Awards Honoring History Achievements Presented at Governor's Conference on North Dakota History

November 9, 2010

State Historical Society of North Dakota, Bismarck

BISMARCK – Awards honoring individual and group achievements in history were presented at the recent 22nd Annual Governor’s Conference on North Dakota History in Bismarck.  The conference was sponsored by the state’s history agency, the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The 2010 recipients of the State Historical Society’s Excellence in Local History Award were Leilani Baisch Meyhoff of Hazen and Steven Reidburn, now of Sidney, Montana, but who lived in Jamestown when nominated.  This award is given to those whose activity in local and regional history serves as a role model of excellence to others.
Meyhoff has worked the last 10 years developing the local history collection at the Hazen Public Library, including eight volumes of information and photographs on veterans from Mercer County who have served in the nation’s wars dating back to the 19th Century, as well as many other veterans of the armed forces from the surrounding area.  She has also compiled volumes on Mercer County history, almost single-handedly filling the library’s cabinets with treasures of yesterday that are being preserved for generations yet to come.  Meyhoff is also a board member and officer of the Mercer County Historical Society.

Reidburn has been a frontier army reenactor since 1983, volunteering at Fort Seward near Jamestown until early this fall, when he began work as site supervisor for the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center near Williston beginning October 1.  He installed an interactive, touch-screen kiosk at Fort Seward’s interpretive center, which in May 2010 was named in honor of the late E. W. Weise, a founding member of the 20th Infantry, Company A frontier army reenactment unit of Jamestown.  He also wrote a booklet entitled Facts and Figures of Fort Seward, with proceeds benefitting the fort.  Reidburn’s role on the Fort Seward Reconstruction Committee included writing several grants to help fund construction of the state’s tallest flag pole which stands at the fort site.  Reidburn was nominated for the award this summer while still employed as the vector control officer for Jamestown.

The 2010 recipients of the State Historical Society’s Heritage Profile Honor Award were Rebecca Heise of Valley City, and Michael Miller and Tom Isern, both of Fargo.  This award is given to those who have made a significant contribution in preserving, interpreting, promoting, researching or otherwise extending the knowledge and understanding of the history of North Dakota.

Heise is the historian for the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway and the region.  Her quality work shows in each of the 27 byway interpretive panels and 10 map kiosks, as well as eight interpretive panels, on the Valley City Historic Bridges Tour, and five panels in Medicine Wheel Park, all of which are along the National Byway.  Heise’s outstanding work resulted in the Sheyenne River Valley Scenic Byway being named one of the first three state-designated byways.  Her work helped garner the byway national designation in 2002 (the first byway in North Dakota to be recognized), and a national award for interpretation in 2009.  Other Sheyenne River Valley projects have benefitted from her research and restoration work, including the Sheyenne Bank Building in Kathryn, North Dakota that is being renovated and will include byway interpretation as a new community center.

Miller has been a librarian and faculty member at North Dakota State University (NDSU) since 1967, and is the founding director and bibliographer for the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection.  A native of Strasburg, North Dakota, he has over the past 32 years dedicated his professional career to the preservation of the German-Russian culture and heritage in North Dakota and the Northern Plains.  Since its inception in 1978, this specialized archives has become one of the most comprehensive collections of German-Russian resources in the world.  As a North Dakota and German-Russian ambassador, Miller conducts annual Journey to the Homeland heritage tours to Ukraine and Germany. He started these tours in 1996 and they continue today, keeping Americans connected to their German-Russian heritage.  Miller’s Dakota Memories initiative includes the Oral History Project, Heritage Tour, and an online course.  Through the Oral History Project, comprehensive research collections have been created, with residencies in communities from South Dakota to Saskatchewan.  The Heritage Tour is an outreach and educational program promoting heritage tourism in North Dakota.  The most recent program is an online course that teaches the origins and customs of the people who call themselves the Germans from Russia.  Miller has developed an extensive website, translated materials, published books, and partnered with Prairie Public Broadcasting on numerous video productions and a weekly Dakota Memories broadcast on North Dakota Public Radio.  The website is  Miller conceived and nurtured the German-Russian Heritage Collection, and continues, with great tenacity, to preserve this culture for future generations.

Isern is a professor of history at NDSU.  Isern devotes his research to local and regional issues, teaches courses dealing with regional history and folklore, serves as a volunteer for state and local organizations, and speaks and writes for the general public as well as the academic community.  He is the author or co-author of six books, including Dakota Circle: Excursions on the True Plains, published by the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.  Isern is the founding director of NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal, an applied research and service center devoted to historic preservation and heritage tourism on the Northern Plains.  His particular interest is the story of farming, ranching and rural life on the Plains, exploring this in frequent lectures and concerts for public and professional audiences throughout the region.  He also writes about it in his column, “Plains Folk,” published in North Dakota newspapers since 1983 and which is also heard weekly on North Dakota Public Radio.  The essays are available online, in print and audio, at and on Isern’s academic site, creating a lasting, accessible and entertaining archive of North Dakota history. 

Named as recipients of the Person of History Award were Milton Ruben Young (1897-1983) and Martin (Old Dog) Cross (1906-64).  This award is given in recognition of those individuals who have had a prominent role in the history of North Dakota.  It posthumously honors those individuals who have made a lasting or significant contribution to the growth, development and progress of the state, or the social well-being of its citizens; who have achieved acclaim or prominence in their chosen fields of endeavor and/or have had a profound effect upon the history of the state or the lives of its people.  To be eligible, a nominee must have been deceased at least 10 years.

The 56-year political career of Milton R. Young, North Dakota’s longest-serving U.S. Senator, spans the post-World War I era to the dawn of the Reagan Revolution. During his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, Young established himself as a Senator who took care of North Dakotans and their concerns, both in Washington and at home.  As a farmer himself, he was instrumental in obtaining price supports for crops in order to reduce the financial risks farmers face every year.  He was the architect of the target price concept for farmers in the 1973 Farm Bill, known today as the “counter-cyclical payment,” which is considered a milestone in the history of United States farm policy.  And from the end of World War II through the height of the Cold War, he also helped shape defense and foreign policy issues.

Young began his 56 years of public service in 1924 when he was elected to the LaMoure County Henrietta Township Board.  He spent 12 years in the North Dakota Legislature before being appointed to the U.S. Senate on March 12, 1945 by Governor Fred Aandahl to fill the vacancy left by the death of Senator John Moses.  In the closest U.S. Senate election in state history, he prevailed in the 1974 race against former Governor William Guy by 186 votes out of nearly 240,000 cast.  In each of his six elections to the Senate except this final campaign of 1974,  Young won with no less than 61 percent of the popular vote.

A lifelong Republican, Young consistently opposed the Nonpartisan League faction of the party, supporting instead more moderate candidates.  He was one of the founders of the Republican Organizing Committee in 1942, and for three decades he and William Langer campaigned against each other and the candidates they supported.  In one of the ironies of North Dakota political history, Young and Langer served alongside each other in the U.S. Senate for 18 years.

Young was appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee immediately upon taking office and when he retired in 1981 was its longest-serving member.  He looked out for the best interests of wheat farmers in the Upper Midwest, and formed a strong alliance with Southern Democrats on the Agriculture Committee to do so.  Said U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie: “Every other Senator knew that if you were talking about wheat and agriculture, you had to talk to Milton Young.” 

Because of his work, Senator Young became known as “Mr. Wheat,” which is the title of a biography released in March 2010, written by Andrea Winkjer Collin of Bismarck.  His many accomplishments are detailed in the book, including his instrumental role in the restoration of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  Young partnered with Fargo, North Dakota native and well-known Washington, D.C., Democrat Melvin Hildreth, Jr., to tirelessly promote the successful restoration of the theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Although he had a lifelong speech impediment – stuttering – Milton Young simply ignored it and learned how to listen more than talk. He said it helped keep him humble, and also kept his speeches short.  At the time of his retirement in 1981, Young was the 14th longest-serving member in the history of the U.S. Senate, and also the last member of Congress born in the 19th Century. 

Martin (Old Dog) Cross was born on the Fort Berthold Reservation in 1906 to Chief Old Dog and his wife Many Dances.  He was named Yellow Eagle at the time of his birth.  North Dakota was only 17 years old and struggling with its early years of statehood.  Many of the political problems of those early years would carry through to Cross’s adulthood and well beyond.  The railroads, the influx of immigrants from Northern Europe, the demand for Indian land, the State versus Federal policies in Indian affairs, the agricultural economy, and the Nonpartisan League were some of the issues that he addressed in the second half of the 20th Century as he took his turn at leadership with the Three Affiliated Tribes.

His early years were spent at the Wahpeton and Flandreau Indian schools.  As a young man, he enjoyed the care-free life of a cowboy traveling the North Dakota rodeo circuit at Minot, Beulah, Yucca and Strawberry Lake.  He met a young Norwegian girl named Dorothy Bartell and they married in 1928. They continued to live on the Old Dog allotment near the Missouri River, raising 10 children as well as cattle and crops.  In 1942, Cross enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps.  In 1944, he was elected chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes Council.  He spent the rest of his life as an elected tribal officer, serving four terms as chairman until his death in 1964.  One of his first duties as chairman was attending a meeting in Denver, Colorado in 1944.  This gathering of 70 people representing Indian people from all over the nation formed the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which became the most powerful and influential organization formed on behalf of American Indians and remains in existence today.

Congress established the Indian Claims Commission in 1945 to resolve claims filed against the United States by Indian tribes.  Cross served as the Hidatsa representative on the Indian Claims Commission.  A total of 15 claims, mostly land claims, were submitted to the commission for litigation.  These claims were finally adjudicated and settled in the 1980s.  The Governors’ Interstate Council was established by governors from the western states to meet with Indian tribes and to resolve issues of mutual concern.  Cross was the North Dakota Indian delegate to this council and spoke often on behalf of the Indian people of North Dakota.

His most significant contribution to North Dakota history was the leadership he provided during the Garrison Dam construction era of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  As tribal chairman, Cross spent six years lobbying Congress to halt the project.  The Garrison Dam was proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers as a way to control the floods of the lower Missouri River. One of the end results was the backing up of the Missouri River to the Montana border, putting nine Indian communities of the Fort Berthold Reservation, including Elbowoods, under hundreds of feet of water, forcing the removal of its residents to other land.

Martin Cross’s leadership role in North Dakota is also featured prominently in two books about the Garrison Dam Project, both by author Paul Vandevelder – Coyote Warrior, published in 2004, and Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire Through Indian Territory, published in 2009.  In a 2005 article in Stanford Magazine, Paul Vandevelder wrote this about Martin Cross: “He was trapped between two eras,” says Raymond Cross’s sister, Marilyn Hudson, who remembers banging out hundreds of her father’s letters to Washington on an old Underwood typewriter. “I can still see him sitting on the back porch on summer evenings.  He’d light a cigarette and play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” on his saxophone.  An hour later, he’d be singing us lullabies in Hidatsa.  It must have been very lonely being Martin Cross.”

During the course of his many years of public service, Cross became personally acquainted with many of the nation’s leaders, including Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon.  He also was well acquainted with many of the state’s leaders.  An example of this was around 1951, when he provided long-time North Dakota Senator “Wild Bill” Langer with a “wild bronc” to ride at the Fourth of July Crows Breast Rodeo in Elbowoods.  The “untamed one” was in reality a gentle old pinto horse that all of Cross’s children had used to learn how to ride. 

During the presentations of the Person of History Awards, Senator Young’s daughter-in-law, Marcia Young of LaMoure, North Dakota donated a woodburned etching of Milton Young that the Senator and his wife, Pat, displayed in their home for many years.  Martin Cross’s daughter, Marilyn Hudson of New Town, gave a financial contribution in her father’s name to the First Peoples Gallery that will be built as part of the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion project.  She also presented a blanket featuring art entitled “Celebration of the Horse,” to Scott Schaffnit for his work with the Hudson family since 2001, when he began work as the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s outreach programs coordinator. 

The National Register Award was presented to the owners of North Dakota properties listed between October 2009 and September 2010 in the National Register of Historic Places, which is the federal government’s list of properties it considers worthy of recognition and preservation.  Listing in the National Register offers such benefits as eligibility for restoration and stabilization funding, and historic rehabilitation tax credits for commercial buildings.  The 2010 recipients were the Ingersoll School in McLean County; the Walla Theater in Walhalla; the Old Settlers Pavilion in Nelson County; the Denbigh Station and Experimental Forest National Historic District in McHenry County; the Works Progress Adminstration (WPA) Stone Structures in Memorial Park and Calvary Cemetery in Grand Forks; the Travelers Hotel in Noonan; the University of North Dakota Historic District; and the Bismarck Cathedral Area Historic District.

The winner of the 2010 Editor’s Award for best article during the preceding year in North Dakota History,the State Historical Society’s quarterly journal, was Fred Schneider, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, where he taught for 31 years.  For nearly 30 years, Dr. Schneider has been collecting, growing, and experimenting with regional American Indian garden plants.  He has made numerous presentations to school groups, museums, historical societies, gardening groups, and professional organizations on traditional American Indian gardening.  Schneider was honored for his article in Volume 76.1 & 2, “ ‘Corn in the Crib is Like Money in the Bank’: George F. Will and the Oscar H. Will & Company, 1917-1955.”

The annual award presentations were made during the October 29 conference banquet at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.  The theme for the 22nd annual Governor’s Conference on North Dakota History was The 3 Rs in North Dakota: Education from 1951 to 2010, the second of a two-part theme for this annual conference.  The 2011 history conference theme will be Too Much or Too Little: The Story of Water in North Dakota.  The conference will take place October 28-29 at the North Dakota Heritage Center.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller