Human happiness never lingers for long even in the Bakken Oil Patch

I just returned for a 6 day field season in Western North Dakota. I had to pleasure of working with a great team of archaeologists and historians to document the material conditions and human stories from over a dozen “man camps” in the Bakken Oil Patch.


The Team: John Holmgren (Franklin and Marshall College), Kostis Kourelis (Franklin and Marshall College), Bret Weber (University of North Dakota), me, Richard Rothaus (Trefoil Cultural and Environmental), and Aaron Barth (North Dakota State University).

The team worked together like a series of experienced professionals and collected a remarkably robust body of data from the man camps including intensive descriptions of each camp and a sample of each units, photographs of individual units and of the entire camp from a kite, sketch plans, gps points, and (perhaps most importantly) over 3 dozen interviews of camp residents. We feel fairly confident in asserting that this is the most detailed study of the man camps in the North Dakota Bakken range to date and we will release a report, a press release, and some images from our work over the next week or so with an eye toward presenting a more comprehensive study in the next 6 to 8 months.

This is the cross marking the spot of the now vanished Betaini Norwegian Lutheran Church in the Betaini Cemetery. The oil pump in the background has brought a new prosperity to the region, a new population, and new challenges, while the metal cross marking a vanished church in an isolated cemetery reminds us that this is not the first boom in the fragile country of western North Dakota.



Scenes like this never fail to remind me of Herodotus 1.5:

“For the cities which were formerly great have most of them become insignificant; and such as are at present powerful, were weak in the olden time. I shall therefore discourse equally of both, convinced that human happiness never continues long in one stay.”

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