In the early twentieth century, Indian Fairs became a reason for a social gathering as well as a means of demonstrating the advances Indians were making in acquiring the skills and cultural values agents, teachers, and missionaries deemed important.
The first Fort Berthold Fair was held near the Elbowoods agency in 1911. The report presented here appears to have been written by an Indian participant or organizer of the fair, perhaps its secretary James Holding Eagle. Holding Eagle is probably the son of Scattered Corn who recorded ancient songs for ethnomusicologist, Frances Densmore (See Unit 2, Document Set 3).
The second document is a brief report, author unknown, but probably prepared by the agent. Both were typed as viewed here. The fair had exhibits of crops and products of home industries; there were games and speeches. There was also an important historical component to the gathering as the people brought tipis (teepees) to stay in and heard the daily news from heralds. The recreation of an important battle brought back the grief of personal loss to one woman.
The significance of the fair can be understood by the presence of Governor Louis B. Hanna, and Mr. Abbott. Though Abbott is not clearly identified, it is very likely that this is Frederick H. Abbott, who was associated with the board of Indian Commissioners. That these men took the time to speak with the elders of the Fort Berthold Reservation suggests that they approved of the fairs and considered this a good time to speak with the council about treaties, allotments, and the future development of nearby coal lands.
The fairs continued for a few years. Records indicate that Fort Berthold had fairs in 1914 and 1915 and perhaps other years. Standing Rock Sioux Reservation also had a fair for many years. As with similar events, the significance of the fair differed for tribal members and for their European American agents, teachers, and missionaries. The Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa who attended this fair were experiencing a dynamic cultural moment when they gathered to celebrate their past and draw on the strength of their traditions to make their way into the future. This is the process of acculturation. In contrast, the agent does not see the Indians carrying their past into the future; rather, he seemed to have understood the fair as an opportunity to display the Indians’ progress which he believes is a sign of assimilation or becoming absorbed in Anglo-American culture.
SHSND Mss 20670
612 East Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
State Museum and Store: 8am - 5pm M-F; Sat. & Sun. 10am - 5pm.
State Archives: 8am - 4:30pm., M-F, except state holidays, and 2nd Sat. of each month, 10am - 4:30 pm.
State Historical Society offices: 8am - 5pm M-F, except state holidays.
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710