Today’s guest post is by Cynthia in Mahtowa, and was inspired by Reneeinnd’s July 12th blog “Overlooked Overlook” and Happy Valley Steve’s comment about “not noticing history.”
At our little long-time book club we recently read Prudence by David Treuer. The story takes place midst WWII somewhere in northwest or north central Minnesota with characters from Chicago who own a resort on a lake near an Indian reservation and a German POW camp.
A German POW camp? In Minnesota?
None of the group had heard of such a thing. Did Treuer make it up? As it turns out, a Google search confirmed that there were indeed German POW camps in Minnesota – at least 15 of them.
Many other states also had them. Some 400,000 POWs were brought to the US to farm, work in factories, log or do whatever wasn’t getting done with American men fighting in the war. Most of the Germans were prisoners from North Africa, sent to the US by the British who no longer had room to house the number of prisoners they were capturing.
Two relatively recent MPR stories documented the camps: In March Tracy Mumford interviewed David Treuer about his novel. He grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation near Bemidji and had heard stories of a nearby camp. One of the stories told was of two prisoners trying to escape south via the Mississippi River in a row boat .
A second MPR story reported that in October, 2002 some of the former POWs and their families came from Germany to camps “to remember, learn and reconcile.”
Why had I never before heard of the camps in any of my (Minnesota or American) history classes?
Along this same line of “overlooked history,” our club also read The Assassination of Chief Hole-in-the-Day by David’s brother Anton.
“Bagone-giizhig, known in English as Hole-in-the-Day the Younger, was a charismatic and influential chief who played a key role in relations between the Ojibwe and the U.S. government in Minnesota. Yet he won as many enemies as friends due to his actions during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and his claim to be the leader of all Ojibwe. In 1868, Bagone-giizhig was assassinated by a group of other Ojibwe from Leech Lake. For many years the real reason for this killing remained a mystery.“
I have lived most of my life near the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. I have had Ojibwe classmates and friends. We had Minnesota history in sixth grade.
Were we taught about this famous chief and I just don’t remember? Or, was it never included in our textbooks?
Other history I learned as an older adult are the hangings of the Sioux warriors in Mankato and the black men in Duluth. Not to mention the Dakota Conflict itself.
What history has been overlooked in your education that you wish you had known earlier?