MANKATO — New York historian and author Walt Bachman is direct in his assessment of the Blue Earth County Historical Society and its director, Jessica Potter.
“I’ve dealt with lots and lots of historical societies, and I’ve never encountered another historical society like this that is just (involved in) out and out censorship.”
Bachman, who practiced law in Minnesota for decades before moving to New York, has extensively researched and written about the U.S.-Dakota War.
Bachman clashed with the Blue Earth County Historical Society a few years ago after asking for more information about a purported beam from the gallows in the county’s collection. He said Potter didn’t provide information and tried to keep him from writing about the beam.
“It was well-intentioned censorship, which is the most pernicious censorship — people who think they have a just reason for denying things to people,” Bachman said recently in a telephone interview with The Free Press.
“They were trying not to offend native people and to withhold things that may or may not offend Native Americans,” he said.
“History ought to be told with all its warts. Let the facts come out and let people reach their own conclusions. Deciding what people have access to and what they don’t — you’re tinkering with history.”
Ten years ago Bachman was in Mankato doing research at the county Historical Society. He provided The Free Press with copies of letters exchanged at the time as well as detailed notes he’d kept of phone conversations at the time. His experience is also part of a study on the disputed gallows beam done by independent historian Carrie Zeman. (See related story.)
During his research in Mankato, a volunteer offered to show him some of the Dakota-related artifacts in the society’s collection that were not on public display.