Dakota Datebook

Ernest Steinbrueck

Thursday, August 15, 2013


The State Historical Society of North Dakota was a fledgling organization in 1905. Although its roots went back to Statehood in 1889, the effort to save significant sites and artifacts was ill-defined and ill financed. Several previous attempts to establish a statewide historical society, including one in 1895, had failed to gain public support, even though a room to house collections had been set up in the Capitol Building. By 1897 the organization had fallen into decay and much of North Dakota’s early history was fading away or being exported to Eastern institutions.


In 1902, Dr. Orin G. Libby, a young history professor, attempted to revitalize the organization. He contacted those who had pioneered the earlier efforts, and by 1903 a unified membership had been established with a new direction. With Clement Lounsberry as president and Libby acting as secretary, the State Historical Society of North Dakota was incorporated, and in 1905 it became sanctioned by the State Legislative Assembly. Realizing that a field operator was needed, Ernest Rheinhold Steinbrueck of Mandan was selected and was made the first Curator of Collections.


Steinbrueck was born in Dusseldorf on the Rhine in 1833, the son of a noted artist. After serving three years in the German navy, he married and the couple immigrated to America. He first settled in Ontario, but, after living briefly in Ohio, they came to Glen Ullin in 1883. Steinbrueck was well educated and had a long standing interest in history, devoting himself particularly to the field of archeology. His occupation as a government surveyor heightened his interest in the area’s past, particularly the history of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Indians of the Missouri River Valley.


On this date in 1905, E. R. Steinbrueck submitted his first report on the field operations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. From April 15th to August 15th, at seventy-two years of age, he had worked on village sites from the mouth of the Cannonball River to Fort Clark. More than four thousand, five hundred artifacts of the Native cultures had been identified in over thirty-one village sites, including seven sites he had found and explored during the season. Steinbrueck drew sketches and maps that are still in use today. Much of his time was donated, and most of his expenses were paid out of his own pocket. He continued his work for the Society until well into his seventies and died on January 25, 1918 at age 84. As a true pioneer and a pioneer in the field of archeology for the State of North Dakota, he not only helped build the State, he helped preserve its history.


Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Mandan Pioneer February 1, 1918

The Mandan Pioneer August 18, 1905

North Dakota History Volume 34, Number 4, Fall, 1967


This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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