Time travel as close as your local cemetery.

Strike up a conversation — you never know where it will lead you!

October 21, 2014 / by davidwalton

That's me standing next to Winter Warrior, a limestone buffalo honoring Dakota heritage. Photo by Nick Weerts

That’s me standing next to Winter Warrior, a limestone buffalo honoring Dakota heritage. Photo by Nick Weerts

What a small world we live in.

As many of you know, I work for the U.S. Postal Service. Not long ago, one of the districts I support (Tennessee) named Theresa Hartenstein as Nashville’s 37th Postmaster.

Shortly after her arrival, I made it a point to introduce myself. I heard she was from someplace up north and was eager to know exactly where. So I decided to investigate – and boy, did I get an unexpected surprise.

Ms. Hartenstein was previously a Station Manager in St. Paul, MN. Before that, she was Postmaster of Onalaska, WI. “I was also Postmaster for five years in a small town in Minnesota. Perhaps you have heard of it. It’s called Mankato?” she said.

At first I thought I was being punked. Are you kidding me? Mankato (population 40,641) happens to be one of my favorite cities in America! I’ve visited there so many times I’ve lost count.

The Mankato Post Office is a historic treasure situated in the heart of Minnesota's fourth largest city.

The Mankato Post Office is a historic treasure situated in the heart of Minnesota’s fourth largest city.

One of the focal points of downtown Mankato is the Main Post Office on Second Street. It recently made the headlines when it was put up for sale; news I was able to share with the former Postmaster. She started talking about the building’s rich history. It’s one of the oldest operating Post Offices in the nation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building was also used to house Federal Court in the 1800s. A portion of the upper level is still in use today as a bankruptcy court. She had heard that some executions of Native Americans may have taken place in that very courtroom but said not to take her word for it. Instead, she urged me to do some research. She also arranged for me to receive a private tour of the building (a nice perk of being a postal employee) during my next visit to Mankato, which happened to be last week.

During my tour of the Mankato Post Office, I discovered the building's original 1895 blueprints hidden in the basement.

During my tour of the Mankato Post Office, I discovered the building’s original 1895 blueprints hidden in the basement.

Before the tour, I decided to take the former Postmaster’s advice and do a little investigating on the so-called executions. My first stop was the Blue Earth County Historical Society located a mere two blocks away. The information on the Post Office wasn’t as

Another treasure discovered! Postal Supervisor Zach Otto holds a portrait of rural letter carriers who worked at the Mankato Post Office in 1914.

Another treasure discovered! Postal Supervisor Zach Otto holds a portrait of rural letter carriers who worked at the Mankato Post Office in 1914.

detailed as I had hoped, but I was able to confirm the existence of a court on the second floor which was a start.

Next, I headed down the street to the Blue Earth County Public Library, where I met an extremely helpful reference librarian named Dana. When I explained what I was looking for, she sprang from her chair and headed towards the local history section where she began pulling books – five in all: “Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862,” “Over the Earth I Come,” “The Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota’s Other Civil War,” “The Great Sioux Uprising” and “Dakota Uprising Victims: Gravestones and Stories.” She also recommended the documentary, “Dakota 38.”

A memorial created to resemble a leather scroll bears the names of the 38 men who were hanged in 1862.

A memorial created to resemble a leather scroll bears the names of the 38 men who were hanged in 1862.

She knew of the executions – the largest mass execution in U.S. History – when 38 Sioux Indians were hung in the quiet town by orders of President Abraham Lincoln for their crime of killing 490 white settlers. The executions were conducted in the center of town and witnessed by thousands of onlookers.

Two years ago was the 150th commemoration of the hangings. It was marked by hundreds of Native Americans, many riding across Minnesota on horseback, attending the memorial. They gathered at the site of the hangings – Reconciliation Park – which features a 10-by-4 foot leather-like scroll listing the names of the deceased and a 67-ton buffalo carved out of limestone where I’ve been photographed. I walk by this park every time I visit Mankato since it’s midway between my favorite hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, and my favorite coffeehouse, The Hag.

The names of Dakota prisoners executed in front of 4,000 onlookers. The men sang a tribal song and held hands until they were put to death.

The names of Dakota prisoners executed in front of 4,000 onlookers. The men sang a tribal song and held hands until they were put to death.

Getting back to my Post Office quest, I thought perhaps the sentencing for the mass hangings might have occurred inside the Post Office/Federal Courthouse building. But that would be impossible since the hangings happened in December 1862 and construction of the Mankato Post Office didn’t start until 1895.

Although I was never able to connect the Mankato Post Office with the mass hangings, I was able to learn even more about the town where I hope to someday take up residence.

Until next time….

One thought on “Strike up a conversation — you never know where it will lead you!

  1. In this world of social media, people miss the richness of face to face conversation. Your blog illustrates that fact brilliantly; a conversation led to a better understanding of a city where you hope to move…it truly is a small world!

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