with everyone, whether they are virtual or on-site, a first-time visitor or a regular. We truly believe that history is created by everyone, and that history is for everyone.

Documenting the MHA Nation: Marilyn Cross Hudson Collection Opens to the Public

Here at the North Dakota State Archives we are thrilled to announce that a lifetime of research and writing by tribal historian Marilyn Old Dog Cross Hudson has been processed and is now open to the public. The collection includes research, manuscripts, articles, working and subject files, historical records, photographs, and other materials created or collected by Hudson. Major subjects include tribal and oral histories of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, as well as stories of Native American veterans, rodeos, and ranching, and of the Cross family. The collection also features records, histories, and photos of Elbowoods High School and the city of Parshall, North Dakota, Hudson’s home from 1953 until her death in 2020.

In this May 25, 2015, article from the Six Star Observer, Marilyn Hudson wrote about the names of World War II servicemen recorded in the Elbowoods Community Hall. Hudson, a prolific author, conducted extensive research for her published work. Both her sources and final articles are included in the collection.

Central to the collection are records of tribal, state, and federal government proceedings related to the construction of the Garrison Dam and its impact on the MHA Nation. The collection chronicles all stages of the project, from initial planning to completion of the dam. Significantly, it documents a wide range of efforts to stop the project, which necessitated the flooding of homes and farms and the relocation of hundreds of families. After the dam’s completion, Hudson carefully recorded its long-term effects on the people of the Fort Berthold Reservation.

One of many documents in the Marilyn Cross Hudson Collection that preserves the record of Garrison Dam opposition, this booklet was produced by the Fort Berthold Indian Defense Association in 1946 to galvanize resistance and encourage further study. SHSND SA 11517-0001-040-00001

Hudson’s collection represents the most comprehensive series of tribal records at the State Archives and includes the correspondence and writings of Martin Cross, Marilyn’s father and long-time tribal chairman and council member. Bringing the historical documents to life are photographs, oral histories, and published articles by Hudson about life in the Missouri River bottomlands before the construction of the dam and after the flooding of the area.

Among numerous topics, Hudson’s collection documents Elbowoods High School activities and student life, including the 1951 Elbowoods Warriors High School basketball team. Back row (left to right): Eldon Jones, Leander Smith, Larry Rush, Norman Baker, Arnold Charging, Tony Mandan, and Coach Richard Washington. Front row (left to right): Leroy Yellowbird, Leonard Eagle, Russell Gillette, and Evan Burr Jr. SHSND SA 11517-00009

Born in 1936 in Elbowoods, Hudson graduated from high school there in 1953. Her college education and professional career took her across the country until she accepted a position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs working at the Fort Berthold Agency and returned to North Dakota. Hudson retired from federal service in 1992 but stayed active in cultural and historic preservation as well as in the promotion of the state. She served as administrator for the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum in New Town and received the North Dakota State Historical Society’s Heritage Profile Honor Award in 2009. Hudson’s legacy in the state endures through her writings, organizational work, and the memories of those who had the privilege to know and work with her.

Hudson collected historical photographs as well as more modern images in her quest to document events for posterity. Pictured here on All-American Indian Day in New Town, North Dakota, are Martin Cross, Sam Meyers, and Mary Louise Defender. The two men on the far right are unidentified. SHSND SA 11517-00045

Hudson’s passion and love for the history of her people and state is reflected in the breadth of topics she researched and wrote about and in her meticulous gathering of primary and secondary sources. Her collection provides insight into the experiences and lives of members of the Three Affiliated Tribes and is an invaluable resource for current and future generations.

Members of Elbowoods High School’s Class of 1947 at their graduation (above) and at their 50-year reunion (below). Hudson thoroughly documented the people, places, and events in her collection to preserve history. SHSND SA 11517-01043-01044

The public can view the collection at the State Archives in the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum in Bismarck. For more information, contact us at

Stories Collected by Archives Help Answer, “Why did people do that?!?”

This might be one of the most frequently visited questions in my household. Some examples: Why did Germans support Hitler when he was so terrible? Why did humans enslave other humans? Why did George Washington believe that bloodletting would get rid of his sore throat (it killed him)? Why were some women anti-suffrage? How was child labor justified during the Industrial Revolution? Why do fools fall in love?

There are many curious minds in my household, including a wide range in the ages of our kids and young adults. Despite (or because?) of this broad span of perspective, these “why” questions come up a lot.

When they do, the easiest solution is to check my phone; but the easiest solution might not be the best. There are fascinating videos online about the algorithms Google and other search engines use to produce top results when you ask “Hey, Google” or “Alexa. …” But--are the top results accurate? Paid for? Unbiased? Politicized? Do Google results tell you correct answers?

In addition to questions of the reliability of search engine results, it is easy to get lost in a rabbit hole of responses, chats, debates and “expert” answers online without ever coming up with a solid answer.

As an archivist and lifelong learner of history, I am especially grateful during those “why” times that archives, libraries and museums exist. Because of the work of these fields and members of the public who contribute to them, we have access to answers to some of our most burning “why” questions.

Archives (and other cultural heritage institutions) and their supporters are a partnership: Archives could not preserve and provide access to human history without members of the public who see the current and future value in the movies, photos, book, documents and artifacts they donate to public institutions. Simply put, private archives would not exist without donations of important historic materials from their constituents.

The more we save, the more data we will have to interpret in the future. We will have a greater firsthand spectrum of the human experience and reasons for why people did that. If we rely only on published sources to tell our stories, we might miss out on the unique perspectives and voices that make us interesting as a species. Like anything else, published sources are a product of their times, and are written through the socio-political lens of writers and editors, biases and all. Firsthand accounts can provide raw data that can be analyzed and interpreted across time and cultures.

I’m not sure whether other generations anticipated these “why” questions. Based on the records they preserved, I think that many did.

I often wonder how future generations will view our time. In this “information age” there will likely be a ton of information for them to sift through. However, as in the case of search engine results, quantity does not always equal quality: How much of the available information will be by the people who lived it? If my great-grandchildren ask how we felt during COVID-19, what it was like to go to fourth grade during a pandemic, or why wearing masks was politicized, will they get their answers from a news site (which we know often report differently based on political affiliation)? Will they read comment threads on Facebook? Will they watch news clips of the various responses of political leaders?

Maybe it’s my bias, but my hope is that future generations will have access to read/hear/watch the voices of the many who experience an event like COVID-19 firsthand. The best way to do that is to start documenting daily experiences, even if they seem trivial or mundane. It is the experiences of daily life that future generations will relish for their authenticity and rely on to answer their own “why” questions, whatever they may be.

I think there is a misconception that you have to be a George Washington to be preserved in archives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. This idea prevents people from documenting their lives and experiences, which are the building blocks of history, the keys to understanding life and events of the past. The more voices that are available, the better understanding that future generations have of our time. I’ve included two examples below of materials that could be collected by the State Archives: records that my family kept during COVID-19 and a collection of newspaper clippings about the coronavirus pandemic that were collected and donated to the Archives by a North Dakota resident.

Covid-19 Newspaper clippings

Coronavirus pandemic-related news clippings from a variety of sources that will be a resource for future researchers about North Dakota history (MSS 11450).

COVID-19 Documents

My family’s schedule for our 9-year-old son during the early stages of COVID-19 in North Dakota.

If you are interested in donating your stories related to COVID, please use this link. We all play a part in preserving today to answer the “why” questions of tomorrow.

Inventor John D. Kirschmann: Part I

In June 2019, the North Dakota State Archives received the papers of inventor John D. Kirschmann. For many Midwesterners, the name Kirschmann is instantly recognizable because of the agricultural machinery and products he developed and distributed. For others, like myself (who grew up in a city), the name may be new. As I worked on the Kirschmann papers, I increasingly understood the significance of the technological advancements he facilitated. I also recognized that the agricultural piece is one of many elements in a story of an entrepreneurial genius whose curiosity led directly to improvements in the lives of farmers and city dwellers alike.

Kirschmann was so prolific that his story will require several entries. This first blog post is the beginning of his story...

Portrait of John Kirschmann

John D. Kirschmann, circa 1941 (11400-00002)

John D. Kirschmann was born and raised in a German-speaking household in Regent, North Dakota, where he attended school until the fifth grade. He struggled in the classroom because of the language barrier, and later noted that he received his basic education from his father in German.

Kirschmann learned best by experimentation and asking questions: an inquisitive child, John sought to understand how things worked so that he could rework and improve them. By age 10, he was able to operate any implement needed to prepare a field for planting, and as a teenager began experimenting with improvements to existing farm machinery. This led to the development of his own machines, which were initially built from scrap metal and used parts.

During his youth, Kirschmann was an active hunter, selling pelts of rabbits, weasels, badgers, and skunks for seed money to start new enterprises. One early business was a turkey ranch that he established and operated while also working for his father.

As a teenager, Kirschmann was already a master at recognizing a need or a problem and constructing solutions from minimal resources. He invented a trip-back scraper to clean between the lugs of a tractor, which he manufactured from scrap iron and sold to neighbors. He also built a water pumping device to irrigate several acres of garden that his father let him develop. To construct the pump and trough, Kirschmann used old tractor pistons, cylinders, and one-gallon oil cans. This invention successfully brought water from a nearby lake, crossed a road, and irrigated the garden without use of solder, glue, cement, or pipe.

As he neared adulthood and prepared to go off on his own, Kirschmann fixed up junk grain drills and resold them. He used that money to buy more parts, from which he built a tractor. With that tractor he raked the neighbors’ thistles, and by the end of the season, had purchased an IHC Farmall tractor. The following year, in 1941, he received 320 acres of land his father had purchased. The land was full of weeds and had not been plowed or farmed. John plowed half of it, planted wheat, and had a great yield that year.

As the years continued, Kirschmann acquired farm land and businesses, becoming an Oliver Machinery Dealer and a Chrysler Plymouth dealer in Regent. In establishing the Plymouth dealership, Kirschmann was the architect and construction supervisor. He invented a bricklaying machine to speed up the process after the bricklayer quit. In a few years, when the Oliver self-propelled combine came out, Kirschmann Motors sold more than any other Oliver dealer in the United States.

Exterior of Chrysler dealershp with a car visible through the window

Kirschmann Chrysler Plymouth Dealership, Regent, ND (11400-00004)

Kirschmann’s resourcefulness extended beyond his business career into his personal life. During World War II, while the family remained on the farm, John moved into Regent. He needed a home and decided to build one out of materials that did not require a permit. He acquired and constructed his home entirely out of 40” x 40” sheets of glass, 4” strips of oak flooring, ½” thick plywood, a few nails, and brass screws. He then constructed five Federal Housing Administration homes for the garage and farm workers. One of the five homes was a brick house laid by the machine Kirschmann had developed to construct his dealership. Examiners and residents were astonished by the workmanship of the home and how accurately the bricks were laid (they did not know about the machine). The bricklayer in Regent was speechless after the machine was used to construct a large, five-bedroom ranch home for the Kirschmann family in Regent.

If you are interested in learning more, look for the next installment in this series this fall.

Spra-Coupe by Kirschmann advertisement

Advertisement for Kirschmann’s “Spra-Coupe.” Look for more information on this invention and its impact on North Dakota in the next blog installment. (11400)

Linda Warfel Slaughter: Bismarck Pioneer and Powerhouse

Did you know that the first Historical Society in Bismarck was founded by women?

Linda Slaughter recognized the importance of archiving the early records of Bismarck and began personally collecting and preserving important papers. In 1889, she organized the Ladies' Historical Society of Bismarck and North Dakota and served as president until its 1895 merger with the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Slaughter negotiated for the rights of women to vote and hold office in the new organization as part of the merger, and served as the first vice president of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Did you know the first woman to vote at a national convention for a presidential candidate was a Bismarck resident?

In 1892 Slaughter attended the Populist Party convention, becoming the first woman to vote in a national convention for a presidential candidate.

Wow! Linda Slaughter sounds incredible! Who was she?

Linda Warfel Slaughter was an impressive pioneer, with a unique and effective blend of determination, vision, strength and character. Throughout her life, Slaughter accomplished many firsts: she was the first teacher, the first superintendent of schools in Burleigh County (which made her the first woman elected to office), and the first postmistress of Bismarck (in fact, the law was changed in 1874 to permit married women to occupy the position of postmaster). Slaughter started the first Sunday school from her home (a tent) in 1872, and opened the Bismarck Academy the following year, which became the first public school in Bismarck. In 1881, she crafted a bill, creating a Board of Education.

Letter from the Post Office Department, Appointment Office, to Linda Slaughter on May 8, 1875.

Appointment letter from Postmaster General, 1875.

An accomplished historian, poet, and songwriter, Slaughter published widely. Her serial, "Fortress to Farm," depicted life on the frontier post at Fort Rice, her family's arrival at Carleton City (the river landing below what is now Bismarck), the beginning of Edwinton, Dakota Territory, and the expansion of Bismarck. She served as a Washington correspondent for several years for the Bismarck Tribune. During that time, she developed a close friendship with Susan B. Anthony. Throughout her writing career, Linda Slaughter published everything from historical articles to parodies, poems, eulogies, and political serials. Slaughter wrote the words to the North Dakota state song in 1902.

State Song for North Dakota by Mrs. Linda W. Slaughter - Bismarck, North Dakota - 1902 - All Rights Reserved

State Song of North Dakota, words by Linda Slaughter, 1902.

Slaughter was a charter member of The Daughters of the American Revolution, and held office in the National Women's Suffrage Association (serving as state vice-president in 1888 and as a member of the executive committee in 1889). She was involved in the creation of the Bismarck Women's Christian Temperance Union and served as its first president. Slaughter was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., in 1895.

Given the importance of Linda Slaughter to the founding and development of Bismarck, we were thrilled to add additional papers to the collection of Linda (Warfel) and Benjamin Slaughter Family (MSS 10003) in 2018. The additions to the collection I am most excited about are more of Linda's correspondence records and family photographs.

Letter to an editor by Linda Slaughter

This letter to an unidentified editor is a great example of Slaughter's correspondence style. Slaughter was a truth-teller:  she knew the facts, had the skill to relay them effectively, and the courage to educate those who were misinformed.

As a whole, the collection documents Linda's life and activities, and to a small extent, her husband's, daughters Linnie Lee (Mrs. Albin) Hedstrom, and Jessamine (Mrs. Arthur) Burgum, sister Aidee, granddaughter Hazel (Hedstrom) Eastman, grandson Ted Hedstrom, and great-granddaughter Virginia (Eastman) Dullum. The collection also includes family history and genealogy information, newspaper clippings about the Slaughters, papers of Albin Hedstrom (Burleigh County sheriff), Allan Eastman (Bismarck Tribune writer), and Allan’s parents Phillip K. and Maude Eastman (store owners in Wilton).

Linda W. and Dr. Benjamin F. Slaughter family portrait, circa 1876

Linda W. and Dr. Benjamin F. Slaughter family portrait, circa 1876.

If you are interested in learning more about Linda Slaughter, feel free to come and read her writing at the State Archives. There are also a lot of excellent articles online. Of special note are resources created by the North Dakota Studies program at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Documenting the Peace Corps in Bismarck and Kenya

We archivists have it all--the opportunity to share the spark of discovery with our patrons; the calming scent of old, pungent books; engaging in conversations and debates about historical minutiae; the comforting hum of microfilm as it speeds through the reader; erasing and writing with pencils; and behind-the-scenes access to history. All kinds of history...

So when brand-new, unheard of, undocumented (at least in our collections) historical nuggets come across the radar of our staff, we are surprised and intrigued to say the least. As the one-stop shop for records of North Dakotans and their activities, we are driven to collect these nuggets so they aren't lost.

Entrance to Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00005 Entrance to Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

Once such nugget was recently discovered, and we are in hot pursuit of any and all documentation for posterity: in 1968, Camp Lewis and Clark (now the United Tribes Technical College) in BISMARCK was a training site for Peace Corps volunteers who went on to direct agricultural and land settlement projects in KENYA. These recruits came from all over the country, including some of the top universities, and were immersed in rigorous Swahili language training. Swahili is an incredibly complex language, where the subject, object and verb are collapsed, the tense structure is unlike that of the English language, time is treated differently, and there are eight genders. Those are just a few of the nuances that make it an especially difficult language to learn.

Work crew at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00006 Work crew, Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

Kenyan instructors had to devise effective teaching strategies to introduce this brand new language to Americans in a short amount of time. One of the immersion techniques was to ban the use of English from 6 a.m. until midnight. Those caught speaking English during those hours were eliminated from the program.

Lamb barbecue at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00007 Lamb barbecue, Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

In addition, of the young men trained to carry out their responsibilities in Kenya, half focused on agriculture and the other half on establishing cooperative societies. The newly formed Republic of Kenya wanted to populate and use the fertile farmland that had recently been sold back to them by the British government. To this end, the Bismarck trainees honed skills related to range management, engineering, construction of water systems, and many others.

Land cooperative model

11325-00008 Land cooperative model developed by crew at Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968.

The three-month training took place in Bismarck, selected by planners because it was remote enough to eliminate distractions, and could also provide a culture shock to prepare the young men for life in a foreign country. One participant from the east coast described the training in Bismarck as an "exotic experience in its own right before we embarked on life in Kenya." The cross-cultural experience went both ways: for many Bismarck residents, the Kenyan instructors were the first African people they had met.

Four boys sitting on fence at rodeo

11325-00010 Alan Johnston with Edgar, Edmund and Larry Fasthorse at the rodeo during his stay at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, 1968

As part of the training, volunteers were sent to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to live with families for two weeks. This was intended to provide an introduction to life as a visitor in a different community and culture.
There were several psychologists on staff, observing the volunteers and determining who was fit to move on to perform their duties. Several volunteers either quit the program or were eliminated. The motivations of volunteers varied widely; serving in the Peace Corps deferred, but did not exempt, these men from being drafted into the Vietnam War. One participant remembered sitting with his team in Kenya listening to the lottery numbers being announced over the radio, hoping his number would not be called. Several from the group were drafted and went on to serve in Vietnam.

Group of trainers and volunteers at Camp Lewis and Clark

11325-00011 Trainers and volunteers at Camp Lewis and Clark, Bismarck (N.D.), 1968

Another volunteer remembered the political atmosphere of summer 1968, particularly the politics surrounding protests at the Democratic National Convention. His stay with a family at Standing Rock was memorable, as they watched the protests on television together and discussed their views afterwards.

The participants that I spoke with remember their experiences fondly and vividly. The group maintains contact, and they are celebrating their 50 year reunion next summer. One member is a documentary filmmaker who is currently working on two films: one about the training experience and the other about the Peace Corps time and its context (Vietnam war, Kenya after independence).

The State Archives has worked with the members of the project. We are building a manuscript collection (MSS 11325) to document the unique role that Bismarck played in this international project. The collection currently includes a booklet and syllabus for trainees, as well as photographs taken at Camp Lewis and Clark, Standing Rock, and Kenya. The collection is available to the public, and we are actively seeking documentation to add to help preserve this fascinating story.