Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A tractor so deere featured at historic ag show, Part II September 7, 2017

A snippet of the many vintage tractors displayed at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas, Minnesota.

 

DRIVING AWAY FROM THE RICE COUNTY Steam & Gas Engines Show, Randy and I reminisced about a long ago popular farming event in our respective rural Minnesota hometown areas. That would be John Deere Days, an annual implement dealership open house. At the ones I attended in Redwood Falls, families enjoyed a free meal of BBQs, baked beans and individual servings of ice cream eaten with mini wooden spoons from plastic cups. Funny how one recalls such details five decades later.

 

There were plenty of John Deere tractors on the grounds.

 

A vintage John Deere combine.

 

I found the vintage hay loader especially interesting.

 

I remember, too, going to the local theater afterward to watch movies about John Deere tractors and other farming equipment. To a farm girl who viewed less than a handful of big screen movies during her entire childhood, these yearly John Deere promo flicks rated as a big deal.

 

Not every tractor emblem at the show has been restored. I like the ones that bear the marks of hard use on the farm.

 

But before the film reel rolled, several lucky attendees won door prizes. Like silver dollars. Randy won a bag of seed corn. His dad, who planted the silage seed corn on his Morrison County farm, was likely more thrilled than his son about that prize.

 

John Deere tractors and related equipment got front row display space.

 

So what prompted our memories of John Deere Days after attending the recent historic ag show in rural Dundas? It was this year’s selection of the John Deere as the honored tractor line. I hold a fondness for The Long Green Line that traces back to my dad’s John Deere. There’s a certain comfort in the auditory memories of putt-putt-putt. Anything that specifically reminds me of my nearly 18 years on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm—and that would be John Deeres—yields sweet thoughts.

 

Identifying words on the side of a John Deere tractor at the Dundas show.

 

I really should tour the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

 

My dad owned a later model Ford, unlike these earlier Ford tractors.

 

Unlike my great nephew Landon who, at age four, is loyal solely to John Deere, I am not. My dad also owned Farmalls, Internationals and Fords. He, however, only ever allowed me to drive the B Farmall.

 

A leaping deer has long been John Deere’s iconic symbol.

 

Nothing runs like a Deere. That catchy coined phrase endures still as do the signature green and yellow and leaping deer symbols of this implement company. I appreciate those long-lasting recognizable tags that trace to my rural roots and remind me of my youth on a Minnesota farm.

 

Do you, like me, have sweet memories of a John Deere tractor?

 

TELL ME: Do you have memories of events like John Deere Days? Or do you hold a fondness for a particular tractor line? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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An innovative plan to promote literacy at a rural Minnesota library August 19, 2015

This shows plans for the custom-designed Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

This shows plans for the Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

IN MY HOME COUNTY OF REDWOOD on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the Redwood Falls Public Library is planning to construct an Outdoor Early Literacy Area themed to agriculture and camping.

The elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, just to the south of my brother's place.

A soybean field and the grain elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

I love this idea of combining literacy and outdoor play. And the themes are perfect for this community. Even though kids in Redwood County live in the heart of Minnesota farm country, that doesn’t mean they are familiar with farming. This is just one more way to keep Minnesota’s farm heritage strong, by teaching youngsters the importance of agriculture in a way that’s hands-on creative.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Redwood Falls is also a camping oasis of sorts with Alexander Ramsey Park, known as the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota.” The park is a surprise of woods, hills, river valley and waterfalls in this county of small towns and cropland. The camping aspect will instill an appreciation of the outdoors and recreation in this place of prairie and sky.

Geared for children up to age seven, the outdoor literary area aims to achieve seven goals, Library Director Teri Smith shares in an email:

  • Encourage a love of literacy in a developmentally appropriate environment.
  • Incorporate a love of reading, print awareness, letter knowledge, sound awareness, vocabulary, and narrative skills and comprehension in joyful play.
  • Cultivate literacy in a relevant way (using known objects and activities relevant to southwestern Minnesota).
  • Encourage families and young children to spend more time at the library.
  • Encourage play in learning.
  • Encourage play in nature.
  • Encourage a love of learning at an early age and throughout a lifetime.
Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

So how, exactly, will that happen? Young families can check out pretend produce, eggs, fishing equipment and even numbered and lettered fish from the library to use outdoors. And, as they play, the kids will learn about healthy living and agriculture and acquire literacy skills. The children’s librarian will model play and interactions in the outdoor space, Smith says. The library also hopes to tap into Reading Corps volunteers.

A place like this is needed, says Smith, because few areas exist in this rural community for young families to gather and enjoy one another’s company while learning valuable literacy and social skills.

Already, the library has raised some two-thirds of the $100,000 needed for the outdoor literacy area. An astounding nearly $51,000 has come in the form of 12 grants (one is a materials donation of fencing) ranging from $250 – $20,000, all sought by Smith. The largest of the grants came from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Two $10,000 grants also were awarded by the Schmidt Foundation and the Minnesota Legacy fund. Smith is awaiting word on several other grants and donations.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

And, as I would expect in a rural area, local individuals, organizations and businesses have also given their generous financial support to the project.

Smith has also established an online fundraising site at YouCaring. About a month remains to meet that $10,000 fundraising goal.

The popularity of a Minnesota Children’s Museum traveling Storyland exhibit which came to Redwood Falls inspired library staff to consider a permanent outdoor literacy-based play space. If all goes as planned, the custom-designed farming and camping themed play area should be under construction in the spring of 2016.

FYI: If you missed my post yesterday on Sibley Farm inside Mankato’s Sibley Park, click here. It’s another great example of how southern Minnesota is connecting kids to the region’s strong agricultural heritage and base.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Dari (not dairy) King (not queen) August 29, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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GROWING UP IN A POOR farm family with five siblings, it wasn’t all that often we got ice cream treats in town. Maybe Schwans ice cream in a dish or cone from the basement/porch freezer. But not soft-serve at a walk-up/drive-up.

Dari King in Redwood Falls

Occasionally, though, Dad would treat us to a cone at the Dari King in Redwood Falls. This was back in the day when a small cone cost a dime. But even then a dime was a dime was a dime.

Forty years after I left the farm, the independent (non-chain) Dari King still stands, serving ice cream and more to the next generations. How sweet is that?

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

“Mending generations of bad feelings” in Redwood County during “The Year of the Dakota” February 28, 2013

WILL THE DIVIDING LINES ever connect into a complete circle of healing?

A century and a half after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 ended, can the Dakota and descendants of white settlers, and others, ever fully reconcile and forgive?

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862.

The issues that divide—of blame and of animosity, of death and of punishment, of land and of banishment, and more—remain, sometimes subtle and below the surface, sometimes exposed.

As a native of Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota and as a descendant of settlers who fled their New Ulm area homestead during the U.S.-Dakota War, I have always been especially interested in this conflict.

So when I learned that the City of Redwood Falls on January 15 joined the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul in adopting resolutions “recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 and declaring 2012-2013 the Year of the Dakota,” I took note.

The resolution states, in part in paragraph two:

WHEREAS, much has yet to be learned about issues revolving around land, reparations and restitution, treaties, genocide, suppression of American Indian Spirituality and Ceremonies, suppression on Indigenous languages, bounties, concentration camps, force marches, mass executions and forcible removals; and…

For my home county, at the geographical center of the war and home to the Dakota, then and now, passage of this resolution reflects a desire to understand, to educate, to heal.

Now you wouldn’t think, after 150 years, that such a resolution would even be needed. Trust me. Hard feelings still exist. But because I have not lived in Redwood County for decades and am therefore only an outside observer, I contacted Redwood Falls Mayor and avid local historian Gary Revier with a few questions.

I posed this question, among others, to Revier: All these years after the Dakota War ended, what, if any, tensions still exist between the Dakota and Whites in Redwood County?

As I expected, the mayor, who could have danced around my question with political rhetoric, told it like he sees it:

To answer your question about tensions between the Dakota and White communities, I would have to say emphatically “yes.” I believe it is more of a trust issue for the Dakota. On the White side, I would have to say there is a lot of envy because of the success of the gaming industry among the various Indian communities.

When I hear from my fellow members of the White community, they almost always begin by saying, “I am not prejudiced, but…” They then go on to explain some good deed they did for a Native American or some distant cousin three times removed who they are related to.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers in Milford Township during the U.S.-Dakota War.

Revier, who also happens to be a descendant of white settlers impacted by the U.S.-Dakota War, endorses the resolution which calls for presenting the Dakota perspective through discussion; efforts by the City of Redwood Falls to promote the well-being and growth of the American Indian Community; and that such efforts “will mark the beginning of future dialogues and efforts to rectify the wrongs that were perpetrated during, and since, the year 1862, a tragic and traumatic event for the Dakota People of Minnesota.”

Says Revier:

I do support the resolution for many reasons, but the one that provides me with the most satisfaction really starts mending generations of bad feelings between the two nations. The first step towards reconciliation is admitting to the aggrieved party that there were atrocities committed. Once again this is more complex than can be explained in one or two sentences.

The mayor is right. Summarizing and defining issues spanning 150 years would be a difficult undertaking, especially in the context of a blog post.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.

Now, though, through adoption of the “Year of the Dakota” resolution, the City of Redwood Falls, in discussion with the Dakota community and others, is aiming to “open additional dialogue and create better communication and feelings among the citizens of both communities,” Revier says.

While methods of accomplishing this have not yet been fully defined, the Redwood Falls community has already hosted roundtable discussions, author visits, video showings, presentations and historic site tours related to the U.S.-Dakota War during the war’s sesquicentennial in 2012.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Additionally, Revier notes that when the city celebrates the dedication anniversary of its 219-acre Alexander Ramsey Park this year, the event will also be “a celebration of the Dakota who consider it a very special place.”  The Dakota once lived on the land (which eventually became the park) and the name Redwood comes from the Dakota word Can-say-api, meaning “where they paint the tree red,” the mayor says. A “101st Celebration and Ramsey Park Jamboree” is set for June 5 at the Redwood Area Community Center, according to the Alexander Ramsey Park Facebook page.

The park is named after first Minnesota Territorial and (second) Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey who negotiated treaties with the Dakota and was accused, but later cleared, of fraud in those negotiations. Revier is interested in possibly renaming the park, he says, “to something that would be more descriptive of the area which is home to so many indigenous people.”

This artwork by Gordon M. Coons, which was on recent temporary display at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center, marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. According to information posted with the piece, "...the crows, known as messengers, are silent and unable to carry the stories of the 38 Dakota hanged in Mankato. Each crow carries the name of a Dakota hanged in Mankato. The texture on the crows is a blend of acrylic paint and soil from the historical sites of the Sioux Uprising of 1862. The soil is from the Traverse des Sioux treaty site of 1851 and eight other locations of the Sioux Uprising of 1862."

This artwork by Gordon M. Coons, which was on recent temporary display at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter, marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. According to information posted with the piece, “…the crows, known as messengers, are silent and unable to carry the stories of the 38 Dakota hanged in Mankato. Each crow carries the name of a Dakota hanged in Mankato. The texture on the crows is a blend of acrylic paint and soil from the …Traverse des Sioux treaty site of 1851 and eight other locations of the Sioux Uprising of 1862.” Coons is an enrolled member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe of northern Wisconsin and now lives in Minneapolis.

WHILE COMMUNICATING with Revier and researching for this post, I noticed that the “Year of the Dakota” resolution passed by the city of Redwood Falls varies from those approved in Minneapolis and St. Paul. One difference comes in the number of Dakota who were executed, a figure referenced in the first paragraph of the resolution. The Twin Cities resolutions note the number of executed Dakota—those hung in a mass hanging in Mankato—at 38. The resolution from Redwood Falls defines the number as 38+2 Dakota.

I asked the mayor to clarify. Revier added the “2” to represent Medicine Bottle and Little Six (Shakopee), Dakota leaders who were hung at Fort Snelling for their roles in the U.S.-Dakota War.

When I consider all the mayor has shared with me and my own knowledge of the tensions that have existed in Redwood County for 150 years, I wonder how reconciliation will ever be achieved. But I have to hold onto hope—hope that this newly-adopted resolution will foster discussion and understanding, hope that each side can stop blaming the other, hope that forgiveness will come…

Gordon M. Coons also created this 1862 U.S. flag which features the names of the 38 Dakota who were executed during a mass hanging in Mankato. "...the 38 Dakota are woven into the history of the U.S. and appear to be woven into the flag," information posted with the display at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center states.

Gordon M. Coons also created this 1862 U.S. flag which features the names of the 38 Dakota who were executed during a mass hanging in Mankato. “…the 38 Dakota are woven into the history of the U.S. and appear to be woven into the flag,” information posted with the display at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter states.

NOTE: I contacted Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa,  retired former associate professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies who authored the resolution along with other Dakota people and supporters. He declined to comment.

To read the entire resolution adopted by the Minneapolis City Council, click here. The Redwood Falls version varies only in the number of Dakota specified (38+2) and, of course, in the council name stated in the resolution.

The Saint Paul City Council resolution differs from that of the other two cities as the city’s parks and recreation department  is directed to “work with the Dakota Bdote Restoration Consortium to identify, name and interpret sacred Native American sites at and nearby the sacred Bdote…” You can read the entire resolution by clicking here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wishing I could open doors to childhood memories in Redwood Falls September 4, 2010

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HAVE YOU EVER HAD one of those moments when you drive by a place from your childhood days, desperately want to get inside, but can’t?

That happened to me twice on a recent visit to Redwood Falls, where my maternal grandfather lived, where I attended junior high school and where my family shopped when I was growing up.

The first tour took my husband, son, mom and me past my Grandpa Bode’s house, located across the street from the hospital. Several years ago I had seen grandpa’s rambler and nearly cried at its dilapidated condition. Since then the house has been re-sided, so I felt better on this recent stop.

Yet, simply viewing the exterior didn’t satisfy my yearning to get inside. Had I been alone, I may have jumped from the car, run up to the house and knocked on the door. Honestly, I really wanted to see if the bathroom walls are still tiled in pink.

Caring so much about a bathroom may seem odd to most of you. But I grew up in a house without a bathroom (at least until I was about 12). I fondly recall bathing in grandpa’s pink bathroom, where my Aunt Dorothy would grab a bar of gold Dial soap, lather the soap into a washcloth and scrub and rub and scrub and rub and tickle my toes and feet until I giggled. Dial is still my favorite soap and the only brand I purchase because of those sweet, sweet memories.

After pausing briefly in front of grandpa’s house, we headed toward downtown. I had no desire to see the school where I attended seventh and eighth grades. My memories of junior high are of bullying and of tears. Those are two years I would rather forget. Besides, students now attend classes in a new building and for all I know, or care, the old building could be gone.

But I was interested in seeing Gilwood Haven, a columned, shuttered brick building in the downtown. I remembered, while on childhood shopping trips, going to the bathroom at Gilwood.

Are you seeing a common theme here? Bathrooms. I suspect this is tied to years of indoor bathroom deprivation.

As the story goes, C. O. Gilfillan donated money for Gilwood Haven after observing mothers and their children without a warm place to go into during the cold winter months while in downtown Redwood Falls.

Anyway, Gilwood Haven was built specifically as a lounge for women and children to use while their husbands/fathers were doing business. City offices and a public bathroom were located on the lower level. I don’t recall really lounging at Gilwood, but I remember walking downstairs to use the bathroom in this haven. Haven—what a name, huh?

C. O. Gilfillan, a wealthy and generous community-minded landowner from nearby Paxton Township donated money for the public lounge which opened in 1940 at 219 South Mill Street. He also gave 80 acres of rental land to finance building upkeep and to hire a matron attendant.

An exterior plaque on Gilwood Haven honors C. O.'s father, Charles Duncan Gilfillan, a pioneer farmer.

So there I was on a recent week day afternoon, longing to get inside the locked building. Not that I needed to use the restroom, I just needed to view this place of childhood memories.

But that wasn’t going to happen. This haven now serves as a meeting place rather than a public facility.

I had to settle instead for snapping photos of the exterior and wondering whether the fruit above the entry door is original to the building. And if it is, why didn’t I remember the apples, bananas, grapes, pineapple and pears?

Has this fruit, which looks like plastic, always been above the doorway entry? And, if so, why fruit?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling