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 webHowever, 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 webYou 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.”

Now 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?

By William Milliken

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.


The Gold Medal Flour sign above Mill City Museum in Minneapolis

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.

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.

A faded Gold Medal Flour sign on the east side of St. Paul, photographed in 1981

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.

Telling the truth about the Minnesota Historical Society, in 1901

It was a tense evening at the meeting of the executive council of the Minnesota Historical Society on November 11, 1901. An invited speaker had given a speech for the ostensible purpose of telling the ancient history of the state, but at the end of his speech had condemned the white settlers and the U.S. government for its treatment of Minnesota’s Native inhabitants and had prophesied disaster for the whites of Minnesota if they did not renounce such actions.

Despite these plain words, the speaker went home that night thinking that he had been too polite; he had failed to tell the whole truth. Writing in his diary he stated: “Several members of the Historical Society are related in various ways to the gigantic robberies which have been perpetrated against the Indians in the Northwest. Henry M. Rice and Henry H. Sibley, deceased, were extensively involved in shaping the policy of the government against Minnesota Indian tribes.” He had withheld these facts from his speech, giving only a mild and general condemnation of the treatment of Indian people, but had still received a negative response. As a result, he wrote, “I now pledge myself never again to suppress facts in history to satisfy the desires of thieves.”

While many in the audience that evening enjoyed the first part of the talk, others believed that the speaker had been too radical. The president of the society thanked the speaker for his remarks but asked him to revise and reconsider them before submitting them in writing to the society, which the speaker refused to do. At that point the society held its business meeting at which a number of wealthy and influential Minnesotans were voted life memberships in the institution.

Jacob V. Brower in 1904, from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Jacob V. Brower in 1904, from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The events of that evening in 1901 represent well the position of the Minnesota Historical Society in relation to controversial aspects of the state’s history. The role of the historical society in recording and recounting such events has often been contested. Though the institution is not a state agency, it has quasi-official status, one that it nurtures for its own perpetuation. As a result, the institution, whether it wants to or not, is viewed as presenting an official version of history, if not the whole truth. The problematic nature of the historical society’s precarious role is most evident when it comes to those topics perceived as “unpleasant,” where the truth does not cast a happy glow on the leaders of the state.

Given the polite nature of the 1901 newspaper articles which record the events it is hard to know how tense things were in the room that evening. However, based on the bare description of what happened, it is impossible to imagine such an evening occurring at a meeting of the executive council of the Minnesota Historical Society in the year 2011. Today the executive council is still a body composed of the rich and influential. And at least in the last twenty years during the tenure of the recently ex-director, annual meetings are routine, formalistic affairs with catered food, run with the precision of a Politburo gathering or a show trial. Controversy is never let in the door and if it gets in it is escorted out.

It may be that if the Minnesota Historical Society is ever to confront the controversies in Minnesota’s history, it will first have to confront the nature of its own organization as one begun to serve the interests of wealthy and influential whites, who sought to preserve history to celebrate and perpetuate their own points of view. In doing so the society must remember events such as the one in November 1901, when controversy came in the door and spoke.

It is important to know that the speaker that evening was Jacob V. Brower, a former legislator, an archaeologist, and a conservationist known for having fought for the creation in 1891 of Minnesota’s first state park, Itasca State Park. Brower was a friend of the historical society. Even after what occurred that night in 1901, Brower, with the help of his son, the legislator Ripley Brower, helped the society get a large appropriation from the state legislature. He saw plainly that while the institution of the society was flawed, the preservation of history was vital. But Brower was not a saint; he could be intemperate in the expression of his opinions; he sometimes dug into burial mounds. But his consistency in his view of history was admirable, especially in a time when corruption in government and business was often overlooked in writing history.

Brower had an unflagging interest in the burial mounds and other earthworks through which the ancient inhabitants of Minnesota had left their mark on the landscape of their homelands. But unlike others with an interest in such earthworks, Brower was convinced that these were placed where they were by the ancestors of the Dakota, not by some ancient people who later disappeared.

Having made that connection between ancient history and the contemporary world, Brower overcame the compartmentalization that plagues many historians and archaeologists. He could not and would not ignore the treatment accorded Minnesota’s Native people in the 19th century by colonization, settlement, and exile. And having taken that step Brower could not ignore that the Minnesota Historical Society and its rich and influential members were bound up inextricably in that very process.

In many ways November 11, 1901 was the last straw for Jacob Brower. He had just published, at his own expense, a book called Kathio, which recorded the history of Mille Lacs Lake, an ancient homeland of the Dakota people. While researching and writing the book, Brower had become aware of the treatment of the Mille Lacs Ojibwe, whose pinelands and reservation lands were in the process of being stolen by timber companies. Scandalized by what was occurring and the involvement of wealthy and influential Minnesotans, he began to view the history of the state in a different manner, connecting the events of 1900 at Mille Lacs with what had happened to the Dakota in 1862. Not all of these insights had been included in Kathio, but as a result of what occurred on the evening of November 11, 1901, Brower decided that he would no longer refrain from telling the truth, regardless of the consequences.

It is clear that Brower had not originally intended to speak plainly about the corruption in the treatment of the Native people in Minnesota. His remarks at the end of his speech were probably an afterthought, the expression of ideas that had been percolating with increasing intensity in his mind. At the same time those who came to the speech appear not to have expected what he said. Not used to hearing radical opinions, members of the historical society, who were joined that evening by many invited guests, had gathered to hear a “highly interesting and instructive paper on the earliest known history of the state of Minnesota.”

But the audience did not include just the rich and influential members of the society. Also present were two Indian leaders, Nishotah or the minister Charles T. Wright of the White Earth Reservation and Mozomoni, a leader on the Mille Lacs Reservation. They were both friends of Brower’s, men he had gotten to know while doing his research. Both men came from reservations under assault by timber companies allied with the most influential leaders in the state. With these leaders in the audience, along with members of the Historical Society who themselves or whose families were complicit in frauds against Indian people, how could Brower do anything else but tell the truth about what was happening?

Several St. Paul newspapers reported the events of the evening. The St. Paul Globe noted on November 12, 1901, under the headline “BROWER IS SEVERE,” that the audience seemed to enjoy the talk, but that some members recoiled at the remarks at the end. After speaking of the ancient settlement of the Dakotas, “the author condemned the white settlers and United States government in most severe terms for their treatment of the Indians, and in closing, prophesied that if the present policies were pursued some writers would some day not far distant be called upon to chronicle the downfall of the government because it had been so mercenary.”

Various members of the audience were upset that Brower, “in his sympathy for the Indians, had been led to too severe arraignment of the white settlers.”  General John B. Sanborn, president of the historical society, objected to the tone Brower had taken. The Globe reported Sanborn stating that he was “somewhat inclined to consider that Mr. Brower had been too radical in some of his expressions.” Sanborn moved a vote of thanks to Brower “suggesting that the author of the paper be requested to reconsider and possibly modify some of his remarks before the paper was made a record of the society.” Brower responded stating that his paper had been prepared at his own expense and was not a record of the society and that therefore he would not amend it. And then the Society moved on to its business meeting during which a number of wealthy and influential individuals were elected to life membership in the organization.

Sanborn did not get the last word. Brower’s books are now a valued part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections. Even more important are his journals, where one can read today Brower’s own eloquent words about the events of that evening in 1901. These words continue to have great relevance today.

Jacob V. Brower journal, November 11, 1901.

I tonight delivered “Kathio” as an address before the Minnesota Historical Society. I regret exceedingly that many historic facts were suppressed from that book, but several members of the Historical Society are related in various ways to the gigantic robberies which have been perpetrated against the Indians in the Northwest. Henry M. Rice and Henry H. Sibley, deceased, were extensively involved in shaping the policy of the government against Minnesota Indian tribes. The great Sioux outbreak of 1862 was precipitated as a result of the operations of thieves among all the bands who wore official garbs and spoke by authority; they acted nominally for the Government but principally for themselves. As a resume of the causes which precipitated the Sioux Outbreak of 1862 would be distasteful to the Minnesota Historical Society of that event in “Kathio.”

Even with all those and many other facts suppressed the Society received coldly and with indifference the few references I have made to the manner in which the Indians have been cheated, wronged, and defrauded by the people of the United States.

Even the gigantic fraud perpetrated by Dwight M. Sabin, a United States Senator, against the Mille Lac Indians at Kathio, remains unmentioned by me today. But I now pledge myself never again to suppress facts in history to satisfy the desires of thieves. Sabin stole all the Indian pine at Mille Lac and W. D. Washburn was a party to the secret arrangement, but finally got left by Sabin’s sharp trickery.

All that is left out of “Kathio” Henry M. Rice went to Mille Lac and uttered gross deceptions to the Ojibway people and by fraud secured their signatures to the convention of October 5th, 1889, and today those poor people as a consequence are starving and in abject want, 963 of them.

All that history lays on my table–suppressed from “Kathio.” I curse such proceedings and I am ashamed of my own book which suppresses the facts to satisfy the demands of a society which stands ready to approve the manner of undoing the Indian tribes.

The John B. Sanborn who objected to my reference to the manner of cheating the Indians, is the same John B. Sanborn who married a niece of Henry M. Rice–and also–charged the Sisseton band a fee of $50,000.00 for services as an attorny; at least so reported, and I suppressed that fact. He collect[ed] the fee by Act of Congress.

Nothwithstanding all these suppresed facts the members of the Minnesota Historical Society turn a deaf ear to my appeal for justice to the Indian[s] of Kathio.

December 9, 1901

[An account prompted by another meeting of the executive council of the historical society in which several speakers, including General John B. Sanborn, were to speak on Indian history in Minnesota.]

The secretary [Warren Upham] and other members of the Minnesota Historical Society have gotten up an attempted demonstration against my statement of facts contained in my printed address delivered to the Society Nov. 11, 1901, entitled Kathio. They will find it hard to suppress or circumvent, or obliterate questions of historical fact contained in a printed book. The meeting to justify all acts against the Indians was a complete failure. Neither of the speakers announced were present at the meeting. A short paper written by Judge Flandrau was read. He cracked a few jokes and described a few old Indians and wound up by saying that the Indian had been as well treated as he in any way deserved. Flandrau was one of the men who contributed to the causes which brought on the Sioux Outbreak of 1862.

Pioneer of a different way of working—Janet D. Spector, 1944-2011

Janet D. Spector, who died on September 13, 2011, worked in the 1980s with Dakota people to study the history of Little Rapids, a 19th-century Dakota village site on the Minnesota River. This work led to her pioneering book What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. Spector’s work was pioneering not just for the topic—the historical village and the roles of the men and women who lived there—but also for the methods employed, the collaborative nature of the work itself and what it represented about the connected fields of anthropology and archaeology.

As a feminist, Spector was interested in questions about the roles of women in communities and the ways in which the gendered roles of men and women are represented in the archaeological record. Before her time, anthropologists and archaeologists usually wrote about men and what was viewed as their primary roles in many societies. This began to change in the 1970s when cultural anthropologists and ethnohistorians who applied anthropological concepts to history, started to take the role of women more seriously. In the introduction to the influential 1983 book The Hidden Half: Studies of Plains Indian Women, Patricia Albers (a longtime friend and colleague of Janet Spector’s) wrote: “The side of Plains Indian life most often seen by the American public is the male half. It is the male-dominated universe of native diplomacy, warfare, and hunting that has captured the attention of national image-makers in Hollywood, New York, and Toronto.” The same was true in academic studies. Except for Sacagawea and a few others, women were “conspicuous by their absence in the historical literature on the Native Plains.”

Janet Spector, 1991, at White Bear lake, with a group of students, including archaeologist Randy Withrow in the background. Withrow was one of the students who worked with Spector on the Little Rapids project.

White academics did not write about women in part because they believed that women’s work was uninteresting. In historical accounts, women were viewed as “drudges” who did a lot of manual labor, but who had little power or influence over trade, diplomacy, religion, or countless other topics of interest to anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. This view was, in fact, an illusion based on the inability of those academics to actually see women and what they did, and the projection of European-American values onto Native communities in the past and present. If, for example, women cut wood, made gardens, built houses, cooked meals, scraped hides, and carried heavy burdens, this was viewed by European men and later anthropologists as the sign of their subjection, their lack of power in these communities. Unseen was the role that women might play in community decisions or in ceremonies or in interactions with traders or diplomats.

In an essay in The Hidden Half, Alice Kehoe noted that the inability to see women’s experiences and contributions with clarity was due to the “shackles of tradition,” not the traditions of Native people, but the traditions of Europeans, including “the Victorian notion of Ladies’ frailty,” which survived in classical anthropology along with many other European folk notions about women. Spector herself contributed to The Hidden Half, writing a paper on “Male/ Female Task Differentiation Among the Hidatsa,” intended to further the development of an “archaeological approach to the study of gender.” If archaeologists could differentiate the tasks that men and women did among the Hidatsa and relate that to the tools they used, it would be possible to look for evidence of the varying activities of men and women when studying the archaeological evidence left in the ground. Spector, however pointed out that simplistic notions of a Native division of labor and the tools related to it could not substitute for grounded knowledge. In this case Spector’s work was aided by earlier anthropologists, including Gilbert Wilson, who had documented the role of women in Hidatsa society (see, for example Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden.).

Shortly after the publication of The Hidden Half,  Spector and Margaret Conkey published a 1984 paper on “Archaeology and the Study of Gender,” which dealt more fully with a critique of the disciplines of archaeology and anthropology at the time. This work can be viewed as the beginning of feminist archaeology, one which continues to inspire many archaeologists. (A Google search today for the phrase “Conkey and Spector” comes up with almost 5,000 hits.) By 1984 Spector had already spent four years studying the Little Rapids site. She had approached her work with the same gendered task-differentiation model described in the 1983 article on the Hidatsa. But she also realized that while she might be breaking new ground in terms of gender and archaeology, she was facing cultural issues: she was a non-Dakota person studying the Dakota. Spector’s feminist approach meant that she understood the problems created when a person of privilege studies a less privileged society.

For women in academia in the 1960s and 1970s, this understanding was inescapable, because of the power relationships in colleges and universities. In many disciplines women were rare, and it was difficult for them to gain respect of colleagues and administrators. In a 1994 interview (available in pdf form), Spector noted that after she was hired by the University of Minnesota Department of Anthropology in 1973, she began to hear from colleagues that she was an “affirmative action hire,” and that another archaeologist hired at the same time was “the real hire.” Because women were treated as though they were not entitled to the positions they obtained, they may not have developed the same sense of entitlement and privilege that male colleagues did. They understood the problematic nature of the very positions they held and the way those in such positions exerted their power in relation to the living people who were affected by their work. In fact, feminism was one of the intellectual movements that lead to a greater understanding of how academics exerted their power and a greater concern that this power be used carefully and with humility.

In this same period, in the United States, the position of the anthropologist and the archaeologist was being called into question in Native American communities, where many in the field had worked with few problems for generations. While it might be possible for the anthropologist to go to the other side of the world and enter non-western communities with the same sense of entitlement as they had in the past, this was less and less possible inside the United States. Archaeologists could not routinely excavate Native American burial sites as they had done in the past. Anthropologists working in the United States could not avoid questions about what they were doing in the communities where they worked and what would happen to the information collected, where it would end up, and who would control its use.

In What This Awl Means, Spector explained:

Those of us who produce knowledge about other people hold a powerful and privileged position. Male domination of the field of anthropology has produced distortions about women in many cultural settings and time periods. Similarly, Indian people have had little part in producing archaeological knowledge about their past, and archaeologists have surely produced and perpetuated similar distortions about Indian histories and cultures. I did not want to do this. I no longer wanted to investigate the archaeology of Indian people unless their perspectives and voices were incorporated into the work (What This Awl Means, 13).

Working with Native American sites and in Native American communities meant thinking through more carefully who you were, where you were coming from, and how you intended to interact with the people whose communities you were studying. And that process of thinking it through was as rich a part of your research as the ostensible topic of your work.

Spector got in touch with a professor of Indigenous Studies, Chris Cavender/ Mato Nunpa, who was descended, she later learned, from Mazomani, one of the leaders of the Little Rapids village up until the community left that site in the 1850s. After several meetings, Mato Nunpa and Spector developed plans to work together with students and other faculty in further excavation guided by Dakota people, during the summer of 1986. The resulting collaboration with Mato Nunpa, his relatives, and others and the knowledge and insights it provided is discussed in detail in What This Awl Means.

The book is not a long one, but it is satisfying and thought provoking. Much of Spector’s archaeological work was ethnographic. She studied archaeological sites to obtain a cultural understanding of people in the past. More than that, she sought to relate that past to the living culture of the descendants of the people she studied: The relationships Spector had with living Dakota people were not a means of accomplishing an archaeological study of a site, but were bound up in the project itself. Readers gain insights into a Dakota village at an important moment in time, shortly before their exile from Minnesota, and at the same time learn from the perspectives of the Dakota who returned to Minnesota from that exile. Few other books documenting Minnesota’s past combine so effectively archaeology and the living history of the people who lived at a place in the past. In fact, there are few archaeological works of any kind that show the same commitment to bringing alive the subjects of their research.

Unfortunately for the health and vitality of the fields of anthropology and archaeology, Spector stopped teaching in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Anthropology in the late 1980s. She then moved on to accomplish a great deal in the University’s Commission on Women. Its goal was, as Spector put it, “to develop a kind of system-wide, systematic plan of action to improve the climate for women” (see 1994 interview in pdf form), and Spector was given “carte blanche.” She later described the process of work as a form of ethnography:

I started with what I thought of as ethnographic interviews, starting with people I knew, and then expanding out. I asked people three questions. I said, “Tell me what you see as major obstacles and barriers for women—just in your experience.” This was both men and women, predominately women, but I did talk to men, department chairs, deans. I asked everybody to tell me anything successful that had happened to improve or make their climate better, anything, formal or informal. Then I asked everybody to tell me their vision of the transformed university.

From Spector’s work developed The Minnesota Plan Two, which outlined “a kind of framework for change” and lead to the establishment of a system-wide commission on women for the entire Minnesota university system. For these efforts, Spector will be remembered far beyond her work in anthropology and archaeology. More details on this aspect of her work are found in an obituary by Barbara Noble. There are other obituaries online, including one from her home town of Madison, Wisconsin.

I was fortunate to be a student of Spector’s starting in 1986, when I entered the graduate program in anthropology.  Although I was not there to major in archaeology, she was my faculty adviser in the work I did on Ojibwe photographs. I was seeking to combine anthropology and history in ways that were not exactly comfortable for other anthropologists. She encouraged me in every way she could. She was the right person to be advising a student who was interested in looking at historical photographs and how they reflected the culture and history of Ojibwe people in Minnesota, who wanted to talk to Ojibwe people today about those photographs, and who wanted to make those interactions as much a part of my research as the historical context and content of the photographs. Perhaps because of her revolutionary perspective on academic privilege, or perhaps because she was also a loving person, she was not afraid to be a friend to her students, to share good food and to socialize (often in boats). I could not have found anyone better to guide me. I am certain that without her help I would never have completed my graduate work in 1993. She was a good friend and colleague in so many ways. Thank you, Janet.

Who will tell the story of the white people in 1862?

There are people who are concerned that nothing will be done to tell the story of the white people in 1862. They seem to believe that what happened to white people that year has yet to be told and that this topic will be neglected once again when the 150th anniversary of those events is noted next year.

I am not sure I know why people are worried. For myself I am worried for entirely different reasons. Since 1862 the public story of the events of that year has been largely about the experiences and points of view of whites. As the winners of the battles of 1862 and the years that followed, white people wrote the history books in which they imprinted their points of view about 1862. And having exiled the Dakota people from the land which the Dakota had named, white people also imprinted their points of view in the Minnesota landscape on dozens, maybe hundreds, of historic markers and monuments in which the record of what happened to white people in 1862 was fixed again and again.

Milford Monument, one of many in Minnesota, inscribed with the names of white settlers killed in 1862.

Here is a list of monuments still standing in Brown County Minnesota, which relate to the experiences of whites in 1862 (included in a pdf from the Brown County Historical Society):

Milford Monument. This beautiful granite monument includes a carved statue, cross and tablets inscribed with names of Milford settlers killed during the Dakota Conflict in 1862. County Road 29, 7 miles west of New Ulm.

Ravine Ambush Marker. A Civil War recruiting party was ambushed here at the outbreak of the Dakota Conflict on August 18,1862.   Four men lost their lives. County Road 29, 6 1/2 miles west of New Ulm, on north side of road. D

Fort Hanska (Commonly called Fort Hill). Fort Hanska was a log stockade structure built at this location after the Dakota Conflict of 1862. A marker at Lake Hanska County Park tells the archaeological and historic story of this area. A depression marks the spot where a dugout sheltered pioneers from the War and from the weather. Open daylight hours. County Road 11, 3 1/2 miles southwest of Hanska.

John Armstrong Marker. Marks the site where John Armstrong was killed on September 7, 1862, during the Dakota Conflict.   Located 1 1/2 miles northeast of Hanska on Hwy 257 north of Linden Lake.

Defenders Monument. This dramatic monument was erected in 1891 by the State of Minnesota to honor the memory of the defenders who aided New Ulm during the Dakota Conflict of 1862. The frieze was created by New Ulm artist Anton Gag. Center and State Street.

Roebbecke Mill Site. A windmill erected on this site in 1859 was used as a defense outpost and was destroyed by fire by the LeSueur Tigers in the second battle of New Ulm during the Dakota Conflict of 1862.

Leavenworth Rescue Expedition Marker. Plaque commemorating the 11 men killed while rescuing settlers from the Leavenworth area during the Dakota Conflict of 1862 is at Garden and 5th North streets.

Dakota Hotel Site. New Ulm’s famous Dakota Hotel was built on this site in 1858. During the Dakota Conflict it served as a hospital and refuge for women and children. The hotel closed in 1971 and was demolished in 1972.  A plaque now commemorates its history.  111 North Minnesota Street.

During the same period when many of these monuments and plaques were erected, history textbooks provided the text and sub-text for them. T. H. Kirk, Conductor of the Winona Normal School, wrote in detail about 1862 in a history of Minnesota, “for citizens and general readers,” published in 1887. The author wrote of the “passions,” albeit ones motivated by “heartless traders, and no less fraudulent government traders,” and even some “avaricious settlers,” which caused the Dakota “like the waves of an angry flood” to sweep “down the Minnesota valley.” After taking the story through the execution of the 38 Dakota in December 1862, the author concluded:

Who that did not see shall fitly depict the sufferings of those August and September days, the fortitude of mothers bereft of their children, the self sacrifice of kindred for kindred, and the heroic courage of citizen and soldier in desperate siege and on weary marches by night and day? Alas for Minnesota! The Star of the North, which had so lately and proudly arisen, suddenly waned and lingered wavering on the clouded horizon of future events.

Nothing in these fulsome words was meant to apply to the Dakota, any Dakota at all. There was nothing at all in the book about the exile of the entire Dakota people from Minnesota, their suffering, nor of the subsequent military campaigns on the plains, not just against the Dakota, but against many other tribes which the United States managed to turn into enemies in the process. Thirty years of war against the people of the Plains was missing from the narrative perhaps because it took place outside the borders of the state.

Narratives like this have been common for many generations in Minnesota. Only occasionally has a white author considered that the Dakota were worthy of sympathy or that it was mistake to punish the entire nation for all that happened in 1862. Even when an author tried to write clearly and sympathetically about the Dakota and their experience of 1862, the message did not stick. It was not until several generations had passed that certain among the white could propose the possibility that the traditional white points of view might be narrow and harsh. Clara Searle Painter and Anne Brezler, in Minnesota Grows Up, a geography textbook published in 1936, wrote:

There are people still living in Minnesota whose families were killed in the Sioux Uprising. They are very bitter against the Indians. Today we are safe and secure from Indian attacks in our homes. We are no longer afraid of the Indians. We are beginning to think of them, not as enemies, but as people. They have good points and bad points, just like the rest of us.

The fact that it took so many years to reach even this feeble point of view is significant, but the book did not discuss how it was that the entire Dakota people were exiled from their homeland. And the statement did nothing to change popular views about the Dakota. At the time of Minnesota Statehood Centennial of 1958, a souvenir booklet (“Minnesota Centennial Train, 1858, 1958”) designed to “reflect the total personality of our State,” included the following summary of 1862:

The sullen brooding of the Sioux Indians fans into a flame that brings them thundering down from the hills against the white pioneers. Follows the relentless massacres of helpless settlers in the Minnesota valley. Fort Ridgely and New Ulm. From behind the cabin, shack and wagon, the besieged settlers defend their families until the yelling hordes sweep over them, goaded by myriad causes–hunger, non-payment and bitterness.

The grudging acknowledgment that there might have been causes to what occurred in 1862 is marred by the tone and the words, as if bitterness might be an aspect of personality rather than the result of actual historical events in which whites created the causes for the events that occurred.

Such points of view die hard and have yet to be replaced by a truly balanced history. Yet now that feeble attempts have been made to tell the Dakota story, representing Dakota points of view, there are whites who long for the older predominant history, in which the Dakota were a savage people and who did a great injustice to white people.

A monument erected in 1878 at the Ness Lutheran Cemetery, marking the graves of the five white settlers killed at Acton in Meeker County, Minnesota, in what was said to be the beginning of what used to be called "The Sioux Uprising of 1862."

It will be illuminating to see what happens and what is said in 2012. I have no doubt that the story of the white people will be told again, though I wonder if that narrative will vary in tone or emphasis from the story told for the last 150 years. I also know that the Dakota story will be told in more detail than in the past. But I wonder whether whites will finally hear that story with respect and without complaint.

Minnesota Historical Society names new director

[Minnesota Historical Society press release. Commentary on this choice will follow in the weeks ahead.]

Current President of the New York State Historical Association and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., will head state’s premier historical organization.

The Minnesota Historical Society announced today that its Board of Directors has named D. Stephen Elliott as director and chief executive officer, effective May 1, 2011. Elliott is currently the president and chief executive officer of the New York State Historical Association and The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“It is an honor to be chosen to lead an organization that is a national model for historical preservation and education,” said Elliott. “I have tremendous respect for the Minnesota Historical Society and the manner in which it has served the people of Minnesota for 162 years.”

Elliott has been the head of the New York State Historical Association since 2005. In that capacity, he was responsible for leading two related organizations with significant cultural collections: the Fenimore Art Museum with its world-class American Indian art and nationally important American folk and fine art collection, and The Farmers’ Museum, an outdoor living history museum of 19th-century rural life. From 2000-2005, Elliott was the executive director of the First Freedom Center in Richmond, Va. In addition, he served the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for 28 years in various capacities including vice president of education, administration and planning. He also has served on numerous museum, history, education and civic boards and currently is the chair of the American Association of State and Local History and the vice president of the Museum Association of New York.

“Steve Elliott is a proven leader in the field of history, with a strong commitment to education and public service, and a passion for history – an ideal match with the goals and vision of the Minnesota Historical Society,” said William Stoeri, president of the Society’s Governing Board.

Elliott follows Michael J. Fox, who became the Society’s director when long-time director Nina Archabal retired in January 2011. Fox joined the Society in 1987 and served as deputy director for programs before being named to the director post. To ensure a smooth transition in the Society’s leadership, Fox will remain on staff until his planned retirement May 31, 2011.

“My first order of business will be to listen and learn,” said Elliott.  “In these challenging times, it is more important than ever to ensure that all of our citizens hold a deep regard for history and its lessons for the future.”

Elliott will relocate to the Twin Cities with his wife Diane Elliott, who is also a museum and theatre professional, and their teen-aged daughter. “We are looking forward to becoming part of the vibrant arts and cultural atmosphere for which the state of Minnesota is renowned,” said Elliott.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. Its essence is to illuminate the past to light the future. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing.

Ethics and Public Information in Wisconsin

The Republican Party of Wisconsin is seeking the email records of William Cronon, a respected historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, after Cronon wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times concerning the efforts by the Republicans in Wisconsin to cripple the rights of public workers. On March 15 Cronon also began a blog called Scholar as Citizen, presenting a study guide for understanding these efforts to cripple public unions.

The request by the Republican Party is made under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law. Whether the Republicans have a right to the emails they are requesting will have to be sorted out, but it is worth considering what purpose the Republicans may have in obtaining the information they are seeking. While there are few public information laws that require that people making requests for information have a good reason for doing so, in most cases the purposes of such laws are to make public the workings of government and provide citizens with information on how government officials make the decisions they make.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin is really stretching the purpose of the Open Records Law by claiming that Cronon, a professor, is “a public official,” especially when it wrote recently: “Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner.” What decisions has Cronon made as “a public official” that require illumination through the release of information? Cronon has been quite open in presenting his opinions–arguably more open than the current governor of the state was about his plans for public unions when he was running for governor. And Cronon has done this on a blog not connected to the University of Wisconsin. To his credit he has used his knowledge as a historian to analyze current events.

Rather than contest the opinions and the information Cronon has presented, the Republican Party appears determined to try to discredit him. As such, the party, which clearly has a strong interest in supporting the efforts of the governor to destroy public-worker unions, is using the Public Records Law in a reprehensible way, designed only to bully and to fight a credible voice speaking out against the actions of state officials. Regardless of whether the party has a right to the information, the request is a distortion of the real purpose for public information. If the Republican Party can present arguments to counter those presented by the Cronon they should do so. Misusing the Open Records Law is not only reprehensible but unethical.

The past is never dead at Fort Snelling

By Jan Dalsin

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” as William Faulkner wrote. I was not deliberately thinking of this quotation on February 5, 2011, when I again stood in the circle of peoples around the fire, honoring the memory of of those Dakota women, children, and older men who in November of 1862, were force-marched across southern Minnesota to the fenced-in camp below the bluff on which sat Fort Snelling.

I was remembering those people, the hardships and cruelty they suffered from the treatment they received from the military personnel, the harsh Minnesota winter, the illnesses for which they had no immunity nor reserves to resist — the on-going trauma of the events of the summer of 1862 etched into every fiber of their bodies and spirits.

In re-membering these people, acknowledging their presence in the circle with us on February 5, I was also re-membering a little four-year-old girl, whose German immigrant parents had been counseled by Dakota acquaintances to seek shelter from the warfare about to break out . . . A four-year-old girl who is my mother’s father’s mother — my great-grandmother–and whose presence also I could feel there in the circle.

We are standing on holy ground, I was thinking, ground blessed by the blood and bones of those who perished here in the winter of 1862-1863. On holy ground, witnessing to the deaths of the people, and the deaths of the dreams of the people. On holy ground, honoring the losses, the grief–individual and collective. And on holy ground, pregnant with the hope that our gathering for these ceremonies, this re-membrance, will bear witness to our commitment to truth-gathering; to listening to, honoring and being with, people’s stories; and to seeking circles that lead to the healing of the historic trauma which we all carry within us. These, then, were some of the thoughts going through my mind, during the ceremonies on February 5th at Fort Snelling State Park.  In this place the past was truly not dead. It was very much alive.

I also thought of the words of Waziyatawin who wrote about Fort Snelling:  “It is as though the walls of Historic Fort Snelling exist not only in physical form but in the minds of people. If nothing else at all happens these are the walls that need to be torn down.” She went on to say: “It is time we take down all the forts, literally and metaphorically.”

We need to share more stories. We need to take down all the metaphorical forts. One hundred fifty years of methaphorical forts around the reality of what happened before, during, and after 1862-1863, are 150 years too many for the Dakota, Minnesotans, and citizens of this country.

And if, in the sharing of the stories, the uncovering of the truth of what has happened over the centuries of domination of one people over another, we discover that the healing of the historical trauma that sits within each of us–oppressed and oppressor alike–depends upon literally taking down the fort, this Fort Snelling, what would keep us from jumping at the chance?

Mary Black Rogers, Anthropologist and Ethnohistorian, 1922-2011

Mary Black Rogers, an anthropologist and ethnohistorian from Minnesota who studied the culture and history of Ojibwe and Métis communities in Canada and the United States, died in Vancouver, British Columbia, on January 27, 2011.

The daughter of Fred R. Bartholomew and Stella LaVallee Bartholomew, Mary Rose Bartholomew was born on May 6, 1922, in Minneapolis, where she grew up. In the 1940s she married a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot from Texas named Alan J. Black, from whom she was later divorced. After World War II she contracted tuberculosis, which she survived after the removal of part of one lung. In 1950 she enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where she received a BA in 1954 and a MA in 1958, both in Anthropology, with a focus on Native Americans. She wrote her MA thesis on “The Value System of the Winnebago Indians.”

Mary Black Rogers at Weagomow Lake, Ontario, in 1975

In 1960 she enrolled in graduate program in Anthropology at Stanford University, where she was a student of anthropologists Joseph H. Greenberg, George D. Spindler, and Paul Kay. Four years later she started her fieldwork among the Red Lake Ojibwe at Ponemah, Minnesota. In 1967  she completed her dissertation, “An Ethnoscience Investigation of Ojibwa Ontology and World View,” (authored under the name Mary B. Black) a study of the Ojibwe language and the way in which Ojibwe speakers classified the natural and human worlds, as reflected in their rich language. She described the way in which the Ojibwe saw the world around them as animate, including trees, plants, rocks, and other natural features that other cultures saw as mute, lifeless, and inanimate.

The Ojibwe elders Mary came to know at Red Lake were Native speakers, for whom English was a second language. Learning Ojibwe, viewing the elders as her teachers, she developed a special relationship with Red Lake spiritual leader Dan Raincloud, Sr. In an essay about Raincloud published in 1989, Mary wrote with gratitude of what she learned from him:

Dan always operated from the true center of “his Indian way,” whether dealing with his own people or outsiders. His distinctiveness emanated from the very centrality of the role he sustained, central to what remained of the traditional culture. This was the essence of the complex identity he imparted.

Mary also wrote about Dan Raincloud’s knowledge and about his sense of humor. She said that Raincloud had initially given her an Ojibwe nickname that he said meant “I wonder why.” It was a reflection not only of her anthropological calling, but also of the curiosity that many others who knew her saw also.

Mary was inspired by the previous work of the anthropologist A. Irving Hallowell, who had learned through his studies that the Ojbwa on the Berens River in Manitoba made no distinction between “natural” and “supernatural.” Ojibwe people believed, he wrote, that they obtained many of their abilities from powerful non-human beings, or spirits. Black-Rogers noted that her research at Red Lake strongly supported this idea. She wrote that the people there did not separate “special” or “magical” powers from “those which are requisite for everyday living.” Instead they included within everyday skills, “the abilities for which they must depend on non-human beings.” She wrote: “There seems to be a continuous spectrum of powers, going down to the most mundane, which are receivable from some non-human source and which are not inherent in human beings.” Such abilities might include the success at hunting, or designing and making beadwork for which a human beings needed to show gratitude for their success. At the other end of the spectrum would be things completely beyond “natural human abilities.” Both ends of the spectrum involved “supernatural” involvement; the difference was merely one of degree.

In later years, Mary applied her understandings of the way the Ojibwe at Red Lake viewed the world to analyzing the history and culture of the Ojibwe people in the past, as it was recorded in historical documents. Her influential 1985 paper, later published as “Varieties of ‘Starving’: Semantics and Survival in the Subarctic Fur Trade,” showed how an understanding of Ojibwe semantics could explain the way Ojibwe people interacted with fur traders, in complex exchanges. English words such as “starvation” or “starving”—when used by traders to describe the condition of Indian people who came to their trading posts—had much more complex Ojibwe nuances than apparent to people today or even to traders in the past.

After completing her graduate studies, Mary was hired by the anthropologist Edward S. Rogers, curator of ethnology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, to work with him in a study of the history and culture of the Weagamow Lake (or Round Lake) Ojibwa-Cree First Nation in northern Ontario, near the Manitoba border. Subsequently she married Rogers. In their work together at Weagamow Lake, Ed and Mary developed a close relationship with the community. Mary was adopted by the elder Mamie Quequish to replace a child who had died fifty years before. Ed and Mary left Weagamow Lake for Burlington, Ontario, in 1975, but continued to have contact with the community. After his death in 1988, Edward Rogers was buried at Weagamow Lake with the permission of the community. His gravestone described him as a “Weagamow Friend.” Mary returned to the community for the burial and again in 1991 and 1994. She also received visits from community members in Burlington.

Mary Black Rogers, in 1991, with Mamie Quequish, the woman at Weagamow Lake who had adopted her 1969

After her 1991 visit she wrote in a letter to friends,

In late September, another visit to my husband’s grave was very rewarding. By bush plane north from Sioux Lookout to Weagamow Lake, Ontario, in whose cemetery he was honored to be buried in 1988, by the northern Ojibwa/ Cree people we had known for so long. It was joyful to see so many old friends and adopted family. This year it coincided with their annual feast which culminates a week of hunting and cooking in the old ways. These ways have not disappeared altogether, but the youngest echelon of Weagomow people had never seen it full-blown. This was for me a time of mourning, and also of renewal. I was happy to be able to take the trip, though it was a bit more tiring than I recall from the past.

Like her husband, Mary was interested not only the current culture but in the history of Weagamow community, many of whose members had descended from a man known as Ojicak, or Crane, in the 18th century. As a result, the community was mentioned in records of the Hudson Bay Company and governmental agencies as “The Cranes.” Mary continued to do research on “The Cranes,” in the years after returning from Weagamow, presenting her findings in articles and at conferences. In the 1980s Mary became interested in studying the history of the people of mixed European-Native marriages, sometimes called Métis. Her interest stemmed not only from her anthropological work but also from her own ancestry. Her mother Stella LaVallee was the granddaughter of Antoine Pepin, a trader and blacksmith who lived in the Coldwater Spring area near Fort Snelling in the 1830s, later moving to Little Canada, north of St. Paul.

For Mary, studying the history of people like Antoine Pepin was a “Roots” project, a link between her own family history and the broader sweep of events. Though they had long careers in the fur trade that took them across the Great Lakes and northwestern Canada, they founded local communities in Minnesota and Canada and were intermediaries socially and culturally in the fur trade and in settlement times, She saw the potential in telling a broad history through the “life histories” of particular families, which she believed would demonstrate the broad patterns in the development of the Métis people. In her later years Mary engaged in extensive research on Métis communities, presenting her ideas in conference papers and in an extensive correspondence with colleagues and Métis descendants. Her letters were as full of detail as her notes and papers, reporting her lastest finds and her newest ideas. Though she never completed her study of Pepin and other Métis, her ongoing work in showing how the large picture of Métis history could be told through individual and family histories has inspired many others to undertake such research.

My own initial knowledge of the work of Mary Black Rogers came from reading her thoughtful foreword to a published collection of Ojibwe stories entitled Clothed in Fur: An Introduction to an Ojibwa World View, which included annotation about the Ojibwe culture contained in the stories. In her foreword she wrote about how story-telling among the Ojibwe was a method for teaching young people about the culture. She herself had learned Ojibwe culture from hearing such stories, when doing her fieldwork. She remembered how impatient she had been in hearing such stories, with the “strange happenings and seemingly irrelevant connections and unexplained motivations” contained in them. Yet she noted that when Ojibwe children were told such stories they were not as impatient. They could deal with the unknown because there was much they did not understand about life in general. Mary wrote:

I have observed children enjoying a story immensely even when large portions remain beyond their understanding. They apparently can accept those parts, like so much in their daily experience, rest upon knowledge yet to be attained, contain clues to a future unraveling of the mystery of life—the still largely mysterious life of the adults around them.

Mary compared the reactions of children to acceptance many people have in reading mystery stories, which contain puzzles but also of the promise of an understanding to be reached in the end. She concluded:

The readers of this book will receive some outside help in western-culture style, since the authors have generously provided explanatory keys to the Ojibwa doors to life. But please, dear reader, don’t cheat and look at the ethnographic sections first. Be like the child of the culture, or at least like the ethnographer—trust that the meaning is there; proceed as thought the only way to find it is the hard way—by living, and wondering.

When I read these words they were inspirational, but I did not understand the extent to which they came from a complex, nuanced mind, one capable of extremely detailed analysis of culture and history. In 1984 my friend John Fierst and I both had research to do at the Hudson Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, where Ed and Mary were working on The Cranes, the people of Weagamow Lake. They seemed as eager to know about our research as they were in telling us about theirs. We had several good meals with them, (at Ed’s expense, I think) and had a delightful time. Because Mary was working on her Roots research, relating to Minnesota history, I often saw her and corresponded with her in the following years.

Like many others, I soon became the recipient of long, richly detailed letters, full of information, ideas, and an amazing energy that came from someone who in person gave the misleading impression of being frail. After Ed’s death she started to spend part of the year in Minneapolis for research at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. She and I often went to lunch at It’s Greek to Me, or any other Greek restaurant that might happen to be nearby. The last time I saw her was in 2007, when she came to the launch party for my book and we had lunch at Christo’s. Now I wish that I could talk with her again, but reading her articles, her rich letters, I feel again the inspiration of her energy, her knowledge, and her understanding. Even though she is gone, our conversations with Mary and her ideas will continue.

Those interested in reading some of Mary’s many published essays and articles should know that during her professional career her work was published under several names. Her first work was published under the name Mary Bartholomew Black or Mary B. Black. Later on, after her marriage to Edward Rogers her name was usually given as Mary Black-Rogers or Mary Black Rogers, without the hyphen.  Eventually I hope to put together a more complete bibliography. For now, most of her essay on her adoption at Weagamow Lake can be read online at Google books.