What Dickinson, North Dakota, Is Like

When I was a kid in the 1970s, when my family went on vacations, we visited old houses and museums.  When we went to St. Augustine, Florida, we visited the oldest school house in the United States, which I believe was built in the late 1600s, and also some other old houses that were built in the 1800s.  When we went to Key West, Florida, we visited the house where the writer Ernest Hemingway had lived, I believe this house was built in the 1930s, and we also went to the Naval museum.  In Sarasota, Florida, we went to the Ringling Circus winter residence, I believe this house was built in the 1930s, and we also went to the Ringling Circus museum.  In Savannah, Georgia, I remember when I was about eight years old, it seemed like we went through about a hundred houses that were built in the 1800s.  Outside of Lynchburg, Virginia, I went through a residence of Thomas Jefferson, called Poplar Forest, that was built in about 1790.

In contrast to what I saw when I had visited old houses and museums in other states, in the Dickinson area of North Dakota in the early 1900s, families were living in 10’x12′ grass sod huts, with dirt floors, dirt walls, no furniture, no paintings, no photographs, no children’s toys, no phonographs, no pianos, no indoor water pump, no indoor toilet.  In order to understand what living in Dickinson, North Dakota, is like now, you have got to realize and understand that many people in this area of North Dakota lived in very primitive conditions up until very recently.

When I had travelled to other states and visited old houses, I could see how the people had lived in the past, what types of things they did to prepare food, how they decorated and adorned their homes, what kinds of “modern” conveniences they had, what they did in their spare time:  read books, write letters, draw, play an instrument, play board games, swing on porch or tree swings, ride bicycles, play lawn games.  However, when I visited old houses outside of Dickinson, visited the pioneer museum, looked at old photographs, and talked to Dickinson residents, I found that the people here had had very little, often times they did not even have all of the bare necessities.  The harshness and starkness of life in this area of North Dakota is partially the cause of people in this area being unfriendly, inhospitable, jealous and malicious to people from out-of-state, and behaving in a primitive manner.

There are some psychological theories on human development, that explain human behavior based on what is called a “hierarchy of needs”,  which basically says that humans will try to fulfill their most basic needs first, in this order: 1)oxygen, 2)water, 3)food, 4)clothing, 5)shelter, 6)personal security, 7)mating, 8)security of family, 9)social interaction within family, 10)social interaction within extended family, 11) social interaction within a village,  … and when the basic needs have been fulfilled, later, there comes the expression of religion, creation of laws, passing on of learning,  …. and if a group of people passes out of the primitive stage of development they begin to have higher learning in the areas of science, math, medicine, art, architecture, and philosophy.

In order for a group of people to pass out of the primitive stage of existence, there has to be enough resources available so that the people do not have to spend every minute of every day just trying to survive.  Unfortunately in North Dakota, that didn’t happen.  Resources were so scarce in fact, that people looked and looked for something to build their houses with, and all they could figure to do was to cut the grass sod and stack it, in order to make the walls for their house.  They looked and looked, and all they could find to use to heat their home was dried buffalo dung, so they burned dried buffalo dung for heating and cooking.  Forget about furniture, forget about wall paper, forget about art or photographs on the wall, forget about a piano or a phonograph, this was just bare survival.  This was the early 1900s in North Dakota.  Back East, people were painting, boating, playing tennis, playing golf, riding bicycles, attending concerts, going on picnics.

If you looked at a map in the early 1900s, you could see the state of Vermont, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, …O.K., these are cold states.  On the map you could see the state of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Texas.  In those states, they have houses, built of wood, with furniture, they had houses there for a couple of hundred years already.  Why did people in North Dakota, stack grass sod to make a 10’x12′ house, and collect buffalo dung to burn, when they could have moved to the southern United States?  I asked a Dickinson resident in his late 50s one time, why people in North Dakota didn’t look at a map, and move south?  Why didn’t people in North Dakota read a book or a newspaper and realize that they didn’t have to live in the cold and the barrenness?  He replied that people just didn’t really think you could do that.

If you come to North Dakota, you will see that there are not very many trees, it is mostly grassland and badlands.  There used to be a lot of buffalo, now there isn’t.  There are some deer, but not a lot.  It is cold October through May, eight months of cold.  If you stay here for a year, and you have to go outside in the winter, you will begin to understand how hard it was to live in North Dakota.  The people in North Dakota had such a hard time trying to survive, that they did not progress to the higher levels on the human development scale, they were stuck at the lower levels, spending all of their time trying to meet basic needs.  As a result, there was no architectural development in this area of North Dakota, all structures are very basic.  The education level is very low due to children having to leave school at an early age to work on the farm, and very few families able or wanting to have their children go to college, which contributes to ignorance and primitive behavior.  Due to it being so hard for people to survive in North Dakota, they do not have any concept of hospitality.

The local people in Dickinson think that they are friendly, but because this area had been isolated in the past, with many people here never traveling outside this area, and the education level being very low, somehow the people here do not realize that they are in fact, unfriendly.  Their sense of friendliness and helpfulness to other human beings is not very civilized.  Just this evening, I was watching the evening news with a Dickinson resident, where it was shown on the news that a Southwest Airlines passenger ran to the bathroom on the airplane, and was heard groaning, about ten minutes prior to landing.  The flight attendants assumed the man was drunk, didn’t check on him, and had everyone de-board the plane at landing, and called the police.  The passenger was found dead in the bathroom, he had had a brain aneurism.  The Dickinson resident stated,”They are not required to do anything, a person is not required to do anything, you might think that someone has to help somebody else, but there is no law requiring people to help somebody else.”

Because the people in Dickinson had had such a hard time trying to survive, and they were not able to progress to the higher levels of human development, there are other manifestations of this in addition to the lack of architectural development and lack of hospitality.  People in Dickinson do not have an appreciation for beauty, recreation, and leisure.

I have written several posts to this blog about women in Dickinson being overweight, out-of-shape, unattractive, poorly dressed, and making no attempt to look attractive.  In architecture, painting, sculpture, dance, music, poetry, and writing there is the pursuit of beauty, but they don’t have that here, they are still primitive here.  I think that the women here would not be so overweight it they had the concept of recreation, where you swim, walk, ride bikes, roller blade, canoe, sail board, play tennis, play golf, but they don’t understand recreation.

If you come to Dickinson, as I have written elsewhere in this blog, there are certain things that will get you into trouble with the local people.  If you have a wife or girl friend that is not overweight, they won’t understand this, and they won’t like this, so I recommend if you have an attractive wife or girl friend, that you keep her out of sight, they don’t appreciate or understand beauty, and they tend to be jealous.  If you have an Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, or Mercedes, they will not like it, they will not work on it, and they will not like you, they don’t appreciate or understand beauty, and they tend to be jealous.  If you talk about warm weather, the beach, sailing, surfing, running, rock climbing, swimming, bicycling, or travelling, they won’t like this, they won’t understand, and they will just get mad and frustrated, they don’t appreciate or understand recreation and leisure.  As I have stated before, if you want to know what living in Dickinson will be like, you need to watch the movies “Deliverance”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, and “Planet of the Apes”.


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