The 330th anniversary of French people going into a river in Minnesota that the Dakota knew already

Three hundred and thirty years ago, give or take a year, on June 29, French visitors to the homelands of the Dakota people, traveled for the first time into the Minnesota River or Wakpa Mni Sota, as it was known to the Dakota. There were five Frenchmen in the group, one of them named Pierre-Charles Le Sueur, who had just come into the region of the Dakota. The Frenchmen named the river after the saint whose feast day was June 29: St. Pierre or St. Peter.

Pierre Le Sueur mentioned that entrance of the French in the Minnesota River many years later, in conversations with French map makers in Paris, while explaining the French name of the river. He said that the river was given the name because it was “discovered some time ago on St. Peter’s [St. Pierre] Day and because of the five of us at the time, a Jes[uit] & 4 adventurers, there were 3 named Peter [Pierre].” Le Sueur gave no year for this event except to say that he first came to the Dakota country in 1683.

Before this date, no Frenchmen had mentioned the Minnesota River. Even Father Louis Hennepin who traveled up the Mississippi River and the tributary Rum River all the way to Mille Lacs Lake in 1679 and 1680, failed to mention going by the mouth of the Minnesota River. This may be because of the location of the large island Wita Taåka, now known as Pike Island, concealed the mouth of the river. Hennepin and other Frenchmen may have thought the water flowing around the island was simply a backwater on the Mississippi.

R St Pierre 300x178 The 330th anniversary of French people going into a river in Minnesota that the Dakota knew already

The Minnesota River or Rivière St. Pierre, known to the Dakota as the Wakpa Mni Sota (or in Pierre Le Sueur’s transcription, the “Ouatebamenisouté”) is shown at left on Guillaume DeLisle’s 1702 map of the region.

As a result of the “discovery” by the French of a river well known to the Dakota and other Indigenous people, Nicolas Perrot led a ceremony on May 8, 1689, at the French fort of St. Antoine, on Lake Pepin, taking “possession,” in the name of Louis XIV, of the entire Upper Mississippi region, one of many applications of the European colonialist Doctrine of Discovery. The details of the claim include a kind of inventory of Dakota groups, under names not well known later, and suggestions about where these groups were located. The document stated that the French had visited and thereby claimed
Pierre Le Sueur’s explanation for the meaning of the French name for the Minnesota River clears up a historical mystery about the origins of the name. William H. Keating, a geologist who accompanied the expedition of Major Stephen H. Long in the region in 1823 (Narrative of an Expedition, 2:335-336) wrote: “It has been, we know not upon what authority, suggested that the French name of the river, St. Pierre, was a corruption of the Sans pierres (without stones) said to have been given to it, because no stones occur along it bank for a considerable distance from its mouth.”

Regardless of the merits of this description of the river’s geology, Pierre Le Sueur’s account shoots this theory out of the water. As the editor of Zebulon Pike’s journals, Elliott M. Coues states, it was “too good to be true” anyway, though Coues also argued against the idea that the river was named after the saint at all, suggesting other more famous 17th century Frenchmen named Pierre or St. Pierre. Warren Upham, in his work Minnesota Geographic Names (page 3), was closer to the truth when he said that the French name was given in honor of Pierre Le Sueur himself. It is clear that he was only partly right.

For more information on Pierre Le Sueur’s accounts of his time among the Dakota, see Gwen Westerman and Bruce White, Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, published by MHS Press in 2012. The DeLisle map above is in the collections of the Library of Congress.

A Dakota invitation to Coldwater Spring in 1820

This article was first published on this site in January 2010. The information is also discussed in the new book Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.

Although the National Park Service’s final EIS for the Coldwater/Bureau of Mines property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, contains the statement that “no historical documentation of American Indian use of Camp Coldwater Spring has been found,” (repeated five times in the final EIS, beginning on page 72), there is actually ample evidence of the presence of Dakota, Ojibwe, and other Native people at Coldwater Spring. One example is a birch-bark scroll sent by Dakota leaders to invite their Ojibwe counterparts to meet with them to make peace at “Cold Spring” in the summer of 1820. The scroll is part of a detailed history of such diplomacy at Coldwater Spring.

Although it is not known if the original birch-bark message has survived, Henry Schoolcraft included an engraving based on it in his six-volume compendium Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. According to Schoolcraft the original birch-bark message was left near the mouth of the Sauk River (in between present-day Minneapolis and St. Cloud), a place bordering Ojibwe country, where it was expected Ojibwe leaders would be able to find it. Schoolcraft, who visited the area with the expedition of Michigian territorial governor Lewis Cass, described this message and later took it back with him to Washington. After seeing the message, Schoolcraft and company continued on down the river to Coldwater Spring.

Inter-tribal diplomacy between Dakota and Ojibwe is one of the biggest untold stories of early Minnesota history, particularly as it relates to Coldwater Spring. In the years that following the events of 1820, Coldwater Spring was the habitual camping place of the Ojibwe who came to visit Fort Snelling, the Indian agency, and the nearby Dakota communities. Ojibwe and Dakota traded, danced, and participated in ceremonies there for many years. It is likely that the site was also used for this purpose prior to the arrival of the Americans. Dakota-Ojibwe diplomacy was recorded long before the creation of Fort Snelling. Although the Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro liked to take credit for the diplomacy, in many cases the impetus for it came from the Native leaders themselves, particularly those who had mixed Dakota-Ojibwe ancestry through intermarriage that had been going on for hundreds of years. For Native leaders Taliaferro provided an important intermediary to continue efforts their people had been carrying out for generations.

Agent Taliaferro’s first effort at diplomacy occurred at Coldwater Spring in the summer of 1820, when the military encampment switched from Cantonment New Hope to Coldwater Spring. Taliaferro arrived at St. Peters early that summer and may have encouraged the Dakota who sent the invitation to come to Coldwater Spring. In his journal Taliaferro did not record a narrative of what occurred that summer, but he did leave a record of presents given to Dakota leaders starting in June 1820.

C11 FS pictograph adjusted 5 copy 300x186 A Dakota invitation to Coldwater Spring in 1820
The invitation sent by the Dakota leaders shows the extent to which they themselves were instrumental in bringing about the diplomacy. Along with the engraving in his multi-volume work, Schoolcraft gave a written explanation of what the figures on it meant.

The scroll containing this inscription . . . as obtained above St. Anthony’s Falls, on a public expedition. . . . It consisted of white birch bark, and the figures have been carefully drawn. Number 1 [at top left], denotes the flag of the union;–Number 2, the cantonment, then recently established at Cold Spring on the western side of the cliffs, above the influx of the St. Peters [Mdote or Bdote]. Number 4 [the figure holding the sword and wearing a hat] is the symbol of the commanding officer, (Colonel H. Leavenworth,) under whose authority a mission of peace had been sent into the Chippewa country. Number 1 is the symbol of Chakope, or the Six, the leading Sioux chief [wearing what looks like a round peace medal], under whose orders the party moved. Number 8 is the second chief called Wamade-tunka, or the Black Eagle. The symbol of his name is number 10 [that is, the figure on the far right at bottom, a black dog, which means this is a reference to the chief of Black Dog’s Village, the closest village on the Minnesota River above Fort Snelling]. He has 14 lodges. Captain Douglas, who had begun the study of this ‘bark-letter,’ as it was called thought this symbol denoted his descent from Chakope. Number 7 is a chief, subordinate to Chakope, with 13 lodges, and a bale of goods (Number 9), which was devoted, by the public, to the objects of the peace. The name of Number 6, whose wigwam is Number 5, with 13 subordinate lodges, was not given. The frame, or crossed poles of the entire 50 lodges composing this party, had been left standing on the high, open prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi above Sauk River, and immediately opposite the point of Hornblende Rocks, which results from the figure-alphabet being precisely the same in both [Dakota and Ojibwe].

As a result of this effort preliminary meetings occurred between the Dakota and Ojibwe at Coldwater Spring in the summer of 1820. Henry Schoolcraft noted on August 1, that “a treaty of peace was this day concluded in the presence of Governor Cass, Colonel Leavenworth, Mr. Tallifierro, the Indian agent at St. Peter’s, and a number of the officers of the garrison.” In his account Schoolcraft makes clear that the garrison of soldiers who had come to the area in the fall of 1819 and had spent the winter on the river bank at the mouth of the Minnesota had moved to Coldwater Spring in the the spring of 1820, to avoid floods. On July 31, 1820, James Duane Doty, future governor of Wisconsin Territory, who had accompanied the Cass expedition, noted in his own diary:

Early in the Spring [of 1820] Col. Leavenworth discovered the fountain of water where the troops now are, & to which they moved as soon as the ice would permit. It is a healthy situation, about 200 feet above the river, and the water gushing out of a lime stone rock is excellent. It is called “Camp Cold Water.”

Records of peace ceremonies between Dakota and Ojibwe, such as the one that occurred in 1820 at Coldwater Spring, abound in historical and ethnographic sources. The anthropologist Ruth Landes in her work on the Prairie Island Dakota (1968: 85-86), records a traditional account of a peace ceremony said to have occurred between the Dakota and Ojibwe or as she spells the name, the Ojibwa. The story says that the Dakota chief was named Shakopee and had a village in an area near the Ford Factory in St. Paul and near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, a place that would have been close to Coldwater. But the story also says that the event took place at Shakopee, which may be the result of confusion in translation or in remembering the tradition. In fact the story recalls many ceremonies that occurred near Fort Snelling and at Coldwater.

The story told that an Ojibwa chief had sent word that “his people were coming to make peace with the Sioux.” The Dakota chief gathered all his villages to meet the Ojibwe. The people came from the east and west.

Some Ojibwa arrived in the advance of the chief; four came with their chief; next day the whole body of Ojibwa arrived and camped at a distance from the Sioux, totaling about 150 men, women, and children. The chief and his companions stayed with the Sioux until the other Ojibwa arrived; then the chief and his men returned to their people. The Ojibwa chief with some chosen men walked forward in a line parallel to the Sioux encampment. The Sioux chief likewise advanced to the Ojibwa. The Sioux lit his redstone pipe [carved starkly and decorated with dyed braids of porcupine quill and downy feathers] and handed it to the Ojibwa chief for a puff. The latter handed his pipe equally choice in style and finish, to the Sioux, inviting him to puff. Each man received back his own pipe after pointing that of the friendly enemy to the six directions. The Ojibwa chief gave his pipe to the Sioux guards facing his camp in a parallel line; and the Sioux chief reciprocated with the Ojibwa guards. Each chief, having returned to his own men, shook hands with the other, saying that they would never war against each other.

Afterwards there was a feast, dancing and other celebrations, lasting through the night. “Everyone was happy when peace was restored. Landes noted that even in 1935 the Dakota and Ojibwe still talked of being enemies, yet “these people made peace, probably as often as they made war.”

Frances Densmore, in her work Chippewa Music, published in 1910 and 1913 provided additional information of these kinds of peace events, from the Ojibwe point of view (Densmore 1973, 2: 126-29). An Ojibwe war leader whose name was the same as his tribe sang her a song that would be sung at a peace treaty between the Dakota and Ojibwe, an event “attended with much ceremony.” This song was sung by both tribes using the same melody but with different words. In it the members of each tribe would sing the praises of the leaders of the other tribe. The Ojibwe version praised Little Crow, Little Six, and Wabasha, in succession. The Dakota would have sung the same song praising Ojibwe leaders such as Hole in the Day and others. After the song the two groups would share a pipe ceremony, dances, and the exchange of presents, exactly the kinds of events that took place at Fort Snelling in the 1820s and 1830s

Many written documents record the interactions between the Dakota and Ojibwe at Coldwater Spring. It is also recorded in the Ojibwe oral tradition. Eddie Benton-Benai stated in his testimony at a hearing in 1999, relating to the Native American claim to the Coldwater area. At that hearing Benai stated, according to a rough transcript (Minnesota Department of Transportation 1999):

Through our oral traditions, our history, recent and older, we know that the falls which . . . came to be known as Minnehaha Falls, that there was a sacred place, . . . a neutral place for many nations to come, and that further geographically define the confluence of the three rivers, which is actually the two rivers, that that point likewise was a neutral place. And that somewhere between that point and the falls, there were sacred grounds that were mutually held to be a sacred place. And that the spring from which the sacred water should be drawn was not very far, and I’ve never heard any direction from which I could pinpoint, but there’s a spring near the [Midewiwin or medicine] lodge that all nations used to draw the sacred water for the ceremonies.

Now that’s in the words of our people of the [Midewiwin] lodge. And the people that are concerned or the people that are identified there are the Dakota, the Sac, the Fox, the Potawatomi, the Wahpeton Dakotas, the Mdewakanton Dakotas, the Meskwaki people as all having used and recognizing and mutually agreeing that that is forever a neutral place and forever a sacred place. That is confirmed in our oral history. And it is difficult even to estimate when the last sacred ceremony was held inter-tribally, but my grandfather who lived to be 108 died in 1942, and I will tell you this, that many times he re-told how we traveled, he and his family, he as a small boy traveled by foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be these great religious spiritual events, and that they always camped between the falls and the sacred water place. Those are his words. . . .

Within my physical memory, visiting the Prairie Island Dakota Nation as early as the 1940s, there were still elders in that community in the 1940s who were still members of the Midewiwin Lodge along with the Winnebago of Wisconsin. And my memory serves me to say that there was a great dialogue among our people and those of the Prairie Island Community regarding the lodge, and that’s how we have always known this way of life and practice as the lodge, but meaning the Midewiwin Lodge as a system of belief. . . . The Honorable Amos Owens . . . is the last person of that community I ever heard talk about that mutually sacred place, meaning the falls and the spring from which sacred water is drawn, Coldwater.

The information presented here about the Native history of Coldwater Spring is only a sampling of a history ignored in the National Park Service Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines EIS. For the history that is included the final EIS relies on a 2002 study done for the Park Service which includes the following statement:

In a book published in 1835, Charles Joseph Latrobe stated that “lodges of the Sioux and the Chippewas encamped near the Reservation, or near the trading houses.” These would have been temporary visits, if only because the Dakota and the Chippewa were enemies unlikely to reside near one another except for brief visits to traders, the Indian Agency, or the fort.

The 1820 invitation by the Dakota for the Ojibwe to come make peace with them, along with all the other evidence not included in the final EIS, make clear the inaccuracy of this statement, and of the Park Service’s account of the Native connections to Coldwater Spring.

Permits required for ceremonies at Coldwater Spring

Anyone holding a ceremony at Coldwater Spring, a sacred and culturally important place for Dakota people, is required to get a permit from the local office of the National Park Service office in St. Paul, known as the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area or MNRRA.  However as of August 30, 2012, no permits are being granted for ceremonies or anything else at Coldwater Spring, until the spring of 2013 at the earliest. Any violation of this rule or others relating to MNRRA’s regulations may subject the violator to a fine of “up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, or by imprisonment not exceeding six months, ” as well as being “adjudged to pay all court costs associated.” No exceptions appear to be available for the Dakota people whose original place of creation includes Mni Owe Sni or Coldwater Spring.

Information about this and other rules promulgated by Superintendent Paul Labovitz of MNRAA are found in an annual “Superintendent’s Compendium,” an annual listing compiled by all Park Service superintendents for the areas they supervise and which they may revise “as necessary.”  Labovitz issued his new compendium on August 30, 2012. In it are rules designed to govern everyone who uses the Coldwater Spring site and the few other locations that are part of MNRRA. The reference to ceremonies occurs in a section entitled “Activities that Require a Permit,” deriving from 36 CFR 1.6, in the Code of Federal Regulations. These activities include ceremonies and many other events. Following each item is a rationale given in the Superintendent’s Compendium citing the basis for the requirement of a permit:

 §2.50(a) Conduct a sports event, pageant, regatta, public spectator attraction, entertainment, ceremony, and similar events

Events need to be regulated to ensure there is no resource damage and to ensure that events do not conflict with each other.

• §2.51(a) Public assemblies, meetings, gatherings, demonstrations, parades and other public expressions of views

Gatherings need to be regulated to ensure there is no resource damage and to ensure that events do not conflict with each other.

Nothing in these rules specify any exceptions for Dakota people, for whom many if not all gatherings at Coldwater Spring may involve ceremony. In fact it appears that MNRRA will apply this rule to any ceremony involving any number of people, as indicated in the proviso that no permits would be issued for any events at Coldwater Spring prior to the spring 2013 :

NOTE: The NPS is not issuing any special use permits for Coldwater Spring until late spring of 2013. The land and wetland restorations are so new that even small events could harm them. The NPS will  review this position in the spring to determine whether it is okay to open Coldwater Spring to permitted events.

According to the Superintendent’s Compendium anyone with comments on these and other regulations are invited to write to the superintendent who issued them in the first place:

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
111 E. Kellogg Blvd., Suite 105
St. Paul, MN 55101

However, given the lack of responsiveness of Labovitz and others in his office to concerns about the attitude of MNRRA toward the Dakota and other Native people, a more useful response may come from:

Secretary Ken Salazar
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240

Six Years Ago–Park Service to Dakota People: “Drop Dead.”

Could the National Park Service be a fit guardian for the Gettysburg Battlefield if it announced publicly that it did not accept the belief that a profoundly important battle took place there, one that was a turning point in the history of the Civil War and indeed for the history of the country, and that because of this belief the battlefield should be approached with great reverence? What if the Park Service announced that it understood that the battlefield had some contemporary importance among Civil War re-enactors, but that the battlefield was also important among nature lovers, polo players, and others with various agendas and that the Park Service had to serve all its many stakeholders and that the role of the battlefield as a public park open to everyone would adequately serve these many constituents?

It is hard to imagine that this would ever be possible. Yet the Park Service’s Twin Cities branch, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area or MNRRA, is now managing a public park located at Coldwater Spring, a site considered to be a sacred place and traditional cultural property by the Dakota people, from whom the spring was obtained in the Treaty of 1805, while maintaining that it does not accept the cultural and historical connection of the Dakota to the site. The record of MNRRA and its employees has, for the past six years, made clear that it does not and will not ever respect the cultural heritage of the Dakota. The full record of the Park Service’s biases against the Dakota–and its unfitness to manage Coldwater Spring–has been discussed in great detail on this website over the last six years. Perhaps the earliest inkling of Park Service attitudes was revealed in what follows a story first published online on September 13, 2006. For those who do not know the issues involved this is a good place to start.

Every minute, for thousands of years, 70 gallons or more of cool, pure water have gushed from Coldwater Spring, on the west bank of the Mississippi River just upstream from where the Minnesota flows into the Mississippi. It is a part of the area’s complex watershed, a remarkable feature of an area the Dakota people consider to be the center of the world. Historic sources disclose that the Dakota have considered and do consider springs to be sacred places, but Coldwater Spring, now located on the Bureau of Mines (BOM), Twin Cities Campus property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, is not, according to the National Park Service, a place of traditional cultural importance—a “traditional cultural property” or TCP—for Dakota People.

This Park Service opinion was revealed in late August 2006, in a statement rejecting the report of an outside consultant which had found that Coldwater spring is a TCP. Contrary to the consistent statements of Dakota people and Dakota communities, other Indian people, and other experts, the National Park Service will admit only that the spring has “contemporary importance to many American Indian people.” The Park Service has declined to explain much about the announcement, including any clue about how it reached that conclusion. Nonetheless, the announcement appears to be a direct challenge to the historical and cultural beliefs of Dakota people in Minnesota and elsewhere and to the sovereignty of their tribal governments. It is difficult to know whether this was intentional or merely the result of bad judgment.

An Environmental Review

On August 18, 2006, the National Park Service sent out a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and supporting documents describing the cultural, historic, and environmental characteristics of the Bureau of Mines (BOM) property and considering the effects that a variety of actions might have on the property. The Bureau of Mines property contains the place where Coldwater Spring comes out of the ground, where its waters are gathered in a pool and where these waters begin to flow to the Mississippi River. One of the reports attached to the DEIS was a study (Ethnographic Study) analyzing whether Coldwater Spring is a TCP, the term used for sites of places of traditional importance under the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) criteria.

People not familiar with the process may wonder why the term TCP is used for what most people might call, simply, a sacred site. As it happens the federal government has appropriated that ancient term sacred for its own purposes, so that to be sacred under federal law, in relation to Indian people, a place must be declared such by a tribal government or religious leader. The source for this is President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order of May 24, 1996, No. 13007, dealing with Indian Sacred Sites:

“Sacred site” means any specific, discrete, narrowly delineated location on Federal land that is identified by an Indian tribe, or Indian individual determined to be an appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion, as sacred by virtue of its established religious significance to, or ceremonial use by, an Indian religion; provided that the tribe or appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion has informed the agency of the existence of such a site.

Coldwater Reservoir 300x152 Six Years Ago  Park Service to Dakota People:  Drop Dead.

Coldwater Spring reservoir in winter, in the 1880s. Original in the Minneapolis Public Library.

Given this special definition under federal law, a place of cultural importance to Dakota people might not be considered a TCP by the federal government but could be a sacred site, or visa versa.

Dakota and other Indian people hold Coldwater Spring to be important because of their religious and cultural beliefs and their history. The spring and the Bureau of Mines-Twin Cities Campus property are in federal hands today because in 1805, at the mouth of the Minnesota River, two Dakota leaders from nearby villages signed a treaty in which they gave the U.S. government, as represented by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, the right to use the area around the mouth of the Minnesota to build and support a fort. Article 3 of the treaty provided that the Dakota people would continue to have the right to “pass, repass, hunt or make other uses of the said districts, as they have formerly done, without any other exception, but those specified in article first [relating to the use of land for a military post].” The meaning of this provision has not yet been determined by a court of law, but it should be clear to anyone who hopes to make use of the Bureau of Mines property that this right, and other possible rights, may be perpetual, even though Dakota people have been barred from the property for long periods of their history.

From the 1805 to the 1850s the Dakota did have access to Coldwater Spring. As described by some of the Indian consultants and in historical documents, Coldwater Spring was part of a neutral ground, a place where many Indian groups came for treaties and ceremonies. Ojibwe leaders camped at Coldwater Spring when they signed the Treaty of 1837, the first sale of their land in present-day Minnesota. A number of individuals of mixed Dakota, Ojibwe, and European ancestry lived around the spring. The wife of Benjamin Baker, the most important trader located at the spring, was Ojibwe, as were the wives of some of Baker’s employees. Marguerite Bonga, of African and Ojibwe descent, was married to Jacob Falstrom, a Swedish blacksmith. Nancy Graham, the daughter of Duncan Graham and a Mdewakanton Dakota woman named Ha-za-ho-ta-win, was married to Joseph Buisson.

Specific examples of Dakota people using the water from Coldwater Spring, or any spring at all for that matter, are difficult to find in written sources. [However see the later research that showed that the Dakota did come to the spring, as discussed in my new book Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.] Does this mean that Dakota people never came to the spring, did not understand its importance, or did not value it? One might as well ask whether it is possible that the soldiers at Fort Snelling did not understand the importance of the spring because there are so few records of soldiers actually going there. In historical documents there are actually very few direct references to people drinking water at the spring, even though we know that it was crucial to the support of the fort and to the historic settlement located around it. Springs were important but they were a part of the landscape that was seldom mentioned in historical documents.

Few whites wrote about the Dakota beliefs about springs in general or Coldwater Spring in particular. Perhaps the most important written information about the spring is found in the work of Gideon Pond, a missionary who thought of Dakota religious beliefs as being superstitions, but who still recorded them with detailed though sometimes incomplete descriptions. Springs for the Dakota were “breathing places of the wakan,” or the sacred and mysterious, including such beings as Unktehi, “the God of the waters.” Unktehi was specifically associated with the hill just west and north of Coldwater Spring, Taku Wakan Tipi, “the dwelling place of the gods,” known to the soldiers at Fort Snelling as Morgan’s Mound. In historic times the area between Coldwater Spring and Taku Wakan Tipi was a wetland, nourished by seepage from Coldwater Spring—or from Coldwater’s own sources—around Morgan’s Mound. Archaeologist Robert Clouse’s 2000 survey of the Bureau of Mines site showed deeply buried wetland soils at the north end of the property, further evidence of the persistent presence of Unktehi (Clouse Report, p. 68).

The significance of Coldwater Spring for Dakota people today comes in part from the traditional reverence that springs have had for Dakota people. But Coldwater Spring is an especially important spring because of its association with Taku Wakan Tipi and with the larger Mdote—or more accurately, Bdote—Minisota area, an area with a number of linked sacred places, including Pilot Knob or Oheyawahi, which was also associated with Unktehi in Dakota beliefs. Mdote Minisota is the place of Dakota creation, the center of the world, which helps explain the rich number of Dakota sacred places in the area. In fact, though Mdote refers to the mouth of a river, there is no reason to believe that the place of creation is limited to the water at the mouth. An early French source uncovered by the anthropologist Carolyn Anderson describes the first woman coming out of the ground on the plain between Mdote and St. Anthony Falls. This means that the sacred area of Dakota origins is much larger than the literal mouth of the Minnesota River.

Coldwater Spring, Taku Wakan Tipi, Oheyawahi, and many other places in the Fort Snelling area also have significance for Dakota people for their history, including the tragic events culminating in the imprisonment of 1300 [1600] people below Fort Snelling and their subsequent exile from their homeland. Only a few Dakota were allowed to stay in Minnesota. It was not until many years later that some were allowed to come back to Minnesota to revisit the graves of their ancestors on Oheyawahi. Did any return to Coldwater Spring at that time? The closest Dakota community was across the river in Mendota, but it would have been difficult for the Mendota people even in the 1880s to visit a spring that now was part of a system piping water to an expanded fort stretching toward  the present-day airport. This expanded fort was the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Department of Dakota. It supplied the troops and equipment for battling the relatives of the Minnesota Dakota on the Plains. Access to the spring has also been restricted during the last 50 years of Bureau of Mines control. Up to recent times Native American religious practices have also been restricted. (See for example.)

Preserving Dakota Places of Importance

Until recent years no sites of traditional cultural importance to Dakota people in Minnesota have been included on the National Register of Historic Places. The first was Boiling Springs in Scott County, nominated by archaeologist Scott Anfinson and placed the Register in December 2002. This site had the advantage of being fairly discreet and uncontested; although it is important, it lacks the profound importance of the areas around Fort Snelling. Oheyawahi or Pilot Knob in Dakota County was nominated in 2003 and determined to be eligible in January 2004 by the Keeper of the National Register. It was the first Dakota site within the Mdote [Bdote] Area to be acknowledged in this way, although other locations have been discussed. While the boundaries of the Fort Snelling Historic Landmark and District areas include some sites of Dakota importance, documentation on these areas includes little, if anything, that acknowledges Dakota history, culture, beliefs, traditions, or even presence. Several consultants have suggested that a Mdote Cultural District, embracing the many sites of importance to the Dakota and other tribes, should be documented fully and nominated, but no actions have been taken to do so.

Because of the lack of Dakota sites on the National Register, and because of the profound importance of the Mdote area, and because of the tragic history of 1862 and its aftermath, special sensitivity is required by all who deal with properties located there. Such sensitivity appears to have been applied in documenting and analyzing Coldwater Spring by the firms Summit Envirosolutions and Two Pines Resource Group, under contract with the National Park Service as part of the current Bureau of Mines environmental review process.

Researchers under the lead of principal investigator Michelle Terrell studied the written documentation about the spring and then consulted with six key Dakota cultural experts, one key Ojibwe cultural expert, eleven official representatives of four Dakota communities and one Ojibwe reservation, and six additional Indian and non-Indian consultants. Their report describes this research and consultation, and it carries out the usual National Register analysis familiar to cultural-resource specialists but often viewed as arcane by others. The consultants determined that Coldwater Spring is a traditional cultural property for Dakota people, under Criteria A and C of the National Register criteria. The analysis, recorded in a fourteen-page discussion and a later seven-page summary, is extensive and thorough and will not be repeated here, except to quote the unmistakable conclusion:

    As a result of this evaluation, Coldwater is recommended as being significant at a statewide level as a TCP associated with the Dakota communities in Minnesota. The spring is recommended as eligible for the National Register under Criterion A for its association with Mdote. The spring is also recommended as eligible under National Register Criterion C as representative of the type of natural springs (many of which have been destroyed or which are no longer accessible) that figure significantly in Dakota traditional practices and are important for the continued maintenance of their cultural identity (Ethnographic Study, p. 79).

Boundaries are often a key issue with TCPs. The consultants discussed the boundaries that Dakota and Ojibwe people assigned to Coldwater Spring. The report noted:

    There is a consensus that the boundaries of Coldwater Spring include not only where the water flows from the rock wall, but also the source of the spring and the location where the spring water finally deposits into the Mississippi River (Ethnographic Study, p. 93).

As a result of this finding, the consultants recommended that “the actual boundary determination be made in consultation with the Dakota and Ojibwe communities.”

Had the Park Service accepted the findings of its own consultant it would have provided the agency the opportunity to do the right thing and make up, in a small way, for years of inattention to Dakota sacred places. But apparently the facts or the analysis in the study were not to the liking of the Park Service. Exactly what process the agency used to evaluate the report, where this evaluation took place, and when a conclusion was reached are matters that the Park Service refuses to discuss with the public. But in issuing the DEIS, the Park Service stated:

    After review of the study, the National Park Service has determined that Camp Coldwater Spring does not meet the criteria in the NHRP for designation as a TCP. However, Camp Coldwater Spring and Reservoir are important to some Indian people for ritual and ceremonial reasons. The importance ascribed to this area, including the spring and reservoir and the subsequent need for protection, is addressed in the alternatives presented in this draft EIS (DEIS, p. 26)

No citation was given for this comment, but on the second page of the separate Ethnographic Study, the Park Service placed the following notice intended to contradict the entire content of the consultant’s report:

    National Park Service Statement
    The National Park Service recognizes that Camp Coldwater spring and reservoir located on the former Bureau of Mines property holds significant contemporary importance to many American Indian people. However, the evidence presented in this report does not meet the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places for determining them eligible for the Register as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP).

In May 2006 the National Park Service sent a review copy of the Ethnographic Study to  Stanley Crooks, chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and, possibly, to other Dakota communities. Providing slightly more information than in the DEIS, JoAnn Kyral, superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), the local agency handling the EIS process, stated in a letter to Crooks:

    The study offers substantial background information about Dakota Indian Life around the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers and about Dakota traditions related to springs and water. However, little evidence is provided that relates directly to the site specific use of the Center [BOM-Twin Cities Campus] property or Coldwater Spring. After thoroughly reviewing the evidence provided in the report the National Park Service has concluded that neither the Center nor Coldwater Spring meet the specific criteria in the National Register to designate the area as a TCP. However, it is clear that the spring has significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people, and the spring is already a contributing element to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark and the Fort Snelling National Register of Historic Places District. In recognition of this contemporary cultural importance and the contributing element factors, an alternative will be included in the EIS that would provide protections for the spring and reservoir (Ethnographic Study, Appendix B).

Kyral’s words are condescending, suggesting that although the federal government rejects the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejects the history and cultural traditions on which it is based, the Park Service will try to protect the spring because it is part of a site important for, among other things, its role in colonizing Minnesota and sending the Dakota into exile in 1863. The area’s place in Dakota history is not significant; its white history is. The irony of this juxtaposition is evidently lost on the Park Service.

These short statements concerning the Park Service’s TCP decision provide little information about the deliberative process that produced this determination to reject the findings of the consultant. This continued after the DEIS was released. In late August in response to a request for more information about any deliberative process, an agency spokesperson would only state:

    The stated position is that of the National Park Service based upon an agency internal review.

In other words, the Park Service wished to make clear that The Agency—meaning anyone from the Park Service Director Fran Mainella, Regional Director Ernest Quintana in Omaha, some park superintendent in Hawaii, or one or two local staff in Minnesota including, possibly, Superintendent JoAnn Kyral, Project Manager Kim Berns, historian John Anfinson, cultural anthropologist Michael J. Evans, or even MNRRA’s Singing Ranger Charlie McGuire—had decided that Coldwater Spring does not meet the criteria as a traditional cultural property for Dakota people. The Park Service wanted everyone to know this but was unwilling to provide reasons, and use of the term “internal review” suggests that the Park Service would claim an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to anyone who requesting documentation of the process.

Determinations and Pre-Determinations

Why should a finding without explanation or justification be taken seriously? In the wider world of historical study, you are expected to support your theories with facts and arguments. In such a world the “determination” of the Park Service, presented without evidence or argument, would not be taken seriously and it would have little effect. In this case the Park Service is supervising an EIS process, and the determination is actually a pre-determination, one that biases a process that is supposed to be an open and honest one. An EIS is not merely the discussion of the consequences of various actions, but a compilation of information presented as facts. By presenting information in certain ways, a government agency can pre-determine the result it wishes to achieve. In rejecting the recommendation of its consultants on the TCP question without actual discussion of the information or issues raised, the Park Service has raised questions about the consultant’s facts and analysis without actually presenting any useful alternative facts or analysis.

In sharp contrast, the Park Service has reported the recommendations of their other outside consultants without apparent bias. In discussing the 2001 Clouse Report, the DEIS states exactly what Clouse’s recommendations were, including further testing of one of the archaeological zones on the BOM property and the expansion of the boundaries of the Fort Snelling Historic Landmark to include archaeological Zone II surrounding the spring (DEIS, p. 80). Similarly, a section on the 2002 Henning historical study stated that:

    the author concluded that neither the spring nor associated features are independently eligible for the NHRP. However, she did conclude that Camp Coldwater Spring does contribute to the significance of the Fort Snelling National Historic District, the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark, and the Old Fort Snelling State Historic District (DEIS, p. 81).

The Henning conclusions, which are contained in a skimpy half-page analysis in the Henning report—in contrast to the 21-page discussion in the Ethnographic Study—are highly questionable. There is a wealth of information contained in the Henning report and in other sources that would show that Coldwater Spring is independently eligible for the NHRP, were the Park Service disposed to undertake such a examination.

By presenting Henning’s conclusions with no comment, the Park Service gives them tacit endorsement. But in writing about the Ethnographic Study, the Park Service not only does not report the findings of the consultants, it does not examine the evidence they presented fully or accurately. The DEIS states:

    During the course of that study, some participants identified springs as a general category of culturally of culturally important resources due to spirit entities that inhabit such water sources, and the ceremonial use of water for various purposes. Although no historical documentation of American Indian use of Coldwater Spring was found, the oral traditions and histories collected during the investigation suggest that natural springs like Coldwater Spring are associated with sacred healing. Camp Coldwater Spring is currently used by some members of federally recognized Dakota and by Ojibwe communities, and by other American Indians as a source of water for ceremonies (DEIS, page 81).

It is important to note the distinction made here between “historical documentation” and “oral traditions and histories.” One would have thought this kind of ethnocentric distinction—which holds written evidence to be more important than oral tradition—had long been discredited in applications of National Register criteria. Only someone with a confirmed bias would suggest that this is a fair presentation of the evidence in the Ethnographic Study. Coldwater Spring is not just a spring among springs, all of which may be sacred to the Dakota, but it is the most visible surviving spring, one that happens to issue in part from Taku Wakan Tipi, the very place where Unktehi was said to reside. The Park Service knows these facts but chooses not to mention them, for reasons the agency has not shared.

Coldwater Spring also happens to be within the area of Mdote Minisota [Bdote Mni Sota], a place of great importance to the Dakota people. But even in relation to Mdote [Bdote], the Park Service inserts its own bias:

    Camp Coldwater Spring was also identified as important in relationship to the Mdote Minisota or the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. While the confluence is not located within the area of the proposed actions, the interviewees stressed the importance of considering Camp Coldwater Spring within this larger context (DEIS, p. 82).

Not content to draw conclusions about Coldwater Spring opposite to those reached by its own consultants, the Park Service here presumes to draw its own boundaries for a Dakota place of traditional importance, without any particular evidence and without consulting with Dakota people. Evidence in the Ethnographic Study and in other sources contradicts this statement, extending the boundaries of the place of Dakota creation usually described by the term Mdote a great distance away from the actual mouth of the Minnesota River. The Park Service chooses to ignore its own evidence. One can only assume that for the Park Service’s BOM agenda to be achieved, it is convenient for Coldwater Spring to be entirely independent from the place of Dakota creation.

The Park Service DEIS also shows its bias in the way the Park Service discusses the Dakota communities who find Coldwater Spring to be of traditional cultural importance. The DEIS notes:

    The primary American Indian communities that have been identified as having an association with the area surrounding the spring are the Mdewakanton Dakota, who currently reside at the federally recognized Lower Sioux Indian Community; Prairie Island Indian Community; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; and Upper Sioux Indian Community (DEIS, p. 82).

By naming individual communities, the report suggests that four local groups, out of some unnumbered Dakota, are represented. In fact these are the entirety of federally recognized Dakota communities in the state. In 1999, the chairman of each community separately sent the same letter to a Minnesota state official which said

    As you are aware, the Coldwater Spring and the area at the meeting of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers have held significant cultural and practical importance to Indian people for thousands of years. We once again state our support of our spiritual leaders that the Coldwater Spring is a spiritual and cultural sacred site (Ethnographic Study, Appendix G).

Referring to later letters from tribal leaders, Park Service conveniently fails to mention that the leaders had previously declared that Coldwater Spring was a “sacred and cultural site,” reporting only a later statement that “Coldwater Spring holds significant cultural importance to the Dakota People” (DEIS, page 28).

Similar bias occurs when the Park Service reports the statement contained in a letter from the chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, representing descendants of the people who were in the region of Mdote [Bdote] several hundred years ago. Marianne Long, director of tribal operations in 1999, wrote: “Camp Coldwater is a sacred site for the Iowa Tribe and other Native American groups” (Ethnographic Study, Appendix G). The Park Service says it attempted to contact the Iowa Tribe about these statements but “no response was received from the tribe” (DEIS, p. 29).

What particular response was needed from the tribe? Having said that the place was sacred, what purpose would be served by elaborating? In a similar situation in 2003 a Dakota elder was questioned repeatedly about his statements describing another sacred place, one also said to be connected to Unktehi. The elder had limited his responses to general statements about the sacredness of the place. He was then asked for more specific answers about Unktehi. In response the Dakota elder said:

    You asked me something in a different way. . . . And see, that’s a European concept. If they don’t get an answer, well then they’ll ask another way. They can’t accept what they’ve been told. They want to change it . . . . So we don’t change nothing. Same with our ceremonies, we don’t change them. Our ceremonies come through dreams and visions. Our way of life is conducted . . . through dreams and visions. We don’t change it. We don’t have that right. It is not of our making.

What part of “sacred” does the Park Service fail to understand? Why would any tribe want to consult with a Park Service that presumes to tell tribes about the meaning of their own heritage, history, and culture? Why is it so difficult for the Park Service to accept the beliefs of Dakota and other groups about sacred and traditional places? [See Is it sacred now?]

Their Own Set of Secret Facts

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying that every person is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts. In the case of Camp Coldwater, the Park Service has reserved the right to its own set of secret facts, so as to support an opinion that disagrees with that of its own expert consultants. Why are Park Service officials determined to carry out this course in what is supposed to be an open and honest process? One possibility is that the Park Service really does not want to have to consult with Indian people about what should happen to Coldwater Spring. Park Service officials may not want to sit down with Dakota people and discuss where the sacred area of Coldwater Spring begins and where it ends. If that is the case, the Park Service’s determination to reject Coldwater Spring as a TCP is as it appears, nothing less than a direct insult to the Dakota, to their history, their culture, and also their sovereignty, in other words, an invitation to “Drop Dead.”

Thomas F. King literally wrote the book on traditional cultural properties, in National Register Bulletin 38, entitled “Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties,” the report that originated the term. Since then King has written a number of other books dealing with such places. King has repeatedly noted the proclivity of federal agencies to argue with Indian people about the meaning of sacred and traditional places. King maintains that government agencies could save time and money simply accepting the beliefs of Indian people and moving on to negotiate with particular groups about the effects of federal actions. In this case, however, Park Service, unable to find a consultant who agreed with its belief that Coldwater Spring was not a traditional cultural property, has simply decided to veto the findings of its consultant. That, of course, has happened before with federal agencies.In Places that Count: Traditional Cultural Properties in Cultural Resource Management (p. 142), King states that one of the best quick TCP studies was written about Chequamegon Bay by John Anfinson, then a historian with the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul. King writes that in the 1990s “Anfinson spent a couple of days talking informally with tribal members and captured the essentials of the bay’s traditional significance in a half-dozen page memorandum.” The Corps was not satisfied with his report, and apparently, according to King, Anfinson was not either. Two years later the Red Cliff and Bad River Bands of Chippewa paid Thomas King several thousand dollars to write a TCP study. King himself observes that his report says virtually the same thing as Anfinson’s, only in more words.

Anfinson was still with the Army Corps in St. Paul in November 1999, when he received a call from Michelle Heller of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. At this time a coalition of Indian people, environmental groups, and many others were seeking to stop the construction of Highway 55 through the Coldwater Area. One point of contention was a set of oak trees, some over 137 years old. Some people said the oak trees were sacred. At the same time the issue of whether the spring or the trees were TCPs had been raised. Earlier in the year the firm of Berger and Associates, working for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), had issued a report that rejected TCP status for the trees but suggested that Coldwater Spring could very likely qualify.

Coldwater%20Spring%20aerial%20copy Six Years Ago  Park Service to Dakota People:  Drop Dead.

At the boundary between development and preservation, Coldwater Spring comes out of the ground between highways 55 and 62 and the lush vegetation alongthe Mississippi River near Fort Snelling, in the former Bureau of Mines Property in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Michelle Heller of the Advisory Council called Anfinson to get his opinion on the Highway 55 issues, perhaps because there had been and would continue to be complaints to the Council on the way in which the historic and historic resources of the area had been treated by MnDOT. Notes of that phone conversationwere kept by Heller or someone else at the Advisory Council and were made available to me in 2001 as a result of a FOIA request:Ms. Heller questioned Dr. Anfinson about his knowledge of the highway 55 project and of the background of the area and tribes.

    Dr. Anfinson explained that his brother Scott is an archeologist in the SHPO office and they have talked about the case. The Corps has not been involved as there have been no permit issues for the area yet. Dr. Anfinson has experience in dealing with Traditional Cultural Properties (TCPs) since there are 28 tribes in his Corps district.
    Dr. Anfinson provided some background on the history of the area. He then stated that there is no basis to argue for the four trees or anything in the area as a TCP. He said that the spring supposedly had traditional cultural association but expressed that written evidence needs to be compared to oral testimony in determining whether this is a political move on the part of tribes.
    Dr. Anfinson has been using bulletin 38 in his determination of what constitutes a TCP though he believes that this bulletin needs to be reworked. He explained that what constitutes a community needs to be defined. For example he asks, “Do eight or ten people out of a tribe of 100 constitute a community?He also questioned what would be considered as an adequate level of evidence and states that these things need to be defined by the National Register of Historic Places. He stated that the issue of the spring is a National Register question and suggested that we talk to Carol Schull [the Keeper to the National Register]. He believes that the evidence should be weighed to determine whether it constitutes a community interest to some Native American community. He doesn’t believe that the evidence is there to support them.
    He further went on to explain that this issue has been embarrassing to the Native American community because of the large amount of protesting with the lack of evidence to support the claim.

One month later MnDOT cut down the oak trees and proceeded with highway construction, but later state legislation forced a redesign of Highway 55 to protect the flow of water to the spring. In June 2000, after highway construction had been going on for over six months, the Advisory Council turned down a request to intervene. That year John Anfinson went to work for MNRRA, the agency now handling the Bureau of Mines process. What light, if any, can these statements said to have been made by Anfinson in 1999 cast on the “determination” of the Park Service about the Ethnographic Study in 2006? Assuming that Anfinson actually made the statements or something like them in 1999, one might argue that he has been biased since then against the idea of the spring as a TCP and that now he must have been a voice this year for rejecting the conclusions made by the authors of the Ethnographic Study. However, even if that were the case, Anfinson is a historian, someone who knows the importance of evidence. It is unlikely that Anfinson would have believed that the Park Service’s statement about the study would be an adequate response to such a thorough discussion of an issue as contained in the Ethnographic Study. He would know that if the Park Service wished to dispute the finding of its consultant, the response should be as detailed and as careful as the consultant’s analysis, and that any response should be in writing, so that the public can know the basis for the Park Service decision. [It turned out later that this was giving Anfinson too much credit.]

By now Anfinson must also understand what everyone else does, that the issue of Coldwater Spring is very different from the issue of the four oak trees. There was a wide range of opinion about the trees; there is unanimity about the spring, at least outside the Park Service. Anfinson spent many months in 2001 negotiating a draft Memorandum of Agreement that would have addressed the concerns of Minnesota Dakota about the protection of Coldwater Spring had the land been sold to the Metropolitan Airport Commission, a plan then under consideration. The agreement included this provision:

    Whereas the Bureau of Mines Closure Team has consulted with the Upper Sioux Community, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Prairie Island Indian Community, Shakopee Mdewakanton Community, and the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma which may hereafter be referred to in this MOA as “concurring federally recognized tribes,” and they have declared the area around the Mississippi and Minnesota River confluence, specifically including Camp Coldwater Spring, culturally and historically important and have been invited to concur in this MOA.

Perhaps for purposes of reaching an agreement that all parties would support, this statement does not include the information that these federally recognized Indian groups also called Coldwater Spring a sacred place. Still the agreement acknowledges aspects of Dakota beliefs about the traditional importance of the spring. Having negotiated this agreement and knowing what he knows about the practice of history, John Anfinson would not likely suggest to the Park Service that a “Drop Dead” strategy on the idea of Coldwater as a TCP was a good idea.

Rather, the impetus for the Park Service’s stance must have come from someone so thoroughly steeped in bureaucratic methods and with little knowledge of the way the discipline of history works as to believe that the conclusion of a consultant can be rejected simply because someone at an agency says so.

Perhaps Anfinson or someone else could have explained to the Park Service how counterproductive this approach is. The Park Service’s stance does little to undercut the traditional cultural importance of Coldwater Spring, but it does do great damage to the Park Service itself. The Park Service’s arrogant assertions about Coldwater Spring have already had and will continue to have a profound and disproportionate effect on the federal government’s environmental review process relating to the disposal of the Bureau of Mines property. As a result it is unclear if the Park Service is capable of carrying out a fair and unbiased environmental review. The best that can be said is that some aspects of the Park Service’s Coldwater Spring agenda are now on the table for everyone to see, instead of being hidden by exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

Despite these statements it is now clear that the impetus for the Park Service’s stance on Coldwater came from John Anfinson, as was revealed in the next few years by a series of revelations, which were described in later accounts on this website.

The Park Service must leave Coldwater Spring

It is time for the National Park Service to leave Coldwater Spring in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The NPS, or its local branch, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), is unfit to manage this sacred and culturally important site which first entered federal hands through the Dakota Treaty of 1805. As reported in the last few days by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, MNRRA has largely completed the removal of the ruined Bureau of Mines buildings that marred the site for many years. Restoration of the landscape is continuing. Now it is time for NPS and MNRRA to leave this property and turn its management over to Dakota people for whom the spring is a sacred site and a place of traditional cultural importance.

Over the past six years the National Park Service has shown that it is completely unfit to be the steward for a site of such importance to Dakota people. Largely through the efforts of MNRRA Historian John Anfinson (as fully documented on this website), backed by his superiors in the Park Service, MNRRA has cut corners, stonewalled, and disrespected the requests of the Dakota people for a fair consideration of its cultural heritage.  In 2006 the MNRRA rejected the finding of a respected consultant which supported Traditional Cultural Property status for Coldwater Spring as a Dakota site.  This and many other aspects of MNRRA’s mismanagement of the traditional cultural status of Coldwater is described in detail in Chapter 5 of our new book  Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, newly published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. Here, for example is a section on MNRRA’s rejection of TCP status for Coldwater Spring in 2006:

Despite this report and the earlier testimony of Dakota people, NPS staff announced publicly in August 2006 that they would not accept the study’s findings about Coldwater Spring. By that point the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area superintendent had already written to Dakota communities, stating, “After thoroughly reviewing the evidence provided in the report the National Park Service has concluded that neither the Center nor Coldwater Spring meet the specific criteria in the National Register to designate the area as a TCP.” The letter concluded by acknowledging that the spring had “significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people” and noting that “the spring is already a contributing element to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark and the Fort Snelling National Register of Historic Places District.” In recognition of the “contemporary cultural importance” of the site to the Dakota and the significance of the site in Fort Snelling history, protections
would be recommended.

The condescending words suggested that although the federal government rejected the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejected the history and cultural traditions on which the claim was based, the park service would try to protect the spring because it was part of a site important for, among other things, its role in colonizing Minnesota and sending the Dakota into exile in 1863. The area’s place in Dakota history was not significant; its white history was.

In the years that followed MNRRA continued to forestall any fair consideration of the TCP status, standing by the self-serving and cursory 2006 finding rejecting the TCP status of Coldwater. Then, as described in Chapter 5 of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota:

In January 2010, at the end of the environmental review process, the National Park Service announced it would retain ownership of the property for itself, to be used as a public park. The park service issued a press release: “The public’s interest in this site throughout this process illustrates the great significance that the Dakota and so many others attach to this special place . . . We are excited to be the caretakers, and to work with many partners to tell all the stories associated with this place. There are many layers of history associated with this site, from the Dakota to European settlement to 20th century mining technology.” Since the park service had consistently denied any historical or cultural connection of the Dakota to the property, the statement was surprising. Rejecting Dakota traditions and then using them in the agency’s historical interpretation appeared to add insult to injury.

Such statements also illustrated the hypocrisy of the Park Service’s entire environmental review process and the emptiness of its consultation with Dakota governments. Even today MNRRA continues to claim that it has consulted adequately with Dakota tribal governments and Dakota people. It lists the many letters it has written to various Dakota tribal groups. Unfortunately MNRRA can provide no comparable record of actual conversations that it has had with Dakota leaders or Dakota people or any case where it actually listened or learned from Dakota people. Consultation through one-sided correspondence is no consultation at all.

Clearly, from the beginning MNRRA had one goal only for Coldwater, to make itself the manager of a park. But MNRRA has shown through its cultural biases that it is unfit to manage a culturally significant and sacred place like Coldwater. The agency has finished its work of removing the ruins of the Bureau of Mines. Now it is time for MNRRA to leave.

Another opinion about the #1862 exhibit

In an August 24, 2012, Minnesota Public Radio interview, Jan Klein, a descendant of white settlers killed in the US- Dakota War of 1862, described her role as one of the 85 people advising the Minnesota Historical Society about the content of the 1862 exhibit now at the History Center in St. Paul. Klein began with the goal of making sure that her white ancestors were not forgotten. However, as a result of seeing the final product, she had a revelation:

 She says she had no idea of the starvation and other privations the Dakota endured that sparked the war.

“The kicker was, we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain. We did not pay them the annuities in a timely way. And there were white traders who pilfered money off the top claiming debts. I learned all this since I first got involved. I had no idea,” she said. “You might say, “Why didn’t they go to war against the government, why did they go to war against the whites, they did nothing to deserve? ‘But that was obviously the only way they could get their attention.”

She says her empathy for the Dakota people has grown. And she faults the federal government for failing to meet terms of its treaties with the Dakota.

She says the Minnesota Historical Society exhibit does a good job of explaining what happened to all sides including the white settlers in the 1862 war.

“I’m grateful that they used the story, because that was my goal … to get the word [out], that these were true, actual people that this happened to,” Klein said.

She believes the exhibit achieves that goal. Her hope now is for reconciliation among descendants of the individuals and families whose lives came together so tragically 150 years ago.

A new documentary on the causes of 1862

A new documentary, produced and directed by Dakota activist and artist Sheldon P. Wolfchild, chronicling from the tragic events of 1862 from the Dakota point of view, which has already been shown at several venues, will be shown again as part of a series of 1862 events on August 23, at Turner Halle, 102 South State St., New Ulm, Minnesota, and on August 26th, 1pm, 3:30pm and 6pm at the Parkway Theater in Minneapolis. It is expected that there will be other showings of the film at Fort Snelling State Park or other locations in September. Wolfchild will be present at these scheduled showings. In addition, historian Mark Diedrich will appear with Wolfchild at the Parkway showing on August 26. Mark Diedrich, who has written numerous books on American Indian history in Minnesota has provided the following account of his involvement in the documentary:

As I have been writing on Dakota people for the past thirty years, I am very sympathetic to them. However, my intention as a historian and author was never to misrepresent the truth, but rather to find out what the truth was. In the ten years leading up to the Dakota War there was much injustice toward the Dakota in Minnesota. This story has never been adequately told, but the gist of it is in my Little Crow book, published in 2006. Unfortunately, there are few outlets for such books and those who do find it, generally take or leave what they want in it. I was fortunate to team up this year with Sheldon Wolfchild and Bill Weiss regarding a documentary called Star Dreamers, which has three parts, some as yet unfinished. The first part is what is titled “The Indian System.” Sheldon and Bill have utilized me personally and my work a great deal in this film, along with David Nichols, who wrote Lincoln and the Indians. Due to this commemorative year, Sheldon is trying to get “The Indian System” out for public viewing. We have been in New Ulm and also at the Parkway Theater in south Minneapolis. Showings at Fort Snelling are in the works. We are hoping that the MHS will allow a screening at the History Center. This film does not mince words about how the “Indian System” brought the Dakota to such a low point that they thought it would be better to die in a war than starve to death. I hope that many will urge that this documentary be screened at appropriate venues. We are not insensitive to the innocent settlers who died ugly and gruesome deaths. As is stated in the film, we wish Governor Ramsey had heeded the warnings provided him, to open the warehouse doors and feed the starving Lower Dakota. That said, we name names in this film, and this gives a chance for viewers to assign blame and culpability to key people who were largely responsible for bringing on this war. I am personally sick of the general whitewashing we see in historical writings. Historians need to see that there was a cover-up of the causes of the war. I have spent years trying to unravel this cover-up. I had nothing in mind other than to get at the truth, as far as it can be determined. Please lend your voice to a screening of this film in whatever way you can.

star dreams parkway1 A new documentary on the causes of 1862

One Word: #1862

You are headed for the 1862 exhibit at the History Center in St. Paul, the exhibit of the hour, the thing to see in this 150th anniversary year. To get there you go to the third floor and reach a long hallway that leads to the exhibit. On the left you see a large open gallery with lesser-known, but interesting WPA paintings from 1934 of cities and farms. That gallery has a lot of open space in the center where you can stand and view the paintings from a distance, though the captions are small and mostly illegible unless seen from a few inches or so away.

P1060571 web 300x225 One Word: #1862However, 1862 is on your mind, so you resist 1934 and keep going. On the left as you go are images representing a few people, whites and Dakotas, with some text telling what they were doing the day before the well-known events of August 18, 1862. You reach a point where the hall ahead is blocked by the narrow exit of the exhibit you are about to see. The main part of the exhibit starts to the left, and you turn left to walk into a space that is smaller than the hallway you have just exited. This space is blocked in the center by an island that sends visitors one way or another through narrow passages on either side. In this section is the historical context, treaties, events, settlement, things that contributed to the well-known events of 1862.

There is a lot of text here which is good if people read it. Even though you do not intend to be picky you see a few errors or at least errors from your point of view. You disagree with one point on the 1851 treaty and with something else about the 1805 treaty. No one will notice these points, probably: The thing about exhibits with a lot of text is that it will only be absorbed fully by a few people; its effect for most people will be to impress them by its presence rather than its content. But the text is there for people who might say: “But you did not mention X.” The curators can say: “You missed X. It is over there in the corner by the rifle.”

Then you see the photograph of Alexander H. H. Stuart, who often signed his name A. H. H. Stuart. You can’t remember what the H’s stand for. The caption says he was one of the 1851 treaty commissioners, which you know is not true. The commissioners were Alexander Ramsey and Luke Lea, who signed the treaty that is hanging on the wall over there. Stuart was the Secretary of Interior, who sent out the instructions for the treaty. Does it really matter, you wonder. Mistakes are made when doing any history. It is wrong to seize on one thing to make it symbolize the whole. The exhibit can be wrong about Stuart but still be right about many other things.

There are panels about settlement in the Minnesota River Valley. Is there anything new here? Maybe not. But maybe that doesn’t matter, either. Everyone has to read about it, the curators believe. Every generation must confront it. This means the same stories have to be told again and again. This time the stories feel fragmented though that might be a good thing, because fragmentation—making the story less seamless—might lead to breaking up the old Master Narrative, the white people’s view of 1862 which was the main 1862 story for 150 years. Still there is a lot here and in what follows about the settlers. The curators made sure that the settlers were covered. No one can say: “But what about the white people?”

At this point it is clear that you are being shunted sharply right into a new section of the exhibit, past a large sign labeled War, through a very narrow passage into an even more crowded gallery that feels like a maze. Again there is a panel and a case in the center, followed by another with very little room on either side. On a busy day this place is crowded. There is little room for standing back and getting perspective, unless you want to see things through people’s hair and over their shoulders. What’s worse is that if you really want to spend time taking in the text you suspect that the lady in front of you is going to accuse you of spending too much time too close to her back.

There seem to be a lot of guns, four to be exact, a shotgun, a rifle, a revolver, and a musket, but maybe I missed one or two more. Gwen Westerman said in her presentation at the History Center on July 25 that the guns were at a child’s eye view which is true, though some of them are standing upright so that they are also at level of a tall adult too, as though they were standing guard over the gallery. This is a bit unnerving, reminiscent of a country museum in 1910, but perhaps that serves an evocative purpose. Many people like to look at guns, including boys, as I recall.

Now as you try to squeeze through the available space it comes over you that this exhibit arrangement is a complete nightmare. Then you realize that this must have been planned carefully. These narrow passages are what the curators intended. It is implicit in the way they approached the whole idea of the exhibit: 1862, they said, was something every Minnesotan had to confront. And they were going to make them do it. And part of that was not just having a lot of text and images, but also making the exhibit into an uncomfortable physical experience, a maze made up of narrow unavoidable historical passages, representing the inevitability of the events of 1862. If you survived you would be spit out the other side changed in some way. 1862, the curators must have been thinking, is Minnesota’s nightmare and we should treat it that way.

P1060575 web 300x225 One Word: #1862You keep thinking of the running of the bulls at Pamplona and how they are funneled down a long narrow street and people run in front of them to show their bravery, trying not to get gored. Here in the 1862 exhibit you might try to run away from history, but it would catch up with you, you would get gored one way or another. The curators would see to that. But perhaps they had something less violent in mind, such as the artist Marina Abramovic’s work Imponderabilia (1977, reenacted in 2010) where you had to walk through a doorway in which two performers, both completely nude, stood on either side. Embarrassing but perhaps not fatal.

The maze-like center part of the 1862 exhibit which records the battles leads to another right turn, mazelike, into the aftermath of 1862, followed by another sharp right turn into a space at the beginning of the exhibit containing the prequel to 1862. This space has a pillar in the center, and the room around it is narrow but not so confused as what you have just been through. Here is a lot of information about what happened to individual settlers and on the other side there is  information on what happened to the Dakota en masse, the trials, the hangings, the concentration camp, Davenport, the exile to Crow Creek. Then the exhibit ends, with a board on the wall where the visitor is invited to put up a post-it note, with comments. No, not actually comments, just one word: “What single word would you use to describe your feelings after viewing this exhibit?”

One word? After all that, one word? After all we have been through, the detailed text, the disorienting, fragmented, painful experience of this exhibit, all you want to hear from me is one word? The curators wanted you to have a profound experience but were just not that interested in what you had to say afterward. It is as though you started to tell someone a long, life-changing story about actually getting gored by a bull at Pamplona and the person you are telling this to says: “Can you keep it short? I have stuff to do.” And in this case I suppose the MHS staff probably do have stuff to do. I think they are exhausted by the whole 1862 experience and would like to move on. But before they go, like the interviewer James Lipton, they just want to know what fruit you would be if you were a fruit.

That last thing is harsh and you can’t quite believe you actually said it. But the one word thing is especially jarring given the panel just before the post-it notes where the process of exhibit creation is described. Here’s how Daniel Spock, director of the MHS History Center Museum put it:

This exhibit is one of the products of “The US-Dakota War of 1862 Truth Recovery Project,” an initiative of the Minnesota Historical Society. The initiative was inspired in part by Healing Through Remembering, a Belfast-based organization that defines “truth through recovery” as the “uncovering and revealing of ‘what happened.’”

The term “truth recovery” might imply that there is a single unassailable truth about what happened before, during, and after the war. That is certainly not the case. There are now and have always been multiple interpretations of what happened, why it happened, and who was responsible. The process for creating this exhibit has led us to seek out these perspectives and we have learned invaluable things from many experts and descendants of those from all sides who experienced the war. Their generosity has shaped the interpretation you find here.

In presenting this exhibit, our goal is to inform, to inspire, and to initiate a public dialogue that will resonate far beyond the goals of this gallery—to redefine the Society’s role from that of an authoritative institution to one that fosters and facilitates public discussion, and debate.

Who can argue with telling the truth? It is a noble aim. The process through which this came about seems to have been an extensive one, with numerous conversations about many aspects of 1862 with many different people. In carrying out this process it is clear that the MHS staff did not limit those they spoke with to one word. Yet the result was similar. Having asked their consultants for complex reactions to 1862, over many hours, the exhibit has reduced that complexity in order to put it on the wall. No matter how detailed exhibit captions are they can never do justice to that process.

Any truth recovery project worth its salt would produce a complex record which would nourish generations of study and thought. But the need to put something on the wall in a constricted space has scaled down the result to an account of 1862 that is remarkably similar in content and emphasis as those of the past, though intensified emotionally through its constricted maze-like layout. You wonder where you can get a copy of the long report the exhibit staff wrote about the experience of working on the exhibit. That would be worth reading. You think about filing a Minnesota Data Practices Act request but then you remember that the Minnesota Historical Society is not considered a state agency so it is not subject to the law. Also you realize that a report may not have been written. Perhaps in twenty years someone will do oral history interviews with the staff and in another fifty years another exhibit will be created describing this exhibit.

You wonder what truth is displayed in the exhibit? Is there anything here that is “indisputable”? That word was one used by exhibit curators in the sifting of objects for use in the exhibit. The guns, for example, may have been indisputable in the sense that there may be no argument about their use in 1862. But of course the choice of displaying them is highly disputable and they have many meanings for many people today. How you sort out the meanings of guns and rope or anything else related to 1862 is not a simple task. It is not simply a case of reporting a few simple facts about them. But in the end, “disputable items” are much more interesting than indisputable ones.

No one questions that that there two 1851 treaties signed or attested to by the Dakota, but do we really, even now, know the meaning of those treaties? In fact, what the treaties accomplished in a legal sense, not to mention a lot of other senses, is still subject to dispute. Did 1862 begin on August 18, or in 1851, or was it centuries before? Was Henry Sibley the chief engineer of 1862 or did he have some help? These are all questions for discussion even if the materiality of certain objects may be clear. Ultimately no single word, or even simple caption can faintly suggest the complex nature of these disputable meanings.

Some of the one-word reactions written on post-it notes illustrate the discordant quality of trying to limit visitor comments to one word apiece. Can we all agree that “Intense” or “Solemn” cover 1862 nicely? How very like Minnesota, a place where citizens are expected to limit their emotions and where we all try to reach some bland consensus. Fortunately many visitors resist the instructions and give more complex and wordy answers. In the midst of “Solemn,” and “Tragedy,” someone wrote: “I am glad to see the record set straighter about the US gov’t perfidious treatment of the Dakota natives. Sadly the US gov’t still persecutes native peoples in the USA.” But perhaps many people would disagree with that statement event if they could unite behind the word “Tragedy.”

P1060579 web One Word: #1862Now as you stand in this space at the end of the exhibit you are lost in conflicting thoughts but finally the press of business forces you through a last narrow passage labeled Memory, and you are back at the beginning, where on a busy day, perhaps you might be shunted through the maze again, unless you could escape into the pastoral and industrial world of 1934 down the hall.

What will be your Memory of 1862? The Minnesota Historical Society is seeking to avoid its traditional role as an arbiter of history, but no matter what it does it helps create memories, consciously or unconsciously, through its exhibits and other activities. The 1862 exhibit will do the same. Those who want a more complex history to be told will always want to avoid the nightmarish quality of this kind of historical maze which is, in fact, a remnant of the views of past generations about 1862 in which every new fact was used to reproduce the same historical consensus. Those who want a more complex history to be told will always prefer that history be seen in a larger historical room, where there is more space for context and for reflection. And they will find the 1862 exhibit unsatisfying, even if they might praise the exhibit including a nuance here and a complexity there.

Perhaps the MHS exhibit staff is right, 1862 is a nightmare from which Minnesota has never escaped, and that if we ever want to wake up from it we have to bravely pass through repeated retellings of it. But instead of leading to a sense of awakening, this exhibit seems more than anything to continue reliving the nightmare.

Obviously this is just one opinion about the 1862 exhibit. Others are welcome, but, please, use all your words.

Where’s the Working Class at the Mill City Museum?

It’s easy to find the Mill City Museum. Just look beneath the Gold Medal Flour sign on the west side of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. As I approached, in 2005, the old limestone walls of the Washburn Crosby A mill containing the museum within their shell, I could feel the goose bumps starting. This was where it all began. On Wednesday night Sept. 23, 1903 close to 1,500 Washburn Crosby Co. Employees walked out, past a notice that “All employees of this mill leaving their positions are discharged and are no longer in the employ of the company.” Executive William Dunwoody vowed to “fight until the finish”. The company would never negotiate with a labor union. Minneapolis would never be the same.

As I crossed Second Street toward the museum entrance I could almost hear the pounding of the hammers erecting a huge stockade fence around the milling district as over a thousand pickets shouted “scab” and threw the occasional brick. It was immediately clear that Dunwoody and company president James Stroud Bell intended to end the evil presence of unions in the mills. In order to neutralize the surprisingly effective shutdown the company outfitted a vacant Pillsbury oatmeal mill to house and feed over eight hundred nonunion replacements that were smuggled through the picket lines in heavily guarded carriages.  In a battle of attrition the under-funded union gradually crumbled. On October 8, 1903, an unnamed miller told the Minneapolis Tribune that the “backbone of the strike is broken, and there will be nothing more doing in the way of strikes for some time.” Although a few strikers would be rehired “the orators, organizers and agitators were not wanted.” This would be the policy in the mills for the next thirty three years.  A faded Gold Medal Flour sign on the east side of St. Paul, photographed in 1981 by Bruce White

Ridiculous, you say? Not at all. On April 11, 1919 the National War Labor Board ruled that the Minneapolis mill companies had to bargain collectively with organized employees. Two weeks later Pillsbury and Washburn Crosby set up a new committee system. Employees would elect representatives to meet with company directors to discuss any issues involving their work. Employees were also sent an “Industrial Creed” that announced that “Labor and Capital are partners, not enemies.” The Minneapolis Labor Review recognized a company union immediately and expressed great surprise “that suddenly the great milling corporations are taking a deep interest in their welfare.”

Jean Spielman, organizer for Local 92 of the flour mill workers union, explained the nature of the deception to large labor rallies. The company committees would advise the company but had no power whatsoever. Faced with an educated and skeptical workforce, Washburn Crosby created The Eventually News (meaning that someday it would actually report the news?) to promote employee loyalty. In addition to sports and holidays, however, the paper reported on the joint conferences between executives and the committees. The paper was a dismal failure. In a July 1920 election only 321 Washburn-Crosby employees out of 1,400 voted for committee representatives. Pianos and tanning parlors had received a stony thumbs down.

John Crosby had had enough. The con job had failed, it was time for the dirty tricks department. The Marshall Service of Kansas City was hired to plant undercover detectives in each plant at a cost of $10,000 per year. The agents rapidly befriended union organizers and officers. Once inside Local 92 they relayed lists of union members to Pillsbury and Washburn Crosby. While the companies slowly found excuses to fire union members the fourteen agents discredited union leaders and encouraged conflict among various factions within the union. The coup de grace came in August of 1921 when one of the detectives was elected secretary of the union. The Marshall Service inquired if the mills wanted the union completely destroyed or wanted its agents to control it in a weakened state to forestall outside organizers. The millers enthusiastically endorsed the second option.

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The Gold Medal Flour sign above Mill City Museum in Minneapolis

But these weren’t the only detectives in the flour mills. The Citizens Alliance, heavily funded by Pillsbury and Washburn-Crosby, started a Free Employment Bureau in 1919 to supply Minneapolis industries with nonunion workers. To get a job selected workers were required to report on union activities at their job sites. Very crude, according to Luther Boyce of the Northern Information Bureau. Boyce’s more “professional” agents had infiltrated the Industrial Workers of the World and sold his intelligence to the millers and to other industrial subscribers. There were also the forty six agents of the Committee of thirteen that were funded by the same companies and the…. You get the picture. Was one of the mill girls a spy? Perhaps a better question would be, would the mills allow any workers to cavort without keeping an eye on them? Very unlikely. Not exactly the happy family reported in The Eventually News or presented in the museum exhibit.

I stumbled slightly as a college-aged foreign exchange student bounced off my shoulder on his way around a cool looking piece of mill machinery. I’m a sucker for antique machines, particularly when the long belt drives are running. I followed him to two small antique roller mills standing placidly as if waiting for a power belt to engage. It’s hard to imagine such small machines revolutionizing an industry and feeding a nation. My eyes strayed toward the small kids frolicking in the water lab and there, down at knee level on a small display board was Jean Spielman! I couldn’t believe it. I had to crouch down to read the 1920 quote, “It is a sad commentary upon civilization that an industry flourishing to the extent as the flour milling industry is, that the workers are the most underpaid next to the steel industry. The twelve hour day is still a fact in many a flour mill in the U.S.” Below this industry spokesman William Edgar insisted that wages in the mills had “advanced steadily since the outbreak of war.”

A very short note beneath these quotes explained that the flour packers struck for higher wages in 1917 and soon afterwards most Minneapolis mill workers joined Local 92. And that’s all folks. That’s the one and only mention of a union in the Mill City Museum. Without any further discussion the museum visitor can only conclude that Washburn Crosby was forever more a union shop. Of course, one year later the union was a mere shell controlled by company spies. Upstairs the gift shop sells copies of Mill City, a book that was produced to complement the museum. Here we learn that “By 1921 the union was in tatters. . . .” Why did museum curators decide to eliminate this simple explanation? Jean Spielman and the members of his union knew what was going on in 1921, so why is this knowledge denied the museum visitor in 2005? Spielman wrote that “the stool pigeon is to be found everywhere a union is contemplated among the employees of a mill.” Washburn Crosby and the Citizens Alliance may have defeated Spielman but they certainly didn’t fool him.

It was time for my Flour Tower tour. I wound my way between a huge harvest table and several General Mills product displays. One featured the 1991 Twins World Series wheaties box. I wedged myself into the top corner of a huge freight elevator above a twitching, squirming bunch of school children. The wooden slat doors slapped together and the elevator started slowly rising. Each floor had been cleverly designed to represent a floor in a working mill. With a loud whirring noise the belts began to move, the machines came to life. A collective ooh escaped the from the kids. This was very cool.

We finally stopped at the seventh floor where the doors opened to reveal the mill manager’s office, recreated in great detail. Right down to the production schedule and engine schematics. The back window filled with panoramic views of the Minneapolis milling district as a sonorous voice told us “the mills stood at St. Anthony Falls in their corona of flour dust like blockhouses guarding the rapids of the river.” The screen dissolved into golden wheat fields as a pompous Chamber of Commerce voice asked, ”Where is a market to be found for all this flour? The answer is, the world is our market.” The jaunty westward ho sound of Copeland’s Rodeo played in the background.

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A Gold Medal flour sign on the east side of St. Paul, photographed in 1981 by Bruce White

 It was just like one of those old industrial propaganda films I used to watch in grade school. I’m embarrassed to say that I was the nerdy kid that knew how to thread the 16-mm projector so I saw a lot of these hideous things. Forty years later I discovered that many of them had been produced by the National Association of Manufacturers public relations department under the direction of Harry Bullis of General Mills. The same Harry Bullis who started his career working on The Eventually News. In both cases, the propaganda was intended to promote free enterprise and suppress unions and radical political movements.

On the way back down the elevator stopped at several different floors where mill equipment was whirring away. The voices of real workers told us about production quotas, returning servicemen taking women’s jobs, unsafe working conditions and finally the day the plant shut down with no warning. Real workers with real problems, this was good stuff. On the final floor the designers had simulated an engine fire that flashed and roared. After an extremely loud dust explosion the set went dark. Several small children in front of me sobbed in terror.

The flour tower deserves its various awards. The realism of the sets and the sincerity of the workers voices was riveting. But what did the workers do about all these problems? Did they join a union and negotiate for improvements? The curators never seem to grasp the concept of a working class. They found the workers, but they treat them all as individuals. Their only unity is their function in the complex machinery of the mill. They are never allowed to join together, to become a working class, to join a union. As I stepped off the elevator it hit me. It wasn’t just the newsreel, the entire museum was a sort of industrial propaganda stage set. With a little modern public relations thrown in.

How and why had the antiunion activities of the Citizens Alliance and the struggles of Minneapolis workers to organize unions been rejected by the museum curators? Fortunately in 2005, I was writing an article for a respectable local publication. Doors opened, before I knew it. I was getting a behind the scenes view of the flour tower and long interviews with head curator Kate Roberts and Minnesota Historical Society Director Nina Archabal, two very smart, smooth and enthusiastic supporters of the Mill City Museum. I was also given planning documents for various stages of museum development. In August of 2000 the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Center plan included a labor exhibit which included a hiring hall, a speakers corner and text on immigration, the Cooper’s Union and women workers—Unfortunately, no Citizens Alliance, and without them you can’t really tell the history of class struggle that created our unique Minnesota heritage. What happened to the labor exhibit? A round table discussion with selected scholars urged “the team to cut back the number of topics covered in the exhibits, and to focus interpretation on stories more directly related to the mill building.” The enlightened team now concentrated on the forces that fed Minneapolis’ emergence as the Mill City: Power, Production, Promotion and People. The four Ps. Caught in the strainer of this gibberish, labor was discarded.

I asked both Kate Roberts and Nina Archabal who decided not to have the Citizens Alliance in the museum and when it was decided. Kate couldn’t remember. It had been a long and very fluid process, and she couldn’t remember anyone ever talking about the Citizens Alliance. They, of course, knew all about the Citizens Alliance. MHS had financed a decade of research on the employers association and then published my own book A Union Against Unions. MHS Press promotional material says that the “Citizens Alliance in reality engaged in class warfare. It blacklisted union workers, ran a spy network to ferret out union activity, and, when necessary, raised a private army to crush its opposition with brute force.” In my conversation with her in 2005, Nina Archabal deflected the question, indicating that these were curatorial decisions. “The museum was Kate’s baby,” she said.

These were the people that had to know the answer, but they were suffering from collective amnesia. This was even better than Nixon or Bush in the logic department. How could you remember deciding something if you never even considered it? What did George W. Bush call this? Disassembling.

That day of my first visit to Mill City Museum, as I walked back through the museum I noticed a plaque with the Mill City Museum motto written on it. Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, what happened here continues to shape your world. Too True! The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance, forged in the 1903 mill strike, still exists in 2005. The organization was renamed Associated Industries of Minneapolis in 1937 and became Employers Association, Inc. in 1985.

How does this organization continue to shape our world? Through its labor relations membership services it still manages a war, albeit a more subtle war, against labor unions. In 1994 it led the court battle to protect the right of Minnesota businesses to replace union employees during a strike. This, of course, has led to the decertification of numerous unions. The 1939 Minnesota Labor Relations Law, written for Associated Industries by the lawyers of the Minneapolis law firm Dorsey and Whitney (which coincidentally has long done legal work for the Minnesota Historical Society), is still used to restrict union activities. The Taft Hartley Act, which was modeled after the Minnesota law, still suppresses the organization and spread of labor unions across the country.

And who belongs to Employers Association Inc.? As of 1997 the membership included General Mills, Dayton Hudson, Norwest Corp. In short, many of the companies that formed the Citizens Alliance in 1903, lost the Battle of Deputies Run in 1934 and rewrote U.S. Labor laws after the depression have now paid for a museum that just happens to totally ignore the legacy of class warfare that they created. And it gets even stranger. The primary fund raiser and, according to Nina Archabal, the inspiration for the entire museum was David Koch, President of the Minnesota Historical Society. Mr. Koch (who at least is not that David Koch, the well known funder of conservative causes) was formerly the CEO of Graco, an important donor and a member of Employers Association, Inc.

In the end, of course, responsibility is not the important issue. The Mill City Museum now exists beneath the Gold Medal Flour sign, inside the crumbling walls of the Washburn A Mill. But where are the men and women who struggled for economic justice while they built Minneapolis stone by stone? Many of them fought and bled on our streets in a desperate attempt to establish a decent life, a life beyond brutal servitude. Don’t they at least deserve to have their place in history? “Museums change,” Director Archabal told me, “new exhibits will be developed. If we discover that we’ve left something out we can go back and take another look at it.” The Working Class is waiting.


Seven years after my first visit to Mill City Museum I went back to scour the mill city museum again searching for the working class. The museum exhibits have not changed. The new exhibits mentioned by Nina Archabal have not been developed. The Flour Tower extravaganza also remains unchanged. MHS curators presumably have yet to perceive any need for improving their award winning production.

However, to at least succeed in entertaining visitors in our oh-so-modern hyperactive world they added a frenetic wacky video by Minneapolis humorist and writer Kevin Kling, “Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat.” Determined to see everything I very reluctantly followed a large group of fidgeting children—squirming children are the mainstay of MHS museums and historic sites—into the theater. Apparently conceived of and made for either squirming children or adults with exceedingly short attention spans, the show careens through history with dizzying speed. Pop-up cut outs, Kling in an endless parade of period costumes, and the live shrieks of tethered children complete the disorienting experience. Although I’m a fan of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, I like my history slow, detailed, and serious.

As the 19th and 20th century flashed by I almost missed the best “bit.” Refocusing on the screen after a brief glare at the writhing grade-school child next to me, I was amazed to be watching a newsreel clip of the 1934 Teamsters strike. The voice-over mentioned the long years of struggle between the Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and the union as National Guard troops scurried across the screen. The voice announced a union victory and then we were swept on to the next frantic event.

Perhaps in the world of museum speak this forty-second “bit” is considered an adequate presentation. This is, after all, an industrial museum and workers are well, just workers. They aren’t the founders of the city that are endlessly written about and glorified in history books and museums. In order to build great mills and buildings, however, the founders had to control what happened in the city. This is an important part of the Recipe for a Mill City. The founders of the city of Minneapolis spent vast amounts of time and money to control the laws, courts, police and to spy on and root out any threat to their domination of industry. They made Minneapolis into a city where the vast majority (workers) struggled to survive while the mill owners basked in a life of luxury. A city where employers profits necessitated the poverty of tens of thousands of hard working citizens. I’m afraid forty seconds doesn’t quite do justice to the complex history of industrial warfare in Minneapolis, a history that still has an impact on the lives of all working Americans.

The Working Class is still waiting.

William Millikan, a Minneapolis historian, is the author of A Union Against Unions: The Minneapolis Citizens Alliance and Its Fight Against Organized Labor, 1903–1947,  published by the MHS Press in 2001.

Catching Up

It has been hard to find time to write articles for in the last year. Four and a half years ago I got a call from some people asking me write a grant proposal and to work with some other people to do to do some research on a really compelling topic. Two grants and a lot work later, one week ago we sent five chapters back to the patient and charming editor, having responded to the copy editing and the seemingly endless questions about this and that and the other thing. Last Thursday the captions got finished and everything was sent to the designer. In a few months the book will come out.

This means I don’t have any more excuses for neglecting So I am planning to publish several articles that were supposed to be put online a long time ago, some by me and others by other people who have been way more patient that they should have had to be. Also I am going to start a more personal series of blog notes on the topic “Writing History,” which will discuss some thoughts I have had in working on the book and other things that come up as the book is readied for publication.

Sorry to be mysterious about the book, but I will say more as the publication date nears.