History comes alive at Fort Totten Living History Day on Monday

Louise Oleson, Editor
Special performer Kevin Locke presented a hoop dance at the 2009 Fort Totten State Historic Site Living History Day.

Fort Totten State Historic Site’s Cavalry Square, normally a quiet and relatively deserted place this time of year, will be filled with frontier activities on Monday, Sept. 13 for the 18th annual Living History Field Day.

There will be Army Infantry soldiers drilling on the parade grounds to the sergeant’s orders, “Hut one, hut two . . . about face!”

Sheila Sears will be tanning an animal hide using brain material from that animal. Terri Black Lance will be demonstrating American Indian beadwork. Roberta Keller, traveling seamstress will be showing how her hand cranked sewing machine works. Betty Soper as a frontier school marm will be teaching in a one-room school.

Miki Noltimier will be demonstrating pioneer dancing and recreation. Chuck Keller, arms master, will demonstrate use of cannon, Gatling gun and military arms drilling - just like a frontier sergeant would do. Barbara Miller, frontier laundress, will be hanging out clothes freshly laundered.

Novina West will churn butter like it was done at the fort so many years ago. Gary Miller will be there to be post bugler and officer’s striker. Suzannah Miller will teach old time games.

Patty Christianson will discuss the American Indian culture and cooking. Marilyn Kruger will be spinning wool, Kerwin Lund will be blacksmithing, Doris Griffin will be demonstrating an old-time washing machine, and JoAnn Putman will talk about the nursing profession in the frontier days.

There will be a cowboy poet, Dale Nystrom, hired servant girl, Rita Acker and officer’s wife, Karen Nelson.

Plus more than 600 seventh graders from all around the area.

Each of the presenters will be stationed around the square and the students in groups will take turns at each. Students will travel to more than 20 stations of living history demonstrations, activities and exhibits scheduled throughout the day.

Some will merely listen to the presentations, but some will help, dance, play, taste, march and get involved in the demonstrations. The students will travel to more than 20 stations of living history demonstrations, activities and exhibits scheduled throughout the day, 9 - 11:30 a.m. and 1 - 3 p.m.

After a break for lunch, featured presenter, Keith Bear, will gather everyone on the green. The world-renowned Mandan-Hidatsa storyteller and musician from the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold has a positive message for all ages to hear.

He is an educator who works with students of all ages in school programs and residencies.

After growing up outside the tribal traditions, Bear returned to his people and reconnected through the “sacred branch of the Tree of Life,” the flute.  Through extended family members, friends and ceremonies, Bear learned traditional songs, beadwork, porcupine quillwork, flute music and traditional stories.  He has appeared as a solo presenter and storyteller at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Signature Events throughout the U.S., for the North Dakota Council on the Arts, the International Storytellers Festival in Wales, United Kingdom, and in other cultural programs throughout Europe.  His presentations include being a spokesman for the National Education Association regarding Indian warriors and leaders.  Bear is also a pipe carrier and ceremonialist, and belongs to the Buffalo Dance Society.  In 2009, he was recognized for his contributions to the preservation of his Native culture and traditions by being selected as a Bush Artist Fellow by the Bush Foundation.  An award-winning recording artist, he has produced several CDs with Makoché Records in Bismarck, including Makoché Masters, Echoes of the Upper Missouri, People of the Willows, Earthlodge and Morning Star Whispered.

For this special day, the FTSHS will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free admission.  

About the fort:

The fort was built between 1867 and 1873 as a military outpost, but it actually served for most of its history as an Indian boarding and community school, from 1891 to 1959.

Living History Field Day is coordinated by the Fort Totten State Historic Site Foundation and the state’s history agency, the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND), which manages the site.  The program is open to schools that have pre-registered.  Students receive a study packet to further their study in the classroom.

Visitors will also see several special and permanent exhibits at the site, including History of Fort Totten, a walking window interpretive exhibit using photographs and text to tell the history of Fort Totten during its use as a military installation and boarding school.  Also featured is Land in Her Own Name, stories and photographs of women who homesteaded in North Dakota, as researched by North Dakota State University sociologist Elaine Lindgren.

The site’s Interpretive Center exhibits highlight Fort Totten’s military history, school history, and the State Historical Society’s efforts to preserve the buildings.  Included is a food supply/commissary exhibit illustrating use by the frontier military.  The Plummer Mercantile exhibit features original merchandise from a pioneer merchant in Minnewauken, N.D., and the Powder Magazine exhibit describes the use of this building during the frontier military era.  The quartermaster’s building houses firefighting and agricultural equipment, buggies and other items relating to the local pioneer era.  Independent Order of Odd Fellows/Rebekahas, the Sergeants’ Living Quarters and the Pioneer Daughter’s Museum display early pioneer items relating to the frontier military and Indian school periods, and the Totten Trail Historic Inn is a bed-and-breakfast that takes visitors back to the Victorian era.

Living History Field Day is sponsored in part by the Devils Lake Kiwanis, the Devils Lake Rotary Club, the Arts Council of the Lake Region, Western State Bank, Altru Clinic Lake Region, Ottertail Power Company, The Devils Lake Journal, N.D. Telephone Company, the Fort Totten State Historic Site Foundation and the State Historical Society of North Dakota. For more information, contact Jack Mattson or Jessie Reinke at the Fort Totten State Historic Site, at (701) 766-4441.