In 1983, a “minor planet” was named in honor of a North Dakotan who had died three years earlier in Medora.
Ralph “Doc” Hubbard probably did more than anyone else to help young American boys understand and appreciate the culture and heritage of Native Americans.
In the 1920s, he organized Indian dance troupes that toured the U.S. and Europe and, in 1927, wrote the “American Indian Craft” section to the Handbook for Boys that was second to the Bible in book sales.
Later, Hubbard built Indian museums at Wounded Knee in South Dakota and at Medora.
Ralph Hubbard was born on a Seneca Reservation on June 22, 1885, in East Aurora, N.Y., to Elbert and Bertha (Crawford) Hubbard. When he was 10, his father began a printing and book binding business that he called Roycroft.
One of the highlights of his youth was attending Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. At the show, Buffalo Bill Cody saw the Hubbard family and rode his horse over to them and took a bow. Cody also gave the family a large photo of himself that Ralph Hubbard kept and treasured.
In 1902, Hubbard’s parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Buffalo, N.Y. That summer, Hubbard and his maternal grandmother decided to travel west to visit his uncle, Elmer Crawford, who owned a ranch near Billings, Mont. On the way, they spent two days in Medora and young Hubbard became enchanted with the area.
While in Montana, the teenager made a trip to the site of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Every summer, he returned to his uncle’s ranch and each time spent more time in Medora.
When Hubbard became old enough, he filed a homestead claim in Montana. He then sold the land to buy a ranch near Boulder, Colo. His western experience kindled the Native American blood that flowed through his veins — his great-grandmother was Mohawk.
Hubbard learned as much as he could about Indian culture and customs and, in 1913, began teaching Indian dance at his ranch. Hubbard also began working on his master’s degree at the University of Colorado.
Hubbard also served in the U.S. Cavalry during World War 1.
Hubbard returned to his ranch after the war and continued his study of Indian culture. He also became very active in the Boy Scouts. In 1920, in London, the scouts were to have their first international jamboree. Hubbard brought along 90 boys that he instructed on Indian dance and provided them with costumes.
Their “pony war dance” was the highlight of the jamboree and Hubbard and his dancers were invited to perform at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1924 and again in 1929, Hubbard went overseas with the Boy Scouts to orchestrate American Indian dance performances.
In 1927, the Boy Scouts manual, called the Handbook for Boys, was set to put out its third edition. Hubbard wrote a section called “American Indian Craft,” which instructed readers how to make a teepee, moccasins, bows and arrows and tom-toms. This edition, with a Norman Rockwell cover, soon became the best selling book in the nation, topped only by the Bible.
In the 1920s, Hubbard built a summer boy’s camp on his ranch and hired instructors to teach riding, Indian lore, natural history, dancing and drumming. He also was hired by Hollywood to make Indian costumes for western movies.
With the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Hubbard lost his Colorado ranch. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was founded and Hubbard was hired to organize and lead a group of young Native Americans to travel to reservations and demonstrate Indian dancing and singing. This program brought him back to North Dakota.
Later, Hubbard traveled around the country giving lectures about Indian culture. He also taught high school biology. In 1946, Hubbard moved to Minot and, the next fall, began teaching at the State Teachers College in Minot (now Minot State University).
He remained on the faculty until 1957 and, in 1961, moved to Medora. In 1962, Hubbard was hired by Gold Seal where he became active in the building, stocking, and operating of the Nature and Wildlife Museum. He was also instrumental in building the Burning Hills Amphitheatre.
Hubbard built and stocked another museum at the Wounded Knee Reservation in South Dakota. The museum was burned and its contents looted during the American Indian Movement takeover in 1973. Hubbard’s Medora museum is now part of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Hubbard died at the age of 95 on Nov. 14, 1980. He may be gone, but he is not forgotten. In 1979, Brian Green wrote his biography “A Man as Big as the West.” Minot State University offers the “Ralph Hubbard Scholarship.”
On May 14, 1983, astronomer Norman G. Thomas discovered a new asteroid in space that he named “Hubbard” in honor of Hubbard. On June 2, 2009, the Medora City Council changed the name of South Third Street to “Doc Hubbard Drive.”
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)