United Tribes News

Remembering the Horse Culture
From Fort to College at United Tribes
21 May 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - Folks familiar with United Tribes Technical College know that the college campus was once a military post. It was the second Fort Lincoln in this area. Its predecessor namesake was on the west side of the Missouri River near Mandan, best known as the place where George Armstrong Custer departed on his final ride in 1876.

      The second post sprang up south of Bismarck in the first decade of the 1900s. Fort Lincoln II was built like other military installations in the West that preceded it. Evidence could still be found years later that the post was designed and constructed to accommodate horses. It had barns and buildings for horse boarding and feed storage. The huge expanse at the center of campus was once the post’s parade ground. Occasionally the soil would yield pieces of tack and military gear, confirming the earlier presence of the horse culture in the military setting.

Rodeo clinic at the United Tribes rodeo grounds in 1974.

      Not long after the Indians took over the fort in 1968, the first intercultural events were staged on the United Tribes Employment Training Center campus. Soon there was an annual student powwow, held in mid-summer, followed by a major powwow in September. And along with these came organized rodeo events.

      The center’s director, Warren Means, was an active team roper. He began networking with the North Dakota Rodeo Association (NDRA) and the Indian Activities Association (IAA). Means had a rodeo arena built on the east side of campus and the center began hosting horse-type events.

      Rodeo schools were being offered about this time, so a free rodeo clinic was held at United Tribes in late June 1973. Instructors included Angus Fox, Ed and Mervel Hall, Jody and Bruz Luger, Esley Thorton, Al Two Bears, and Scotty Mitchell. Some other helpers included Ed Moore and Bud Anderson, a long-time UTETC employee who also competed in NDRA rodeos.

      For the next several years, the center was the site of rodeo clinics and team roping events. In September 1973, UTETC produced the IAA all-Indian Finals rodeo in conjunction with the powwow. When IAA changed over to the Great Plains Indian Rodeo Association in 1974, UTETC hosted the first GPIRA Finals.

      Bud Anderson recalled that the 1975 NDRA and GPIRA Finals were held simultaneously during the 6th Annual United Tribes Days festivities. On the final day, the NDRA champions were matched against the GPIRA champions at the UTETC arena. The NDRA edged out the GPIRA by the slim margin of 36 to 34.

      The 1976 GPIRA Finals was the last rodeo held on campus. This event was significant because the GPIRA champions qualified for the first Indian National Finals Rodeo organized as part of the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration. It wasn’t until the 1990s before horse-related events emerge again.

      In 1994, the U.S. Congress recognized UTTC and other tribal colleges as land grant institutions. This new status opened the door for additional support to develop tribal natural resources. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided a five year grant to assist tribes with bison herd restoration. Part of the college’s curriculum in the mid-90s focused on relationships among the Plains Tribes, their horses and the buffalo culture.

      Several years ago, UTTC counselor and powwow committee member Julie Cain coordinated a “four-directions” grand entry of Native horseback riders during the United Tribes International Powwow. Indian horse groups from several North Dakota reservations rode unto the college grounds where elementary students from Bismarck and Mandan were gathered for Youth Day.

      The college’s current contact with the horse culture is an annual event known as the Nokota Horse Camp. The camp is a month long education program held each June for elementary students. The learning modules focus on math, science, and technology, research, and Lakota culture with “the horse” as the common theme.

      Among the instructors are four-time state barrel racing champion and retired elementary teacher Ginny Eck, who teaches horsemanship, and UTTC Tribal Arts Instructor Butch Thunderhawk, who introduces indigenous perspectives about the horse and guides students through hands-on activities.

      Twice in recent years, UTTC President David M. Gipp has selected ledger art drawings of horses for the poster design of the college’s international powwow: “Faster Horses” in 2005 by Don Montilleaux and “We Protect Our People” in 2009 by Tom Haukaas.

      First as a military fort and then as a college – the horse culture has been part of this campus for over 100 years. It is hoped that the college will continue to embrace this part of northern Great Plains tribal heritage for years to come.

Dr. Phil Baird is the Vice President of Academic, Career and Technical Education at United Tribes Technical College and president of the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame. He can be reached at pbaird@uttc.edu


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