Recently, I had the chance to travel through quite a bit of the Northern Plains. I drove from San Diego to Salt Lake City, then to Casper, Wyo., Billings, Mont., Williston and Bismarck, ND, Rapid City, SD, Fort Laramie, Wyo., down through Denver to Santa Fe and Albuquerque, up to Chaco Canyon, Flagstaff and Sedona, Ariz., and back home again. In all, I put close to 5,000 miles on the car.
I’m not much of a souvenir hunter, but I did return with a box full of books, a laptop loaded with digital photos and a few thoughts I’d like to share.
First, if your ancestors settled in the Dakotas, you come from hardy stock. Although it was already May, I drove right into a snowstorm that lasted off and on for a week. I’ve read how extreme the weather can be in that part of the country, but living it firsthand was a different story. Fortunately, I managed to keep warm!
While in Bismarck, ND, I went to the North Dakota State Archives. I don’t have family from there, but promised a friend I’d try to find something on her family. The folks at the archives were incredibly helpful, and although I didn’t learn much, it did remind me of how much local information is stored at state libraries and historical societies—and how willing the personnel are to help. If you haven’t used these resources for your state, you’re missing out. (You’ll find a host of resources for North Dakota and the other 49 states in the Family Tree Yearbook 2002.)
While in North Dakota, I also got to visit the new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. They’re gearing up for next year’s 200th anniversary of the trek, and have built a dandy visitor center. One of the center’s gems is a complete collection of Karl Bodmer prints. Bodmer was a Swiss artist who came to America in 1832, and captured the everyday life of the Mandan people. It’s fortunate he did, because a few years later nearly all of the Mandan were wiped out from smallpox. This is one of only four US locales where you can see the entire Bodmer collection. The neat part for me was seeing a Bodmer print depicting the exact spot where I had stood earlier in the day.
One more North Dakota note before I sign off: I was walking through the North Dakota Heritage Center and out of the corner of my eye I saw a sign about a “Nancy Hendrickson Exhibit.” Boy, did I do a double take! It seems “the other” Nancy Hendrickson was a North Dakota homesteader who alone lived in a tiny shack all her life. In her later years, she started taking photographs of her farm pets. My favorite is the one of a cat wearing a war bonnet! The Heritage Center has on display her “house” (it’s really tiny) and her photographic equipment.
I was told that North Dakota is the least visited of the lower 48 states. That’s a pity because it has so much great history. Think about adding it to your vacation plans! If you’ve been to North Dakota, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts about your visit.
Check out these North Dakota sites:
• North Dakota Genealogy
• North Dakota State Library
• North Dakota State Archives
• North Dakota Heritage Center
• Lewis and Clark Center