Wingerd in Dakota Conflict documentary

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Screenshot from the Twin Cities Public Television website about

Screenshot from the Twin Cities Public Television website about "The Past Is Alive Within Us: The U.S. – Dakota Conflict."

Screenshot from the Twin Cities Public Television website about  Mary Wingerd, associate professor of history and author of  Dean Urdahl '71, legislator, author and retired teacher Photo of the check given Nathan Lamson for killing Taoyateduta, leader of the Dakota war effort Mankato monument that celebrated, for six decades, the hanging of 38 Dakota men 

A documentary premiering this week on Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) includes insights by St. Cloud State's award-winning author and history professor Mary Wingerd.

"The Past Is Alive Within Us: The U.S. – Dakota Conflict" is a mix of historical information and contemporary stories, viewed through the lens of public memory, according to a tpt news release.

The two-hour film premieres 8 p.m. CT Dec. 26 on tpt 2 and

Wingerd knows how public memory influences perceptions of the war. Her 2010 book "North Country: The Making of Minnesota" includes a discussion of the books, parades, pageants, monuments, marketing, music and memorabilia that have shaped opinions about what previous generations variously called the Minnesota Massacre, Sioux Uprising or Sioux Outbreak.

The most painful public memory is likely the public hanging of 38 Dakota men in December 1862, an event triumphantly celebrated for more than a half-century at the foot of Main Street in Mankato, Minn.

Memorialized on a granite monument was the largest execution in American history. The epigraph read: "Here Were Hanged 38 Sioux Indians Dec. 26th 1862."

The film draws on interviews with descendants of those affected by the war, as well as interviews with historians, experts, community leaders and artists.

Another interviewee with a St. Cloud State connection is Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), a retired educator who graduated from St. Cloud State in 1971. He has authored a trio of historical fiction novels set during and after the war.

Urdahl is a direct descendant of Ole Ness, one of the founders of Ness Lutheran Church and Cemetery, where the first white casualties of the war are interred.

More on Wingerd

An associate professor of history, Wingerd has won two Minnesota Book Awards for "North Country."

In the book she documents Minnesota's ironic fascination with a mythic, romantic Indian past. The 448-page book opens with a discussion of the Hamm's beer jingle, the Indian maiden on the Land O'Lakes butter boxes and Minnegasco's cartoon Indian princess. Among the 155 illustrations, compiled and annotated by Kirsten Delegard, are a commemorative silver spoon and beer tray that celebrate the hanging in Mankato.

Read an OUTLOOK Magazine story about the book, which was commissioned by the University of Minnesota Foundation and published by University of Minnesota Press.

Wingerd, who holds a doctorate from Duke University, also authored "Claiming the City: Politics, Faith, and the Power of Place in St. Paul," published in 2003 by Cornell University Press.

"Our hope is that [the film] will open the door to understanding a dark chapter in Minnesota and American history, stimulate dialogue about the legacy of the War and help inform those conversations for generations to come," said Terry O’Reilly, tpt's senior vice president and chief content officer.

Urdahl told a tpt interviewer: "Through education comes knowledge. And, through knowledge, I hope, comes understanding. And, from understanding we can lead to healing."

The roots of the war were many and decades in the making. The immediate triggers included the limitations of reservation life, treaty violations, late annuity payments, reduced wild game and crop failures.

Armed conflict began Aug. 17, 1862, when four Dakota men on a hunting trip killed five white settlers in Acton Township, west of Litchfield. By Sept. 26, most Dakota people had either surrendered or fled the state.

Perhaps as many as 800 civilians and fighters died during the war. In the months and years that followed, more Dakota died in prison camps and at the hastily organized Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota.

Wingerd writes in her book: "The terror and fury of war had fully dehumanized Indians in the minds of most Minnesotans. Overwhelming public sentiment made no distinction between murderers and those who were innocent of any wrongdoing: the entire race was guilty of every crime that had been committed." 

The ultimate expression of the hatred bred by the war was the State of Minnesota bounty for Dakota scalps.

By 1864, Dakota people were across five states and two Canadian provinces.

In 2009, Urdahl, a six-term veteran of the Legislature, sponsored a resolution requesting repeal of the 1863 federal law that banished the Dakota from Minnesota.

The law remains on the books.

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