More Things
Philander Prescott - photo by the author
by Steve Timmer
Jun 2, 2016, 11:30 AM

An unapologetic love letter to Historic Fort Snelling

 

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There was a crowd, just as large, on the other side of the parade grounds, too. Memorial Day 2016.

Historic Fort Snelling, the crown jewel of the Minnesota Historical Society’s historic sites scattered throughout Minnesota, made a bond request to the Legislature to renew, refresh, and re-imagine the site in advance of its 200th anniversary. The history of the state — the modern history, anyway — cannot be discussed without discussing Fort Snelling. Whether you think that is good or bad, it’s true. Addressing it right up front, here’s what the Minnesota Historical Society had to say to the detractors of the historic fort:

The Minnesota Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and share our state’s history, including the troubling and more complex parts of our history. MNHS preserves the historic fort, a National Historic Landmark, so that we can educate the public about the varied history of the site and fort through the years, including the site’s importance as Dakota homeland with a deep connection to this space long before the fort was ever built; the fort’s role in the Dakota War of 1862, including the concentration camp below the fort where 1,600 Dakota men, women, and children were imprisoned following the war; and this landmark’s role in a history of genocide against American Indian people. Other important histories include the fort’s association with slavery and the story of Dred and Harriet Scott; its military history through World War II; and as a space where trade has always occurred between many diverse groups of people.

The Minnesota Historical Society has requested $34 million in state bonding for the project, much of it required to raze the damp and dark visitors’ center, and refurbish some old and crumbling buildings between the current visitor center and the fort enclosure into a new, airy, and much more attractive and useful visitors’ center: to tell the fort’s stories, including the regrettable ones, better.

Did you know that you can actually see the room where Dred and Harriet Scott lived at the fort, when their owner was stationed there, and on which they based their legal bid for freedom that resulted in the odious Supreme Court case, Scott v. Sanford, that held no African-American could be a citizen and therefore have rights under the Constitution?

Scott v. Sanford was handed down by the Supreme Court — which had five slave-holding justices at the time — in 1857.  It was a decision that hastened the beginning of the civil war. It is a romantic notion of mine that the men of the Minnesota First Volunteer Regiment — who signed up within days of the start of the war, and who participated in the most desperate and heroic engagement imaginable on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg — were motivated, at least in part, by Dred Scott, about whom they undoubtedly knew.

The First Regiment departed for the war from Ft. Snelling, as did the other later regiments raised.

Funding for this project is a priority of Governor Dayton’s, but it’s not for the House Republicans. I wrote this story in the hope that you, gentle reader, might be impelled to contact your legislators and urge them to support the project.

Historic Fort Snelling is a great place to take you kids, to introduce them to a different kind of history experience, and with luck, get them hooked for life. The site is open many days a year, and it’s a lot cheaper than a ticket for a professional football game, an activity in which we saw fit to sink a half a billion in public money. $34 million is peanuts.

Here are several photos I’ve taken at Ft. Snelling, most just last Monday, Memorial Day. They feature kids.

After he cannon drill, you can go up and see the cannon and talk to the soldiers about what it is like to fire it.

After the cannon drill, you can go up and see the cannon and talk to the soldiers about what it is like to fire it.  (The short answer is: It’s a lot of fun.) Memorial Day 2016.

 

A civil war soldier (on Civil War weekend a few years ago) talks to an obviously mesmerized young boy.

A civil war soldier (on Civil War weekend a few years ago) talks to an obviously mesmerized young boy.

 

These two girls were watching a presentation about how soldiers' uniforms and rifles had evolved from pre-Revolutionary times to the present.

These two girls were watching a presentation about how soldiers’ uniforms and rifles had evolved from pre-Revolutionary times to the present. Memorial Day 2016.

 

There are a lot of hands on activities for kids to sample frontier life. An early form of baseball was played at the fort.

There are a lot of hands on activities for kids to sample frontier life. An early form of baseball was played at the fort. Memorial Day 2016.

 

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Kids can try their hand on stilts. Memorial Day 2016.

 

Hoops is a popular game, but most kids find that it is harder than it looks.

Hoops is a popular game, but most kids find that it is harder than it looks. Memorial Day 2016.

 

It isn't all fun and games. Doing the fort laundry was drudgery. Memorial Day 2016.

It isn’t all fun and games. Doing the fort laundry was drudgery. Memorial Day 2016.

 

There is time for more intellectual pursuits, too, like chesscheckimos at the Sutler's.

There is time for more intellectual pursuits, too, like chesscheckimos at the Sutler’s. Memorial Day 2016.

 

But the sweetest to me are scenes like this: looking through the window into the blacksmith shop.

But the sweetest to me are scenes like this: looking through the window into the blacksmith shop.

These photos are probably not what comes to mind when you think of Fort Snelling, but they are images of an important part of what goes on there. It is a place of state and national historic importance. It deserves to be supported.

I am planning to do another photo story about the fort in a few days. It will have more of the things you’d expect. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the guy who wore the cool hat, Goggle Philander Prescott.

Update: Here’s part two.

Further update:

In the interest of accurate reporting, I do have to say that not everybody is enchanted with the military displays.

In the interest of accurate reporting, I do have to say that not everybody is enchanted with the military displays.

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