Aug. 29 — For more than 1,300 years, the Dakota prairies were home to some of the most extensive trading centers on the American continent.
As early as 350 AD, there existed a highly developed network of trade throughout North America. Centrally positioned on the American continent, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara villages located along the Missouri River served as two of the network’s main trading centers. At these trading sites the Cree, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Comanche, Teton and Crow nations traded goods from around the continent. American Indians of the upper plains traded for items originating from thousands of miles away; seashells from the Pacific Ocean, obsidian from Wyoming and Conch shells from the Gulf Coast.
Both the Mandan and the Arikara conducted trade throughout the summer and into the fall. However, as some tribes traveled great distances to trade in the Dakotas, many carefully planned their arrival at the Mandan and Arikara villages.
Washington Matthews, an Army medical officer stationed at Fort Berthold in the 1860s observed that when the Dakota tribes saw the dotted blazing star blooming on the prairie in the late summer, on a day much like today, “they knew that the corn was ripe, and went to the villages of the farming Indians to trade.”
As with any system of international commerce, when the Indian traders arrived at the commerce centers they needed a measure of exchange, something by which everything traded could be compared. In the intertribal exchange of the 19th century, one standard of value was the buffalo horse, a horse fast enough to run down an adult buffalo. For a single buffalo horse, one could receive 12 spruce poles to build a good skin lodge, a few eagle tail feathers for a headdress, guns, a variety of European commodities, or even seashells from the coast.
By the 1860s this intertribal trade network was but a shadow of its former glory, and eventually disappeared completely. However, the resourcefulness and ingenuity of America’s earliest commodity traders remain an important part of North Dakota’s vibrant past.
Aug. 30 — In 1881, the Dakota Territorial Legislature approved a bill authorizing the creation of a new county carved out of the southern portion of Pembina County and the northern portion of Grand Forks County.
Sponsored by George H. Walsh of Grand Forks, president of the Dakota Territorial Council, the bill to create Walsh County was initially vetoed by the governor, but passed by a legislative override of the veto.
Before Walsh County could be organized, the legislative act required that the residents of the new territory approve the measure through a vote. Election results tallied in May of 1881 showed 293 in favor of the new county and only eight against its formation. gov. Ordway appointed the first board of county commissioners and on this day, Aug. 30, 1881, they first met at the home of George P. Harvey to organize Walsh County.
Aug. 31 — Born on an Iowa farm in 1879, Ralph Budd played an important role in North Dakota’s early rail transportation and tourism.
Graduating from college with a civil engineering degree at the age of 19, Ralph Budd became the youngest chief executive of a railroad when he was named president of the Great Northern at the age of 40.
As president, Budd was the first to promote the site of Fort Union as a tourist attraction and the first to plan a reconstruction of the site. He was also responsible for the erection of the David Thompson Monument and under his direction the town of Felsen had its name changed to Verendrye.
After dedicating a lifetime to railroads and the history of the Northwest, Ralph Budd retired on this day, Aug. 31, 1949.
Sept. 1 — The grandeur of the plains is more subtle than most landscapes. It appeases the need for simplicity, filled with absences. Quiet, modest, and if one is not accustomed, lonely. However, for a faithful lover of the prairies, it holds not loneliness, but peace. This peace appealed to a group of Franciscan Sisters who made their home in Hankinson in 1928.
On this day in 1926 the location for the Sisters’ intended community was selected. the “mother house” would be a foundation in the United States where the community of Sisters could receive and train prospective women for future service as educators, seminary leaders, and aids in hospitals and homes across the country.
The Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, although humbly nestled into the rural landscape of southwestern North Dakota, have a story that reaches across centuries and continents. The convent was the first and only North American Province of the Franciscan Sisters of Dillingen, whose story began in 1241 in Bavaria.
On one lot of land, with a cabbage patch and a meadow along the banks of the Danube, the sisters began their long history of service that would eventually reach North Dakota. Over the centuries, the Sisters combated fires, disease and military sieges, and emerged into the twentieth century facing a new challenge: coming to America.
In 1913, the Sisters were invited to Collegeville, Minnesota, by Abbot Peter Engel. The community of Benedictine monks needed help with the food preparation and laundry services for St. John’s Abbey, as well as the 400 young men that also attended the university there. The sisters in Dillengen willingly accepted the call, and promptly sent 24 sisters across the Atlantic. The promptness was not necessarily driven by the household needs of the St. John’s community, but by escalating tensions in Europe. The first rumblings of World War I were making travel dangerous.
By 1924, the Sisters had outgrown their home in Collegeville and felt the need for a place that was exclusively their own. It was decided by Mother General Laurentia Meinberge of Dillingen that a centrally-located area in the Midwest would be ideal. Rev. Joseph Studnicka of St. John’s Abbey proposed his home town of Hankinson, and the suggestion proved to be a success.
Sept. 2 — In 1947, in the midst of the “save scares,” the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs, it is easy to focus on the United States and Russia’s power struggles. However, China was also undergoing great upheaval.
Since it had become a republic in 1912, the country had been embattled both internally and externally. The country was mostly unified under the KMT, the nationalist forces. Thereafter, it was caught in power struggles with various warlords, Japan, and other groups, specifically — or perhaps, especially — the communist party of China.
This led to the Second Sino-Japanese war, a major Asiatic battle that, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was incorporated into World War II. When the war ended, however, the communist forces in the country and the nationalist forces were still at conflict, and they once again resumed the Chinese Civil War. With nationalist forces in the south and communist forces in the north, the battle continued until 1950, when communist China, aided in part by Japan, won out over the Nationalists.
In the midst of all these struggles, the agricultural “scene” was pretty desolate; war-time destruction affected farm tools, draft animals and seed, and the land was left unworked. It was reported that in the Kiangsi province, on the south banks of the Yangtze River, Japanese armies devastated the lands, leveled the villages and forced out the farmers, who had to wait out this eight-year occupation and the threat of flooding. However, efforts by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration brought some aid to the region. On this day in 1947, readers of the Bismarck Tribune learned of those ongoing efforts and of the assistance of a “slightly built” young man, Maurice Richards, who was once native to Carrington.
Richards volunteered his time abroad and was working with the Chinese in the south. “Under his tutelage, 65 grease-smudged young Chinese farmers” learned the “modern methods of farming.” They were turning overgrown wastelands into rice fields, unfamiliar to native North Dakotans, but also to vegetable and to wheat fields, our own familiar crop.
The UNRRA also contributed 1,136 tractors to the Chinese, helping them eliminate the “centuries-old time-consuming methods of hand plowing their fathers used.” They had plowed 2,000 acres of land by the time the article was printed, and could handle the mechanics of a tractor with ease.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from Humanities North Dakota.