An academic weblog exploring the interpretation of the Lewis and Clark expedition and bicentennial in museums, historic sites, interpretive centers, and popular media.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

This interpretive center is just outside the town of Washburn and provides an overview of the expedition and an introduction to Fort Mandan, which is down the road a couple miles. (There is also a section on Fort Clark, a fur trading post later built nearby and named after William Clark.) It is managed by the foundation that manages Fort Mandan. It's in a really impressive building, and the exhibits are very well-written and attractive. There is quite a bit about native life, and the interactions between tribes and the expedition are explored in greater depth than in many museums.

Cottonwood dugout canoe featured in interpretive center.

Exhibit featuring animal life encountered by the expedition.

Also interesting to me was a gallery with an extensive collection of paintings and drawings by artist Michael Haynes, whose popular works appear all over Lewis and Clark brochures, calendars, and so forth. There are many publications featuring his work, and the museum store also sold prints and original pencil drawings. You can see his Lewis and Clark paintings on the artist's website.

In front of the building are 12-foot-tall metal statues of Lewis, Clark, and Sheheke, a Mandan leader who later traveled to Washington, D.C., and met President Jefferson. Nearby are metal buffalo meandering along the walkway between the building and the picnic area. Both works are by Washburn artist and welder Tom Neary.

Naturally weathered metal sculpture "The Mandan Winter" towers over visitors. The interpretive center building is behind it.

"The Mandan Winter" from a distance gives some idea of the scale. The interpretive sign on the right tells about the artist and the project.

Whimsical bison line the walkways of Harmony Park.

Next: a Lewis and Clark ballet.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Fort Mandan

Fort Mandan was the name given by Lewis and Clark to their 1804-05 winter encampment near the Mandan and Hidatsa villages, about 40 miles north of present-day Bismarck. Near the original location is a park managed by the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, with a replica of the fort and some trails and interpretive signs along the river. The visitor center at the site is mostly a store, but there is a major interpretive center a few miles away that is also run by the foundation.

There were very few people at Fort Mandan or the interpretive center, which surprised me, for I thought more people would be coming up from the Circle of Cultures signature event. It was announced on the radio that 100,000 people were expected to attend the event over its 10 days. I went to Fort Mandan during midweek; I imagine the weekends were busier. By the way, this is the exact time of year that the expedition arrived and began to settle in for the winter. It was a very dark and overcast day, as you can see from my photographs.

Interior yard of the Fort Mandan replica. There were about 44 men spending the winter here, about a third of whom would return to St. Louis in the spring.

Exterior of front of fort, with doors open. This time of year, it really blends in with its environment.

At the fort was a costumed docent explaining the layout and function of the structure and answering questions. Interestingly, he told me in response to my comments that there are several things about the site that we know are not authentic, and that “when they redo it someday,” these things will be corrected. One thing is that the walls of the interior parts of the fort consist of logs placed vertically, like the exterior posts. The docent said that L&C would have laid the logs horizontally like a typical log structure, but that when the present reconstruction was done, it was faster and easier to erect them vertically! He also said that there is no evidence that there was a flagpole in the center of the yard, like there is now.

This reminds us to take the presumed authenticity of reconstructions, even those based on original drawings and descriptions, with the proverbial grain of salt.

The Missouri River at Fort Mandan, looking upriver. The actual fort was a short distance from here and the site is now under water. This was as far up the Missouri as the keelboat was destined to travel. It was taken back to St. Louis in the spring.

The cottonwood forest along this stretch of the Missouri, where Lewis and Clark, like the Indians, found ample building materials and fuel.

Next: Another new interpretive center.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Circle of Cultures in Bismarck, North Dakota

The Circle of Cultures Signature Event is being held mostly on the campus of the University of Mary in Bismarck. There are also events across the river in Mandan, and in museums and historic sites throughout the region.

The campus program includes in-character presentations by people portraying Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, York, Sacagawea, Cruzatte (the expedition’s fiddle player), and other individuals (all described on the website). There are buffalo cooking demonstrations, an encampment, and lots of people walking around in period costumes and uniforms. There are programs for school children, of whom some 10,000 are expected to attend the event, according to public radio. There are evening programs, including a ballet, of all things, which I will be attending tonight.

Outdoors on the bluffs above the river are four full-size earthlodges. One of the most interesting presentations I heard was by the construction engineer who built them. He is the only person in the country who builds “traditional” earthlodges commercially, and he learned through research, coaching by a now-deceased Mandan-Hidatsa woman elder (the native women owned and did much of the construction of the lodges), and trial and error. Unlike the Indians, he uses high-tech equipment. The four earthlodges on exhibit cost $300,000 to build and much of the labor was provided by the Army National Guard. After the event, one lodge will go to the town of Mandan and three will be given to the tribes.

Circle of Cultures visitors listen to a presentation in the earthlodge village. Each lodge is about 35 feet in diameter.

If one ignores the sidewalks, it's easy to imagine a traditional lodge overlooking the Missouri. This stretch of the river flows within its natural boundaries and changes course from year to year.

In a large concessions area, there are vendors and various government agencies providing information and selling every imaginable thing.

The concessions area in the University of Mary fieldhouse.

North Dakota Public Radio had a live broadcast going right in the hallway near the art exhibit. The announcer interviewed some of the presenters and organizers and they offered autographed books and things in exchange for donations (it was pledge week). I actually heard some of that programming on the radio while driving across North Dakota on my way to the event, and was amused to walk into the building and see the interviews taking place right in front of me.

N.D. Public Radio's live broadcast of the program "Hear It Now." The interviewer on the right is Merrill Piepkorn. Today, on my way out of the building, he was standing around after his show and I chatted with him for a few moments--one of my rare brushes with celebrity.

Wind-ruffled banner near presentation tent with the ubiquitous "walk in their footsteps" theme.

Even though the event is awash in the hero-worship of Lewis and Clark decried by some people—there were Native American protestors last weekend, but more about that later—I’ve actually enjoyed myself this week. In another entry, I’ll give some of my impressions of the event, the radio interviews, and so forth.

Next: Fort Mandan.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Public Lewis and Clark Art in Bismarck

Bismarck is the home of "Bird Woman," a statue of Sacagawea and baby by Chicago artist Leonard Crunelle. The North Dakota Federation of Women's Clubs initiated fund raising for the statue in 1906, and it was unveiled at the state capitol complex in 1910. It is one of the most famous images of Sacagawea in the world. It’s very accessible to the visitor, standing right at the entrance to the North Dakota Heritage Center, next to the capitol building.

Crunelle's "Bird Woman."

But there are some other public art projects in Bismarck I found interesting as well. Along the Missouri is a new park called Keelboat Park. It features a full-size keelboat replica (on land) and colorful interpretive signs, but best of all, giant reproductions of the three figures in North Dakota’s Lewis and Clark logo. After seeing the logo all over the place, including on welcome mats at museums and the zoo, it was fun to come across these big colorful figures at the park.

New keelboat replica in Bismarck's Keelboat Park, which is right on the Missouri River.

Sculptural figures from North Dakota's L&C bicentennial logo, or perhaps the figures on the logo are based on these sculptures. The blue structure is the edge of Interstate 94. The Missouri is behind me.

I’m just beginning to think about and organize in my mind all the different kinds of public art related to the expedition. There have been a couple of coffee-table type books published about L&C art, but these tend to focus on “fine arts,” especially oil paintings, rather than wall murals, main street banners, quilts, and other forms of “low” or “folk” art. A bit of snobbery here?

At the Circle of Cultures event is a display of local artwork. Each artist was given a journal quotation from the expedition as inspiration for each artistic project. People came up with everything from traditional paintings, to abstracts, to sculptures, to fabric arts, to photographs. It was quite creative and interesting. Below are some examples:

A painting and textile panel inspired by L&C journal quotations.

Sculpture and painting. The label for each piece includes a quotation from the journals and the artist's statement about his or her work.

Near the local artists' work is a collection of Karl Bodmer paintings or prints, with contemporary sculptures based on Bodmer's work.

Visitors at the Circle of Cultures event contemplate Bodmer-inspired sculptures.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Back in the Dakotas: Lewis and Clark Meet Sacagawea

I’m now heading home and have reached the Great Plains. Even though Sioux Falls, SD, is not right on the Lewis and Clark Trail, this town has featured several L&C exhibits and programs, especially during the summer at the peak of the tourist season. In the journals is a brief reference to the falls of the Sioux River, but it is unclear whether or not the expedition actually saw them or had only heard about them. I went to a historical museum that had a temporary exhibit about Plains explorers, with a small section on Lewis and Clark, but unfortunately missed the summertime comedy water ski show with its L&C theme!

Between Sioux Falls and my present location in Bismarck, ND, I stopped to take a picture of the famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD:

The Corn Palace, with its exterior decorated with various parts of the corn plant.

Bismarck and Mandan, ND, across from each other along the Missouri, are where it’s at right now. In progress is one of the National Signature Events, called the Circle of Cultures. Also in this region are numerous museums, parks, and historic sites related to the expedition. Even the Dakota Zoo has interpretive signs containing quotations from the journals as the expedition encountered various animals.

I drove north of Bismarck to go to Sakakawea State Park on Lake Sakakawea, a huge reservoir (“the largest man-made lake within a single state,” boasts a brochure) formed by Garrison Dam. North Dakota uses the “k” spelling of her name. There was only one L&C interpretive sign at the park.

Autumn prairie and Lake Sakakawea, near Garrison Dam.

Much more interesting was the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. This park contains the remains of several Hidatsa winter villages, one of which was the home of Sacagawea and Charbonneau. The villages were on the Knife River near its confluence with the Missouri. The park includes a museum with exhibits about traditional Hidatsa life, an impressive replica of an earthlodge, and trails to the village sites.

A map of the L&C trail and an enlargement of the Sacagawea coin (a rather peculiar choice of items, in my view) have been squeezed into the regular exhibits in the Knife River museum.

Exterior of a traditional earthlodge, about 40 feet in diameter.

Furnishings and firepit inside the earthlodge.

There isn’t really that much about Sacagawea, but it was pretty fascinating to stand at the site of her Hidatsa home. All that's left of the villages are round depressions in the ground and the remains of trash heaps along the perimeters. Of course, much has been archaeologically excavated over the years, as well.

The site of Sacagawea's Hidatsa village where she met Lewis and Clark.

The Knife River. As it has changed course over time, the river has cut into and destroyed part of the village site.

The ranger told me that in their summer tours (no tours this time of year), they “interpret Lewis and Clark from the point of view of the Indians.” She said one of the Hidatsa leaders had said that the men of the expedition smelled awful, and that only two were worth anything: the blacksmith and the gunsmith.

The expedition’s winter camp at Fort Mandan was downriver from the Hidatsa villages, near two Mandan villages. The Mandans had suffered a devastating smallpox outbreak in the late 1700s and had moved north to be closer to the Hidatsas. A couple decades after Lewis and Clark passed through, the Mandans and Hidatsas would be hit with smallpox again and nearly exterminated. I will be visiting Fort Mandan probably tomorrow.

[All photos by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sacagawea in the Women’s Hall of Fame

After visiting L&C and Civil War sites in Washington and Pennsylvania, I headed up to a place I've long wanted to see: Seneca Falls, New York, a quaint little town that's been a hotbed of social movements since the early 1800s, including abolition and female suffrage. The famous conference on women's rights was held there in 1848, and today, many key sites are part of the Women's Rights National Historical Park. Also in Seneca Falls is the National Women's Hall of Fame, featuring pictures and descriptions of over 300 American women "whose contributions to the arts, athletics, business, education, government, humanities, philanthropy and science have been the greatest value for the development of their country."

There I found our own Sacagawea, inducted in 2003. Her panel concludes with the words, "Though her later life is shrouded in mystery and controversy, Sacagawea's documented skill, determination, courage, and insight on the Expedition live on as an outstanding model and feat of great achievement." Of course we have no photographs of Sacagawea. Her panel featured not one of many well-known artists' paintings or sculptures of her, but a reproduction of her image on the dollar coin, which I thought was more than a little odd. The dates of her life, which we will never know for sure, were given as "1786/88 - 1812/1884." Take your pick!

I was pleased to find another native woman, Sarah Winnemucca of the Northern Paiutes, included in the hall of fame, although she is better known in the west than the country generally. Over all, I found the stories of all these women's accomplishments very inspiring and satisfying. I did, however, feel a little over-dosed on courage and virtue by the end of my visit, and that got me to thinking about how halls of fame generally showcase people who become famous for "good" reasons.

I asked the docent in the museum if anyone had ever thought about having an exhibit about women whose fame is based on "bad" things. No, she said, looking at me as if I were slightly batty. But wouldn't that be an interesting exhibit? There are all sorts of famous women murderers and criminals, not to mention a whole parade of notorious madams, prostitutes, traitors, and spies. I'd go to a museum like that!

Since I was traveling through western New York, I naturally had to visit Niagara Falls, which I'd never seen. I pictured it very garish and touristy along the banks of the falls, but instead found a green and lovely state park on a beautiful autumn day.

The American Falls of the Niagara. All that water is only ten percent of the river. Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side in the background has cut the ledgerock farther back due to much greater erosion from the larger volume of water.

Next: Back in the Dakotas.

[Photo by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Friday, October 15, 2004

Manassas and Gettysburg

Since I was in the neighborhood of so many famous and infamous Civil War sites, I visited some of them, including Manassas (Virginia), where the first big battle was fought at Bull Run, and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), where the bloodiest battle with the most casualties was fought. Both are now part of the National Park System. I've never been to Civil War sites or battlefields before this trip; I guess I’ve traipsed all over the west, but rarely to the south and east.

It's been interesting to see how the Confederate and slave states refer to and interpret their parts in the Civil War in the informational materials provided to the public, including the official highway maps and other items available at the interstate travel centers. From these materials, I have learned that Kentucky, while attempting to remain neutral, was claimed and invaded by both sides (the South establishing its own capital at Bowling Green at one point), but nevertheless sent twice as many soldiers into battle for the North as for the South. Tennessee points out that even though it did join the Confederacy, it was the last state to do so and the first state to rejoin the Union (although North Carolina also makes this claim). Tennessee, too, had soldiers go to fight for the North, "more than in all the other Confederate states combined." Both Kentucky and Tennessee want the visitor to know that 20,000 men in each state who fought for the North were black, both slave and free. North Carolina and Virginia both provide many good travel guides and informational materials for visitors wishing to go to Civil War sites. I would like to go back and see more of these.

Both the Manassas and Gettysburg battlefields are several square miles in size, with modern roads criss­crossing them, and development crowding their boundaries. Manassas is right alongside I-66, and the town itself is a booming suburb of Washington, D.C. Several thousand casualties--dead, wounded, and missing or captured--resulted from a one-day battle in July 1861 (and would be repeated over a year later as the armies fought again over the same patch of ground). The first Manassas battle was the one where the spectators who came out with their picnic lunches to "watch the battle" ended up fleeing in chaos with the Union army.

These cannons mark the Union line toward the end of the 1861 battle at Manassas. The Union soldiers were driven back and into retreat. The house in the background, which is being restored, was the home of an invalid woman in her 8os who refused to leave even as the battle raged all around the house. She was killed by Confederate mortar fire, becoming the only civilian casualty.

The Gettysburg battlefield encompasses a 42-square-mile area and surrounds the town itself on three sides. There are even private homes within the park. The three-day battle in July 1863 resulted in about 50,000 dead, wounded, and missing. Almost 8,000 died during the fighting itself and about 15% of the wounded eventually succumbed to their wounds (which was, apparently, typical throughout the Civil War).

I thought the museum at Manassas was better than that at Gettysburg, with more modern and informative interpretive exhibits. One exhibit that impressed me told how the North and South uniforms, those famous blue and gray colors, were not yet standardized, and that men wore 200 different outfits as well as civilian clothes during the fighting at Manassas! It makes you wonder how many were killed by "friendly fire" because it was so hard to tell who was on which side.

Gettysburg, according to one of the rangers, will be getting a new visitors center and museum in the next couple years. The park includes a large national cemetery where 3700 Union dead were buried (almost a thousand of them unidentified) and where Lincoln made his solemn address several months later. He was not the main speaker and I was very amused to learn (or be reminded) that the Gettysburg Address is only about 275 words long. I never gave it much thought before, but now that I work with so many students on their writing, and impose word limits on their writing projects to get them to take care with every word and not ramble, I’m more appreciative of this fact.

Next: Sacagawea and Seneca Falls, New York.

[Photo by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Traveling in the (Northern) South

Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia are new states for me and I’ve enjoyed driving through them. From Louisville on, the countryside has been lush and rolling and very scenic. One of the things I immediately noticed when talking to people or sitting in restaurants were the Southern accents. They seemed especially strong in Tennessee and were at first very noticeable to me. I got used to them after a couple days and, in fact, when I spoke to waiters or store clerks, I could then hear how strange and out of place and harsh my own accent sounded. This was an entirely new experience for me.

As I go east, the settlements and structures obviously get older. La Grande’s permanent non-native settlers go back to only the 1860s (not counting those just passing though on the Oregon Trail), and the oldest pioneer cemetery in the area dates to the 1870s. Now I’m in country with some buildings and cemeteries dating to the 1780s or earlier. Mammoth CaveNational Park in Kentucky has 17 old cemeteries within its boundaries, as well as many older buildings and churches from past communities that were there long before the region became a national park. There are even historic structures inside some of the caves.

Scenic overview of Tennessee farmlands along the very lovely Natchez Trace Parkway.

Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee, were both very interesting cities, but the town that seemed the most “exotic” along my route was Asheville, North Carolina. I knew nothing about it and discovered this upscale, artsy place with incredible Victorian homes, once (or still) frequented by writers and artists. The surrounding landscape is hilly and forested. It’s also the location of Biltmore, the estate and 250-room chateau built by one of the Vanderbilts, presumably as a vacation get-away. The supermansion is the “largest house in America,” which I suppose is saying something.

Another national park I visited was Great Smoky Mountains. The park was beautiful, but I was appalled by the approaches to the park on each side, especially the Tennessee side. It was solid tourist facilities for 30 miles, right up to the boundaries of the park: hundreds of restaurants and hotels, every kind of retail store, waterslides, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and Dollywood. The park is the most visited national park in the entire country, with 10 million visitors per year. But not one penny is charged to enter the park and drive over its roads. I was appalled! As a citizen who is part owner of it, I want those 10 million people and their cars to have to pay something, anything, into the parks system!

[Photo by K. Dahl, copyright 2004.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Monticello and the Smithsonian

I toured Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home near Charlottesville, and while I was certainly impressed by the estate itself, I was disappointed in the lack of much information about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Monticello was the site of the big “kick-off” event for the national bicentennial in January of 2003, but you’d never know it to go there now. (Monticello is managed by a foundation and is not a state or federal facility).

Panoramic view of Monticello from the estate's website.

Just outside the estate is a visitor and research center with displays about Jefferson, his wife (who died after a marriage of ten years), six children (only one of whom lived past the age of 25), and slaves, as well as the house and gardens themselves. There was only a passing mention of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition sent to explore it. The only remnants of the Bicentennial kick-off were the numerous books and merchandise pertaining to Lewis and Clark still available for sale in the gift shop!

The visitor center’s whole presentation of Jefferson and his times seemed to me rather “conservative” in the sense of avoiding controversy. For example, there was nothing about the slave woman Sally Hemmings, whose modern-day descendants share their DNA with the Jefferson family descendants. When touring the mansion, our guide said that there is still no proof that Jefferson himself fathered Sally’s children because it could have been his brother or some other family member. That’s technically true, but I think most researchers now accept that Jefferson was the father of her children. The guide did mention that there is a discussion of the issue on the Monticello website.

In the house itself, Indian weapons and artifacts collected by L&C are arranged on one wall in the large entry hall, as Jefferson had supposedly displayed them (photos were not allowed, but there are pictures at the above website). The items currently on display are not the originals, but replicas “made by Native Americans using traditional methods,” according to our guide (and thus, by implication, more "authentic" than replicas made by non-Indians!) This portion of the tour provided the only mention of Lewis and Clark.

At an information center on the Virginia interstate, I asked the women behind the desk if there were any historic sites related to the birthplaces of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, both of whom were born in Virginia. They didn’t know of anything like that. So much for Lewis and Clark’s place, or lack thereof, in the history of Virginia!

The Smithsonian

I also went to the Museum of American History on the mall in Washington, D.C. While the exhibits were interesting, there were only a couple mentions of Lewis and Clark or the Louisiana Purchase. These were located along a timeline and included a replica of the type of compass they carried and an example of the Peace Medals that they gave to Indian leaders. That was all! Interesting to me was that similar Peace Medals were given by U.S. Presidents to Indian tribes for a couple of decades beyond the L&C exhibition itself.

I did not get a chance on this trip to go to the Smithsonian’s new Museum of the American Indian. It’s possible that there is more information about L&C’s interactions with the tribes at that facility. While I can understand that Lewis and Clark are not particularly interesting to people in this part of the country, you’d think that the expedition would have more of a “presence” during the bicentennial, with all its hype.

All this obliviousness reminded me of the comments of my friend’s father when the latter, who was from the East, drove along I-90 through Montana, where the interstate crosses over the meandering Clark Fork River many times. “Who was ‘Clark,’” asked my friend’s father, “and why does he have so many rivers named after him?”