— The Dec. 26 edition of The Free Press offered a few surprises for readers cognizant that the day marked the 150th anniversary of the mass hanging of 38 Dakota warriors in Mankato.
First up was “Call to Duty,” a story recounting the “incredible valor” of the men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, best known for their fighting at Gettysburg in the summer of 1863. Next up, “There was a mystique to the Minnesota men,” a story about a new book compiled by an “enthralled” Civil War re-enactor.
Then came an Our View column, the only piece acknowledging the importance of the day, but not without dropping a joke aligned with the edition’s colonial perspective: “The Dakota will come on their horses today and the whites maybe in their SUVs.”
I’ve written before that “Time and again, the Free Press re-establishes itself as a frontier newspaper” (1). It certainly delivered on Dec. 26.
Indulging in white hero worship and wisecracking about a Dakota lack of modernity on the day the new monument was being dedicated makes perfect sense considering what the paper anticipated printing on the 27th — images of Dakota people and quotes from them recounting past injustices. Such reporting apparently still makes whites uneasy.
Without the balance of a settler-oriented edition, some of them might even accuse The Free Press of bias. As with the textbook authors above, their journalists had to do something “to comfort descendants of the ‘settlers.’”
Bryce Stenzel’s My View column printed that same day demonstrates the beating history takes when representation gets trapped in this competitive, binary mode of thinking. Complaining that the “historical pendulum has completely shifted in favor of the Dakota side,” Stenzel laments the disappearance of the old hanging monument, a teaching tool that, in his view, was never properly understood by those who criticized it.