The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 30, 2012

Turnabout on ‘gallows’ beam

Hanging artifact draws historical dispute

MANKATO —  A thought-to-be-lost photograph has surfaced that confirms the disputed gallows beam at the Blue Earth County Historical Society is the same notched beam given to the state in 1881 by a Mankato businessman who bought the timber from the military shortly after the Indian hangings.

Last month county Historical Society Executive Director Jessica Potter announced the beam was not the original but was instead an old bridge beam and that the “gallows” beam had somehow been lost decades ago.

The county historical society website, in fact, now flatly lists the beam as  an “1856 Military Bridge Timber.” The website says, “Our documentation ... has busted the myth that the timber was from the 1862 scaffold.”

But Potter last week agreed that the beam in her museum’s possession is the original and not a bridge timber.

Potter, however, said she is still not convinced the beam came from the gallows used to hang 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato in December of 1862 in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. She points to discrepancies in old descriptions of the gallows, such as the size and spacing of the notches in the timber.

And she said she has no intention of publicly displaying the beam in this 150th anniversary year of the U.S.-Dakota War.

Proof that the timber is the original came after Minnesota Historical Society researcher Benjamin Gessner found a copy of a photo in a file related to the U.S.-Dakota War. The photo had been tucked away in the file in St. Paul years earlier by Minnesota Historical Society researcher Lolly Lundquist.

The photo shows the timber, the name of the photographer who took the photo, and a handwritten note that says the beam is from the 1862 gallows and that the beam was at the University of Minnesota at the time the photo was taken.

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