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.

Taxidermy Critters and Wendy’s Napkin Art: Surprising Finds from the Inventory of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center

During the 2021 legislative session, management of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan in Washburn transferred from the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department to the State Historical Society. To grasp the full extent of what the agency had just obtained, we needed to perform a complete inventory of the sites’ collections. With laptops, cameras, and steely resolve in tow, our collections staff descended on the Interpretive Center and got to work on a project that will entail multiple visits. During our initial trips, we came across some fun, quirky, and surprising items in storage. What follows is a sampling of some of our more interesting finds.

1. This box looked like many others in the Interpretive Center storage. Any guesses as to what could be inside?

The contents of this box were anything but ordinary.

Based on the wobble and weight of the box when removed from the top of a cabinet, we thought it might contain a piece of pottery with a bowling pin-style bottom. Imagine our surprise when we lifted the lid and saw the beady little eyes of three small taxidermy critters: a gopher (with a face that looked like it had run headlong into a brick wall), a weasel, and a mole. Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center only has a few natural history objects, so we were certainly not expecting to be greeted by these curious creatures

Some of our cute taxidermy friends. SHSND

2. In a box filled with Bismarck artist Vern Erickson’s sketchbooks, we found this scrapbook labeled “Napkin Art.” Like us you’re probably wondering, “What is napkin art?”


It turns out napkin art is exactly what it sounds like. Attached to the pages of Erickson’s scrapbook were napkins from North Dakota restaurants filled with (mostly pen) sketches of Native Americans and horses, though he also included a few examples of place mat art. Napkins from Donutland and Wendy’s feature descriptions of what colors the artist would like to use in his painting of the sketch as well as other notes. Considering the medium, some sketches are very detailed, putting our doodles of fancy “S” and anime eyes to shame.

Artist Vern Erickson’s detailed sketches of American Indians on horseback adorn napkins and place mats found in one scrapbook. SHSND

3. A box of Altoids in a collections space? We all know food and drink is not allowed in collections spaces, right? So what could be in this tin?


Given the Interpretive Center’s plethora of lead shot, it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the tin was full of tiny lead balls. Indeed, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery is a key collecting theme for both the Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan State Historic Site. These shot are in remarkably good condition compared to some of the other lead shot already inventoried and had not turned white due to oxidation.

Not exactly the “curiously strong” contents you might have expected. SHSND

The inventory is not yet complete, so we wouldn’t be surprised if additional interesting finds await us. Since there are many more objects at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center than we initially estimated, we look forward to other fun discoveries.

This blog was co-authored with Elise Dukart.

Peggy Lee, Powwows, and Hockey: Acquiring “Fashion & Function” Exhibit Loans in the Time of COVID-19

Our registration staff at the State Historical Society of North Dakota is tasked with completing the paperwork for and transportation of incoming exhibit loans. We ask individuals, museums, and companies for loans of objects to fill gaps in our collection for the purpose of creating a more complete exhibit. For the upcoming Fashion & Function: North Dakota Style exhibit at the State Museum, created by our own staff, we requested and received 11 loans ranging from a pair of jeans to Cara Mund’s Miss America gown.

Our collection does not have much Native American powwow clothing that is sturdy enough to be on exhibit for the two-year duration of Fashion & Function. As a result, we turned to other museums in neighboring states to fulfill our need.

Discussions with the Minnesota Historical Society began in January 2020. First, we identified the pieces we wanted to borrow for the exhibit by searching their online database. We came across a woman’s jingle dress and a child’s grass dance outfit in their collection that would be perfect additions to our exhibit. They then required us to fill out a General Facility Report about the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum. The report asked everything from what material the walls were made of to how far the building is located from the closest fire station. It took us a few months to complete the report, and then COVID-19 struck. We pivoted to telecommuting from home, while the staff from Minnesota was also sent home for a time. Due to the pandemic, it was November before Head of Curatorial Services Melissa Thompson and Jenny Yearous, curator of collections management, drove to St. Paul to pick up the loaned dress and child’s outfit. Our internal loan policy states that loans in transit must be accompanied by a curator at all times. So during the drive back to Bismarck, either Jenny or Melissa stayed with the boxed loan in the vehicle. They took turns using restrooms and relied on drive-thrus for meals.

The inside back of a vehicle with a white box loaded in it. A white van can be seen through the back window.

The loans from the Minnesota Historical Society were transported in a box made of coroplast, which is a corrugated archival material.

One of the loans from the Minnesota Historical Society was a jingle dress completed by Orvilla Longfox (1956-2020) of Cloquet, Minnesota, in 2016. Longfox was an artist who revitalized the ancient art of quillwork learned from her mother. She was renowned worldwide for her traditional artwork with dyed quills and buckskin. Her work is featured in museums and businesses, as well as in private collections.

A tan dress with blue flowers and green vines on the chest into shoulders and arms. There are strips of flowers and vines along the lower portion of the dress with deer toes hanging down to make the dress jingle.

This hide, hoof, and quill jingle dress on loan from the Minnesota Historical Society features floral-and-butterfly quillwork designs and deer toes for jingles. The dress took Orvilla Longfox one and a half years to create, partly due to collecting and cleaning the deer hooves and quills.

Meanwhile, the boy’s grass dance outfit, below, was made by Kirstie Davis Deyhle of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe for her son Loyn Deyhle during the winter of 2001-2002 and altered as Loyn grew. It was worn at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum Memorial Day powwows in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Maroon collared short sleeved shirt and pants with a bright orange chest plate emboridered with green, blue. red, yellow, and white flowers and butterflies. There are teal, orange and yellow strings of beads or yarn coming out of the sides and bottom of the chest plate. There is also an orange piece around the waist that hangs down to the knee area as well as wrist cuffs that look similar to the chest plate. Around the ankles are tan cuffs with silver bells attached to them.

Ojibwe boy’s grass dance outfit from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson (born July 3, 1989), a North Dakota native from Grand Forks, played for the now-defunct University of North Dakota women’s hockey team. Her skills earned her a place on the U.S. Women’s National Team. She won six gold medals and one silver medal at the women’s world hockey championships. She was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey teams at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, and Sochi, Russia, in 2014. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Jocelyn scored the game-winning goal to win the gold for Team USA.

When we heard that Jocelyn and her twin sister Monique Lamoureux-Morando were going to be inducted into the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame at the North Dakota State Capitol last summer, the agency got in touch with the governor’s office and was able to get Jocelyn’s contact information. Jocelyn kindly offered one of her USA hockey jerseys and her 2009 IIHF World Women’s Championship gold medal to the Fashion & Function exhibit. Ideally, she would have travelled to Bismarck to drop off the items or Melissa would have travelled to Grand Forks to pick up the items. Due to the pandemic, however, we put our trust in the U.S. Postal Service to transport these items. They arrived safe and sound and will be on display in the exhibit’s sports section.

A blue hockey jersey with red around the neck, white patches on the arms, white and red down the inside of the arms, and a thick white and thinner red band around the bottom of the jersey. In the middle of the jersey is a logo that says USA in blue with a white outline. The bottom half of the S is red and turns into a waving flag. The inside of the A is a white star.

Front view of Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson’s jersey from the 2009 world women’s hockey championships.

The back of a jersey that's navy blue with a thick white band and thinner red band around the bottom of the jersey. The arms have white patches on them towards the middle. J. Lamoureux is listed in white at the top of the jersey, and 17 is listed under it in large white lettering outlined in red.

The back view of the same jersey with its J. Lamoureux nameplate.

A gold medal with a goalie and hockey player skating with their stick up in the air as if trying to score a goal. The part that goes around the neck is blue with a thin white and thicker red borders and reads IIHF repeatedly in white lettering.

Check out the bling. Here is Lamoureux-Davidson’s 2009 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championship gold medal.

Born in Jamestown, Peggy Lee (1920-2002) was an acclaimed musician and actress. Elise Dukart, assistant registrar, knows her best as the voice of Peg from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” The State Historical Society did not have any artifacts in the museum collection to showcase the famous singer’s life and fashion style, so we reached out to Peggy Lee Associates LLC in California for assistance in February 2020. The exhibit team decided to borrow a beautiful dress worn by Lee in the early 1940s.

Like Lamoreaux-Davidson’s items, Lee’s dress also needed to be shipped from its location.

Holly Foster Wells, Lee’s granddaughter and president of Peggy Lee Associates LLC, had intended to bring it in person in July 2020 during a Peggy Lee centennial year celebration scheduled in Jamestown and Wimbledon. But the pandemic prevented her from travelling, and the celebration was postponed. The dress was shipped to the Historical Society in July.

A tan box that looks smooshed with a lot of tape on it and a black arrow on the end that looks like a smiling mouth

Peggy Lee’s dress for the exhibit arrived in this bruised and battered box.

Unfortunately, the box containing the dress arrived damaged. The registration team took photos of the box and contacted the Lee organization to alert them of the situation. The dress was then removed from the box, and its condition was assessed. Additional photos were sent to Peggy Lee Associates LLC. Thankfully, the dress was not damaged during shipment. It currently happily resides on a mannequin amid the other dressed forms waiting to go on exhibit.

A light green short sleeved dress with tan lace covering it.

A dress worn by the singer and actress in the 1940s was borrowed from Peggy Lee Associates LLC.

We are grateful to all those who worked with us to obtain loans for Fashion & Function during these trying times of the pandemic. This exhibit, opening in February, will be more complete because of these items.

This blog was co-written by Elise Dukart.

Collecting Donations to Tell North Dakota’s Story: Voting Machines, Soccer Uniform, and Wool Sweater

The State Historical Society accepts about one hundred donations per year into our museum collection. Each donation can consist of one item up to several hundred items. We are stewards of the collection on behalf of the people of North Dakota, so we would like to hear from you. What do you think we should have in our collection? What sorts of objects define North Dakota? Your input matters for our future collecting. Click here to fill out our survey:

We will use the public responses to better guide our collecting strategy for the future. We will also use the data to determine how much additional storage space we will need to continue collecting the history of North Dakota.

We collect a myriad of different objects from all time periods. Our museum collections committee always looks for a story behind the objects, for that is what sets one object apart from another. Here are a few collections that recently arrived at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum.

The Office of the Secretary of State donated voting machines that were being replaced by newer models. The M100 and AutoMARK were purchased using federal, state, and county funds following the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA was passed following the hanging chad fiasco in Florida during the 2000 General Election and was meant to modernize our nations voting systems. Ninety-five percent of the purchase was paid for with federal funds, 2.5% with state funds, and 2.5% with county funds.

ballot device

AutoMARK assistive ballot marking device. Acc #2019.00058

The M-100 was implemented in approximately half of the counties in 2004. M-100 implementation was completed in all 53 counties for the 2006 election. AutoMARK implementation was completed during the 2006 election. The M-100 and AutoMARK were available at every polling place in the state for every statewide election through the 2018 General Election. Counties also used this equipment for local special elections.

ballot boxes

Ballot boxes for the M-100 optical scan and Optech III-P Eagle. Acc #2019.00058

The Optech III-P Eagle (the tan machine below) was used in several counties prior to the adoption of the statewide voting system. This particular machine comes from LaMoure County.

ballot tabulator

The Optech III-P Eagle ballot tabulator. Acc #2019.00058

The soccer uniform was worn by four-year-old Hannah while playing on the pre-K team Orange Pumpkins in the fall of 2018. Although she and her parents live in Bismarck, Hannah had a friend who played soccer in Mandan, so Hannah’s parents signed her up for Mandan’s recreational soccer team.

collage of soccer clothing and soccer player

A: The uniform consists of the orange Mandan soccer team shirt, a pair of athletic shorts, shin guards, pink soccer socks, and soccer cleats. Acc # 2019.00066; B: Hannah playing a game at the Dakota Community Bank and Trust soccer fields in Mandan, ND.; C: Hannah posing for a photo in her uniform.

Harvey Jaeger donated a wool sweater made by his grandmother, Anna Jaeger, for his father, Hugo Jaeger. It was made by Anna in about 1930. Anna raised the sheep, sheered the wool, spun and dyed the yarn, and knit the sweater.

vintage soccer sweater

The sweater is a brown wool, button down cardigan, with multiple knit patterns. Acc #2019.00054

Anna (Birkmeier) Jaeger was born in Germany, August 15, 1882, and emigrated to the United States in 1885, settling south of Hebron. She married Fred Jaeger in 1901 and homesteaded south of Zap. Hugo Jaeger was third oldest of 11 siblings, Anna died in 1968.

Hugo Jaeger (1904-1946) married Pauline Jacober (1908-2013) in 1929 and lived in a three- room house on the family farm for nine years. Then they moved to Zap where Hugo worked in the coal mine. They moved to Bismarck in 1942.

***Due to the temporary closing of our sites for COVID-19 precautions, we currently will not be accepting the donation items until further notice. If you have something you would like to donate, please still fill out our potential acquisition questionnaire, which can be found at This is the first step to start to make a donation. We will continue to respond to your requests to make donations.

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.

Imperfect Recent Acquisitions

Throughout the year, the State Historical Society accepts hundreds of objects into the museum collection, all with interesting stories to tell. Occasionally, we accept objects under non-ideal conditions. For instance, there may be gaps in an object’s history, or a donation arrives damaged.

In June 2018, Curator of Collections Management Jenny Yearous purchased a Native American jingle dress with military patches at a garage sale in Bismarck, North Dakota. The proprietor of the garage sale had received the jingle dress from someone at the United Tribes Technical College International Powwow in Bismarck and no longer wanted it. Unfortunately, the owner did not have any additional information, so we had to do our own investigating.

The dress is believed to have been worn by a member of the Native American Women Warriors (NAWW), a color guard of female veterans. They also perform a jingle dance, which some tribes regard as a healing rite traditionally performed by women. Founded by Mitchelene BigMan, NAWW is a nonprofit group based in Colorado. Their mission is to support U.S. veterans and their families.

Jingle dress with American flags, American Bald Eagle, and other decorations


The back of the silver bodice has a series of patches sewn onto it, including “Native American Veteran,” “Iraq Veteran,” “Operation Iraqi Freedom/Woman Veteran,” and a “Bring Home or Send Us Back POW-MIA” patch. There is also a red, white, and blue ribbon with the words “Native American” on it, and in the center a large patch with an eagle head and the words, "THE NATION WHICH FORGETS ITS DEFENDERS WILL ITSELF BE FORGOTTEN / FALLEN HEROES / IN MEMORY OF OUR TROOPS / DEFENDERS OF OUR FREEDOM."

The Museum Collections Committee decided to accept this jingle dress into the collection despite not having much history about it. We simply do not have many contemporary Native American regalia, or many female-owned items related to the military. We have only one other jingle dress, which is not military-related. Combining the lack in the existing collection with the connection to the military and women, this object has an important place in the collection, even without a complete history.

If you or someone you know may have additional information about who wore this dress, please contact Melissa Thompson at 701.328.2691 or

stone sculpture

broken pieces of a stone sculpture


Frances Reese donated a stone sculpture made of Colorado pink alabaster by the artist Tex Wounded Face. Wounded Face was born in Watford City, North Dakota, in 1955 and is of Mandan/Hidatsa descent. He passed away at the age of 57 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The sculpture was given to the donor’s husband, William F. Reese, when he and Wounded Face held a joint exhibit in Seattle in 1978.

The sculpture, titled The Americanization of the Native American, is the head and shoulders of a Native American with flowing hair, arms outstretched with a blanket covering the arms.

The box carrying the sculpture arrived at the North Dakota Heritage Center damaged. When unpacked from the box, the sculpture was discovered to have several pieces of rock separated from the base area. The Museum Collections Committee decided to acquire the sculpture for our collection despite its damaged condition. We do not have many pieces of contemporary Native American artwork, and the missing pieces do not distract from the overall aesthetic of the sculpture. The sculpture was placed in our collection with the hope that we would someday have the funds to repair the damage.

If you would like to donate to the collection’s conservation fund, please call 701.328.2666.

Enacting the Emergency Disaster Plan after a Storm

Near the end of June 2018, a storm with strong winds and heavy rain rolled through Bismarck. State Historical Society security received an alarm in the middle of the night for an off-site storage facility. Our security supervisor initially did not see any damage, but he went back in the morning to discover a section of the roof had blown off the building. There was significant water damage to an artifact room on the second floor. He followed protocol and immediately notified the staff members identified in our agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan to respond.

Damage from roof collapse

Part of a roof was damaged during a summer storm at the State Historical Society’s off-site storage facility. Ceiling tiles and water fell on some artifacts and some duct work for the HVAC system was destroyed.

Within a short time, Museum Division staff traveled to the storage facility to assess the situation. First power had to be turned off, since lighting fixtures were down and electrical wiring was exposed to standing water. The room was checked to make sure nothing overhead could fall and harm staff. The next step was to remove debris and wet artifacts from the room. As each artifact was moved to a different part of the building, water was blotted from the artifacts. Items were placed on newsprint near fans to dry quickly in order to prevent mold growth and further damage. A few upholstered pieces were packed with newsprint to help absorb water. Squeegees helped to remove standing water on the floor. Wet ceiling tiles and insulation were removed and thrown away. There was not enough extra space to move all artifacts from the damaged room, so plastic sheeting was put up to protect the remaining artifacts.

Artifacts set out to dry

Artifacts were placed on newsprint to dry. All of the crevices were packed with newsprint to draw out the moisture.

Inventorying artifacts

Staff members Len Thorson and Mark Halvorson inventoried the items being removed from the damaged room. Temporary locations were updated in the database for the displaced artifacts.

The damaged roof was salvageable as a temporary fix. It was secured until a new roof can replace it this fall. Administration staff arranged for a dumpster for debris and contacted insurance company adjusters, roofing contractors to examine the damage, and a heating and cooling company to check on a wet furnace and the destroyed ductwork. After it was deemed safe to do so, the electricity and some of the air handling units were turned on to help dry out the building.

Damage to roof

Temporary repair to roof

Before and after photos of the hole in the roof and the temporary repair.

A few days later, there was another storm with high winds and heavy rain. The plastic sheeting wall protecting the artifacts came down, and more water entered the building through the partially repaired roof. Luckily, no additional artifacts were damaged. The water was cleaned up and all of the artifacts still in the room were covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from future incidents.

Due to the agency’s Emergency Disaster Plan, all employees, from security to museum collections to administration, knew their roles and what they needed to do in such a situation. We did our best to take care of the objects in harm’s way, but there is still more to do. Staff continue to assess artifacts and update necessary reports. The roof and building need further repairs, and objects need to be moved back into storage locations following repairs. We plan to complete the roof and inside repair work in the next few months and are hiring an intern to assist with an inventory of artifacts and new storage solutions. Thanks to an agency staff that understood how to quickly respond because of the plan in place, numerous artifacts were saved and a team came together to smoothly resolve a disaster situation.