Dakota: The Story of the Northern Plains
Norman K. Risjord
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The northern plains are often ignored by the rest of the nation or, if not, are mentioned in the context of the weather, Mount Rushmore, or the Black Hills. However, North Dakota and South Dakota have a colorful past—and present—deserving of greater recognition.
Norman K. Risjord relates the remarkable histories of these two states, from the geological formation of the Great Plains to economic changes in the twenty-first century. Risjord takes the reader on a journey through the centuries detailing the first human inhabitants of the northern plains, the Lewis and Clark expedition, homesteading and railroad building, the political influence of the Progressive movement, the building of Mount Rushmore, and Wounded Knee II. Included are stories of such noteworthy characters as French explorer Vérendrye, the Lakota leader Red Cloud, North Dakota political boss Alexander McKenzie, and South Dakota Democrat George S. McGovern.
Despite the shared topography and the rivers that course through both states, the diverse reactions of the two states to the challenges of the twentieth century provide opportunities for arresting comparisons. This captivating look at the Dakotas’ geography, ecology, politics, and culture is essential reading for Dakotans and those interested in the rich history of this important region.
and build another fort (thereby also keeping a promise made to his engagés). While the post was being constructed, Vérendrye was joined by a party led by Charles Nolan Lamarque, a Montreal fur merchant who shared Vérendrye’s appetite for combining commerce with adventure. The two commanders selected from their combined force twenty men who seemed most able and willing to make a rugged overland journey. To this group they added about twenty-ﬁve Crees to act as guides, interpreters, and, if
reasons still unclear, began warming about that time, and the ice went into retreat. By twelve thousand years ago it had left the Dakotas, and within another thousand years the melting ice had created a gigantic freshwater lake in Canada (Lake Agassiz to geologists), the remnants of which today are the Lake of the Woods and Lake Winnipeg. An arm of Lake Agassiz occupied the valley of the Red River, and for several centuries it emptied southward along the Minnesota River to the Mississippi. After
of the “mountain man,” the 86 ventures under the american flag trapper residing semipermanently in the wilderness who would bring his furs to an annual summer “rendezvous” in the mountains, where Ashley would purchase them for shipment to St. Louis. Among those answering Ashley’s ad was Jedediah Strong Smith, an itinerant farm laborer who had worked his way across the Midwest to St. Louis. Although he had never been up the Missouri nor ever trapped a furbearing animal, Jedediah Smith would
out over the plains, slaughtering the animals for their hides, leaving the carcasses to rot in the sun. Within a decade they had virtually obliterated the vast herds that had numbered in the millions. A scientiﬁc expedition in 1883 counted a mere two hundred buffalo grazing on the prairies of the West. The effect on Indian culture was devastating. Deprived of their primary source of food and housing, the Dakotas became dependent on government handouts. The new situation conﬁned them to the
northern plains A typical Mandan vessel of this sort was large and globular with elaborate decorations. The upper half of the vessel was S-shaped, curving gracefully inward at the neck, slightly outward above the neck, and inward again at the vessel mouth, making it easy to carry and pour. The curvature was decorated with patterns made by cord impressed into the clay. Although each Mandan village on the upper Missouri was surrounded by a defensive fortiﬁcation, suggesting a continued