Tag Archives: Indians

Dakota Discovery Museum—Part 1

On the attractive, tree-shaded campus of Dakota Wesleyan University, I located my next destination: the Dakota Discovery Museum. Alas, photography is not allowed inside, so I can’t share the wonderful things I saw within the museum. Fortunately, however, they also collect historic buildings, and those I could photograph—and which you’ll see in the next post.

Inside, my first surprise was a Native American pictograph, painted on buffalo hide, of a battle between Sioux and Crow, painted by the Lakota at Pine Ridge in 1891. The reason it was a surprise is that I’ve seen it in history books, and I really didn’t expect to find it here. (So a pleasant surprise.)

The museum focuses as much on Native American culture as it does on European history in the region. The quillwork was glorious, and it was interesting to see it morph into beadwork, as glass beads became available with the introduction of the fur trade. Walking around the museum, the displays continued to reveal the changing frontier, from Native American to fur trade, pioneer to farmer, growing towns, and into the 20th century. There were a few big items, such as a threshing machine and an old sheep wagon fitted out as a horse-drawn mobile home. However, most exhibits focused on the intimate details of daily life. Wonderful.

Rod Brown, the newly appointed director of the museum, seeing that I appeared to be more than casually glancing at exhibits, introduced himself and began to offer interesting details on the history of South Dakota. On a large map, he pointed out the Missouri River, which I normally associate with Lewis and Clark, but Rod related that this constituted the South Dakota’s “middle border.” People to the east of the river moved here from the East, and those west of the river moved from the West. There are definite cultural differences between the two regions, which are identified by locals as East River and West River. West River tends to be more Wild West. That’s where you have Deadwood, the Badlands, and the Black Hills. There is more tribal influence in West River, and more ranching. East River is more farming, and the landscape is less dramatic. A further designation is Middle Border Country, the land immediately adjacent to the river, on either side. The proximity to the water made this area easier to settle—even before Europeans arrived (hence the Prehistoric Indian Village on the other side of town). It’s a great place for farming, and following the river leads through a lot of handsome farms.

Mitchell is solidly in Middle Border Country, as are most of the Hutterite Colonies founded here. The largest ethnic groups to settle Middle Border Country were Germans and Norwegians, though there were also settlers from Bohemia, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland. So a remarkably diverse area.

Then time to head upstairs.

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Speaking of Pemmican

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that the Native Americans who lived at the Mitchell site made pemmican as a trade good. If you wondered what pemmican tasted like, there are a lot of videos and books out there that will share with you how to make your own, authentic pemmican. Alternatively, you can save yourself the trouble and check out Tanka Bars—updated versions of the classic Native American energy food.

Tanka Bars are made by the Oglala Lakotas on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and they use real, grass-fed bison to make their updated version of this iconic food. I’ve had them—though I’ve only tried the original bar, not the newer versions—and they’re really delicious. Fun way to feel connected with history. Check them out. http://www.tankabar.com

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Prehistoric Indian Village—Archeodome

The Archeodome is a building that encloses a significant part of the dig site for the Prehistoric Indian Village. This enclosure means that digging can take place at any time, and it doesn’t have to be covered every time archaeologists leave, to protect the artifacts. While they don’t have the money (one docent told me) to have a year-round archaeologist, if one wished to work year round, he or she could.

Inside the Archeodome

Inside the Archeodome

The dig site (which is more extensive than what you can see here) is set up with the laboratory right next to it. There is a display of tools used in archaeology, signs that explain the layers and what has been found, and the site itself. A winding ramp leads up from the ground floor to a second floor filled with exhibits, artifacts, and more informational signs. With 1.5 million artifacts already dug up here, the hard part is narrowing down what you want to show. They’ve done a good job.

Chipped-stone Utensils

Chipped-stone Utensils

Bone Utensils

Bone Utensils

I was delighted to see extensive information on corn and its importance to Native Americans, along with maps showing the original “Corn Belt” in 1450. In my book and in the presentation I give on the history of corn, I mention something called pod corn. Corn mutates easily—which is, in fact, how it came into existence—but not all mutations are equally successful as, say, sweet corn and popcorn. Pod corn is actually pretty close to useless. No one grows it commercially, with its chief virtue being in its genetic material—plus it looks cool. Every single kernel in this odd corn variety has its own husk, plus the whole ear has a husk, as well. When I’m speaking about corn, I describe it as looking like someone tried to make an ear of corn out of straw. Do you think this actual ear of pod corn matches my description?

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If you’re visiting Mitchell, and you want to see more than just the Corn Palace, I think this should definitely be on your list. Here’s more info, if you need it.  http://mitchellindianvillage.com/

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Living History Farms: Ioway Farming

Approaching through the woods, one comes first upon the Ioway Indian camp.

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Like many Native Americans across North America, the Ioway Indians raised corn (maize), beans, and squash. Also like other Native American groups, it was the women who raised the crops. Men did the hunting and fought battles.

An enthusiastic interpreter related that corn was first planted in this area around ad 900-1000. She described the way corn, beans, and squash were grown together and pointed out the mounds nearby. By planting the seeds in mounds, it kept plants far enough apart, to keep the tall corn stalks from shading other plants nearby—the same reason corn is planted in rows today—to let sun reach the leaves. In this case, however, sun was needed for the squash and beans, as well, and not just the corn plants.

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The first shoots of both corn and squash plants were pushing their way through the soil at the top of each of the mounds.

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The Ioway grew flour corn, a corn variety with soft starch, which makes it easy to grind. The corn they grew was blue, and it was most commonly ground, mixed with water, formed into cakes, wrapped in cornhusks, and put in the fire. (Sounds a lot like tamales.)

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