The Wild Side of the Museum

American Badger, aka "The Culprit"

 Being the director of a small museum and archaeology site has its challenges, none more amusing and frustrating than dealing with an invasion of wildlife on the grounds.  Our grounds cover approximately six acres on the shore of Lake Mitchell.  We have trees and bushes along the shoreline but the majority of our grounds are open.  And, therein lies the problem.

Each year, we plant gardens of corn, squash, beans and sunflowers to show visitors the way the people who lived here 1,000 years ago farmed.  Soon after the plants sprout from the spring sun-warmed soil, the deer come to graze on the tender plants.  Most have just given birth and they leave their fawns nearby as they enjoy their herbal meal.  Consequently, our gardens are not fruitful at all.  This year we harvested only squash – apparently deer do not care for them.

Our wide open space attracts thirteen-lined ground squirrels, often mistakenly called gophers.  Cute little creatures, they dig numerous holes and occasionally come up inside the Archeodome, much to the surprise of the archaeologists working on the site.  They also contribute to what we refer to as “gopher archaeology”.  Quite often we will find artifacts right outside their burrows.  Then there is “reverse gopher archaeology”.  That occurs when someone walking through the area drops an item and it falls into a burrow, ultimately ending up in a 1,000 year archaeological site.  Frustrating indeed to the archaeologists.

This Thanksgiving weekend, another creature, not so warm and cuddly, took up residence on our grounds.  I came to work Monday morning to find 26 badger holes on our grounds.  That’s just two nights of work for one or two of these creatures.  As carnivores, there is no doubt that they are after our abundant ground squirrel population.  Unfortunately, they are doing quite a bit of damage.  The bright side, however, is that they are handling our ground squirrel population quite nicely, I’m sure!  I have resisted putting poison out to control the ground squirrels (“look, Mommy, those cute little animals look sick” is just not good for family tourism) and we really shouldn’t shoot them within City limits.

I do have to do something about the badgers.  I am not afraid of them, even though our maintenance man asked that I not go near the burrows (“they’re dangerous and will chase you”).  So, Monday morning, I began to make the calls.  First to the County Extension Office (“we’ll call you back”), then to the state’s division of wildlife (“I have a trapper who may contact you”), back to the extension office (“call the police”), the police department (“our animal control person is not working right now”).  In fairness to these agencies, I’m sure this is not an everyday problem.  The state wildlife office looks like my best bet, they did call me back to let me know that they are working on my problem.

A state trapper finally called me, he’ll be here tomorrow.  The good news: he doesn’t think we have too many badgers.  The bad news: they are notoriously difficult to trap.

Badger, Rat and Mole from "The Wind in the Willows"

In the meantime, I wonder if Mr. Toad, Rat and Mole will be stopping by next?  Or, perhaps someone from Hufflepuff?

What a Summer We Had!

As we sadly count down the days to the end of October, we all look back to the summer of 2011 with big smiles.  What a summer we had!

Our summer began with a bang!  We rocked the Village with a special fundraising concert by the Beach Boys.  Close your eyes for a moment and you went back in time, sitting in your lounge chair on a beach somewhere listening to those great surf songs by America’s answer to the Beatles.  The concert was followed by one of the best fireworks displays this town has seen.  Two lucky individuals went home with surfboards autographed by the Beach Boys.

Our annual Archaeology Awareness Days event in July brought folks from all over to see primitive potters, flint knappers,  early medicinal plant specialists, atlatl experts and a special demonstration of long bows courtesy of Cabela’s.  This is one of our most popular events.

Jerome Kills Small, a professor of Native Language Studies at the University of South Dakota, also joined in us July for an Evening of Storytelling and Friendship.   He told us all trickster stories as we sat around a campfire on a bluff overlooking Lake Mitchell.  It was a most delightful evening!

We were very busy in August .  The staff now gives guided tours throughout the Village and they were busy every day.  Cabela’s invited us to do an outreach program at their store on Saturdays; it was a lot fun to do and it brought many more visitors to the Village.  They have invited us to return next summer.

One of our favorite events was in September: Lynn Moroney, a Chickasaw  Skyteller from Oklahoma, gave us an evening of star stories.  After her performance, the Sioux Empire Astronomy Club set up telescopes and let us peer into space to see nebulae and galaxies!  Almost 150 people came for this great event.

We observed National Archaeology Day on October 22nd with a display of posters from around the world.  Some of the posters were created by archaeologists from overseas.  We also displayed few artifacts from other archaeological sites in the United States.  The poster display featured a poster of the penultimate archaeologist, Indiana Jones.

Throughout the season we welcomed school tours to the Village.  Over 1,000 students from all over South Dakota and neighboring states learned about our early inhabitants.  We also welcomed over 10,000 visitors from around the world!

Soon, we close the doors for the winter.  While we won’t be welcoming visitors to our unique site we will still be working hard.  There is so much to do: we have to finish our student research library and change the office into something more functional.  Most of all, though, we have to raise money for all the new projects and exhibits we wish to have for the summer of 2012.

One of the ways we raise funds is through our membership program.  There are many benefits to becoming a member of the Village and we ask that you, too, consider joining us.  Memberships begin at just $25, less than what you would spend in a month for your coffees and lattes!   For more information, please check out our website at www.mitchellindianvillage.org, stop by the Village, call us at 605-996-5473 or send us an email at info@mitchellindianvillage.org.  We cannot do all the wonderful things we do without you!

A young visitor tests his atlatl skills.  The Thomsen Center Archeodome is in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

Where are the Teepees?

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I have been working with Native Americans in the tourism industry for two decades.  My first forays in this industry were in South Florida, home of the Miccosukee and Seminole people.  Today I work at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village in South Dakota, where the ancestors of the Mandan people lived.  Despite the huge geographical gap, there is similarity to how visitors imagine how these tribes may have lived.

The Miccosukee and the Seminole were originally from the area that became Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.  Pushed south by their enemies, they ultimately settled in the sub-tropical wilderness of the Florida Everglades.  They built simple houses, called chickees, on the teardrop shaped islands, or hammocks, on the River of Grass.  The chickees were open-sided homes with a palm thatch roof.  Beds and seating were elevated above the ground, a fire was in the center of the structure.  Temporary walls could be dropped when the weather got cold – a rare occurrence – or when foul weather threatened.

Everglades Chickee

The people who lived on the northern plains lived in lodges similar to the chickees of the Everglades Indians.  The walls were  permanent, however, made of daub, a mixture of mud, grasses and sticks, which hardened from the heat of the hearth fire.  The roof was made of sod.  One bed would be placed close to the fire in the lodge, reserved for a revered elder.  Everyone else slept on the ground, presumably on bison hides.These homes, like those of the Miccosukee and Seminole, were well adapted to the climate in which these people lived.

Full-scale replica of a lodge at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

When we welcome to visitors to these sites, quite often the first question asked is “where are the teepees?”.  Literature, movies, and other media depict the First Americans as proud horsepeople who lived in great teepees.  Our visitors are always surprised to learn that teepees are a relatively recent building construction and did not come about until the horse was introduced to the First Americans.  Then, only a few tribes, most notably the Sioux tribes, used the teepee.  The horse enabled the nomadic Sioux to move about the Plains in search of the great herds of bison.

Most Native Americans did not live in teepees.  Their houses came in all shapes and sizes, from the simple iglu of the Inuit to the beautiful plank houses of the Chinook.  It becomes our responsibility to teach our visitors the ways in which these people lived.

The Prehistoric Indian Village Gives Back to the Community

The lights of the Thomsen Center Archeodome reflecting off Lake Mitchell. Photo by Rich Stedman

There are many challenges in operating a museum; whether it be a large one like the Smithsonian or a small one like the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village the challenges are similar.  Raising funds to keep our doors open, of course, is our biggest challenge.  Our responsibility to the community at large is great, due in part to our desire to give back to the community for the generosity it shows.  We are often challenged to think of unique and meaningful ways to give back to the community.

This fall, we are creating a research library for students to study and learn about archaeology, anthropology, Native Americans and more.  We are in the process of gathering books and other media through donations.  The library will be in the basement of the Boehnen Museum.  We are excited about this project and work on the library will begin once our season ends at the end of October.

The library will allow students to access our books and media.  Students will be able to check out some of the books.  Computers will be available for use by the students.  Our goal is to increase awareness of the sciences and disciplines involved in the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  Local libraries and colleges have offered to donate books, as well as the staff here at the Village.

We also look forward to the beginning of our prairie project.  A strip of land on the north side of the Thomsen Center Archeodome will be restored to native prairie to give visitors an idea of the what the early people saw around their villages.

Next spring will see the establishment of gardens designed to attract butterflies and other beneficial insects by planting native wildflowers and grasses.  These gardens will be located near the entrance to the Boehnen museum and will include sculptures from Native American artists.

All of these projects are just the beginning of many good things to come in the future for the community and for the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

Paleoindian Artifact Found at Prehistoric Indian Village

Archaeologists working at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village last month uncovered an intriguing find, a Paleoindian point believed to be between 7,500 and 8,000 years old.  According to Dr. Adrien Hannus, principal archaeologist at the Village and director of the Archeology Laboratory at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, it is infrequent that such an old artifact would be recovered from a more recent site. The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is 1,000 years old.

The spear point is fashioned from brown chalcedony and is flaked in a style typical of the James Allen or Frederick points.  These styles are more recent than the better known Clovis points.

What is puzzling is how the Paleoindian point arrived at the Village.  Was it an artifact handed down for generations?  Or, was it something a warrior or hunter found and recognized as something old and special?  We may never know.  What we do know is that it was reworked and fashioned into something like a pendant – jewelry or a shaman’s object?  Again, it is likely to remain a mystery.

Paleoindian Spear Point from the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village

An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship

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An Evening of Storytelling & Friendship

On July 30th, we will welcome master storyteller, Jerome Kills Small for An Evening of Storytelling and Friendship.  Mr. Kills Small is an instructor of Native Language Studies at the University of South Dakota, a recipient of the Distinguished Scholar of the Year award and a former Poet of the Year.  He is Oglala Sioux, a traditional storyteller and oral historian.  Jerome Kills Small tells the stories of his elders, and the stories they left for future generations. He tells of the memories of childhood, and stories for intergenerational history. Lakota oral tradition shows respect for animals, plants, the universe, and especially for the people. He sings songs with his elk hide drum to bring sounds of the heartbeat of all living beings, and invites the audience in a friendship dance.   This event is for “children of all ages” and will be held beginning at 7:00 pm around a campfire on the grounds of the Prehistoric Indian Village, 3200 Indian Village Road, Mitchell, South Dakota.  Refreshments will be served.  The fee is just $6 for adults, $5 seniors, $4 students and children under 5 are free.  for more information, please call us at 605-996-5473 or check out our website at http://www.mitchellindianvillage.org.