Plan Your Visit
About Our Foundation
The Dakota Institute
Request More Info
The Jefferson Hour
Discover Lewis & Clark
Is This Your Moment?
Meriweather Lewis, a man shaped by his boyhood experiences.
By Jeff Carlson, Interpreter
“We just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening.” – Moonlight Graham,
Field of Dreams
When did Lewis and Clark first arrive in North Dakota? The answer to that question is simple: 1804. Many of history’s less-compelling questions have easy answers.
Often, the most fascinating parts of a story are those that are more difficult to pin down. For example, here’s another question: Where did Lewis and Clark’s Expedition begin? St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Monticello can all make a claim. All, in their own way, are correct. Less familiar, but also correct, are places called Broad River and Locust Hill.
These were the boyhood homes of Meriwether Lewis. In those days, children grew up young. By the time he was about thirteen, Meriwether had lived through his father’s death, moved with his family to a Broad River settlement in the Georgia woods, and returned to Virginia to oversee the Locust Hill estate he had inherited from his father.
These places planted seeds in Lewis that would later blossom and catch the attention of a President – but he could not have known it then. Who could have seen that the backwoods adventures of an eight year old would help produce a Montana grizzly hunter? Who would have imagined that a boy watching his mother make medicines from Virginia plants would one day become the Corps of Discovery’s doctor? Who might have guessed that a young boy who valued education was beginning to learn the things that would eventually allow him to record his greatest triumph?
Maybe no one. Yet, at this young age, Lewis was experiencing things that would uniquely qualify him for what was to come. The seeds planted in a young boy would bear fruit here in North Dakota and all across the continent. That is part of the story told at Fort Mandan. It is one with a timeless lesson: In Lewis’s time, as in ours, the most important moments in life are there, waiting to be recognized. Sometimes when we least expect them.
Exploring from Afar
3rd graders at The Hockaday School in Dallas received part two of their remote Fort Mandan experience, as Jeff Carlson with their teachers gave them a tour of the fort via Skype.
By Jeff Carlson, Interpreter
Over the last couple of days, I had the unique opportunity to conduct a virtual field trip with third grade students from The Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas. As part of their Lewis and Clark unit, Lower School teachers Karen Roberts and Mary Ellen Wilensky came to North Dakota to visit Fort Mandan, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and the Knife River Indian Villages.
Each of the two days they were here, I was able to communicate via Skype for about two hours with their students. The first day allowed three third grade groups a chance to be introduced to the Mandans. As these inquisitive students learned through the “
Great Missouri General Store
” program, Lewis and Clark’s neighbors during the 1804-5 winter had been important for years as major players in North America’s trading networks. They discovered that convenience, consistency, and an interesting historical coincidence were central to the Mandans’ importance.
The second day was highlighted by a visit to Fort Mandan. From the comfort of their own classrooms, students were able to see inside the Corps of Discovery’s cabins, and get a feel for what the cold and snowy North Dakota winter might have been like for these men from places like Virginia and Kentucky. They had lots of great questions on this day, as well – a couple of those were so good I will be answering them in the future on a blog the teachers created for the trip. This blog has been a terrific interactive tool for us already, and it will continue to be as these students further investigate the Corps of Discovery’s westward journey. If you’d like to see what our far away visitors took away from their virtual visit, you can check out the blog for yourself by clicking
This experience made for a great couple of days! And the model it provided will continue to bring us more great days in the future. We look forward to using similar technologies to share our unique sense of place with eager learners – like the students from Hockaday – from across the country and around the world. I can’t wait for the next chance to do just that!
North Dakota's Love of Sports Is Much Older than North Dakota
Our reproduction game sets for lacrosse, ice gliders, field hockey, chunkey, doubleball, and hoop-and-pole.
By Robert Hanna, Interpreter
Sunday’s Super Bowl was unusual. We were treated to a stunning 108-yard return, a 34-minute electrical outage, and a dramatic turnaround for the 49ers, transforming what looked like a shoo-in for the Ravens into a real nail biter.
Less unusual were the annual complaints by social critics that America is just too obsessed with sports.
I don’t know if they’re right, but the obsession is certainly nothing new. If you could go back in time a few hundred years, you’d find American Indians playing sports on a scale we can hardly imagine today. And just like us, their enthusiasm often verged on mania.
. In the Midwest, a game could have hundreds of players, the goals were up to two miles apart, and full contact was allowed. In fact everything was allowed except touching the ball with your hands.
Essentially two massive teams battled their way across an extensive landscape, struggling to reach the other’s goal and score a point. Only two points were needed to win the game, and yet a game could stretch on for days or until one of the teams simply surrendered in exhaustion.
Another popular game was
. Mandan and Hidatsa men were said to spend hours a day playing or watching others play, sometimes betting everything they owned on the outcomes (not as serious as it would be in our culture, but that’s another blog entry). Chunkey involved getting two moving objects to align when they stop: a rolling stone ring, and certain points on a lance you carefully threw behind it.
Much effort went into making a good chunkey course. Typical ones in present-day North Dakota seem to have been about 50 yards long. Chunkey players made them from packed earth or wooden planking and outfitted some with bumpers to keep the ring and lances from sliding out of bounds. In at least one case they planted shrubbery all around so the wind couldn’t interfere with the precise movements of the game pieces.
There were many other games as well. Doubleball, field hockey, a version of hacky sack, ice gliders, hoop-and-pole, trick horseback riding, horseracing, foot racing, and various archery competitions have all been recorded among North Dakota tribes.
You might think all this information is just for fun, but I think there’s a deeper meaning. Contrary to the impression we usually get of Native cultures centuries ago, life wasn’t all hardship and survival. Particularly before European diseases made their way here, tribes on the Upper Great Plains thrived off of farming and hunting. So successful were they that they had time for a sports obsession much like our own.
If you and your family would like to try some of these games for yourself (with a few rule changes for safety!), they’ll be part of a new program we’re offering called “Native Sports: Play the Upper Great Plains’ First Games.” It starts this spring. Give us a call and we’ll hook you up!
Tourists are Pilgrims
By Robert Hanna, Interpreter
"When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root . . .
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage . . .
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands." -Geoffrey Chaucer
The island of Shikoku in Japan is circled by an ancient path that connects
. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have walked this path and visited each one. Each is unique, and many are set in beautiful gardens. The path may wind by cities and highways, but for the dedicated pilgrim, arriving at the temple brings a sense of serenity as she prepares for reflection and prayer.
People all over the world seek meaningful places. Chaucer’s pilgrims went to
to remember the death of St. Thomas Becket. Lewis and Clark mention several Mandans travelling to
to pray and seek omens. Jefferson buffs descend upon
to imagine their favorite President drinking Bordeaux and philosophizing with his Enlightenment buddies. I recently went to
to see where thousands of pipe bowls I’ve seen all over the world come from. Maybe you’ve journeyed back to your childhood home to see if you can relive some of your earliest memories.
As you travel to such a place, if it has meaning for you personally, you’re filled with a sense of mounting expectation. When you arrive, the feeling is momentous. Those feelings are a universal part of the human experience.
In a way you could say you are a pilgrim.
A pilgrim is an exceptional person. She is focused on one of the best aspects of her nature—growth and renewal. The fact that she was able to make the journey means her everyday needs are fulfilled and not of primary concern. She is free to indulge in wonder and curiosity. She’s out to make herself a stronger person.
The word “tourist” has a very negative connotation. As an interpreter, I’ve seen many pilgrims casually dismissed as tourists. For many Lewis and Clark fans, the Lewis and Clark Trail is really not that different from the Shikoku Route. Arriving at Fort Mandan or Traveller’s Rest offers a similar momentous feeling. Such visitors are dedicated seekers. They seek inspiration from the exceptional heroes who lived here, want to learn from their mistakes, or want to learn what made them so successful. Let us honor these pilgrims. They are seekers of knowledge and, through knowledge, wisdom. They’re making themselves stronger persons, and with that strength they will be a blessing in the lives of those around them.
The Scary Tour Guide
By Robert Hanna, Interpreter
“Guides...know their story by heart — the history of every statue, painting, cathedral or other wonder they show you. They know it and tell it as a parrot would — and if you interrupt, and throw them off the track, they have to go back and begin over again.” - Mark Twain
That was in 1867. Twain was a tourist travelling to Europe on a wooden steam boat. One hundred forty five years later, a jet will take you to Europe at over 500 mph, but the tour guides are pretty much the same.
Guides are scary. If you ask them a question, they’ll bore you for twenty minutes. They don’t seem to notice as you look for an opportunity to escape. If you talk to them, you won’t get to finish a sentence, but they’ll unload paragraphs of information on you.
Not all of them are like this, but far too many are. As a guide myself, the most difficult part of my job is overcoming visitors’ fear of the scary tour guide. They’re afraid to ask me a question. They’re afraid to come on a tour or enjoy an interpretive program.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A master guide gives visitors a feeling of excitement about the sights they’ve seen. Fort Mandan is dedicated to offering this kind of historical interpretation. So they sent Jeff and I to the headquarters of the
National Association for Interpretation
(NAI) in Fort Collins, CO, for a week of training with Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman, two of the stars of our profession. We’ll be spreading what we learned to our fellow guides here at Fort Mandan.
Today the sight of an approaching tour guide is a bad omen. With the work that NAI, interpretive trainers, and visionary guides all over the world are doing, I hope that by the end of my career it will have shifted to a good one.
The Power of "I Don't Know"
By Jeffery A. Carlson, Interpretive Program Coodinator
“I don’t know.” When I first began as an interpreter, these were quite possibly the last three words I ever wanted to say. In my view, visitors traveling hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles and paying for an interpretive experience expected an expert. Because they expected it, so did I. Early on, I was motivated to anticipate questions that might arise. Being prepared for them, I thought, would help me avoid having to say those three words I dreaded – and the discomfort that was sure to follow them.
Today, having gained more experience and a better perspective, I realize that those moments where I am forced to say “I don’t know” provide an opportunity for growth, rather than an instance of failure. Certainly, I continue to try and anticipate visitors’ questions (especially as I am creating new programs) to prepare myself as well as possible. I have come to learn, though, that those moments when I don’t know an answer are bound to occur…perhaps even more when I am at my best because it is in those moments when the visitors I am working with are engaged and thinking critically, thoroughly, and maybe even in news ways about my topic.
These are moments of potential for the group generally and for me especially. I no longer dread them because they are what provide me with concrete ideas to pursue. Having to say “I don’t know” challenges me to explore topics in more depth, think about them differently, or simply ask myself why I didn’t think of them before. In doing any and all of these things, I prepare myself to be more fully exactly what an interpreter should be: a resource for people.
Sense of Place on the Upper Missouri
By Robert Hanna, Interpreter
What does the landscape of the Upper Missouri mean to you? Is it a broad and boring plain? Is it what your family has called home for generations? Maybe both?
When the ancient Romans talked about the “spirit of a place,” they meant the actual nymph or demigod that supposedly lived in a given grove, town, or spring. Today when we talk about the “spirit of a place,” we mean a certain feeling a place gives us. It might be a feeling we cannot put into words, even though we may be able to stand there silently and understand it together. There is a world-wide movement among guides at natural and historic sites to better understand and communicate sense of place to visitors. Every national park, monument, and historic site is absolutely unique. That is why such places have the power to draw in visitors from continents away. But if guides and visitors don’t take the time to listen, reflect upon, and understand the spirit of a place, they can easily miss it entirely.
As a new guide at Fort Mandan, I’m working to develop a strong sense of place for the land on which it stands. To Lewis and Clark and most of the men of their expedition, it was an exotic place where they encountered things they had never seen before, like earth lodges, pronghorns, and grizzly bears. Their neighbors the Mandan and Hidatsa saw it much more like we do now—as home. They had already lived here for hundreds of years, and their connection to the land had a certain fullness that is inspiring to me. They knew that applying purple coneflower sap could soothe the pain of an insect bite. They had stories about the spirits and creatures that lived here, like Old Man Coyote, who was always wandering along the riverbanks, looking for trouble, or the Swallower, a headless monster who lived in a wooded draw along the river bottom.
It’s that kind of a deep connection that inspires me the most and that I’d like to pass on to our visitors. I’m working right now on a program in which visitors and I will walk along the fort grounds and compare what the Upper Missouri was like then and now. As a fellow inhabitant of the Upper Missouri, chances are you also have an excellent sense of place here. So what does this land mean to you?
Copyright ©2013 Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. Design and Programming by