Tag Archives: Native Americans

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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Prehistoric Indian Village Museum

Despite the fact that this is a National Historic Landmark, you may discover that your GPS can’t get you to this place. Fortunately, if you just drive north on Main St. a couple of miles from the Corn Palace, you’ll see a sign at 23rd Avenue (left turn if you’re heading north), and that will at least direct you to the right road: Indian Village Road. Turn right at Indian Village Road and drive until you see a parking lot on the right, with a few signs suggesting that something is nearby.

Hike down the hill, past information signs with Native American symbols and some very interesting information, cross a little bridge over an inlet of lovely Lake Mitchell, and follow the path up the low hill on the far side. This will bring you to the Prehistoric Indian Village Museum. It’s worth the small effort required to find the place.

What you will reach first is the museum, where you will be introduced to the culture of the people who inhabited this point of land around AD 900–1000. There is a short, excellent movie on the people who once inhabited this area, followed by a docent-led tour, and then you can explore on your own. It is not a large museum, but the exhibits are rich with artifacts and information. Roughly 1.5 million artifacts have been found at this sight, and many of them are on display in the museum. A full-size reconstructed lodge, like the ones that housed the original inhabitants, offers insight into what living conditions were like.

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Wood poles make up the roof of the lodge, and it was these that eventually required that the people move. There is very little wood on the Great Plains, so after about 100 years, there was no source of wood left, so the people migrated northward. It is thought that they were the ancestors of the Mandan, people who hosted Lewis and Clark when they arrived a few hundred years later.

Abundant maps and signs help establish where people settled and how they moved around, where languages originated, and what trade goods passed through.

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The people who lived here were part of a vast trading network. The patterns on the pottery can be traced to Cahokia in Illinois. Only broken pots have been found, however, because they would have taken unbroken pots with them when they moved.

The trade good that was produced here appears to have been pemmican, a handy “energy bar” made of dried meat (generally bison), dried berries, and fat, that was great for travel or to get through a rough winter. The evidence that suggests this as an important trade good includes a disproportionately large number of broken buffalo bones—far more than could be consumed by the people in the village—along with equipment and supplies that would be used in creating pemmican.

Evidence of pemmican making

Evidence of pemmican making

Corn had come north with these people, as well as squash and beans, and these were in evidence in the exhibit, as were tools used in farming these crops. A hoe made of the shoulder blade of a bison and a rake made of deer antlers were propped up near the lodge, and it struck me that they looked remarkably like tools used in so many other parts of the world, both then and now.

Lots more to learn and see, but I figure I had better leave something for you to discover on your own. Off next to the Archeodome, across the broad, green lawns that border Mitchell Lake.

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Iowa State Historical Museum, Part 1

Not far from the capitol was the impressive State Historical Museum. Learning more of the agricultural history of the region was my main objective, but I’ve always been interested in Native American history and culture, so I spent a fair bit of time in these exhibits, as well as in those of the region’s natural history.

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Here are a few insights I gleaned from the Native American section of the museum.

I’d seen the Grass Dance at many powwows, but learned here that it originated with the Omaha and was passed along to the Sioux—so essentially a Midwestern dance—which makes sense, given that the Midwest was largely grassland.

An excerpt from The Autobiography of a Fox (Mesquakie) Indian Woman, by Truman Michelson, explained that Indian girls had dolls so that they could practice on a small scale the clothes making and beading skills they would need when they were older.

Francis LaFlesche, an Omaha, was the first Native American ethnologist. He worked for the Smithsonian Institution in the 1800s and wrote dozens of books, many of which can still be purchased. A quote from him related that, “The White people speak of this country at this period as a ‘wilderness,’ as though it was an empty tract without human interest or history. To us Indians it was clearly defined than as it is today; we knew the boundaries of our friends and those of our foes.”

I’ll include more in a second post—but these will just be highlights. There is a lot more to see and learn. For more information, including hours, you can visit the museum’s website: http://www.iowahistory.org/museum/index.html

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Nebraska History Museum

Across the open plains and into Lincoln, Nebraska. Arrived in time for dinner with friend Jane, who suggested we dine at her favorite Greek restaurant. Lovely evening talking about corn and farming. (Jane’s dad was a farmer, and her mom still lives on the family farm.)

Next morning, I headed off for a day of exploring. Jane had contacted the Nebraska History Museum to arrange for a docent/guide for me, and the wonderful Jack Chaffin was waiting for me when I arrived.

Jack guided me through the excellent displays, which cover 10,000 years of Nebraska history. I won’t even try to share everything I learned, but here are a few highlights:

  • Of the many Native American groups that were here when Europeans arrived (Pawnee, Omaha, Ponca, Oto, Ioway, Sac, Winnebago, Cheyenne, and Arapaho), about half were moved to other states and about half adapted and are still living in Nebraska today.
  • Pawnee were one of the largest groups in the area, and the Skidi Pawnee was the largest Pawnee group. The Skidi brought Aztec astronomy with them when they moved north from Mexico. They grew four different colors of corn: red, blue, yellow, and white.
  • Ft. Atkinson, north of Omaha, had the first bowling alley in Nebraska.
  • Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte, an Omaha, was the first Native American to become a doctor, graduating, in 1889, at the top of her class from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of the first medical schools to accept women.
  • Because Nebraska is 1500 miles from both East and West Coasts, it was popular during World War II for military plants. Forty percent of all ammo used during WW II was made here, as were bombers and depth charges.
  • During World War II, camps for German and Italian POWs were located here. Many of the POWs happily worked on local farms, in place of the farmers who had gone off to war.

That is just a fraction of what I learned, but I hope it is enough to make you want to visit and learn more.

This wonderful museum is being renovated in 2015, so you may have to wait to see it, but it is well worth a trip to Lincoln. Here’s their website, so you can check and make sure it’s open before you plan your trip: Nebraska History Museum http://www.nebraskahistory.org/sites/mnh/index.htm

 

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Living History Farms: Ioway Food

In addition to the foods the Ioway grew, there were a lot of plants they gathered in the woods, such as mushrooms, nuts, and berries. In addition, the area had a lot of game, so deer, turkey, raccoon, elk, or turtle might turn up on the menu.

The Ioway had begun trading with French trappers and traders in 1676, which brought into their lives items made of metal and glass. Metal pots, like the one hanging over the fire, expanded their options for cooking. However, traditional wooden utensils were still used for eating and most food preparation.

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The interpreter pointed out that meat and vegetables were often dried, in preparation for the winter. Corn in particular had to be dried, to make it possible to grind. There were drying racks, or stages, for the various different things to be dried, but the corn stage was considerably higher than the others. The interpreter noted that it had to be, to keep it away from the animals, because “the critters really love corn.”

IA-LivHistFarm-IndStage4dry

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