Monday, February 8, 2010
Cultural History of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The North Dakota Badlands present many challenges and opportunities, certainly reasons why Roosevelt connected with the land so deeply. The badlands with their ecological diversity and geology provided the means for ancient peoples to gather plant materials, to procure clays for making paints, to find water, and to hunt animals for subsistence. However, the steep terrain and the slickness of the clay soil made travel as exceedingly difficult then as it still is now. The badlands were hardly an inviting place to live, and the archaeological record suggests that long term occupation was impractical. Modern interpretations of prehistoric cultures by tribal elders inform us that the difficulty of life in the badlands and the inspiring landforms made the site spiritually significant in many ways. People considered the buttes as the homes of many animal spirits and sought the badlands for vision questing and other rituals in addition to hunting and gathering plant materials.
Several sites from the Historic Period (1742 – 1880s A.D.) that coincide with oral tradition are in the park today including stone rings, a rock cairn, and four conical, timbered lodges. Two of the lodges, presumably used by men engaged in seasonal eagle trapping, are still standing today. These structures are astonishing reminders of how recently traditional societies used this land as their ancestors had done for untold generations. One archaeological interpretation indicated that the use of the badlands for hunting, gathering, and spiritual pursuits, though undertaken by numerous cultures and groups over millennia, had not significantly changed over that entire time span.
Today, Theodore Roosevelt National Park remains a significant place for many American Indians, whose association with the land is rooted deeply in the past. A modern visitor experiencing the park might look upon the landscape with the same sense of fascination, wonderment, and reverence that these traditional peoples did, even though their spiritual beliefs and values may vary. On a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you enter more than a landscape of unique scenery and abundant wildlife – you enter an ancient home filled with legends, lore, and sacred places.
Zedeño, M. N. Cultural Affiliation Statement and Ethnographic Resource Assessment Study for Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.
Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology. The University of Arizona, Tucson. 2006.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site – An extraordinarily important trading post for Northern Great Plains tribes at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site – The center of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara cultures near the confluence of the Heart and Knife Rivers.