Prairie Pulse 1504; Tracy Potter; RIchard Bresnahan


(upbeat music) – Hello, and welcome to Prairie Pulse. Coming up later in the show, we’ll highlight master
potter Richard Bresnahan. But first Matt Olien
got a chance to sit down with Tracy Potter about his new book. – And my guest is a long time friend of Prairie Public, Tracy Potter, and his new book is Steamboats
in Dakota Territory. And Tracy, welcome,
welcome to Prairie Pulse. Nice to see you again. – Thanks for having me here, Matt. – Just start off by telling
folks who aren’t familiar, your background, where
you’re from originally, and how you became a historian, and your other things that you’ve done. – Well, I’m from Bismarck
is where I’m living. I’ve been working in heritage tourism for most of my last 25 years,
27 years, and then I retired. So I’m living in Bismarck
with my wife Laura and I write these books. – [Matt] You’re in state government and things like that of course too. – I was in the state
tourism office for years. I used to actually be a
life and health analyst for the state of North Dakota
in the insurance department. This is the era that I like to cover. When I was with the state tourism office, they called me the staff historian. I like to find out what’s
fun about North Dakota and tell people how to enjoy it. – So Steamboats in Dakota Territory. Tell us about the book, why you wrote it, and what it’s about. – I was solicited to write
it by The History Press. They had seen some of
my work and they said, “Would you write a book for us?” And we went back and forth on topics. And I’d just been involved
in steamboats because one of the things that I did, it was at the Fort Abraham
Lincoln Foundation, we owned a Missouri riverboat, the Lewis & Clark
riverboat on the Missouri. And so I’d done a lot of research on that, and I said, “well how about that?” And I find it, it’s in my
wheelhouse in that it’s about our territory, our region, North Dakota and South Dakota, but also it’s about the relationship between American Indians
and the conquerors, the invaders, the white people that came. That has been a topic that
has always interested me. I look at it from as many
different angles as I can, and particularly try to raise the profile of the Native Americans from being just, they’re the Indians, or
who are these people, the individual people, so I salted this book
with a lot of their names. – How crucial were steamboats in this era? Where were they and what did they do? – Well, they’re both on
the Red and the Missouri. My book is largely about the Missouri, there’s a chapter on the Red and also a little tip of the hat to
the Minnie H on Devil’s Lake, you know, when it ran. But mostly it’s about the Missouri. And they were critical in terms of, they were transformative. They increased the pace
of travel on the Missouri, and increased the amount of trade goods that could go upriver to be traded to the Lakota and Dakota, Assiniboine … And it increased the amount of the furs and robes, particularly, that could come back down river. The Missouri’s a harsh mistress. To travel the Missouri in a keelboat, would take many many months, and you have to make sure that you’re doing it at the right rises, when does the river rise? Missouri rises in April
with the first snow melt and then it rises again in June when the mountain snows
melt, and steamboats, if they were calculating
and they were fast enough, they could take advantage of both of those and they could push well into Montana. – What years are we talking about in the book that you cover? – I always start everything
on the Bering Straits 15,000 years ago, not
exactly in this case but I do like to talk about Lewis and Clark, even prior to Lewis and Clark, the trade relations with the
native peoples that were here. And the native peoples themselves
and their interactions. But then, the steamboats
don’t arrive until 1831. – [Matt] Okay. – The first one that gets here
is called the Yellowstone. And, it was named, as I say, with a hope that it would
reach the Yellowstone, and it eventually did. – What impact did this have
on the territory eventually? Going towards statehood, and the commerce, and the growth of the area? – I look at it from the
Native American perspective. Let’s say this, at first it
accelerates the pace of trade. And so, you know, more trade goods are
reaching the Indian nations. They’re reacting to that in different ways and in different times, in the 1830’s it’s all
a peaceful co-existence. 1840’s and 50’s, that’s when
it really reaches its height. But in the late 1850’s
and into the 1860’s, there’s a conflict with, particularly the Lakota-Dakota nations and the United States government. It starts out as a matter of commerce, and then it becomes a floating platform to bring up howitzers, and soldiers. And in the end it serves as the vehicle for confining many of the native peoples. You’ll see Sitting Bull is, as a prisoner, riding with Grant Marsh
on the Far West River. – That was my next question,
impact on Native Americans, which of course you answered and as with many things in the
territory at that time, it was not good eventually. – No it’s not, and of course there is a chapter in the book
on the Saint Peter’s. And the Saint Peter’s is probably the most chilling impact that a steamboat
had on the native peoples, and that’s because it brought small pox. In the 1837 small pox epidemic, is clearly not just accidental, I mean, it is accidental in that no
one was intentionally doing it, but the pursuit of profit lead people who should know better to continue to bring that steamboat
right up into the heart of the Mandan-Hidatsa nation, where 90% mortality rates were the result. It has all of these elements. Steamboats don’t do anything
that wouldn’t happen otherwise, but they accelerated it, including the steamboats in
both the Red and the Missouri were used to facilitate railroad traffic. The first railroad engine
that reaches Winnipeg is taken there on a steamboat that comes out of the Red Lake River and up the Red and goes into Winnipeg. And, that railroad engine is then used to complete the rail lines that
doom steamboats on the Red. The Northern Pacific,
when it reaches Bismarck, it’s not actually reaching Bismarck, the rails are coming out of Bismarck, they called it the crossing at the time, brought there by
steamboats, and they meet. So, the steamboats carried
with them the seeds of their own destruction,
their own irrelevance. They helped facilitate the
development of our area, the settling of our area, and then became irrelevant
because the railroads took over the job. – You talk about some colorful
characters in this era that had to do with steamboats. Can you tell us about a
couple, three of them? – Yeah, probably I spend
more ink on Joseph LaBarge than anybody, and he’s quite a character. He grows up in the steamboat business. He’s on his first assignment
when he’s a 19 year old boy, his boat is struck with cholera. All the hands are dying, the captain of the boat has
to go get a reserve crew, and so this young man is
left in charge of his boat. He is quarantined by the
locals who won’t let him, they tell him, “You’ve gotta
get your boat out of here, “you can’t be around here with cholera.” And so he has to get up
steam and run it himself. And he continues from, this is the 1830’s, he continues all the way into the 1880’s as a riverboat captain. He has many incidences
with native peoples. Good and bad, but he typically
is more understanding and of course we’re
reading it in his words and he’s very understanding of himself. One of his great things was a black robe, the Catholic priest who
was so, Father De Smet, who was so well liked by the Indians, he’s riding with LaBarge. They come to an Iroquois village where the Iroquois chief wants to
meet the black robe and says, “We’re suffering a terrible drought. “Could you come over and
pray for rain for us.” And so De Smet goes over
there, prays for rain, thunderstorms come, and everybody’s happy. And De Smet goes, “Well
they’re gonna think I did it.” (laughs) And one of the other
characters in the book says to De Smet, “I’ll give you 10 horses if you’ll give me the secret
to what you just did.” And he said, “Well lead a
good life and pray hard.” He kept his horses. (laughing) – You talk about Bismarck and Yankton. Those two cities were really
impacted by this right? Tell us about that. – Yeah they were and
they both became ports on the Missouri River, and
they were ports because the railroads reached
there and then stopped. Bismarck is the easy one to see because the Panic of 1873, they
both reach in 1872, three, in that era, but then
there’s this financial panic that stops railroad construction. And so, if that’s the case, there are people living in Montana, there are furs to be harvested up the Yellowstone River and farther. As the rails stop, the
steamboat has to be the action, and so they become port cities, and both of them are significant. They compete for business, and at first, Yankton is successful because
it’s a little more settled. It was settled earlier than Bismarck, and Bismarck was known as
the wickedest city in America in the early 1870’s. There were murders, there
were shootings, you know. And so Yankton was a better
place to live at the time. But as Bismarck become settled, Bismarck had a broader reach. They were a horse a piece
for the black hills, but Bismarck could reach Fort
Mountain and into Montana, and up the Missouri much better
and so it succeeded in that. And then of course I talk about the theft of the capital
from Yankton and how Bismarck became the capital of Dakota. – Your first chapter is called
An Ancient Mall of America. What does that mean? – This is something that I
can’t even remember where it first became something in
my head, but it was clear. Those five villages of the
Manda, and Hidatsa particularly the Arikara ran their own villages. They had agricultural surpluses, and they were at a frontier of both, frontier of the horse coming into our region from the southwest, and the gun coming into our
region from the northeast. And they’re at that, they would meet. A settled city where people can know that they’re going to be
able to trade for goods. They became trading centers, and so that’s why I say a mall of America. – Can you read a portion of the book, a paragraph or two, something like that? – I’d be glad to. Maybe I’ll get to the back just where we’re concluding on it. – Sure. – I’ll read two paragraphs if you will. “For those who care about history, “the stories of the steamboat era “do one very important thing. “They layer our past with complexity. “The overriding story of exploitation, “conquest, and relocation
has periods of friendships, “marriages, and mutually
profitable commerce “interspersing those of military conflict “and the confinement
of the last free bands “of Norther Plains Indians. “George Santayana famously said that, “‘Those who don’t remember history are “‘condemned to repeat it.’ “He was wrong. “Steamboats won’t conduct
the fur trade on the “Missouri again whether
we remember it or not. “History is neither cyclical nor linear, “at least not in a
predestined or directed way. “Voltaire called it a pack of
tricks we play upon the dead. “Napoleon said it was
written by the winners. “Churchill was sure it would kind to him “because he intended to write it. “What history really
provides is instruction “on human nature, and object
lessons on ways people interact “and organize their societies. “The era of the steamboat
in Dakota territory “coincided with great
changes in the relations “between the cultures of the
first people of the region “and invaders from the United States. “The story of the steamboats
and the men of the steamboats “is a lens through which we see “the struggle the first people faced, “and the effect of the inexorable “occupation of the region by the invaders. “We see the Indian
villages reduced in number, “and the pioneer towns of Dakota develop. “The men who rode and
piloted the steamboats “chronicled all those changes,
they told the stories.”. – A lot of research for this book Tracy, I assume you got some help
from organizations and people. – The state library was
particularly useful, the state archives as well. I have the advantage of
living five blocks away. (laughter) That became great. But, also the University
of Wisconsin – La Crosse, great photo archives. And the cover image, this is a great painting of the riverboat, Assiniboine, showing up at Fort Union and it kind of tells all
the stories that I want. I saw it, I pursued it. Lord Heavor of Astor in England, a member of the House of Lords, owns this. I had to contact him
and ask for permission and through his associate
I was able to receive that, but where was I gonna find the original? It turns out, my neighbor, Darrell Dorgan, had it, not the original, but he
had the artist’s proof and was willing to lend it to me. Anything like this,
films, books, anything, it’s all becomes a collaboration and I’m very thankful that people were able to collaborate with me. – What’s been the reaction
to the book so far? – Well, I had really positive reactions. Just the other night,
a guy I had sold a book at a street fair saw me again and he goes, “I thought it was going
to be about steamboats, “but it was really tense, it was tense.” He says, “The tension and the relations “between the native peoples.” He says, “You taught me a lot.” And that’s the kind of thing that makes me feel good in my old age. – You may have answered this already, but when essentially
do the steamboats end? When does the era really kinda end? – The final blow,
according to a historian, was when the railroads reached Helena. – [Matt] Okay. – That was 1887. But, there were still
steamboats still on the Red up till 1910 or 1912. And really, what they
were doing at that point was no longer vast cross country stuff, it was those cities that were, as yet, unconnected by rails in our
networks would reach that. And it really dies, as the
internal combustion engine and automobiles put an end to it. – Quick, we have a minute and a half left, why was Dakota territory
divided the way it was? Do you know Tracy? – Into North and South Dakota?
– Into North and South and not down the middle
or some other ways. (laughing) – There’s been a lot of political people that have asked that question. You know, east Dakota is a lot
different from west Dakota. No, I think it had to do
a lot with the railroads, you know, the Northern Pacific was where the big dog in politics and economics at that time, And they preferred to have
their own state up here. – Do you find, Tracy,
there’s a lot of people in North Dakota that just don’t know about things like this? Steamboats on the Red and Missouri, or are people more educated than you think about our history? – There are people who
know a lot more than I do about the steamboats,
and I relied on them. But yes, I think a lot of people don’t pay much attention to
our history, our past. But as people get older, they
seem to be interested in it. – [Matt] Yes they do. – [Tracy] I do find that. – Where can people get
the book, purchase it? What are some sites they
can go to or book stores? – It’s at Barnes & Noble, it’s
at Zandbroz here in Fargo. It’s at the Heritage Center in Bismarck, the Louise and Clark Interpretive Center. It’s generally available. And they can buy it online, and there’s even an
e-book associated with it. – [Matt] The book is
Steamboats in Dakota Territory, and my guest has been Tracy Potter. Thanks, good seeing you again. – Thanks, Matt. – Stay tuned for more. (upbeat music) – After spending nearly
four years in Japan as an apprentice for the Nakazotto family, Richard Bresnahan returned
to St. John’s University with a wealth of pottery knowledge and skills. He set up a completely
indigenous pottery studio, including the largest wood firing kiln of its kind in North America. We recently visited with Richard about his pottery and philosophies. (cheerful music) – [Richard] When you’re becoming a artist, especially working with a clay material, you’re having what we call stiogi, ‘sti’ means clay, ‘ogi’ means taste. You’re learning the taste of the clay, and so that’s a metaphor
for you’re taking in your exterior environment into
your interior environment. You’re developing a
spirituality to your material. (cheerful music) I went to high school here at St. John’s Prep School in 1968. And then in 1972, started
here at the University. My art history teacher,
Sister Johanna Becker was working on major research in Japan, especially their ancient karatsu ceramics, and then I left for an
apprenticeship in Japan in 1975. My first three months in Japan, I didn’t even get on the potter’s wheel. The first three months
were then learning how to wash ashes, to make glazes. That kind of step by step process of learning provided me with
the foundation so that after three and a half years
of throwing and kiln building, here was a methodology that
was taught to an individual, saying, “Oh I can do this,
I have been given the “skill set that I can
humanely do this myself.”. Or I could teach this to young people, that this is a very efficient, but also humane way of working. When I returned back from Japan in 1979, father Michael asked me, “What
can St. John’s do for you?”. I described the idea of
setting up a clay program that had not been done in any
universities in the United States, where we only work from
indigenous systems, working only with natural
materials found in the area. And we would develop a
clay program working with local materials and wood firing. And at that time, in 1979,
there were only around eight operating wood
kilns in North America. I was guessing that there
might be materials here. Frances Shilener, who was
taking his children out on a 4-H project to find crystals,
found the clay deposit in a road cut bed in … So I go up to father
Michael Blecker and the president’s office and I say, “Father Michael, I found a clay deposit, “and they’re gonna be
digging the clay deposit out “in the next season. “But it’s the most beautiful clay, “and I want to dig enough
clay for St. John’s for “300 years of clay making.”. And he turns in his chair and
he looks at me and he says, “Richard, in 1500 years
of Benediction history, “300 years is not all that long. “I trust what you’re doing.”. (cheerful music) I’m very interested in functionalism, because one of the
things, if you know that you’re making something
from a material that’s 144 million years old, it’s
a little laser light of time. From 144 million years, you’ve
changed the material and you’ve fired it, and it’s forever changed. That’s a great responsibility. You’re taking something and
you’re changing it forever. We name our children after people who have saved your life or you’ve admired them or they’re very important in your life. Sister Johanna saved my life as a teacher, and she became an important
mentor and a colleague, and I was her student. It takes about 12,000
pieces to fire the kiln. Big pieces, small pieces,
it takes a year and a half of making pieces. These are all getting
ready for the kiln firing. It takes seven weeks of
loading, 10 days of firing, a week of cooling, a week of unloading, 9 months of cleaning. It doesn’t fit an academic system. You can’t all of a
sudden make something and get a grade, it doesn’t fit
a commercial market at all. So why is this system so important? It’s the best ethological
and energy model, and it’s the best community
building model for culture. Because it takes 45
people to fire this kiln, and five cooks who are cooking meals. My wife Colette organizes all the chefs, so that sometimes we have 300 people for dinner here during the firing. Because they’re coming to see this, and they want to be here to help. (cheerful music) I am certain that the clay we
wash, the materials we get, are the purest so that I can rest easy at night that what I make for human beings is not only safe, but it can
last 100 hundred years and you can hand it down generationally. That means something. – Well that’s all we have on
Prairie Pulse for this week, but as always, thanks for watching. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) – [Female Narrator] Funding for Minnesota Legacy programs are
provided by a grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural
Heritage Fund with money from the vote of the people of
Minnesota, on November 4th, 2008. And by the members of Prairie Public. (upbeat music) (upbeat music)

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