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Bismarck, 2000, a Non-pitcher’s Journal

by Betty Burlingame

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We angled up through Iowa to I-90 in Minnesota, across the high prairies to Sioux Falls, SD. From there we turned north
. In Watertown, SD, we got off the interstate to refuel the van, and ourselves. On the southwest corner of the intersection of the highways was an immense red brick, many-pillared building. It is the Redlin Art Center. There is a picture of it on the official South Dakota state map. Terry Redlin, named America’s favorite artist seven years in a row, came back to his home town , built this museum and gave it to the city. Admission is free. What a wonderful gift!

There were no towns to speak of, and few signs of people, going north to Fargo. Farms were tucked into groves of trees. There were hay bales in the median and to the sides of the highway. We later learned that farmers bid on the rights to the grassland in the highway’s periphery. Imagine the acreage that is utilized in this way.

From Fargo west to Bismarck we saw more sunflower fields, and more and more wheat fields, oats, some corn and soybeans. We began seeing herds of horses as well as cattle. We by-passed Jamestown with its giant bison high on a ridge overlooking the highway.

My little knowledge of North Dakota included the fact that Lawrence Welk was born there. We learned that Jamestown, ND, is the hometown of Louis L’Amour, whose last name was originally spelled LaMoore. Not nearly as romantic!


This beautiful lithograph by George Catlin, done in the early 1830’s, exactly describes the topography of the land at the Missouri River. At the bottom of the picture , the city of Bismarck is today folded into the hills, and across the river is the flatter land of the original Mandan Indian village, now the town of Mandan. As in South Dakota, the Missouri marks the end of the undulating hills to the east, and the beginning of the flatter prairie, to the west. It is remarkable to observe.

Lewis and Clark built Fort Mandan in late 1804, where they wintered their expedition. Sakakawea’s son was born in early February, 1805. (“Sakakawea” is the way her name is always spelled and pronounced in North Dakota). The expedition then left North Dakota in April on their way to the Pacific.

Another historic Bismarck site, Fort Abe Lincoln, was the last home and command post of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. From there he rode out to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Both Fort Mandan and Fort Abe Lincoln have been restored and/or reconstructed.

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The town of Bismarck was the end of the line for the railroad for many years, until a bridge was built across the Missouri. The capital of North Dakota employs many of the people. Other employers are oil refineries, the power stations, many health- care services, and the Bobcat is manufactured here.

Bismarck is one of the most beautiful small cities we have ever been in. It is modern, clean, and tidy. Many of the buildings appear to be new. Homes are well kept and landscaped. The capital grounds are right in the center of town. The capital building itself is long and low, with a “skyscraper” tower at its center. The population of the two cities, Bismarck and Mandan, was given as between 60 and 70,000 people, quite small for a state capital.

Kirkwood mall was built in the 1970’s, but it, also, appears new, and well kept. They put money aside at the time it was built to keep it maintained properly It is completely carpeted – which must be a boon in the winter.

Some of its older residents told us that Bismarck had virtually no trees when they were young. It probably looked very much like Catlin’s painting. Some sort of reforestation program was instituted (possibly the CCC), and now the inner city is beautifully wooded. Trees meet overhead in a cathedral effect, which reminds us of our town before the Dutch elm disease destroyed so many trees here.

We were camping just outside of town to the east. As I was being driven to the arena on the shuttle bus one day, the driver pointed out the letters B – I – S – M – A – R – C – K spelled out by tall pine trees on the side of a low ridge. He said it was much more obvious when the trees were smaller. Now, some of the branches reach toward the next letter! Still, a great sight. I bet it’d be fun to see from the air.

The Garrison dam on the Missouri, and lignite coal (soft coal) fuel the many power plants upriver from Bismarck. The coal is mined right in North Dakota. The coal is extensive enough to last forever, a man told us.!

We were aware that we didn’t see taverns and bars. Oh, yes, the residents said. There are sports bars, and the restaurants and hotels all have bars, etc. Still, next to the towns in Iowa and Wisconsin, for instance, there was a real shortage of neighborhood bars. Not that that’s a bad thing!

The horseshoe tournament was held at the VFW All Seasons Arena, which is normally home to the hockey teams and figure skating clubs. There was room for 48 courts in the two separate areas, office and computer space, check-in area, a snack bar, sufficient bleacher space, concession booths, a beer garden, an awards platform, and just about anything else that was required. Everyone was happy with the facility and the way that the ND people handled the tournament.

We felt a little bit out of the zone, regarding the sports news we were used to getting. The Minnesota Twins was about the only major league team mentioned in detail. Local auto races were reported almost lap by lap the next day. Arena football and American legion baseball were getting good coverage also, on radio and TV.

There was an ad on TV, also, that was out of the ordinary for us. It was for an UltraShack, an ice fishing shack that included a TV, microwave, 2-burner stove, and sleeping benches.

We found that the cost of food and gasoline was quite a bit higher than in Davenport. Gas was about a quarter a gallon higher, which was surprising, with all the gasoline refineries in the area. More understandable was the higher price of milk – 75cents to a dollar a gallon higher – because their herds are beef, not dairy cattle, I guess.

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We learned in the Bismarck Tribune about a new NPR talk show , which began July 20, called “Native America Calling”. Its goal is to expand the ancient Indian tradition of “the talking circle” – communicating as equals.

I wonder if it’s just on in select areas.

There are many Native American people living in the area. A touching obituary for an 84 year old lady, Mildred Uses Arrow , included her vital information, her jobs, her memberships, etc, It went on: “Mildred enjoyed dancing and attending pow-wows. She was a back-up singer for various drum groups and was a jingle-dress and traditional dancer. She enjoyed beading, bingo, and helping others.” And “Mildred was preceded in death by her husbands, Sidney Cottonway and Percy Uses Arrow and her parents, Thomas and Lucy Comes Last, and an adopted brother, Robert Two Bears.” She must have been quite a lady.

As usual, we enjoyed the camaraderie of the pitchers and their families. It was gratifying to see special friends again, and to catch up on each other’s news. The competitions, especially in the championship rounds, were as exciting as ever. It was a good tournament.

Both going to and from Bismarck, we shared the highways with seemingly endless groups of motorcyclists, who were on their way to and from the Sturgis reunion. It was funny to see them in the rest areas and gas stations, almost to a man talking on their cell phones! Someone told us they estimated there had been 600,000 that year in Sturgis.

It was good to be able to attend yet another tournament, and, as usual, it was good to get back home. Next year’s tournament will be in Hibbing, Minnesota. That will be another new area for us to learn about. It’s so interesting to spend two weeks in cities that you would otherwise have no reason to visit. We find that they all have something special and unique about them, and have really enjoyed each and every one.

Betty Burlingame