A commanding view of the US – Dakota War

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Historian William Lass’ brain is chock full of history.

He’s the fellow above in a photo I snapped a few weeks ago. I was in Mankato to talk with Lass for a story we’ll have on Minnesota Public Radio’s All Things Considered tonight about how the recounting of the US – Dakota War has changed over time.

Lass read 3200 pages from 13 accounts written about the US – Dakota War of 1862.

His review of them is the cover story in the latest issue of “Minnesota History,” the quarterly publication of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The best of the lot Lass says, is Kenneth Carley’s 1961 volume originally titled, “The Sioux Uprising of 1862,” re-issued and newly retitled, “The Dakota War of 1862.”

A quick Web check shows it’s widely available on library shelves around Minnesota.

The slim volume – 102 pages – is very good; a highly readable, wonderfully illustrated recounting of the war complete with a bibliography for folks who want to really dig into the topic.

The other histories Lass reviewed are remarkable for other reasons.

One of the first, written by Harriet Bishop, the St. Paul resident who started the city’s first school, attributes the war to “God’s plan” and explains the Dakota as “pawns of the devil.”

It would be 1908 before newspaperman Return Holcombe would write an account of the war which included an interview with Big Eagle, one of the Dakota combatants.

History runs long, wide and deep in the Lass family.

William is Professor Emeritus of History at Minnesota State University – Mankato.

He taught Minnesota History for more than 40 years. He’s the author of more than 100 books, academic journal articles, book reviews, and encyclopedia entries.

He no longer teaches, as such, but Lass tells me he’ll never retire and, indeed, he continues to publish books and articles related to Minnesota history, the history of steamboats and the trading practices between the American Indians and the settlers.

Steps away from where I interviewed Lass at the Minnesota State University – Mankato campus library is the Marilyn Lass Center for Minnesota Studies, named for Lass’ late wife, the librarian who created and managed the collection.

An admirer calls William Lass, “an inspiration. A smart, thoughtful and generous man, who questions standard beliefs. . . . ”

And, I would add, a fellow who is delighted to answer questions about almost any facet of Minnesota history.

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