posted: June 30th, 2008 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Last night while hiking back from the Knife River along a park service trail, the wind of the past few days subsided and the sun began to assume a beautiful red glow, so often the case after a series of storms.
To dramatize the sun, I attached a 400mm lens, and then shot through the trees, which I believe further enhanced the beauty of a prairie sunset. That’s one of the benefits of living–or visiting–the Great Plains; here, the sunsets and sunrises may be among the world’s most spectacular.
The sunset served to cap a wonderful day in Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. From strictly the photography perspective, this park is loaded with story-telling images. Essentially, we focused on two areas: the stories told on the bison hide of Mato-Tope, known in English as Four Bears, and on the items located in the earth lodge.
FOUR BEARS JUSTIFIES MURDER OF TWO WOMEN
The Four Bear’s stories were recorded by George Catlin, famous for his early day art work in the Mandan villages located here along the Knife River. Apparently Catlin was horrified when he learned that Four Bears had killed two women, and he wrote about it in his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and conditions of North American Indians.
As we learned from his book, Four Bears had just taken the scalps of two Ojibbeway woman, and Catlin asks the chief if it was manly to do so. Though the man’s pride prevented an answer, Catlin learns from the interpreter that he had seated himself in full sight of the village, seeking to revenge a murder in his own tribe. He stayed there six days without sustenance, then killed two women in full view of the tribe. He made his escape, which he believed entitled him to credit of a victory, even though the victims were women.
The interpretive center and the earth lodge tell many other stories. By virtue of their displays, they tell of the sophisticated skills inherent in the three tribes that once occupied these sites, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and the Arikara.
When you visit (and you must if you are in the area), take time to study the bead work and then the craftsmanship inherent in the moccasins, the baskets, gloves and vests. For images of the artwork I used two strobes, backing off on the camera-mounted strobe by 1/3 of a stop to add slight shadows.
Though the moccasins are not artifacts from the past, they were created by the ancestor’s of those whose comfort and existence depended on their quality. The skills were passed down, and, some, we were told, were made by Larry Belitz, one of today’s contemporary Indian artists.
Because of other commitments, we must depart wishing we had time to canoe the Knife and hike a few of the park’s other trails. Still, we leave with many mementoes to remind us of the beauty inherent in this prairie park, and the stories that abound. Prior to departing the Visitor Center, we purchased a CD detailing in pictures and words life as it existed here over the eons.
Narration is provided by Grace Arlene Henry (Black Corn Women) who portrays the life of Buffalo-Bird Woman, who was born in an earth lodge. In a somewhat lyrical tone Henry explains what life was like during the heyday of the Mandan, and then details what happened after the tribe contracted smallpox. Her voice is haunting.
Though we watched the CD on the park’s large screen we have already watched it again in the comfort of our Airstream. We suspect we’ll watch it yet again before we return home, allowing it–and the pictures we’ve amassed–to remind us of this beautiful site that is so often overlooked by visitors scurrying along Interstate 94, bound for parks whose names carry more cachet.
What a mistake they are making.