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May 29: A Pageant of the Northwest

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This date in 1914 began a two-day pageant at the University of North Dakota. With UND hosting the annual meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, students honored the convocation with their presentation of “A Pageant of the Northwest” at the Bankside Theater along a bend of the English Coulee.

Not known for its subtlety, UND's student newspaper, The Student, remarked a week earlier, “This pageant is to be a spectacular representation of the conquest of the Northwest.”

Its program included a prologue and four parts. The prologue featured “The Spirit of Prophecy.” The first part featured Radisson, the second part featured La Salle, and the third part featured Verendrye. Each of them was a prominent French explorer. The fourth part featured Lewis and Clark. It ended with Sakakawea. The 1916 Dacotah yearbook called her “an embodiment of the undaunted will and friendliness of the homes of our great North-West.”

From a modern perspective, this pageant's second part had an especially disturbing perspective. The paper had this summary: “Unexpected, unannounced, unseen, comes Pauguk, the Indian embodiment of death, grim, stern, foreboding, waving his bat-like wings ominously over the warriors in council.”

The Student newspaper pointed out that the pageant included real Indians. It explained, “Dr. Libby has written for some Belcourt Indians. These will be seen in their own costumes. They are Chippewa Indians and are bringing their own interpreter, Wellington Salt with them. The names of the Indians are Sitting Chief and Little Boy.”

The 1916 Dacotah yearbook remarked, “'A Pageant of the North-West' is unique in its utilization, perhaps for the first time, of full-blooded Indians in speaking parts in a dramatization of their own history. A group of Chippewas from the Turtle Mountain Reservation was called upon to react to the scenes of their forefathers, and the music used … represents probably the first utilization of original Indian music in pageantry.”

However, most Indian roles consisted of white people clad in Indian costume, some of them made up in redface. This included the young lady who played Sakakawea.

Later that year for UND's 1914 fall semester, Professor Libby would teach “a course in the dramatization of Indian legends.”

Times have certainly changed. The pageant was seen as respectful back then, but it would be unthinkable today.

Dakota Datebook by Andrew Alexis Varvel


  • “ALL IN READINESS FOR THE PAGEANT.”, The Student, Grand Forks, 28 May 1914, page 1, column 5.
  • “The Bankside Theater, located on the University campus, on the sloping banks of the English Coulee, is the first open-air theater in which a natural stream separates the stage from the amphitheater.” Seating on one side was separated from the stream by a railing, while actors performed on the other side. During his speech dedicating the theater, Professor Koch said, “The name was suggested by its location on the banks of a historic stream where in years long past the white man met the Indian in friendly trade.”
  • “The Dedication of the Bankside Theatre”, in The Dacotah of 1916 (Grand Forks, published by the Junior Class of the University of North Dakota, printed by Page Printerie), page 155.
  • “Conquest of Northwest Dramatized in Great North Dakota Pageant”; The Student; Grand Forks; 21 May 1914; page 1, columns 3-4; page 4, columns 3-4.
  • “A GREAT WEEK.”, The Student, Grand Forks, 28 May 1914, page 2, column 2.
  • “A Pageant of the Northwest”, in The Dacotah of 1916 (Grand Forks, published by the Junior Class of the University of North Dakota, printed by Page Printerie), pages 143-154, 156.
  • “The Fourth Part: Sakakawea”, 1916 Dacotah, page 153.
  • “The Second Part: Pauguk”, 1916 Dacotah, page 149.
  • “NATIONAL RECOGNITION TENDERED PAGEANT OF THE NORTHWEST”, The Student, Grand Forks, 8 October 1914, page 1, columns 1-2;
  • “A SCENE IN 'A PAGEANT OF THE NORTHWEST' MAY 29, 1914” (picture), The Student, Grand Forks, 8 October 1914, page 1.
  • “IN INDIAN SCENE IN 'A PAGEANT OF THE NORTHWEST'” (picture), The Student, Grand Forks, 8 October 1914, page 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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