Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
On a July afternoon in 1972, two masked men waving guns abducted forty-nine-year-old Virginia Piper from the garden of her lakeside home in Orono, Minnesota. After her husband, a prominent investment banker, paid a $1 million ransom, an anonymous caller directed the FBI to a thickly wooded section of a northern Minnesota state park. There, two days after her nightmare began, Ginny Piper––chained to a tree, filthy and exhausted, but physically unharmed––awaited her rescuers.
Stolen from the Garden: The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper by William Swanson recounts the inside story of the shocking Piper kidnapping: from the abduction and recovery, through the grueling investigation and trials, and into the Pipers’ haunted final years.
Below is a clip from the press conference with Virginia Piper on July 30, 1972, just a day after her rescue. However, this is only the beginning of the story. As Swanson writes:
“But whatever the intentions of their preemptive statements, the Pipers’ nightmare is not over, nor does the story belong to them. The case is now a million-dollar whodunit driven by the US Attorney in Minneapolis and FBI personnel here and in Washington. The black-and-white patrol cars stationed at the bottom of their driveway will be gone in a few days, when the family is no longer deemed in imminent danger, but the lives of the Pipers and many of their friends, neighbors, and associates, not to mention innumerable strangers who may or, more likely, may not have had anything to do with the case, will be changed forever.”
For author events and more information, please click on the title’s hyperlink, above.
Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil by Lisa Westberg Peters begins with the passing of the author’s father and the questions his estate will raise:
“When my father dies, my mother will inherit his mineral rights. Eventually my siblings and I will inherit hers. At that point, I will benefit from drilling techniques that require millions of gallons of water, dozens of chemicals, some of them unknown even to regulators, and the safe disposal of toxic wastes.
It would make quite a headline:
Environmentalist Rakes in ND Oil Profits
And so I sit on an uncomfortable fence. On one side is a sea of oil that fouls beaches and birds and contributes to climate mayhem. On the other side is a sea of oil—my family’s oil!—that provides jobs for thousands of people, financial breathing room for my parents, and wealth for the long-suffering state of North Dakota.
Nope. You can see, I’m sure, how a hospice room is not exactly the place for that kind of discussion.
My dad sees the picture of an old North Dakota oil well—or it’s going to be an oil well as soon as they hit pay dirt—and does a thumbs-up.” –from Fractured Land
Join us this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm at Common Good Books to hear Lisa Westberg Peters talk about the dilemma we all face–how our personal lives intersect with the energy industry and the environment–and her new book, Fractured Land.
In light of today’s protest to eliminate the use of Native mascots in Minneapolis before the Minnesota vs. Washington football game, here is an excerpt from Anton Treuer’s book, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask.
Listen to Treuer talk about the issue last year on NPR’s Tell Me More.
Why is there so much concern about mascots?
Not all Indians find the use of Indians or Indian imagery by sports teams offensive, but many do. They view nonnative people dressed as Indians, doing a “tomahawk chop,” or singing fake Indian songs as a mockery of their culture and history. Those opposed to the use of Indians as mascots usually point out that most people would not tolerate white sports fans dressed up in fake Afros singing mock African songs for a sports team using a stereotype of black people as a mascot. The protest against using nonnative racial groups as mascots has been so overwhelming that the practice was universally abandoned. In Red Wing (Minnesota), in 2008 and 2009, sixty to seventy white students dressed in low-slung pants and sports jerseys and flashed gang signs in a caricature of black culture the students called “Wigger Day.” A lawsuit was filed that resulted in school officials actively discouraging and suppressing the custom, with some resistance from students. But similar caricatures of Indians in other places have often been widely defended by school officials and community members, even officially celebrated as part of the sports culture at the schools.
The two biggest defenses of Indian mascots are pretty weak. The first is the claim that “we are honoring Native Americans.” If all Native Americans felt honored, then that argument would bear some weight, but most do not feel honored. And even if a home team truly believes it is honoring Indians through its mascot, opposing teams caricature and abuse each other’s mascots in the name of team spirit. Thus, other teams in the same conference with a team that has a native mascot will most definitely not be honoring them.
Nonnative people also justify the practice by pointing to Indians who use Indian mascots for teams, such as the Red Lake Warriors. The difference is that the Indians at Red Lake are the descendants of warriors, so their use of that image or name is not a mockery. However, I never miss a chance to encourage Red Lake and other native schools to change their mascots to something more benign so that it does not confuse others about appropriate mascots. The bottom line is that if any mascot is truly offensive to a large percentage of the population, then that mascot should go. Stick to lions, tigers, and bears. Human beings will never feel dishonored by that.
Excerpt from Secret Partners: Big Tom Brown and the Barker Gang by Tim Mahoney
Click on the link above for more info and upcoming events with Tim Mahoney.
Among the most dangerous criminals of the public enemies era was a man who has long hidden in history’s shadows: Big Tom Brown. In the early 1930s, while police chief of St. Paul, Minnesota, Brown became a secret partner of the infamous Ma Barker gang. He helped plan the gang’s kidnappings and profited from their bank robberies, even as they gunned down cops and citizens in his hometown. He teamed up with a corrupt prosecutor to railroad men to prison, he beat confessions out of prisoners, and he was suspected by some of engineering two execution slayings.
Yet justice never caught up to Tom Brown. An overwhelming volume of evidence points to Brown’s involvement in illegal activities throughout his tenure as a policeman. But because of decisions made in St. Paul and Washington, Brown was never prosecuted for his crimes and the evidence was tested only at a civil service hearing, and not in court. The investigation of Brown never reached whatever allies he had among the city’s elite.
The Barker gang’s stalwarts, Fred Barker and Alvin Karpis, led a bumbling band of hillbilly burglars until they moved to St. Paul during Brown’s tenure as police chief. In the Ozarks, “My life in crime was minor league stuff,” admitted Karpis. But under the protection of Tom Brown, and the tutelage of St. Paul’s master criminals, his gang evolved into notorious and feared public enemies. Soon Karpis was pulling his “first genuine major league stickup,” at a Minneapolis bank.
Barker gangster Volney Davis confessed to the FBI that without the protection of Tom Brown, the gang “would have all been caught in St. Paul.” Edna Murray, the “Kissing Bandit,” told the FBI that if not for Tom Brown and James Crumley of the St. Paul police, the gang’s most infamous crime “could not have been successfully accomplished and certain members of this [Barker] mob would have been in jail a long time ago.”
Had the Barker gang never come under Brown’s protection, Ma Barker might have died lonesome in the Ozarks, an impoverished, obscure widow. Her son Fred and his pal Karpis would likely have been executed in Missouri before the nation knew who they were. The vicious killer Doc Barker would have remained in prison until he was an old man. At least seven murders and two grievous woundings might never have happened.
But Brown’s dark influence spread beyond the Barker gang. If not for the corrupt police force that crystallized during Brown’s tenure, the legend of John Dillinger might have ended on an Easter weekend in a snowy St. Paul parking lot. The Lady in Red would have been just another immigrant with visa troubles. No trap would have been set for Dillinger outside the Biograph theater. Newsreel hero Melvin Purvis might have retired as just another FBI functionary. Little Bohemia would be just another rustic Wisconsin resort, and not the site of a legendary FBI fiasco.
Many of Tom Brown’s fellow gangsters were shot dead, while others were locked up in Leavenworth or Alcatraz. But Brown proved to be the Houdini of gangster-cops. He outsmarted J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, retiring to collect his police pension and run a tavern in the north country. Despite all the blood on his conscience, all the families whose lives he devastated, and all the dark money he collected, he never spent a night behind bars.
Here’s an excerpt from Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip by Neal Karlen. Meet Neal this Thursday at 7 pm at Mill City Museum to hear more of Augie’s secrets. Click on the book title, above, for more information and events.
There were two words too powerful, too terrible, too ugly for my grandmother to pronounce fully aloud. She approached the first one in a normal timbre, then at the last second dropped her tone to sotto voce and whispered, in the heavy accent of her native Odessa, “kan-suh.”
The effect was mighty and dramatic. She would be sitting at the dining room table, with her almost-perfect son, my father, hiding behind the newspaper box scores and wax fruit, and she would say loudly, to no one in particular, in a full Merman-esque voice, “Mr. Anderson, I heard he has a throat full of”—then she’d whisper—”kan-suh.”
She said the offending word barely audibly, like she wanted no one in the room to hear it but my father, as if she expected him personally to cure malignancy forever: kan-suh.
The second ghastly word was what she deemed the vocation of her misbegotten younger brother, Augie, who to my father’s mind was the only interesting person in the entire family. She would say, as a prelude to damning her damnable brother, that “Augie is a no-goodnik” or “My brother is a scandal to the family!” which he sort of was, to a few, because of that place he ran, Augie’s Theatre Lounge, or maybe that speakeasy for drunken shikkers he had earlier, the White Swan.
She would conclude her sermon of fire and damnation, just saying his name, “Augie”—then dropping her voice an octave and—shhh!—say it: “geng-steh.”
“Geng-steh,” she’d whisper again, saying the word twice in overstated understatement, evoking images of gangland slayers like John Dillinger, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Ma Barker and her boys, and Pretty Boy Floyd, whose name she’d translate from the newspaper, her English primer, as “Handsome Fegel”—and the later ones, Davie “the Jew” Berman and Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld. Amazingly, my father became aware over time, Augie knew all of them and liked almost all of them—and they all knew and liked Augie.
We are honored to publish The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters/Dakota Kaskapi Okicize Wowapi, translated by Dakota elders and scholars Dr. Clifford Canku and Mr. Michael Simon.
Dr. Canku and Mr. Simon will talk about the book and project at two special events on April 11th at Zandbroz Bookstore in Fargo, ND, and April 19th with Birchbark Bookstore in Minneapolis, MN. (Please click on the book title, above, for details.)
The following is an excerpt from the foreword to the book by Dr. John Peacock (Spirit Lake Dakota).
“For participating in the Dakota–U.S. War of 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged at Mankato on December 26 of that year. The following April, approximately 265 more Dakota men, also condemned to death, but not executed, were marched in shackles into Camp McClellan, a military prison at Davenport, Iowa. There they wrote letters in the Dakota language. Fifty of these, written by more than three dozen of the condemned men, have now been translated into English by two of the letter writers’ Christian Dakota descendants, Dr. Clifford Canku and Mr. Michael Simon, themselves members of the last generation in the United States of mother-tongue, fluent Dakota speakers.
Both translators were born on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Nation’s reservation in South Dakota and grew up speaking Dakota as their first language. Now in their seventies, they are traditional Sun Dancers and retired Dakota Presbyterian ministers (Mr. Simon formerly headed the Dakota Presbytery). Both men have told me that their training at seminary in translating Biblical languages helped them translate the Dakota letters. They think of the letters not merely as historic documents but as sacred texts—as revelation of a Dakota apocalypse and as prophesy of the Dakota expulsion and exodus from their Minnesota homelands, the male letter writers to Davenport; their wives, children, and dependent elders first to a prison camp at Fort Snelling and then into the desert at Crow Creek.
These letters were written from a place of sadness and loss. As Mr. Simon says in his preface, the prisoners were held at Camp Kearney, a portion marked off from Camp McClellan in December 1863. The overcrowded barracks, built of green wood, offered little protection from the Iowa winter, and the prisoners were not provided adequate fuel. They were kept shackled for months. Sixteen Dakota women, brought along to cook and launder for the prisoners, also lived in the camp with their children. By 1864, men were taken out of the camp under guard to cut wood and work in nearby farm fields. That summer, a group of Dakota families—ninety men, women, and children who had been picked up at Pembina—were imprisoned with them. At least 120 people died of smallpox and other ailments at Camp Kearney. In the spring of 1866, President Andrew Johnson finally pardoned the men, who were then sent west to meet their families.
The letter writers first learned to write in the Dakota language in prison at Davenport, earlier in another prison at Mankato, or earlier still in mission schools. In all these places, missionaries worked to convert Dakota people to Christianity, in part by teaching them to read and write their once entirely oral language, for which missionaries had created a writing system and into which they had translated the Bible and various Christian hymns and liturgies.
With the exception of a letter addressed to General Henry Hastings Sibley, most of the Davenport letters are addressed to Tamakoce (His Country), the name the Dakota had given to missionary Stephen Riggs, whom the writers also frequently address in the body of their letters as mitakuye, Dakota for ‘my relative.’”
Please join us on Thursday January 24th from 6-8 pm at the African Development Center (1931 South 5th Street, Minneapolis) for a book talk and signing with Ahmed. Refreshments from Afro Deli, a Somali business profiled in the book will be provided. The ADC’s art gallery will also be open during the event.
From the book:
“In the early 1990s, many Minnesota citizens noticed a trickle of conspicuously dressed Africans, especially women in colorful attire, some veiled and some with simple headscarves, arriving at schools, grocery stores, supermarkets, and shopping centers, sharing both resources and space. As their numbers began to grow, questions about them arose: Who are these people? Where are they from? To what religious faith do they belong?
The basic answers came quickly. They are from an East African tropical nation called Somalia, the people are called Somalis, their language is Somali, and their distinctive women’s attire is in accordance with their faith, Islam. Then new questions replaced the old: What was their past like? What brought them to the United States? Why did Somalis choose Minnesota, an icy, arctic-like state with its acclimatized Scandinavian and German populations? These three questions, in various tones, have persisted tenaciously. This book will attempt to answer them, briefly touching on Somalis’ cultural affiliation, economic aspirations, political participation, religious faith, and educational opportunities.”
Excerpt from Wishing for a Snow Day: Growing Up in Minnesota by Peg Meier which includes childhood reminiscences such as this one from Melvin Lynn Frank.
“In winter the Farview hills were a constant challenge. One steep hillside was especially fearsome and bumpy for sliders—an awesome slope that gave breathtaking speed to a ride. Then when nature provided the white gift of snow, kids spent hour after hours on Flexible Flyers riding belly floppers till dark.
Of course, there was street sliding as well. The hill by the fire barn on Lowry was alluring. When it was icy, a youngster could go coasting for three blocks, all the way down to the Soo Line tracks by the shavings shed near the mill. This slide meant crossing the streetcar tracks on Washington Avenue. The boys walking back up the hill stood on the car tracks and signaled those at the top to come on when the coast was clear. Once in a while a boy would mistake a ‘don’t come’ signal for an ‘all clear’—like the day when a youngster went clean under a streetcar, right between the tracks, and continued for two more blocks, scared to death to the end of his ride. The rest of us were shaken, too, and must have been more careful after that experience. I cannot recall that any of the gang was hurt while sledding.”
Image: Boys on toboggan at Groveland Park Elementary School, St. Paul, 1961.
Minnesota Historical Society
Just in time for the holidays, this limited edition of the classic Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid is the perfect gift for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. In 1930, Sevareid and Walter C. Port set out on an ambitious summer-long journey from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay–a 2,500-mile voyage through a vast and remote land. This handsome set includes a newly designed book with the retro, iconic cover packaged in a multipurpose storage tin, with a colorful art-quality map annotated by Ann Raiho–suitable for framing! Raiho and Natalie Warren were the first women to replicate Sevareid and Port’s route, in 2011.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“We headed in a northwesterly direction, mostly out to sea as I endeavored to get beyond the boundary of the rocks, which lay just below the surface. The breakers were nearly six feet high now, and we were taking water over the gunwales steadily. We dared not take our eyes from the kicking spray ahead of us, where, we knew, lay the end of the reef.
“‘I’m out far enough,’ I thought, ‘and here we go north,’ and I swung the nose of the canoe. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the coming waves, which lifted us up and down, each time throwing us farther ahead. Paddling was very hard and trying to steer in that wind and water was tiring on the muscles of my arms and stomach.
“Now we were beside the rocks, I judged. At that moment, a great wall of water lifted the stern high into the air and as it ran along the bottom of the canoe, spray pouring in, Walt yelled, ‘Paddle! Paddle! The rocks!’”
Anton Treuer, author of Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, was on NPR’s Tell Me More earlier this week, discussing the real story of Christopher Columbus.
“I think there’s a growing awareness that Columbus didn’t discover America–that the place was densely inhabited by other human beings. But certainly the Columbus experience would change the entire world. But in spite of the fact that Christopher Columbus wrote lots of letters and kept many journals, and by his second voyage there were many official scribes, army officers, priests, writing about the experience, over 500 years later this piece of history gets sugarcoated a lot.
“And you know, we now know as a fact of history that on Columbus’s second voyage, the Spanish instituted a gold dust tribute, whereby those who failed to bring a certain quantity of gold dust would have their hands chopped off. And we know for a fact of history that the Spanish cut the hands off of 30,000 people that year on the island of Hispaniola–what’s now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
“And we know that within thirty years, the two million people that the Spanish estimated to be inhabiting that island before contact were completely annihilated. And that is a textbook definition of genocide. And we have so successfully sugarcoated the history that we have obfuscated some of the most important parts of that story.”
Check out Anton Treuer’s answer to “What is the real story of Thanksgiving?” from the book Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask.
Treuer’s recent in-depth television interview on C-Span’s Afterwords is also now available.