Friday, May 12, 2017

Thirty years ago, in May 1987, I was working at the worst job I have ever had- taking care of the journal collection at the University of Michigan Business School. After graduation, I had no clue how to find an archaeology job, and of course the professors didn't know either. So I went to work at the library, replacing a woman with a learning disability. What took her eight hours to do took me four hours. And then I had to look busy. All while making $5.19 an hour and being nagged because I did not come to work dressed in professional business attire. What a joke.

I had stopped by the Anthropology Department and saw a job listing and applied for it, knowing full well it was pointless. And one day I came back to work from lunch and there was a message, "call the National Park Service." So I ran home and did and was hired to go work at Fort Union Trading Post, National Historic Site. The next day I turned in my resignation, my immediate boss Melody congratulating me (her husband was an archaeologist) and the head of the library making a nasty face because they were going to have to find someone to replace me. Whatever!

I went home to Sault Ste. Marie and my parents drove me out to Williston, North Dakota in the truck with a homemade camper on it. We got there a day early and drove up to Canada. We passed Fort Union and I wanted to stop, but of course my father (who hated archaeology) said we would stop on the way back, and made sure we drove a different way.

The next day people met up and I managed to invite myself to live with Melanie, Becky, Dana, and Colleen in a house trailer in Fairview, Montana. $28 a month for each of us. We were getting paid $7.11 an hour, so after half a day out month's rent was paid.

We were divided up into four crews. Dave Ford was my crew chief and Melanie, Pat, Scott, Jeannie, and Matt were my other crew members. We first worked next to a bastion, uncovering the wall and post holes.

Lunch time under the ramada. Dave Ford in cowboy hat. Don on the left. Eddie on the right. Bill the boss in white teeshirt and shorts.

SO MUCH FUN! Going to work was exciting. You could find pretty beads and sometimes other cool things. And on the weekends we went places. One weekend we went to see the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, where you could see the depressions where houses had stood back in the 1820s-1830s, before the village was ravaged by small pox.

Wallie, Matt, Martin, Pat, Becky, Homer, ???, Lynelle, Bill, and Blaine at Knife River.

Becky was from Akron and was a lot of fun to hang out with. 

Becky and Homer.

 Not sure where this picture was taken. Everyone wore short shorts back then!
Becky, Matt, and Homer.

One weekend we drove north to Wynyard, Canada to attend the Wynyard Kinsmen Chicken Chariot Races.
Homer, Melanie, Matt, Wallie, and Jeanie.

 Over the summer we cleared two of the four sides of the fort, uncovering walls and a bastion. Melanie is standing in front of the reconstructed Bourgeois House, which had been dug up the year before. The rock foundation of a bastion is behind her.


 Pat lived in Williston. He was busy working on a family history book in his apartment. Sometimes we would drive the 45 miles to Williston to get a Dairy Queen blizzard.

Melanie, two kids, and Pat.

We worked with a lot of volunteers. Laurene was there a lot and she still sputters about the time I reached into her screen and pulled out the only crucifix found at the site.


I got a lot of skill working at the dig, discovered I was very good at archaeology. I developed a lot of self confidence that summer, something I had never really had (thanks to my abusive father).

Dana, Scott, Laurie, and Becky at the back gate area.

The coolest thing I got to dig that summer was part of a cellar filled with things discarded in the 1840s. A gold leaf-decorated decanter, bottles, clay pipes, and a pregnant wolf were among the items I found. Melanie dug the other half and found beaded moccasins.


Matt was nearby digging a drain. For weeks. He hated historic period archaeology. He liked to wear short shorts.


We dressed up for the Rendezvous, when re-enactors camped out next to the fort. 
Homer, Melanie, Laurie, and Eddie.

I'm still friends with many of the people I met that summer. I would eventually analyze animal bones from the dig for my Master's Thesis. It seems amazing how a few months affected my life.

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