American History Gets Me Down — thoughts after a visit to Fort Snelling

American History gets me down. I have noticed over the past few years — perhaps coinciding with our going mobile and RV’ing all over the country — that I’m less and less interested in viewing historical sites.  The problem with history is that; it tells you what happened. Being retired, I have more time to “enjoy” the sites — meaning I have more time to read the legends and absorb the content.  Which results in becoming terribly depressed about the way we have treated the First Nations on this continent, the way we have treated slaves, and pretty much the way we treat each other.  Consequently, every time I heard the Tump slogan about making America great again I kept wanting to ask when WE are going to make America great for the First Time?

So, here’s my original thoughts as modified by a little post visit reflection…

We should have spent more time getting in shape before arriving in Minneapolis to visit Melanie and Drew!  Those youngsters (Melanie [granddaughter] & Drew[new husband, as in elapsed time not subsequent husband] ) are hikers and we are a couple of not-so-great walkers.  Still, they were very patient with Peg & I as we went exploring with Kathryn (our daughter) around Minneapolis and St Paul. I fear we held them back a bit on our explorations on Saturday, but I’m sure we weren’t any worse than how much my parents, or Peg’s parents slowed US down 50 years ago when we were the newlyweds!  I guess that’s part of life and aging — for a while we’re the frontrunners, and then we aren’t!

Fort Snelling is now operated by the Minnesota State Historical Society. We heard the interesting story about how money to fund the site has been batted about like a shuttlecock at a badminton game but that’s a story for another day, though it’s part of my disillusionment.

It’s hard to visualize the site area the way it would have been 200 years ago when it was frontier. Then it was all grasslands and prairies.  Now it’s thickly wooded and you can barely see where the river flows, much less use the site as a warning post for impending marauders or gathering armies.  Even thinking about the way in which the Twin Cities developed is hard to imagine.  We are more familiar with the area where the “kids” house is and that was once the extent of the city.  They live 3/8 ths of a mile East of Nicollet Avenue.  It was the first street to have had public transportation back in the day. Their neighborhood was a logical development in the history of the city, just as Fort Snelling was a logical site from which to protect what was then the furthest explored extent of the Louisiana Purchase and the U.S.  Settlers were still forbidden in this area when construction of Fort Snelling was begun; it was off limits to citizens.


In the realm of history, Fort Snelling is a “new” old site.  Compared with the military fort at St. Augustine FL, Fort Snelling is a relative babe-in-the-woods.  It’s been a place for an awesome 200 years; while St Augustine has been a fortress and city for over 400 years now.  History is all about relativity.  And that is what got me to thinking….

It seems that several of the men in charge of building the fort, and those in command of the fort even after the civil war were slave owners.  The details are all there in the plaques, legends and the spoken narrative by the docents.  Officially, this area was never part of the land where slaves were bought, sold, and owned, but commanders and public officials kept their slaves from when they had been living and stationed further south, and brought them along to their new postings there at Fort Snelling.

That part of the story kind of turned my stomach.  But much of the interpretive space at Fort Snelling is dedicated to telling yet another gut wrenching story,  that of the Japanese internment camps — or more accurately called Concentration Camps — operated by the U.S. government during WWII for those “suspected” of being dangerous; namely people of Japanese origin or heritage — whether or not they were born in the U.S. or were U.S. citizens.

By the time I reached the end of the display I wanted to sit down and cry;  to weep over the record of how this nation has treated the First Nations, and slave, and the Japanese, and today Muslims; how we inject our opinions on the world and have never been a nation of peace, but have wrought havoc on much smaller countries at our will, and served as armorers to the world. When I am reminded of how we have repeatedly treated other ethnic groups I want to say, “forget about making America great ‘again'”, let’s make it great for the first time!  I am posting just a few of many, many personal stories that were displayed on the walls.


Okay, it’s a nice “place” to spend a summer’ s day. There are fields on which to walk, and pathways.  You can see the river and enjoy the birds and the critters.  Little boys (and maybe girls too) will love climbing on cannons, and watching the little military reenactments that are scheduled.  There’s plenty to absorb if you’re a good citizen and proud of your country.  There are touchstones to history if you are a member of the armed forces, or served in them.  Yeah — it’s a patriotic site.  And a beautiful one at that.  In it’s way.  But I don’t think we ever dare forget the horror and the cruelty we exerted over our fellow humans.

If that was not enough, at the portion of the Fort designated as the Indian Agency the historical society has made room for a Native American — a member of the Lakota Tribe — to tell the story of how the U.S. treated Indians.  She’s pretty direct in her telling of a not very pretty story.  If your stomach wasn’t turned by the rest of the visit and you make it through her history lesson without wrenching a few times then I am afraid you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Much more to my liking we drove past the Wiseman Gallery, housed in an interesting Frank Gehry structure. I have a special love for Frank Gehry’s architecture.  He surely sees things the rest of us don’t and as compared to Frank Lloyd Wright’s structures which all seem to have maintenance issues because of his choice of materials and techniques, Gehry’s seem to wear their age much better.

So there you have our Saturday in Minneapolis.  Delayed by several weeks, yes.  Appreciated for what it was, yes.  To be repeated?  Well, not the Fort Snelling portion, but I’m sure we’ll be back to see the Weismann from the inside, and some day soon, I hope.



9 thoughts on “American History Gets Me Down — thoughts after a visit to Fort Snelling

  1. The statement ” Those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it” comes to mind here, Peter. As humans, how can we better ourselves if we shun visiting places like Fort Snelling? I would hope that you would encourage people to visit gut-wrenching historical sites, as it is those places that offer our best hope of keeping us from repeating our mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim, Perhaps I should have been clearer in expressing that my disgust is not that we put it on display, it’s that we keep repeating the behavior, over and over and over again without HAVING LEARNED from history already. We are talking centuries and half centuries here and now, in 2017 we are ramping up to treat Muslims not much differently than we treated Japanese and we still haven’t solved the racial bias that allowed slavery and continues to this day as white privilege.


      1. Human history has always been messy, and always will be. Yes, there are a lot of folks who treat others who aren’t like them badly. Those folks are vocal, so we tend to think of them as the majority. I see the current situation in this country as a tremendous opportunity for good to triumph over evil, but that ain’t gonna happen if we don’t educate through history as to what evil actually is. While I saw your post highlighting what appears to be a great display of the horrors of human injustice, I felt the tone of your text to say that your readers should shun such displays, because people don’t listen anyway. That’s just giving up. I would hope you would encourage people to visit Fort Snelling and have the same gut-wrenching reaction you had.


      2. Jim,

        I have been pretty clear about the fact that I write primarily as therapy for myself. I am not a cheerleader for the United States of America per se. And I’ve been writing long enough to know that people will always hear in what any person writes what they choose to hear. The current political situation in this country being the perfect example of people being able to find whatever they want in a day’s news.

        For years I wrote about whatever was going on; then when we started RV’ing I started writing more about our experiences as RV’ers; but it’s still the same blog I’ve been writing since 2007 — long before we started RV’ing and long before many people started following me.

        As for giving up… all I’ll say is that I don’t write about every thing I think; I don’t talk about everything I’m involved in. My charitable side is private, always has been, always will be. In many ways the activist in me is silent. I don’ like attention and I don’t talk about things I prefer to keep private — that’s what makes them “private.” 🙂

        People can think what they want about whether I have given up or whether I am a raving extremist — It’s not my place to decide what they think about me, nor to live my life a certain way because some people may take something in a way that I didn’t intend. The blog is for my own sanity and perhaps to share a little along the way and people can sometimes use something other than just good news, and just a pat on the back. Changing the way this country treats minorities — blacks, native americans, muslims, and many others including the deaf is not going to be fixed by people viewing exhibits at a museum. The problems are far more serious and pervasive and basic. The solutions may not all be simple, and they certainly won’t be painless. A pep talk won’t change that.

        I write stream of consciousness narrative. Sometimes it’s clean, other times it’s cloudy, occasionally it’s sticky and messy and ugly. But it’s still MY consciousness.



  2. It’s probably been 35-40 years since I’ve been to Fort Snelling. The story of the Japanese was not part of the display then. I see it as progress that it is now.

    It’s my experience that the Minnesota Historical Society as it is now is good at presenting all sides of a story. Some sites have had their interpretive signs replaced to give more balanced views. I approve.

    How can we help repeating history if we are not offered full views of it?


    1. Linda — I agree that it is progress. Perhaps I should have been clearer in expressing that my disgust is not that we put it on display, it’s that we keep repeating the behavior, over and over and over again without HAVING LEARNED from history already.


  3. I share similar feelings about US history and I’m glad we don’t erase the more negative aspects like some countries. I still enjoy visiting the sights and learning the history. The knowledge I gain may stir me to speak up when similar injustices are expressed against innocent persons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking up… Now that’s a good thing.

      Speaking up is rarely appreciated — I’ve experienced that numerous times… not everyone wants to be reminded that our national and personal coattails aren’t lily white.

      I don’t know…. the older I get the more warlike and hawkish this country seems to me. It really is scary.

      Liked by 1 person

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