On Sunday, Twin Cities Daily Planet reporter Sheila Regan was my guest for a tour of places associated with the 1862 U.S. Dakota War. Regan had not traveled before to the upper Minnesota River Valley where many of the significant actions of the conflict took place, as her coverage of indigenous people’s issues for the Twin Cities Daily Planet, The Circle and other publications focused on the Twin Cities.
Though the day was sweltering and part of our travels took us down dust-choked gravel road, the beauty of the wide valley impressed Sheila after driving miles through Meeker County’s rolling hills and Renville County’s flat farmland.
Not that either county was just drive-through. Leaving Hutchinson, we stopped at the marker near where Thaóyate Dúta (Little Crow) was murdered in 1863. The commemorative plaque on the side of Meeker County 18 used the name “Little Crow,” while a red wooden stake stake near it honored the Dakota leader with his name in his own language.
The contrast underscores the tensions surrounding the story Regan is researching for the TCDP, described in Spot.us:
2012 marks the 150th Anniversary of the U.S.- Dakota war of 1862. The war ended with the largest one-day execution in American history, where 38 Dakota warriors were hanged on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minnesota. Some 1,700 Dakota women, children, and elders were forcibly marched to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling.
Many American Indian advocates hope to bring attention to what happened, although there is disagreement about the best way to honor this dark history.
Some American Indians focus on the need for better American Indian representation both in cultural institutions such as the Minnesota Historical Society and in school curricula. Others call for the razing of Fort Snelling, which to them symbolizes the genocide of the Dakota people.
I propose to write a story about the ramifications of the Dakota war for Minnesota today, and on the events and actions that will lead up to and mark the 2012 anniversary.
Spot.us is a tool for funding projects by freelance journalists like Regan who take on more extensive projects. Please consider visiting the Spot.us page set up for Sheila’s project, and contributing what you can to help her with the expenses for the story.
The trip wasn’t all business, though. As we tooled eastward on Renville County 15, I ordered Sheila to stop and back up, for there was a stand of ripe wild thicket plums beside the road.
While we grabbed a bag to put them in, we may have eaten more warm, ripe plums on the spot, the slight wild sour bite in each fruit surprising the palate inside the more familiar domestic plum sweetness.
When we reached the Lower Agency, the supervisor for the historical site noted that elders in the nearby community had observed that wild plum were now less abundant, given the use of farm chemicals.
I’ll be dreaming about that sweet and biting memory of warm fruit on a northern slope for awhile, I think.
Photos: Roadside marker, photo by Sally Jo Sorensen (above); Wild Plums, photo by Sheila Regan (below).
Note: Bluestem Prairie is a Contributing Blog for the Daily Planet; we exchange articles at no cost to either venue under this agreement.