"If we must die, we die defending our rights"
State 13: North Dakota - August 24, 2017
We woke up at a Walmart in the North Dakota capitol of Bismarck. Yesterday was very expensive and stressful with Rosie in the repair shop. Since we did not feel well rested, we decided a little self-soothing was in order, and slept in until 10:00 am. After all, the North Dakota Capitol Building has been there since 1934, and was not going anywhere.
The stellar reputation of the North Dakota government had already preceded our arrival. While the vast majority of states were struggling to balance their budget, North Dakota was one of only 8 states with a budget surplus. Utilizing the surplus, the government established a rainy day fund, and cut their already very low taxes. The sales tax is only 5%, and the state income tax is just 2.27%! The unemployment rate of the state is 2.7%; half of the national average. A recent gallop pole named North Dakota the happiest state in the America! Fiscal responsibility, low taxes, ample jobs, and happy people, are all attractive qualities in a potential new home state!
We headed across town toward the capitol building where we made our first interesting discovery. Most state capitol buildings are located in the cities central business district. However, the North Dakota State Capitol building's location is dead smack in the middle of a suburban residential neighborhood. Literally, right across the street people were outside mowing their lawns, washing their cars, and going about their daily lives. Albeit an unusual location, it sent a poignant symbolic message that the state government is not far removed from the people it serves. The most unusual aspect of the external construction North Dakota State Capitol, was absolutely everything! Whereas most capitols are rectangular, have a rotunda, and constructed in classic Greco Roman Architecture. The North Dakota Capitol building consisted of a cylindrical and horizontal rectangular building connected to a 21 floor office building, with no dome and constructed in Art Deco style. I like outside the box thinkers who challenge the status quo! With anxious anticipation, Lori and I made our way to the visitor’s entrance to learning more about the government of North Dakota.
Upon entering the capitol building, I was disappointed to once again have to empty my pockets to be searched and scanned by security, but at least the guard had a sense of humor. Speaking in a stern and serious tone, the security guard looked me directly in the eye and said, “Sir, I am going to need you to take your North Korean nuclear missiles out of your pockets, and place them into the plastic bowl”. I had a good laugh and a memorable moment, which helped lighten the mood of an otherwise uncomfortable experience. Next, we met up with our tour guide, whom left much to be desired clearly lacking personality and passion for her job.
First, we were taken to the House and Senate chambers. Although both were aesthetically unremarkable, we found it very interesting the legislature is only in session every other year! This is not only a great cost cutting measure, but also shows the state has an excellent handle on their expenses! We were then lead to the Supreme Court, which possessed a few noteworthy features. While most Supreme Court visitor galleries usually have hardwood benches and chairs which are rough on the bum, the highest court in North Dakota’s visitor galleries features plush and comfy red couches! Also of interest, three times a year the Supreme Court travels to colleges throughout the state, to hear actual cases in front of the law students. As strange as it may sound, we found it refreshing to learn all 3 branches of the government are physically housed within the capitol. Many states have outgrown their capitol buildings, and relocated some, or all branches of government to off-site locations. Not North Dakota! Good Job!
Next, we were lead to the top of the 19th floor of the capitol tower. The capitol tower is the tallest building in North Dakota, and frequently referred to as “ The Skyscraper on the Prairie”. The 19th floor of the tower features external observation balconies, but they are no longer accessible to the general public. The doors to the balconies were locked in the 1960’s after kids were found throwing objects off the tower and on to the cars below. The 19th floor also houses wicker furniture made by the state psychiatric patients during the depression. The psychiatric patents who made the chairs and tables must have had obsessive compulsive disorder, because they were extremely well constructed and have stood up well to the test of time. Another interesting North Dakota factoid, in 2007 the state broke a world record when 8,962 people laid on the snow covered lawn on the capitol grounds, and all in attendance proceeded to make simultaneous snow angels! A picture was taken from the 19th floor of the capitol tower, and is shown below!
We took the elevators back to the ground level where we discovered the most unique and enjoyable aspect of our tour: The North Dakota Hall of Fame. Although many states have hall of fame's acknowledging the accomplishments of significant citizens, North Dakotan's took the concept a step further utilizing a very unique approach! To be inducted into the North Dakota Hall of Fame, one must first be a recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders Award. Candidates are chosen by the Governor, the Secretary of State and the Director of the State Historical Society. To be considered, one must be a present or former North Dakotan who has achieved national recognition in their field, thus reflecting fondly back upon the state of North Dakota and it's citizens. The award was named after the 26th President of the United State's, Theodore Roosevelt, who spent many years living in The Badlands of North Dakota. Appropriately, Roosevelt was the first recipient of the award named in his honor, and subsequently the first inductee into the North Dakota Hall of Fame. At the time of our visit, there were 43 members of the North Dakota Hall of Fame. Throughout the first floor of the capitol, skillfully crafted paintings of the individuals encompassing their field and accomplishments hung prominently on the wall.
Some familiar inductees include: Roger Maris: Baseball's Single Season Home Run King, Louis L’Amour: Award winning western author and screenwriter, and Angie Dickenson: Famous motion picture actress with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. However, some of the lesser known inductees include: Master Sergeant Woodrow "Woody" Wilson Keeble: The most highly decorated soldier in North Dakotan history, and first full blooded Sioux Indian and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Dr. Anne Carlsen: An educator born without hands or feet, she became the Superintendent of the Crippled Children's School in Jamestown, North Dakota, and under her guidance the school received national recognition. We spent over 2 hours viewing the paintings, and reading the biographies of the 43 Hall of Fame members! What a wonderful collective group of gifted and inspirational individuals!
Next we walked a block to the North Dakota State Museum. The building appeared to be recently constructed, and featured a trio of staggered cubes proving to be both geometrically and architecturally appealing! The exhibits began before even entering the museum as millions years old large petrified logs lined the walkway to the main entrance. Upon entering, we were greeted by the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic museum receptionist, who gave us a thorough explanation of the museums exhibits. Best of all, admission to the North Dakota states museum was free, as it should be! The museum consists of 3 exhibits; Adaptation gallery, Innovation Gallery, and the Inspiration gallery.
We began our exploration with the Adaptation gallery: which focused on the pre-historic era of North Dakota’s History. The North Dakota State Museum possessed the most extensive fossil collection on any state museum we have visited thus far. Before even entering the gallery we were greeted by a massive mastodon fossil which is pictured below.
Upon entering, the first display depicted sea life dinosaur fossils, which are exceedingly rare to find as most are at the bottom of the sea. However, 25 million years ago North Dakota was at the bottom of the ocean, which explains why sea life dinosaur fossils have been found in the state. For example, the fossil of a prehistoric turtle called Archekon, or ruler turtle, pictured below is the size of a Volkswagen. The Xiphactinus, or sword ray fish, also pictured possesses a face only a mother can love.
There were Tyrannosaurs Rex, Triceratops, Pterodactyl and so much more pictured below.
The next exhibit we visited was the Innovation Gallery, which is dedicated to the Native Americans of North Dakota. The most famous Native American was the Chief and Holy Man of the Lakota Indians, Sitting Bull. In the late 19th century, the Indians on the reservations started a movement called the “Ghost Dance”, They believed the dance would resurrect their ancestors, make their tunics bullet proof, and result in taking back their land from the white man. In 1890, US Indian Agents feared Sitting Bull was going to join the Ghost Dance movement, and ordered his arrest. On December 15, 1890, 39 police officers surrounded Sitting Bull's home to apprehend him. When Sitting Bull resisted, the police used physical force against him. In response, one of Sitting Bull's followers shot the officer. After the first shot, all hell broke loose, and everyone opened fire! When the gun smoke cleared, 8 police officers, 7 Native Americans, 2 horses, and Sitting Bull lay dead.
The North Dakota State's Museum featured a very nice exhibit of artifacts related to Sitting Bull: which included: The badge of one of the arresting officers, sitting bulls knife, the stocks of the rifles used during the arrest, Sitting Bull's old tomb stone, and a painting which hung in Sitting Bull's home, which was damaged in the arrest attempt. Americans record our past in history books, but the Native Americans record theirs using pictographs. Pictographs are symbols used on a large piece of tree bark or animal hide to depict a tribe’s history. One of the most fascinating items displayed was a pictograph created by one of Sitting Bulls followers, telling the story of his arrest. Please see the pictures below.
The final exhibit we visited was the innovation gallery, which is dedicated to modern North Dakota. On November 2nd 1889, the Dakota Territory was divided into North and South Dakota, and they entered the country as the 39th and 40th states. The Dakota's were entered as separate states to maintain the political balance of power in DC. The original state flag was on display, which was very interesting to see.
Exhibits pertaining to farming equipment, grain mills, a 1950’s soda shop, and oil production were all represented. The most interesting, yet ominous, display featured the launch equipment from a North Dakota decommissioned nuclear missile silo. In addition, they also displayed a cold war era nuclear fallout shelter. It was nice to see that they were never used, and let’s hope they are never needed in the future. EEK! Please see the pictures below.
While the state museum was very interesting, the displays were very random within each of the 3 categories. I did not see the state's constitution on display, which is always very discouraging. However, the dinosaur exhibit was extremely impressive and we love the fact admission was free!
After leaving the state museum, we drove to Williston, ND to for some much needed rest. Every 6 weeks on the road, we treat ourselves to a night in a hotel! Tonight was a hotel night! Hip Hip Hooray! We found an awesome deal for a $40.00 hotel in Williston, ND that had excellent ratings, and planned to enjoy a much needed evening of relaxation.