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January 10, 2009

MSU-Mankato Professor Seeks Research Suggestions

Filed under: Questions from a Researcher — debbie.miller@mnhs.org @ 11:29 am

Chuck Lewis is a professor in the Department of Mass Communications at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His research on Mankato frontier journalism and its connections to American Indians began with support from Minnesota State University’s Douglas R. Moore Faculty Research Lectureship Award in 2004. Professor Lewis would appreciate suggestions and ideas for research sources that relate to his topic (see the following abstract). Please contact Deb for his e-mail address.

Business, Politics, and War: American Indians and Whites in the Frontier Press of Mankato, Minnesota, 1857-1867

by Dr. Chuck Lewis

ABSTRACT: Soon after 10 a.m. on the day after Christmas in 1862 the Dakota Conflict in Minnesota came closer to ending with the hanging of 38 Dakota in Mankato, which became the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The Dakota Conflict, considered by many to be the bloodiest American Indian uprising on the western frontier of the 19th century, was fought with firearms, arrows, knives and military strategy-the usual tools of frontier war. But the conflict was also fought with ink and newsprint. This warfare of the scribes began long before the first white settlers died in August-and it ended long after the December hanging. This research examines two principal players in the warfare of newsprint: The editor of the Mankato Record, a Democratic newspaper, and the editor of the Mankato Independent, a Republican newspaper and the official county newspaper of the time. This research explores how economic boosterism and political competition between the two frontier publishers influenced the coverage of Dakota and Winnebago American Indians in southern Minnesota during the late 1850s through the post-Civil War years, and, in turn, how such coverage influenced the growth of white domination.

It, for the most part, is not an uplifting story. In many ways it is a sad and terrible tale. But it is a story that should be told because these local circumstances mirrored larger forces of the period. Therefore, the situation in southern Minnesota serves as a microcosm of the complex and often seriously strained relations between American Indians and whites during the nineteenth century. In addition, the roles of the Mankato newspapers of that period are representative of how the press helped solidify and perpetuate the white power structure in the nineteenth century. We can learn a great deal from this frontier story.

Much over the years has been written about the Dakota Conflict and its leaders, such as Little Crow and Henry Sibley. However, the topic of media coverage of the conflict has garnered little scholarship, and no work until now has explored the broader period of coverage well before and after the conflict. This research concerns all copy in the Mankato newspapers regarding both the Dakota and the Winnebago from the late 1850s -well before the conflict-through the conclusion of the “Indian problem” in southern Minnesota toward late 1860s-well after the conflict.

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