Bismarck is a city where rich history intermingles with flourishing art, theater and music options. It’s a place where the history buff can see the pages of textbooks come to life and where an emerging artist can connect with like-minded individuals and community support. For those who have only read about Lewis and Clark, the gallant explorers who entered North Dakota in 1804 by winding their way down the Missouri River, Bismarck is the gateway to the famed frontiersmen’s legacy.
Historical attractions abound in the area, starting with the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is located on the capitol grounds. The state’s largest museum provides plenty of interesting tidbits on the famous expedition, but the journey doesn’t stop there. Just a few miles down the road sits the reconstructed Fort Mandan, a replica of the quarters that sheltered Lewis and Clark in the winter of 1804 through 1805 that is complete with reproductions of the tools and equipment used on the voyage. When in the mood for discovery, city dwellers can meander down to Keelboat Park, which sits beneath the Grant Marsh Bridge.
As part of the Missouri Valley Legacy Center, this park provides historical activities and an up-close view of the impressive Thunderbird sculpture. Those who are anxious to get their sea (or river) legs can take a trip on the 150-passenger Lewis and Clark Riverboat at the Historic Port of Bismarck. Once you climb aboard, you’ll channel Lewis and Clark and float in a great steamer along the mighty Missouri. Located just outside of Mandan, Bismarck’s sister city, Ft. Abraham Lincoln State Park is the area’s shining historical jewel. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the fort is the site that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry rode out of on their ill-fated mission against the Sioux at Little Big Horn. Portions of the former military post have been rebuilt, including the Custer House. During the summer months, historical re-enactors lead daily tours of the Custer House and fort. Here you’ll also find the popular On-A-Slant Indian Village, where locals can step back in time and into the lives of the Mandan Indians, who occupied the site from about 1575-1781. You’ll also find restored blockhouses that were once used as lookout points.
In fact, if you peer out onto prairie from atop one these former defense points today, you can see for miles—all the way up to Bismarck, down the river and upon herds of buffalo, if you’re lucky. However, there is much more to Bismarck than its history. When it comes to the arts, you can always add something new to your social calendar. When you’re in the mood to take in a show, check out Dakota Stage Limited, a non-profit community theater, and the Shade Tree Players, an organization that provides opportunities for children ages 6 through 16 to develop and show off their talents on the stage. The Northern Plains Ballet also gives performances throughout the year.
If it’s smoke, lights and booming sound on the big stage that you’re after, the Bismarck Civic Center draws plenty of performers, from Broadway shows and comedy tours to musical performances by big-name acts like Montgomery Gentry and REO Speedwagon. On any given week, you also can catch local favorites here, including the symphony orchestra and the Dakota Wizards, an NBA development team. If New Bohemia in North Dakota has its say, arts throughout the state will only continue to thrive. The organization is dedicated to developing and nurturing young North Dakota artists with the hope that they will stay—and make a good living—in the state.