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Exploring the Past in North Dakota

Map of Archaeology and History Sites and Museums in North Dakota

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Archaeology and History Sites in North Dakota

Camp Hancock State Historic Site

The Camp Hancock State Historic Site in Bismarck preserves part of Camp Greeley. Built in 1872, the Camp was designed to provide some protection for work gangs engaged in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The site was renamed Camp Hancock the following year. The surviving building, a log-built structure covered in clapboard siding, now houses various exhibits on the Camp and on the broader history of the area.

Custer Military Trail Historic Archaeological District

The Custer Military Trail Historic Archaeological District marks an area of almost 20,000 acres stretching across Billings and Golden Valley Counties. The district takes its name from General George Custer, who oversaw a military confrontation with the indigenous peoples of the region during the 19th century. Among the archaeological sites within this area are the Initial Rock, the place where Custer’s troops camped overnight en route to the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn.

Fort Union Trading Post

The Fort Union Trading Post along North Dakota’s border with Montana is located by the Upper Missouri River. Between 1828 and 1867 it functioned as the most important fur trading post in the area, facilitating exchanges between European Americans and various indigenous communities. The latter provided beaver and later buffalo pelts in exchange for goods produced in Europe and the eastern states. Various special events are now held at this visitor’s attraction.

Fort Mandan

Fort Mandan near Washburn was the encampment in which the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804–05. They built the timber fort according to a triangular design, with their bedrooms and storerooms inside. When the expedition returned in 1806, they found the fort burned down. The fort’s exact location is unknown, but a replica managed by the North Dakota Department of Parks and Recreation now stands in the general area.

Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site

The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in Stanta recreates three Hidatsa settlements that once stood on this location. The three villages located here were decimated in the 19th century, largely due to smallpox. Visitors to the site can still identify a range of visible archaeological features, including earth-lodge dwellings, cache pits, and trails marked by the travois devices which Plains Natives used to transport goods across the land.

Menoken Indian Village Site

The Menoken Indian Village Site near Bismarck was inhabited around the 13th century by people whom archaeologists refer to the Late Plains Woodland peoples. Archaeological excavation of the site has revealed that it housed around thirty circular earth-lodges and was possibly home to two hundred people. The settlement was fortified and positioned at a defensive location in the landscape. Interpretive boards at the site help visitors appreciate what it once looked like.

On-A-Slant Village

Between the 16th and 18th centuries a settlement existed at what is now On-A-Slant Village in Mandan. It may have had as many as a thousand people living here in 75 earth-lodges, although was decimated by a 1781 smallpox epidemic. Five of these earth-lodges have now been reconstructed, allowing visitors an insight into the life of these Native peoples. The site is included on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site

During the Cold War, in which the U.S. and Soviet Union threatened each other with nuclear annihilation, North Dakota stored much of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Visitors can learn about this dark chapter of modern history at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, where both a missile alert facility and a launch facility have been preserved. Closed after the Cold War, the base is now open to the public.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt was the U.S. President between 1901 and 1909. Previously he had purchased a ranch in Dakota, where he liked to hunt bison, and there had a log cabin constructed. He sold the land shortly before becoming President, and the cabin later travelled the country as a touring attraction. The Daughters of the American Revolution subsequently obtained it and in 1959 it was relocated to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Turtle Effigy State Historic Site

Across the northern plains, various effigies made from stones arranged on the ground are known, often taking the form of animal shapes. One of the best known is the Turtle Effigy near Riverdale. Not much is known about its origin, but archaeologists believe it was created by one of the indigenous communities inhabiting this region, perhaps members of either the Mandan and Hidatsa people. Since 1993, the site has been under state ownership.

Museums in North Dakota

Bonanzaville USA

Operated by the Cass County Historical Society, Bonanzaville USA houses over forty historic buildings brought here from various parts of North Dakota. The open-air museum opened in the 1970s, since when it has expanded with new acquisitions, many furnished with authentic historic artefacts. Several of these buildings now house various small museums, including the Law Enforcement Museum, the Eugene Dahl Car Museum, the Eagles Air Museum, and the Moen Tractor Museum.

Dickinson Museum Center

Stretching over 12 acres, the Dickinson Museum Center covers the history of this town and of the surrounding area in the southwestern part of North Dakota. Comprising several distinct museums, its archaeological and historical collection is on display in the Joachim Regional Museum. Outside are various historic buildings brought here from across the state for preservation. The center is also home to several geological and palaeontological exhibits, including several reconstructed dinosaur skeletons.

Frontier Village

Here at the Frontier Village in Jamestown a number of historic structures, many dating from the 19th century, have been brought together to give visitors an impression of what life was like when North Dakota was at the frontier of European American settlement. Not far from the village is the world’s largest statue of a buffalo, great for photo opportunities. Ideal for families with children. Entry is free.

Griggs County Museum

Griggs County Museum in Cooperstown focuses attention on the heritage of this county in the eastern part of the state. As well as assembling material familiar to the early European American pioneers who settled here in the 19th century, it also features displays on more recent periods of history, such as North Dakota’s role in storing U.S. nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Open on Sundays during the summer months.

Hettinger County Historical Society Museum

At the Hettinger County Historical Society Museum, visitors can learn more about the heritage of this southwestern part of North Dakota. Located in the town of Regent, this small museum hosts displays on various topics, from the Native American communities of the plains to the arrival of European American settlers. Several historic buildings have also been preserved and erected at the museum, including the Zion Lutheran Church built in 1908. Entry is free.

Scandinavian Heritage Park

During the 19th century many Scandinavian migrants settled in North Dakota, bringing with them their unique cultural heritage. At the Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, a range of replica buildings have been constructed to inform visitors more about the history of the Nordic nations. The museum opened in 1988 and includes recreations of Norway’s Gol Stave Church, a traditional Finnish sauna, and a Danish windmill.

National Buffalo Museum

Of all the land animals to have lived in North America, none is as iconic as the American bison or buffalo. Learn more about these magnificent creatures and their impact on human societies at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. The North Dakota Buffalo Foundation launched the museum in 1993. Among its collections are a 10,000 year-old bison skull, the body mount of a famous albino buffalo, and material pertinent to conservation efforts.

North American Game Warden Museum

The North American Game Warden Museum is in the International Peace Garden along the U.S.-Canadian border. Focusing on game wardens and conservation officers, it seeks to educate visitors on the need for the protection of natural resources. Although not an archaeology or heritage museum per se, the small museum does showcase a collection of historic taxidermy as well as a memorial to wardens who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum

The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck first opened in 1981. Managed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, it features a collection of palaeontological and archaeological material sure to fascinate anyone interested in the past. The permanent collection is supplemented by temporary exhibitions. The Center is also home to the state archive, of use for historians interested in the heritage of North Dakota.

North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Lewis and Clark’s early 19th century journey across North America has long been held up as a milestone in the European American discovery of the continent. Learn more about the two men and their expedition at the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. Although the museum deals with their entire journey, it focuses attention on the time they spent at nearby Fort Mandan in the winter of 1804-05.

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