Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Minnesota 2016 - Fort Snelling

First let me state that I am a pacifist. I feel, and have stated many times over my life, that after over 5000 years of civilization we should have come up with a better way to settle our differences than blowing one another to bits. That being said, the idea suggested by my nephew of visiting Fort Snelling appealed to me. When I think back on our visit to Puerto Rico the 16th century El Morro stands out as a high point.

Fort Snelling stands at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. At one time it was the furthest outpost of the U.S. military. After the war of 1812 a chain of forts were constructed to repel any further Canadian incursions. The fort was founded in 1819. John Emerson brought his slave Dred Scott with him during a stint at Fort Snelling leading to an early and important ruling regarding slavery in the U.S. During the Dakota War of 1862 women, children and elders of the tribe were captured and kept there leading to the deaths of many of them. It was decommissioned in 1946 and fell into disrepair before it's designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The walled portion of the fort has been rebuilt and restored to it former appearance.

The sun was bright and the weather warm during our visit. A stark contrast to the cool and rainy conditions of the previous couple of days. The focus at the fort that weekend was World War I. Staff in period costumes stationed throughout the fort provided information about the era. The subjects ranged from weaponry to Morse Code to the women's suffrage movement. My nephew and I played chauvinists stating that we still questioned the wisdom of the decision to give women the vote. Our joke did not go over well with the niece in law. My grandniece was fascinated by Morse Code. After tapping out several random letters on a vintage telegraph machine the staff member told her she had just spelled "I,m going to clean my room."  That joke did not go over well with my grandniece.

One room held a display about the history of conscientious objectors during World War I. Although I was aware of the Navajo language being used as code during World War II I had no idea that this idea was preceded by members of the Choctaw tribe using their native tongue as code during the last days of World War I. The men were sworn to secrecy about the operation, only being allowed to speak of it in their old age. My own family history came alive when a staff member spoke of German immigrants coming to the U.S. before and after the war. My own ancestor was part of that migration. According to the family lore he reversed his first and last names in order to downplay his then unpopular German heritage, although I have always felt that his presumed accent would have given him away. I and I think my nephew, who was standing next to me, felt a connection to our past during that moment.

We concluded our visit by taking in the view from the top of the fort's roundhouse. From the vantage point of the 200 year old structure the modern skyline of Minneapolis appeared in the distance over the treetops.

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