Gilbert Wilson Collection

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The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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Gilbert Wilson Collection

By: admin | What's New | March 29, 2017
In 1905, Reverend Gilbert L. Wilson, Presbyterian minister and amateur ethnographer, started traveling to North Dakota to work among the tribes who lived at Standing Rock and Fort Berthold. During his travels, Wilson forged relationships with individuals, prompting him to be able to collect items for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). While collecting these items for AMNH, Wilson began accruing an impressive personal collection of items, mainly from the Mandan and Hidatsa at Like-a-Fishhook Village near Fort Berthold.

After Wilson’s death in 1930, his personal collection was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society at his bequest. This donation included journals, reports, photographs, drawings, artifacts and wax cylinder recordings related to his travels to North Dakota. This plethora of information is now connected across collecting areas by including notes from Wilson’s reports that relate with specific objects in the collection. These objects will have an additional Notes section on Collections Online.

Wilson took great interest in many aspects of daily life at Like-a-Fishhook Village. The most notable is the agriculture of the Mandan and Hidatsa which is highlighted in Wilson’s book, Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden. Wilson learned the majority of the gardening techniques from Buffalo Bird Woman and her son, Goodbird.

Goodbird sitting under sliced squash drying on stage, 1916

Goodbird sitting under sliced squash drying on stage, 1916


Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden


While the collection has gardening tools such as a scapula bone hoe and deer antler rake, Wilson made sure to collect some of the foods that became a staple of life at Fort Berthold. This includes dried berry cakes, prairie turnips and squash.

Dried squash on string, 1916

Dried squash on string, 1916



The wonderful thing about this collection is that many of the objects, including the squash, appear in Wilson’s collections in multiple formats. There are photographs of squash being harvested, cut up and dried, the actual physical dried squash and the squash knife that was used to slice the squash. Having these collections in various formats along with the information that Wilson wrote, is a great way to connect to the daily activities of the Mandan and Hidatsa. One is able to learn about the tools, the process and the product of Mandan and Hidatsa life and agriculture.

Bone squash knife, 1916

Bone squash knife, 1916



Please use this link to view the objects in this collection and this link to learn more about Wilson’s reports and photographs.

Rita Walaszek
Collections Assistant