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Lillian Crook

A retired librarian, Lillian Crook is an Army child but completed her junior high and high school education while living in North Dakota’s Slope County, where her parents retired to her mother's family farm and ranch. She completed a bachelor's degree in English from Dickinson (N.D.) State University and a master’s of library science from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and was an academic librarian at DSU for 26 years. She later worked for Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a museum technician and volunteered for TRNP in many capacities. She is married to Jim Fuglie, is an avid reader, gardener and birder and enjoys hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, photography and writing, is the mother of twin daughters and loves yoga. She and Jim run Red Oak House Books and Publishers from their home. Lillian is the founder of Badlands Conservation Alliance, a grass-roots voice for wild places in western North Dakota. Bullion Butte is the center of her universe, and she is happiest when floating the Little Missouri River. Her blog,, consists of random thoughts on wild places and musings on life in Red Oak House of Bismarck. She can also be followed on Twitter @WildDakotaWoman. She takes heart from one of her favorite writers, Terry Tempest Williams, who wrote, "If you know wilderness like you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate."

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Theodore Roosevelt: The Naturalist In The Arena TR Symposium 2017

As I sit down to write this, I’m listening to thunder and hoping that regular rain will return to the northern Plains.

Today I’m reflecting on the Theodore Roosevelt: the Naturalist in the Arena Symposium that Jim and I attended at nearby at Dickinson (N.D.) State University last week, the 12th annual. We attended the first and several others in the intervening years. This year’s opened on the anniversary of the day that TR took the oath of office as president of the U.S.

Upon our arrival in Dickinson, we joined a friend for lunch at Badlands Brew, which is a restaurant located in what was once St. John’s Episcopal Church. TR is said to have worshiped there on occasion.

The overarching theme of the symposium was how much TR cared about nature and how he was mindful about what would be left for future generations. Scholar Clay Jenkinson convened, telling us that within 10 to 15 years, the digitization of TR’s papers should be complete, a project of the TR Center. To this, I will add that the Center has an amazing website, full of materials that were unavailable but to those fortunate few who could travel to sites that held these papers, such as Harvard University and so on. Sharon Kilzer and her staff have created what Clay described as a “widely modeled project.”

A “museum more than a library” is now in the works, the first exhibit being the cottonwood logs stashed near the DSU stadium for a replica of TR’s Elkhorn Ranch, to be built using 19th-century techniques. These logs are “authentic heritage cottonwood trees from the Little Missouri River Valley, cut on more than 30 ranches,” said Jenkinson.

Thursday night’s keynote address, “A Field Guide to Roosevelt the Naturalist,” was given by Darrin Lunde, who told us it was his first visit to North Dakota.

TR’s evolution as a naturalist, starting with his time as a boy, began when he spotted a dead seal on display in a New York store. TR wrote “that seal filled me with every possible feeling of romance and adventure…”

Lunde, who is a Supervisory Museum Specialist in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, reported that the seal skull is still in the museum’s collections. TR’s father was a founding trustee of the museum. Lunde recounted that “TR’s brother Eliot complained that he really didn’t like sharing a room with someone who left the guts of animals in the wash basin” and that TR was more of an outdoor naturalist, rather than a laboratory scientist.  Thus, he came a politician but “never shed his interest in natural sciences” and his time in the west was “pivotal,” said Lunde.

As president, he protected 230 million acres of land and “after he finished in the White House, he led a museum expedition, depositing some 23,000 specimens from Africa that are studied to this day.” As president, he signed the authorization for the creation of the National Museum of Natural History.

Day two opened with another excellent presentation by Char Miller, a professor at Pomona College entitled “Kindred Spirits: The Remarkable Partnership of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot.”

In a fascinating overview of this friendship, participants learned that Pinchot wrote portions of TR’s autobiography, and they “worked together well because they also recreated together,” swimming in the nude in the Potomac River. “TR used Pinchot as a lightning rod and he understood that they (he and TR) believed that the future had the same right as they had.” Gifford Pinchot wrote, in 1910, “It is a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good Republican or a good Democrat.”

Next up was children’s author Barb Rosenstock, who talk was “Friendship Under Five Inches of Snow: Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite.” Much of what we know about the camping trip TR and Muir took in Yosemite came from the accounts of the man who accompanied them, Charles Leidig, whom some claim to be the nation’s first “park ranger.”

Introduced by former TRNP superintendent Valerie Naylor, North Dakota native Duane Jundt gave a talk entitled “‘I So Declare It’: Roosevelt’s Love Affair with Birds,” telling us that TR said, “I’d much rather discuss ornithology than politics.” As a birder myself, I found this talk particularly engaging.

Melanie Choukas-Bradley ended the afternoon with a beautiful talk about “President Roosevelt’s Explorations of Rock Creek Park,” which is in the District of Columbia and now administered by the National Park Service. She also spoke about Roosevelt Island in D.C.

The day of outstanding programming ended with an evening of folk music by Jesse and Gene Veeder, cowboy poetry about the legend of Poker Jim by Jonathan Odermann, and an appearance by President Roosevelt, as portrayed by Clay Jenkinson.

The downpour and cold temperatures Friday continued Saturday morning as participants gathered at the Rough Rider Hotel in Medora for the final talk by Clay Jenkinson, “Intersecting Genius, 1886: William Hornaday, TR and the Saving of the Buffalo.”

At the same time that TR was in Dakota Territory hunting for bison, Hornaday was at nearby Miles City, Mont., hunting for bison specimens for the Smithsonian, where he served as chief taxidermist. He had the inspiration to save the species from the threat of extinction. Hornaday created an innovative 360-degree diorama for the Smithsonian that became a model for many others, and this “became the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s exhibits from 1888-1957,” according to Jenkinson. “TR and Hornaday formed a partnership that played a huge role in the saving of the bison,” and “now there are approximately 500,000 pure bison in the world.” Under TR’s leadership, in 1902 Congress passed an act to protect the bison and in 1907, TR and Pinchot created the National Bison Range in Montana.

The last event of the morning was a wrap-up of the panelists with audience Q&A. Panelist Duane Jundt encouraged everyone to “identify the place you really care about and work to save it.” Melanie Choukas-Bradley encouraged everyone to think of their address not just in terms of street name and city name but also as a “watershed address,” thinking about home in terms of the streams and rivers near to where you live.

After lunch, the symposium ended with a bus tour of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as the planned tour of the southern Bad Lands was relocated due to the muddy roads.

All in all, it was an excellent symposium, rich with informative programs and conversations with very interesting people, and the folks at the TR Center are to be highly commended. Videos of the presentations will be available online at the TR Center web page.

If you’ve not attended one, I strongly urge you to do so, as there are fascinating topics planned for the future, and I fervently believe you will find it time well spent. The symposia’s caliber of scholarship is first rate!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Autumn And The Blessing Of Rain

Finally, it rained. A two-day soaker Friday and Saturday. We were in the Bad Lands for a four-day trip, an immersion in Theodore Roosevelt, where we attended the 12th annual TR Symposium at Dickinson (N.D.) State University.

Jim and I have attended a number of these (including the first), and this year’s topic of TR the Naturalist was irresistible to us. I’ll recap my thoughts on the symposium on a later blog and today write about autumn in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora. Our trip dovetailed nicely with the Sixth Annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival held in the park, so we luxuriated in three nights at the Rough Rider Hotel.

Western North Dakota has been in the grips of a severe drought this year, and most everyone was smiling at the sight of the downpour and the puddles here and there.

On Saturday, rather than joining the symposium tour bus through the park, we volunteered for the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt, selling rockets to (mostly) kids who were attending the festival.  In spite of the cold rain, many families came to enjoy the activity, and the intrepid park rangers helped the kids assemble 23 rockets under a tent at Chimney Park.

After supper, we walked over to the Visitor Center, where the evening program on the “Bats of North Dakota” was being held due to the rain, and we learned that the state has 12 known species of bats. I had no idea!

Some years ago, I worked at the park as the museum technician. Curious, I wandered into the museum to look at the current exhibits. My duties included climbing into this case to clean the glass, which was not easy, but it is a good memory nevertheless. Later, as we walked around Medora, our conversation was filled with dreams of a future TR Presidential Library in western North Dakota.

This morning (Sunday), we were eager to drive through the park to see the autumn colors, as the ash trees have begun to turn and the day dawned blue sky again. The gumbo buttes were shining and wet, and the shrubbery glistened. We were rewarded with a sighting of four bison, one porcupine, a mountain bluebird, and two coyotes. The coyotes were a special treat as they were not their usual skittish selves, and we watched them hunt very near to us, even seeing one do the “pounce” on prey. Both were beautiful specimens, very healthy, with thick, glossy coats and puffy tails.

After a few more stops to take photographs of fall colors, it was time to drive home. We were pleased to see how many people were in the park enjoying the day. Driving eastward, we observed many fall migrating hawks and were reinvigorated, once again, by our visit to a beloved landscape. Thank you, National Park Service and TR.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Marinara

On Wednesday, I commandeered the canner from Jim so that I could make the season’s first batch of marinara at Red Oak House.

He grows a variety of tomatoes, including paste type, starting these from seed in the basement in the early spring. As I’ve previously written, he has harvested more than a thousand tomatoes and cans many jars of his specialty — juice. For marinara, he freezes the paste tomatoes, cuts off the tops and places them in Ziploc bags.

Tuesday night, he carried up the bags and placed them in the kitchen sink to thaw. The skins slip off easily, and I peel a total of 81, which will make a nice thick sauce. While I work, I listen to Prairie Public Radio and watch the world from my kitchen window.

Jim peels a couple of big heads of garlic, and I chop and saute the garlic in about 2 cups of olive oil.The garlic is fresh, a gift from our friend, Mike, who has a huge garden at his home near Gilby, N.D. (Our crop was paltry.)

I roughly follow the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” with my own variations. Making the marinara at this time is ideal for several reasons, including that I have an ample supply of fresh basil and oregano from my garden.

After I have the tomatoes in the pots, I wash the bags and dry with one of the hand-embroidered dish towels that my mother stitches for us. I do this because we are thrifty and as environmentally conscious as possible. The tomato skins get dumped into our compost pile.

While the sauce simmers, I wash the quart jars in hot, soapy water. As the tomatoes “cook down,” I mash with my old-fashioned masher.

To stir the sauce, I use my favorite spoon, the one that was my mother’s all of her years raising children. It fits in my hand perfectly and is sturdy. If that spoon could tell stories…

The smoke from forest fires in the western U.S. is so thick today in North Dakota it is as if it is foggy. The amber light, although beautiful, is unsettling. In contrast to the smell of smoke outdoors, the aroma in my kitchen is divine. This makes us both happy, and we savor the thought of how delicious the marinara will be when the winter snow is deep.

After several hours of simmering, I add the chopped herbs and my secret ingredient, and ladle the marinara into the jars for processing, according to the Ball canning guide.

Five hours and six quarts down, along with a half-quart fresh on pasta for supper, with shrimp. I tuck my apron away in the drawer, a good day’s work done.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Dakota Night Astronomy Festival

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”Theodore Roosevelt

Gentle reader, if you are looking for the perfect autumn getaway in North Dakota, I suggest the fifth annual Dakota Night Astronomy Festival, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in beautiful Medora, N.D.

From the Theodore Roosevelt National Park press release:

“People have been marveling at the night skies for millennia,” said Chief of Interpretation Eileen Andes. “Dakota Nights celebrates the beauty and fragility of this awe-inspiring resource and makes it accessible and fun for people of all ages. You don’t have to be an astronomy expert; our festival has something for everyone.”

This weekend will be jam-packed with events in Medora as the festival coincides with the annual Theodore Roosevelt Symposium, sponsored by the TR Center (Dickinson, N.D.) and a street dance Saturday night. This year’s TR symposium focuses on TR the naturalist, so there will be many people there interested in all things wild, including the starry skies of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Saturday morning, Jim and I are volunteering for the festival, something we did at the first one in 2013. Maybe you’ll find us in Medora and say hi.

Go ahead, channel your inner child. Buy a rocket from Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and shoot it off in Chimney Park!

P.S. While you are there, considering becoming a member of FOTRNP and Badlands Conservation Alliance, and join your voice with others, for a wild Bad Lands.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 29

Something is puzzling me this year in the garden. In the front yard, the impatiens are insipid, but in the backyard perennial beds, these bright shade annuals are robust.

What could possibly be the explanation? My first instinct was the hot, dry weather and the lack of rain water, but this would be true both in front and back.  Naturally, I cannot remember if I bought these from two different suppliers, but that is possible. I know this because I’ve compared photographs from last year to this year.

We finished a project we’d been talking about for a while, the letters I purchased and stained, declaring to the world that this is Red Oak House, and I think we are both pleased with the result. Now, we can only hope that our Red Oak, the oldest mature Red Oak in Bismarck, continues to thrive. Soon enough its leaves will turn brown. Yup, brown, not red. I’m not really certain why it gets the name “red oak.” I guess I can research that on a slow day. We know this factoid about our tree because the city forester told us.

The monarch butterflies and other pollinators are busily visiting our plants, and the hummingbirds seem to have moved on.

For his birthday, Jim received the gift of a handmade gazing ball. No doubt, we’ll move it around in the perennial bed as it suits our fancy.

Reporting on my experiment with harvesting and planting seeds from my hosta: So far, a failure, but I’ve not given up hope. Perhaps these will emerge in the spring? Just in case, I’ve mapped the area of the garden, knowing that snowbanks will crush the flimsy plastic markers I’ve used.

The crabapple trees are full of fruit, and my husband has a big smile on his face every day, coming in with armloads of tomatoes. That and he is back in the boat catching walleyes on the Missouri River. His tomato count Saturday morning was 1,062 and he made six more jars of tomato juice, bringing his total count for the year to 65 quarts. Can you say licopene?

As if this wasn’t enough, his raspberry patch is producing fruit. He says “if there could only be one fruit, raspberries it would be.

Friday night was what we call “Nothing From the Store” supper. Walleye, beans, baked potatoes, and fresh tomatoes.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — United Tribes Technical College International Pow Wow

It was Pow Wow weekend in Bismarck and the time of the biggest rummage sale weekend of the year in these parts. I partook Friday and found some treasures, with the bonus of driving around river city and seeing how creative residents are in their decorating and landscaping.

It is also the weekend of the Sr. Kateri Festival at our church so, after Saturday mass, we attended the gathering, followed by a visit to the Pow Wow.

The United Tribes Technical College International Pow Wow is billed to be the largest in the world. It is truly an exhilarating celebration of vibrant cultures, and it is impossible to capture on film or video. We saw lots of friends there, including renowned Native American flutist Keith Bear. As has been true for decades, the jingle dresses are my favorite.

If you go, try the cherry fried bread dessert.

If you’ve not experienced it in person, I urge you to attend.  It is one of the highlights of the North Dakota calendar.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — President Theodore Roosevelt Crashes The Birthday Party

The most auspicious day on our calendar arrived. My husband and our twin daughters share the same birthday. (Karma, eh?) And we celebrate big each year.

This year was ramped up by a long shot because it was Jim’s 70th. Around this milestone, we planned a family reunion with his six siblings and their spouses, held in historic Medora, N.D.  Much laughter and sharing of memories ensued, and more than a few bottles of wine met their demise.

The coup de grace was at Saturday night’s dinner party in the Rough Rider Hotel, when during the toasts, President Theodore Roosevelt popped in to extend his birthday greetings to Jim and his well wishes to the gathering. Everyone’s expression when I walked into the banquet room on the arm of TR was priceless, especially Jim’s.

Jim’s sister, Sue, took video of the speech, and if she figures out how to upload that to YouTube, I’ll add a link. TR is portrayed by our good friend, Joe Wiegand, a true ambassador for Medora and the Bad Lands.

Everyone’s toasts were very heartfelt and moving. Jim is the much loved and admired patriarch of the family, and has been for several decades, sadly due to the early death of his father.

A fish feast prepared by Blake and Blair.

This group takes their Bloody Marys very seriously.

Rachel and I enjoyed watching people play minigolf while some of the Fuglies golfed at Bully Pulpit and Chelsea enjoyed TR National Park.

Our little family ended the weekend in the Bad Lands by eating at the Pitchfork Fondue and attending the sold-out Medora Musical! And we had a grand evening with almost 3,000 others.

After a weekend of more good Medora memories, it was home to Bismarck, where we hosted a gathering of good friends for this occasion.

And finally came the time when I gave Jim the present I’d stashed away months ago: a signed, first edition of Hermann Hagedorn’s “Roosevelt in the Bad Lands.”

Lordy, I love this man and our life!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

“The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind, but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.”Peter Matthiessen

Everyone I see these days asks me if I saw the solar eclipse, and Jim and I eagerly share our experience with one another. Last night, I looked at the moon over my backyard with different eyes than ever before. What glorious orbs in this universe!

On the top of the list of “glorious”: North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park is one of the most glorious places in North Dakota, if not the most. I’ve stood on the rim of the canyon there, at River Bend Overlook, with my father, and he has said, with some authority, that it is as beautiful there as the Grand Canyon.

I’ve camped there 50 times or more. I’ve hiked all of the trails and bushwacked plenty of my own trails. The solitude is one of the elements that make it special, even more so than the more frequently visited South Unit. It is off the beaten path, off the interstate.

Juniper Campground is very peaceful, and the scenic drive is chock-a-block full of stupendous views, wildlife, prairie vegetation and stellar examples of the geological forces that shape the Bad Lands.

The conservation group I founded, Badlands Conservation Alliance, keeps a close watch on this place, along with the Dakota Prairie Grasslands as a whole. The North Unit is an important refuge for North Dakotans, and all visitors.

So it is with consternation that I absorb the news that yet another oil and gas lease sale is proposed that will impact the boundary of this relatively small place. You can read more about that proposal here.

I’m also furious about the North Dakota Department of Transportation proposal to build a new bridge, replacing the Long X bridge on U.S. Highway 85, right up against the North Unit. The sound of only the birds and the cottonwood leaves stirring will be invaded by the maddening hum of a bridge.

NDDOT could do it differently, and many excellent suggestions have been made, by BCA and others, to preserve this treasure. The evidence to date is that NDDOT is ignoring this input.

Watch for notices about public meetings to come this fall and attend these meetings, to let them know that you also are concerned and to tell them that they must do better. Call or write NDDOT and request that it schedules one of the upcoming hearings in Bismarck.

Full moon setting, dawn, autumn cottonwood, TRNP North Unit.
Full moon setting, dawn, autumn cottonwood, TRNP North Unit.

Another action item you can choose is to become a member of BCA. This is easily done on the website.  Another tiny, ridiculously easy thing you can do is to share this blog posting widely, with the knowledge that each voice speaking for TRNP makes a difference.

Cause, folks, when it is gone, it is gone.  Poof.  How will we explain to future generations that we just let it go without a word of protest?


LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Steamboats In Dakota Territory’: A Book Review

“Steamboats in Dakota Territory: Transforming the Northern Plains,” Tracy Potter. The History Press, 2017, 140 pages.

I can think of no one more qualified to enlighten readers on the history of steamboats in Dakota land than Tracy Potter, Bismarck, the author of the book “Sheheke: Mandan Indian Diplomat.” Potter is deeply read in history and his work leading the Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation steeped him in the background for this volume.

He sets the scene in his introduction and the initial chapters, describing the world of the Native Peoples as well as early explorers and trappers, who used the Missouri River for their travels. Then, the steamboats began to arrive:

“Steamboats’ speed and power transformed a region and forever affected relations between the United State and the several Indian nations of Dakota. …Steamboats provided a distinct and overt technological advantage to the American. They carried large loads — of trade goods, men, guns and cannon. They were impressive, useful and an object of considerable skepticism among the Indians.”

Prior to reading this book, I knew only the most rudimentary facts about this colorful chapter of history and its impact on the development of the area.  Potter’s extensive research and the book’s bibliography are appreciated.

Potter tells the tales of Kenneth McKenzie and Grant Marsh, and of steamboats Yellow Stone, Spread Eagle, and the famous Far West, the steamboat forever linked to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He also highlights the steamboats of the Red River and Devils Lake and describes the deeply sad story of the steamboats role in the spread of smallpox.

The photographs that illustrate this volume help the reader imagine a time period when the banks of the Missouri at Bismarck and Pierre, S.D., were bustling with steamboats, their crew and passengers and the economic activity they drove.

“For the non-Indians involved with steamboats, they provided relatively rapid and generally safe transportation, commerce and communication. Steamboats stimulated the growth of cities, and as settlements increased in number and size, the boats stitched the region together. … For the twenty-first-century reader, most of all what steamboats provided were stories.”

The book is available at the Fort Lincoln Commissary, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Pick up this book, sit back, and enjoy the stories.

More photographs from Steamboat Park, Bismarck.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Rain At Red Oak House

Over an inch of rain in the gauge when we returned from Colorado and some showers this week reminded us that it still “can” rain in this country, and for this we give thanks.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the patio, nursing my knee injury and reading a book that I’m reviewing but eventually retreated to the house to listen to Prairie Home Companion and catch up on some work on my laptop.

Jim dug half of the Pontiac Red potatoes, and he cooked two for supper, along with broccoli, accompanied by grilled steaks from our brother-in-law. The broccoli has been abundant, from a few small plants we bought last spring from Cottontail Greenhouse south of Mandan, N.D.

The freezer is almost full and just needs an infusion of walleye from the fall Missouri River bite and some pheasants and goose. Then, it is “Bring on the Dakota winter”! My sister gifted us with some of her beautiful garlic, to supplement our pitiful harvest.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve put the autumn decor out early this year. Perhaps it is a sign of weariness of this hot and dry summer and readiness for the glorious cool and blue days of September in North Dakota. Perhaps my cue is the arrival of the chrysanthemums. Listening to Jim and Jeff talk about the fall bite on the river puts me in the mood, for certain. None of us particularly like hot weather.

Jim is coaxing hundreds of green tomatoes to ripen, in the face of soon-to-come frost. He applied fertilizer to hasten the process as per the advice of my Aunt Frances, and he is severely pruning the plants, too. Hopefully, this week’s return to high 80s will do its magic.

A couple of late daylilies have peeked out, the last of this season. Soon enough, it will be time to cut back all of the foliage to prepare for winter. But for now, we enjoy the fruits of our labor, and I hope you do as well.