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Lecture Addresses Mankato Monument Mystery
History professor addresses topic in lecture series.
Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 4-5-2012
In her earnest research, Minnesota State University history professor Melodie Andrews has heard all of the theories surrounding the location of the infamous Mankato Monument, missing since the 1990s.
No, she does not think it was crushed up and buried beneath the buffalo statue in Reconciliation Park. No, she said, it is most likely not hidden in caves beneath the Brett’s building. Nor does she believe a popular theory that former mayor Stan Christ drove the monument in the dark of night to Morton to give to the Dakota people there, where some say it remains today. After an acquaintance spoke with a reliable source at Standing Rock, Andrews was given a hint as to the monument’s location that she believes so fervently that it prompted her to go in search. However, she would only provide one clue from her source at a presentation Wednesday afternoon at MSU, as to avoid the public excavating area land.
“Look to the place where the eagles circle over the river in Mankato,” she said during her lecture, called “ That Derogatory Rock,” part of the history department’s Spring Lecture Series.
The Mankato Monument’s storied and mysterious past, as well as the war that it comes from, is still of great interest to Mankato-area residents, as was evident by the full room of 100 or more spectators Wednesday in the Centennial Student Union. Andrews’ timely discussion — as this is the 150th anniversary year of the U.S.-Dakota War — focused on how whites and Native Americans have chosen to remember and attempted to come to terms with the mass hanging of 38 Indians on Dec. 26, 1862, through the construction of public monuments and memorials.
“This is the part of the story that’s largely untold,” she said.
As public memories of the war and site of the hanging began to fade, Judge Lorin Cray and Gen. James Baker commissioned a 6-foot-tall, 8,500-pound monument in 1912 with the inscription “Here were hanged 38 Sioux Indians, Dec. 26, 1862.”
Andrews said the monument’s gravestone- esque appearance was deeply ironic, as the 38 Dakotas’ bodies were sold for medical testing rather than given a proper burial.
The monument became the subject of great debate among area residents and Mankato visitors, many who saw it as commemorating a travesty of justice. Renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow’s reaction during a visit in 1927 was, “I would never believe that the people of a civilized community would want to commemorate such an atrocious crime,” Andrews quoted.
The debate continued throughout the decades as the monument was moved about — from a grassy park area, to a gas station parking lot nearby, and to the other side of the service station (facing incoming traffic to the city).
In the meantime, the monument became a source of vandalism in the 1960s, even set on fire by a man, Ken Bunde, who surprised Andrews in the audience by laying claim to the act.
Finally, in 1971, the monument was removed by the city with a plan to be re- erected in “a more dignified parkette.”
However, it ended up in a city maintenance garage where it remained for 20 years, discovered in 1993 under sand, which Andrews said some noted was the city “ literally trying to bury its controversial past.”
Two years later, the monument disappeared and the urban legend began, she said.
After hearing so many stories about its whereabouts, Andrews and students began researching in 2006, which ended with an official report from the city that stated Christ had hauled away the monument. Andrews corroborated that fact with a city maintenance worker, who now lives out of state, who said he saw the mayor drive away. But to where he drove is the pervasive question.
Bunde, sitting in the front row of the presentation, said he knows for a fact that Christ took the monument to Morton, as he was half Indian himself, Bunde claimed, and it was important to him personally to give the monument to Dakota people. Christ, however, seems to have fallen off the map since leaving Mankato many years ago. Andrews’ and The Free Press’ attempts to find and interview him have come up nil.
And even though in 2006 Dakota woman Vernell Wabasha told The Free Press she knows exactly where the monument is, she later confided to longtime friend Bud Lawrence that she actually did not know its whereabouts and simply “ wanted to stir the pot,” Andrews said.
In the wake of the relocation and subsequent loss of the Mankato Monument, however, great gains were made in Mankato in seeking out the Dakota perspective on the U. S.-Dakota War, thanks in part to a friendship between Lawrence, Dakota Amos Owen and former YMCA director Jim Buckley, who prompted a movement toward reconciliation.
The trio are credited for bringing the Dakota people back to Mankato after 110 years with the first Mankato Powwow in 1972, held to raise money for a new monument for the hanging site.
In 1980, a plaque was erected near the library that explained the hanging with “objective historical context,” Andrews said.
Sculptor Tom Miller created the Winter Warrior statue, which was dedicated on Dec. 26, 1987, the 125th anniversary of the hanging, which gave the site an American Indian identity, she said. And in 1997, Reconciliation Park was dedicated with the buffalo statue, another by Miller. Forthcoming is a second monument at the site listing the names of the 38 Dakota.
To see the entire story, go to www.mankatofreepress.com.