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Letter - MHS will properly honor and interpret military history

To the editor,
I read last week’s story about redesign of the interpretive center at Historic Fort Snelling with great interest.
For three summers in the early 1980s, I worked as a costumed interpreter from 1827 sometimes portraying a laundress, officer’s wife or servant from the early days of the fort. I also did quite a bit of research and study as part of my training, but I found it fascinating. Although I have great respect for our military and military history, I disagree with Stephanie Chappell’s statement that the Dakota people would not have been there without the military.
Here’s a little history lesson from my point of view: the purpose of Fort Snelling in the 1820s was primarily to protect U.S. interest in the fur trade, which was the big business of the day. Protection of native people, the Dakota and Ojibwa, only extended as far as they were involved in lucrative trade, and to prevent British influence from the north. Native hunters and trappers were at the bottom of a pyramid scheme with wealthy men like John Jacob Astor at the top.
The U.S. military and Indian agent kept the peace mainly to protect the economic interests of the American Fur Company. As furs became less abundant, native people who were locked into AFC’s credit system became impoverished.
This poverty led to conflicts between tribes and with white settlers, and eventually the Dakota war of 1862. This was a horrendous part of Fort Snelling history, when many Dakota women and children were imprisoned below the fort, and many died from wretched conditions there.
Stephanie Chappell can be assured that the Minnesota Historical Society will always honor and interpret military history. It always has, but it will also share this history honestly, warts and all.
To me, that is a vast improvement over historic interpretation of the 1980s when we ignored anything that didn’t happen in 1827. Construction of Fort Snelling began 200 years ago, but the story does not begin or end at that point in time. And to say that the Dakota would not have been at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers without the military ignores reality and mountains of historical research.

Anne Twiss,
Glencoe