Reflecting on Bismarck

I spent a few hours this morning revisiting Fort Lincoln State Park.  As I mentioned in my last entry, this park was my home for six weeks back in 2001, when I traveled around the U.S. researching my family’s history, which I described on my travel website,  Fort Lincoln had also been the home, back in the 1870s, of the U.S. Army’s Seventh Cavalry, which was led by the enigmatic Colonel George Custer.  In fact, it was from here that Custer rode off on his way to his defeat at the hands of the Sioux at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana (“Custer’s Last Stand”), back in 1876.  The park is really fascinating and they’ve done a wonderful job of portraying what life in the cavalry was like.  It’s my favorite state park in North Dakota.

Above:  After spending two days in Bismarck, I left and headed east on I-94, then turned north on I-29, then headed east again, into Minnesota.  I pulled into Bronson Lake State Park well after sunset and got a campsite by the lake.

I left Fort Lincoln State Park late in the morning and drove across the Missouri River into Bismarck.  Compared to my last visit in 2001, Bismarck is really hopping now, thanks largely to the oil boom that’s hit North Dakota.  I stopped to see the State Heritage Center, where I had spent several weeks researching my family history back in 2001, and bumped into the director, who I remembered from 15 years ago, then I walked over to the state capitol.  Called the “skyscraper on the prairie,” it’s the tallest building in North Dakota.  It’s not one of the more attractive capitol buildings in the U.S., to be honest, but it was built during the Depression in the 1930s when utility was more important than elegance. 

After spending a few minutes at the capitol, I drove a few blocks over to the house where my Mom had grown up in the 1930s, which I'd last seen during my visit to Bismarck in 2001.  I was heartbroken, though, to discover that the house had been razed and the lot had been merged into the adjoining lot.  I don’t have any relatives in North Dakota anymore and the house had been the last building in North Dakota where my relatives had lived, and now this last tangible structure, this last object that signified my mother's presence in North Dakota, was gone.  It was if she'd never lived here, and it saddened me tremendously.

I left Bismarck around noon and headed east.  Spending the last few days here in Bismarck had been a very bittersweet experience.  On the one hand, it was comforting to be here, where my mother had grown up.  But on the other hand, I knew that her childhood had been extremely difficult, growing up during the Depression without a father, and I grappled with a sense of anguish during my entire stay. 

After getting back onto Interstate 94, I drove east to Fargo, then headed north on I-29 nearly to the Canadian border, where I turned east once again and crossed into Minnesota.  I stopped at a mini-mart in the small town of Hallock to get gas and a couple small pepperoni pizzas for dinner.  Back in the truck, I pulled into Bronson Lake State Park a half-hour later, and well past sunset.  There were only a few campers here, so I was able to get a nice campsite by the lake. 

As I sat at the picnic table and ate pizza by moonlight on this pleasant evening, I thought once again about Bismarck.  Yes, it’s a wonderful city but my emotions, I’m afraid, sometime get the best of me.  After my mother married my Dad in 1943, she never wanted to return to Bismarck given her difficult experience growing up here during the Great Depression.  And considering that, and the sense of sadness that occasionally overwhelmed me during my visit, I didn’t know if I wanted to ever go back, either.

Bismarck to Northwestern Minnesota



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