DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Butte de Morale

I’m feeling nostalgic as I write this, a mood brought on by snow falling outside my window. Reminds me of North Dakota.

Friends may previously have seen this image, on Facebook or even in person. In 2010, the University of Washington, which owns the original, scanned and printed a copy for display in a historical exhibit I curated, “When the Chippewa owned Grand Forks County.”

It depicts a Canadian Métis buffalo hunting camp in what is now Wells County, North Dakota, painted in 1853 by an artist traveling with the Stevens Railroad survey expedition to the West Coast.

This new reproduction appeared in the latest issue of “North Dakota HISTORY,” published by the State Historical Society. It is included in a 14-page spread about the expedition, along with other paintings of scenes in what would become North Dakota in 1889.

On the horizon is Butte de Morale, second only to the Hawk’s Nest near Carrington as the highest elevation in the county.

North Dakota was my home for all but the last seven years (I’m now a Minnesotan living in Bloomington). I grew up in Harvey, graduated from the University of North Dakota, and worked at UND for more than 30 years.

I still appreciate the people and institutions of my home state. Dorette Kerian and I both have children, relatives and friends there. We return frequently.

True, I DO miss the old days when NoDak was less of a “red state.” I knew on a first-name basis Democrat-NPL Govs. Bill Guy, Art Link and George Sinner, as well as Sens. Byron Dorgan and Quentin Burdick and Congressman Earl Pomeroy.

North Dakota is top notch in many respects, including its sense of history.

The State Historical Society operates a GREAT museum in Bismarck. I’ve long been a contributor to its foundation.

But back to the Métis hunting camp.

The location was a couple of miles east of the land my Norwegian immigrant grandfather, Hans Vorland, homesteaded 50 years after the Stevens expedition.

The distant hill is Butte de Morale, about 15 miles northeast of Harvey.

In the years before white settlement, Chippewa and Dacotah hunters climbed it to observe vast herds of buffalo grazing to the east all the way to the Sheyenne River and beyond.

My father said that for decades plowing the Vorland land would bring up arrow points and other Indian artifacts.

Grandfather Hans Vorland's watch fob that was crafted out of an Indian arrowhead.
Grandfather Hans Vorland’s watch fob that was crafted out of an Indian arrowhead.

A UND archaeologist later told me that a beautiful flint arrowhead found by my grandfather, crafted hundreds of years ago near present-day Williston, was the type used by Indians to kill buffalo.

Hans carried it as a part of a watch fob until his death in 1930. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

As a child I saw the butte every day until my parents moved the family to Harvey. I’m elderly now, but it is an internalized part of my childhood that will remain in my memory to the end.

One thought on “DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Butte de Morale”

  • Naomi Dunavan January 26, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Dave – enjoyed this post very much. I have something in my possession that is very precious to me. I grew up on a farm near Newburg, N.D. My brothers and nephews still farm this land my dad bought in 1928. Years ago, while my sister and I were “home” visiting our mother, my brother David came in her house and said, “Naomi and Lori, come with me. I want to show you something.” We followed him to his pickup and he proceeded to take us out the driveway and down to a field he had just tilled. He had the spot marked. We got out of the pickup, walked a short distance and with his boot, David moved a bit of the earth to expose two beautifully intricate arrowheads. He told us to “pick them up.” And when we did he said with almost a choke in his voice,” “your hands are the first to touch these since they were carved by Native Americans.” My sis and I were very moved. I keep my arrowhead in a special drawer in my jewelry armoire. I thank you for bringing this memory front and center on this Thursday morning.


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