Calhoun name change opponents turn to fake news

In the big scheme of things, renaming Lake Calhoun is pretty small potatoes, so the pushback after Hennepin County signed off on restoring the name to Bde Maka Ska is increasingly stunning.

You could call it Joe the Lake and it’ll still be the same lake. Nobody is required to change any corresponding names so it doesn’t really cost nearby businesses a dime.

So, again in the big scheme of things, the language being used by the anonymous group, Save Lake Calhoun is oddly intense.

It took out a half-page ad in today’s Star Tribune to declare a “shocking” revelation that the lake wasn’t named after the noted racist John C. Calhoun, but after “Lt. Calhoun of the U.S. Army.”

This is not a new claim, however.

It’s the language to describe those who favor a name change that is eye-opening. The group repeatedly refers to them as “extremists.”


Extremists blow up trains and marketplaces. It’s not a word one typically hears when referring to those who take part in the civic process.

From all indications, the assertion that the lake was named after “a Lt. Calhoun” is probably wrong. One clue is the fact that nobody seems to know the lieutenant’s first name.

Another comes from a 2015 Steve Brandt blog post in the Star Tribune in which a search of historical records shows no such person.

And what of the other assertion made by the Tribune’s mistake-prone editorial writer — that the lake was named not after the famous Calhoun, who was the secretary of war who decreed that a string of forts be built on the western frontier, including Snelling as the northernmost? The anonymous opiner posited that the lake was actually named after a Lt. Calhoun.

But the editorialist offered no proof, nor have those who have seized on this as evidence against the renaming sought by the more than 4,000 people who have signed an online petition. Two specialists in Fort Snelling at the Minnesota Historical Society stand by the South Carolinian politician as the lake’s namesake. One of them, Matt Cassady, searched officer rolls for the regiment that built and garrisoned the fort for its first 10 years and found no Lt. Calhoun.

Brandt researched the claim and found that the writer got the happenings of the 1890 action wrong. The editorial writer, it would seem, was confused about who this Calhoun guy was.

He’s the southern politician and vice president who defended slavery and southern values from the slings of northerners.

The only mystery here is who is behind

  • MrE85

    If they don’t like the lake’s new name, they could always Sioux.

    • Rob

      Not funny.

  • Rob

    Back in the 70s/80s, there was a wealthy Twin Cities-area guy who sent anonymous, racist letters to dozens of people. I think he was eventually found out, and he’s been dead for awhile, but these ads sound very much like the kind of thing he’d be up to if he were still breathing.

    • RBHolb

      Are you thinking of Elroy Stock? He sent the anonymous letters saying that God did not want us going around mixing races.

      • Jim in RF

        It wasn’t even races, just nationalities. A friend who was a non-public office drone got one of those. I guess he just poked through the paper’s engagement announcements and looked for instances of Smiths marrying Kennedys.

        • Guest

          Very True, after our engagement in the paper we got his letter about Norwegians should not be marrying Germans.

          • Rob


          • RBHolb

            I’ll say, wow. I didn’t know he took his racial purity campaign that far.

      • Rob

        Yes! Thank you

      • Tim o’Bedlam

        A friend of mine who had written a LTE to the Strib got a missive from Stock. This was years ago.

  • Erick

    “Lake Calhoun is the first victim of what will be a tsunami of extremist name change advocacy.” I remember when we had tidal waves, not tsunamis. . .

  • MikeB

    “The only mystery here is who is behind”

    The Strib advertising department is sitting on a news story

    • The GoFundme page lists an “Adam Smith” as the creator. I emailed him but have not heard back. They WHOIS page reveals whoever started the website worked hard to keep the identity of the owner secret.

      • MikeB

        Wondering about the standards on accepting anonymous ad solicitations and $. Anything short of legal liability?

      • Phil

        Adam Smith is really working hard to find people that share his opinion, after his call for people to oppose it last month ( ) I sent an email to Adam and the commissioners to support the change. Then, a couple weeks ago, I got an email from Adam with a photo of a custom binder he’d created, calling for people to send him 500 short physical letters opposing the change so he’d have a nice prop by a Dec 8 deadline. Now I kind of wish I’d pursued that further so I could send him a physical letter supporting the change.

      • joetron2030

        Domain privacy isn’t that difficult. Pretty much all of the major domain registrars offer it as part of their services. Usually for free. I manage our company’s various Internet domains and they’re all set in the same way. You can still email the domain owners through the privacy email address listed in the WHOIS registration information.

        In our case, it was to cut down on the constant junk mail (both electronic and physical) from competing domain registrars. In some respects it’s part of corporate data security practices to remove as much detailed public information as possible.

        Looking at the info, though, it was registered pretty recently (Nov 2017) and they must not plan on waging this campaign for very long as the domain registration is currently set to expire next year. They could definitely renew it in time, but it seems like a throwaway registration solely for the purpose of this issue.

  • Mike Worcester

    When the Hennepin County board voted to approve the name change — on a vote which was far closer than any reasonable person would have thought it should be — one commissioner (I won’t name them) said this was erasing history.

    Not really.

    Changing the name of one lake in one city in one state in a country as large as ours will not “erase” from history the very existence of John C. Calhoun. His story and life will still be known. It just won’t be attached to one of our lakes.

    And that choice was up to the people of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. A choice they thoroughly deliberated and made, no matter what assertions of fake news get thrown at them.

    • Jeff Johnson

      • Mike Worcester

        I was just trying to keep personalities out of my post but yes, it was Commissioner (and governor candidate) Johnson. 🙂

    • RBHolb

      It’s ignoring history to refuse to change the name. We have come a long way from the days in which men like Calhoun are honored. Changing the name reflects and showcases that progress.

      Which is not to say we need a wholesale renaming project of everything named for a figure in history. When that historical figure is remembered for his objectionable values, it is fair for us to make a public declaration that we no longer choose to honor that figure.

    • Lindsey

      Yes, but at the same time, changing the name of the lake because he supported slavery is very different than removing a statue of a man who fought for slavery.

      I support the name change, but because it is respectful and right to maintain and revise as many names as possible to reflect their Native American names.

      • Rob

        Not seeing the difference

        • Lindsey

          The name of the lake does not idolize him because of his position on slavery.

          • Veronica

            Why doesn’t it?

          • Lindsey

            Why does it?

            Renaming something like this plays into the idea that anything named after Washington should be renamed, since he owned slaves. Washington is recognized first as the first president. Calhoun’s position on slavery is not the reason he is the lake’s namesake.

          • You’re applying two different standards. In your first example you cite how someone is recognized. In your same example, you’re not using how someone is recognized.

            What if you applied the same standard to both names.

            So, how is John C. Calhoun recognized?

          • Lindsey

            As the Vice-president of the US. As a war-hawk. As a senator. As a proponent of slavery (not the first thing that most people think of, until this debate).

          • I can’t speak for most people, but then again I minored in U.S. history and the fact he was the leader of the original states rights movement actually *is* how I secondarily remember. Primarily, I remember him and Jackson for their plan to exterminate the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes if they didn’t agree to move West of the Mississippi,w hich, of course, they were forced to move.

            If , as you contend, that most people don’t recognize him for his staunch support of slavery in the belief that African Americans were inferior, and for his work in the Jackson administration planning the Trail of Tears, I would suggest that people aren’t that interested in history and that anyone who thinks Lake Calhoun did anything to inform them of history is nonsense.

          • Lindsey

            That’s certainly not how he was taught in history class for my generation. We were much more likely to hear about him as one of the greatest senators of all time. I don’t think he deserves the lake (I don’t think he ever deserved it), I do have a problem with renaming this one only and how that seems to show that the intent is not to respect our history but to cover up him?

          • // in history class for my generation.

            Right, once you’re freed from school and start actually reading scholarly works of actual historians, one realizes that U.S. history in American schools is pretty much propaganda.

            // t), I do have a problem with renaming this one only and how that seems to show that the intent is not to respect our history but to cover up him?

            This would be a compelling argument for me if someone making it would — one time — explain how this process works. NOBODY learned about the Trail of Tears, or the vice presidential record of John C. Calhoun, or South Carolina’s role decades before the Civil War and creating it…. NOBODY.

            So given that, how does it cover up history?

            History doesn’t come from lakes or monuments or bridges or any of that. It comes from the scholarly work of historians. That’s not changing.

          • Jerry

            It’s amazing how many things got their present names because explorers and surveyors were trying to curry favour with their bosses. (To use a politer term)

          • RBHolb

            It’s not just his position on slavery that makes honoring him objectionable. As is pointed out frequently in these debates, anyone who could afford slaves probably owned them, thus giving at least tacit support to slavery. Calhoun, however, was a promoter of the pseudo-scientific racism that was conjured up to justify slavery.

            Calhoun was also a proponent of nullification. Even though he died in 1850, his legacy provided much of the justification for secession.

          • Jerry

            Basically, there are a lot of reasons to not name a lake after him, and no compelling reasons to keep a lake named after him. Especially in Minnesota. At least Sibley and Ramsey have genuine important connections to this state and it’s history.

          • Lindsey

            Renaming this lake makes the slippery slope argument far too easy (although, I am for the name change, along with the rest of the chain of lakes to reflect our state’s origins and history, vs randomly naming a lake after Calhoun).

            However, it does raise questions about which things are worthy of renaming and which are not. Should we also not rename Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet? Or is it only when we find the person named after repugnant that we will revise the name? I mean, isn’t it just as right to rename those lakes to their Native American names?

          • // to rename those lakes to their Native American names?

            So basically restoring a name. One question: What was the matter with the original name?

          • Lindsey

            Nothing. I just have a hard time with the focus on Lake Calhoun, when if we are saying that we are restoring the name, then it should not matter if we find the current name pleasant or not.

          • RBHolb

            // Or is it only when we find the person named after repugnant that we will revise the name?

            I think that would be a good standard. When a name has been in use for a long period of time, it shouldn’t be changed lightly, or “just because.”

            I’ll put in a brief plug here for George R. Stewart’s classic work “Names on the Land.” The book is an account of how names were thought up and decided on. In some cases, it also tells why a name was not changed.

    • @Mike: I agree re: not erasing history. No history will be lost; only added to.

      My prediction: 100 years from now, when some student is in a library (however those may exist) researching the history of Minneapolis, they will happen upon stories regarding the lake’s name change. In those stories will be numerous mentions of someone named “John C. Calhoun” for whom the lake was once named and whose political legacy can be easily traced with some additional, and easy, research.

      Calhoun might well become a literal footnote in the history of Bde Maka Ska. But, neither his name nor his legacy will not be lost to history.

      • For the life of me I can’t imagine ANY scenario in which John C Calhoun disappears from history because a fairly irrelevant lake in Minnesota got renamed.

        And, let’s suppose that this fabrication of it being named after “a Lt. Calhoun” story were legit. That automatically takes away the “you’re changing history” argument because there is no history of a Lt. Calhoun.

  • Jeff C.

    All the more reason to change the name. If it was named after someone who’s first name has been lost to history and who has no family members opposing the name change, let’s use this as an opportunity to remember the people who were here first, who had their land stolen from them.

    • Guest

      GOOD POINT. I never thought of that aspect.

      On the other hand, doesn’t the name of our state and the two to the west do that already 🙂
      Land stolen from them: The warring between Sioux / Chippewa or Dakota / Ojibwe shouldn’t be forgotten either.

      Sometimes modern sensibilities are reason enough. See Coon Rapids named after a raccoon found in the river by pioneers, trying to rename itself because of the associations with the word coon.

    • // . If it was named after someone who’s first name has been lost to history

      It wasn’t.

  • Jerry

    I honestly can’t figure out a reason to not change it besides having no respect for Native Americans.

  • The fake news phenomenon works the same way as the climate change denialist one. A false assertion is made by one source, then the rest of the sympathetic outlets for denialist views reference it, or another site or blog referencing the originator. Of course Bde Maka Ska / Calhoun is a much smaller story than climate change with correspondingly fewer “sources”, but the idea behind this fakery is to keep repeating the lie and thus getting it referenced again and again on other websites, blogs, posts – whatever will create the illusion of legitimacy backed by numerous references.

  • jon

    How’s about we name the lake after who ever saved it from the extremists trying to change the name?

    Lake anonymous!

  • Nato Coles

    Even Andrew Jackson, who I despise, once said the two biggest regrets of his presidency were that he “didn’t shoot Clay, and didn’t hang Calhoun”. Calhoun was a racist, treasonous (threatened to secede over tariffs), odious guy, and the sooner the name of our lake is changed the better.

  • jon

    In an effort to stop the liberals from changing history (using the magical power of the lake to do so*) they have decided to change history…

    “It wasn’t named after vice president Calhoun, it was named after some one in the army named Calhoun!”

    If this is the case (it’s not) and if the lake does in fact have magical powers to change history (it doesn’t) then I propose we name it after Lt. Bde Maka Ska, the man best known for assassinating Hitler in 1938. I mean if we have a lake where changing the name has the power to change history (we don’t), then I say we take it all the way.

    *i hear there is a woman with a sword in there that can make you king of england… down side you have to deal with the brexit.

  • crystals

    I wonder what it’s like to have a life where THIS is the fight you choose to take up.

  • MarkUp

    1) There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of irrelevant things named after John C Calhoun, including an equally irrelevant lake in Knox County, IL.

    2) //You could call it Joe the Lake…
    Not to be confused with Jo Pond in the Lakewood Cemetery.

    3) If anything, this whole debate has encouraged me to look up the names we use on other parts of Minneapolis. The Park Board has a summary of each park’s/lake’s history, starting with a short paragraph on where the name originated. Many of them have gone through multiple re-namings; society will not collapse if this one does too.

    • Rob

      No, no — Lakey McLake

  • Archimedes

    Native Americans enslaved people from the lands they conquered and erased their history. What about the tribes that lived there before the Dakota? What did they call the lake? Native Americans were not some benevolant beings in love and harmony with everything on earth. They would have ransacked Rome if they were the ones with guns.

    • Jerry

      What’s your point?

      • Archimedes

        Point is that if you’re going to judge one historical figure with today’s standards then apply the same judgment to the Native Americans who you want to honor with the new name.

        • Jerry

          What is your attachment to the name Calhoun, besides not caring for Native Americans?

    • Rob

      Wow. Every Native American tribe practiced slavery? Hadn’t known that. And I wasn’t aware that anyone ransacked Rome with guns.