RCHS, with author and interviewer Paul Nelson, has developed a series of podcasts featuring interviews on subjects of historical interest.
Most recently, he and a team of historians have begun work on their March of the Governors podcast series. They’ll introduce listeners to each of Minnesota’s governors one by one. They start with a feature on Henry Sibley and will add more governors over the coming weeks and months. Tune in often to see what’s new.
All the podcasts are available here.
Featured image: Postcard of the Minnesota State Capitol. From the RCHS Collection.
March of the Governors
The “March of the Governors” podcast series provides brief snapshots of Minnesota’s governors during their terms in office. As you might imagine, there’s far more to each of their stories, both positive and negative. Thank you for joining us on this journey, and we hope you will be inspired to learn more.
March of the Governors #1
Henry Hastings Sibley
This is the first in a new series of podcasts. We call it March of the Governors because we will examine the lives and careers of governors of the State of Minnesota, one by one. We start with our first state governor, Henry Hastings Sibley, who served from 1858 to 1860.
Although he was no longer governor at the outbreak of the US-Dakota War of 1862, Sibley commanded US troops during the war and in punitive expeditions in the years following. He also organized the military commission that condemned many Dakota men to death. Ramsey County Historical Society acknowledges the negative implications of Sibley’s actions during and following the US-Dakota War. We encourage our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context of these actions and their outcomes.
March of the Governors #2
Alexander Ramsey did not have it easy. He was orphaned at ten and worked as a store clerk and a carpenter before finding his vocation in politics. He served two terms in Congress from Pennsylvania. For his service to the Whig Party, he was rewarded, if you call it that, with an appointment to serve as territorial governor (1849) in a cold place with hardly any people—Minnesota. He accepted and later succeeded his rival Henry Sibley to become our second state governor. His three years in office were nothing but crisis—financial depression, war, and war. The defining event of his administration was the US-Dakota War of 1862, something that has darkened Ramsey’s reputation forever. His policies had life-and-death consequences for people at the time, and the ramifications of these policies are still felt today.
Ramsey County Historical Society acknowledges that its namesake, Alexander Ramsey, called for all Dakota people in Minnesota to “be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of Minnesota,” their homeland. This codification of genocidal state policy resulted in the violent and forced removal of Dakota people from their homeland. To understand Ramsey’s policies and actions in the context of both the past AND the present, listeners may want to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following the US-Dakota War.
March of the Governors #3
Henry Swift came to Minnesota from Ohio as a young man, eventually settling in St. Peter. He was elected to the state senate and saw combat in the US-Dakota War of 1862 at the Battles of New Ulm. The next year, because of Lieutenant Governor Ignatius Donnelly’s election to the US House of Representatives and Governor Alexander Ramsey’s election to the US Senate, Swift was quickly elevated to the governorship from his position as president pro tempore of the Minnesota Senate. He served the remainder of Ramsey’s original term but declined to run for election on his own.
To learn more about the US Dakota War and Swift’s involvement in it, Ramsey County Historical Society encourages our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context and the outcomes.
March of the Governors #4
Stephen Miller moved to Minnesota in middle age from Pennsylvania, several years after his friend Alexander Ramsey had moved to the state. He immediately involved himself in politics in St. Cloud. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was named lieutenant colonel of the First Minnesota Regiment. He distinguished himself in battle and upon returning to Minnesota, supervised the imprisonment of 303 Dakota men and the execution of thirty-eight who were condemned for their part in the US-Dakota War of 1862. With Ramsey’s support, he was elected governor in 1864.
To learn more about the US Dakota War and Miller’s involvement in it, Ramsey County Historical Society encourages our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context and the outcomes.
March of the Governors #5
William Rainey Marshall
William Rainey Marshall could be said to occupy a prominent place in Minnesota’s list of founding fathers. He played a leading role in many of the seminal events that shaped the state’s early history. A strong opponent of slavery, he chaired the founding meeting of Minnesota’s Republican Party. He was an officer in the military expedition against the Dakota. He served with valor as commanding officer of the Minnesota’s 7th Regiment during the Civil War and was elected governor in November 1865 and reelected in 1867. According to contemporaries, he served with integrity and effectiveness and waged a contentious, but ultimately successful campaign for passage of a Black Suffrage amendment to Minnesota’s state constitution.
To learn more about the US Dakota War and Marshall’s involvement in it, Ramsey County Historical Society encourages our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context and the outcomes.
The March of Governors #6
The second of four Minnesota governors from St. Peter, Horace Austin was the state’s first governor to directly confront the increased power of railroads, the state’s most powerful business force. Noted for being honest and straight forward, Austin succeeded in regulating their rates after being reelected in 1871 to a second term by promising to “Shake the railroads over hell”. Minnesota’s growth and prosperity during his administration was marred only near its’ end by the western Minnesota grasshopper plague and the Panic of 1873. A lawyer, Austin’s political career began as a judge after his service as a captain in the mounted rangers’ unit in the Dakota War.
To learn more about the US Dakota War and Austin’s involvement in it, Ramsey County Historical Society encourages our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context and the outcomes.
The March of the Governors #7
The U.S. Dakota War of 1862
The US Dakota War of 1862 was a unique event in Minnesota history. In his recent book, Massacre in Minnesota, the eminent historian Gary Clayton Anderson calls it “the most violent ethnic conflict in American history.” It was a calamity that we Minnesotans are still trying to deal with today. One of the remarkable things about it is that all six of Minnesota’s first governors participated in it: Alexander Ramsey as sitting governor and the five others as army officers or emergency volunteers. To discuss the actions of these governors, we assembled a panel: Sydney Beane, a professor and filmmaker with family connections to both sides of the war; Mary Lethert Wingerd, history professor emerita at St. Cloud State University and author of North County: The Making of Minnesota—a state history that ends with the 1862 war; and Rebekah Coffman, director of historical programming for the City of Plymouth and a descendant of German immigrant farmers caught up in the conflict.
We encourage our listeners to further research the circumstances and events leading up to and following this war to better understand the context of these actions and their outcomes.
The March of Governors #8
Minnesota’s seventh governor, Cushman Davis, served only one term from 1874 to 1876 during which most of the state recovered from the Panic of 1873. Highlights of his time in office include amending the state’s constitution to allow women to vote in school board elections and serve on the boards; establishing (and a year later abolishing) a railroad regulatory commission; and providing limited state assistance to farmers affected by the grasshopper plague. A prominent St. Paul attorney, Davis is most remembered today as a US Senator representing the state in Washington, DC, from 1887 until his death in 1900.
The March of Governors #9
Lucius F. Hubbard
Possessing little more than a drive to be a success, 21-year-old Lucius F. Hubbard reached Red Wing in spring 1857. Unimposing in size and stature, the clean-shaven, boyish New York-born newcomer appeared a long shot to make it on the rugged Minnesota frontier. But by age 30, Hubbard was a celebrated American Civil War hero, rising from the rank of private in the Fifth Minnesota infantry to brevet Brigadier General, a thrice-wounded combat leader, and recognized hero in battles at Corinth and Nashville.
Lucius Hubbard returned to Minnesota as the King Wheat Era blossomed, becoming a grain merchant and mill owner before shifting to the state’s booming railroad industry where he found more financial success. He was elected to the state senate in 1872 where he emerged as a Republican party leader. Voters elected Hubbard governor in 1881 by a wide margin and then gave him a second term in 1883.
To learn more about Lucius Hubbard, including photos, see the brief MNopedia article, https://www.mnopedia.org/person/hubbard-lucius-f-1836-1913
March of the Governors #10
John Pillsbury, a Republican, served three terms as governor of Minnesota from January 1876 to January 1882. An immigrant from New Hampshire, Pillsbury made a fortune in the grain milling business in the company that still carries his name. He also had a strong commitment to public life. Serving in the state senate from St. Anthony, Pillsbury was a major force in the establishment of the University of Minnesota. As governor, he championed accountable and efficient government and struggled to find a humane response to the grasshopper plague that devastated thousands of farms in Western and West Central Minnesota. That response included opening his own purse. Pillsbury remained a widely admired public figure until his death in 1901 at the age of seventy four.
March of the Governors #11:
Andrew McGill (1840-1905), our tenth governor, served one tumultuous term in office after 13 years as state insurance commissioner. Because of divisions in the Republican Party and the strength of his main opponent, Alonzo Ames, he won by only 2600 votes in the election of 1886. After a moderately successful two years as governor, the Republican Party, doubting his ability to win, dumped him in 1888. This was the first time a sitting governor had been denied renomination. McGill’s post-governor career was more successful: He served four terms in the state senate and as postmaster of St. Paul, and became a highly respected figure. His house on Langford Park still stands.
March of the Governors #12
William Merriam (1849-1931) was the first Minnesota governor born into wealth and the first to break an unwritten code of the Minnesota Republican Party when he wrested the party’s nomination from the incumbent governor, Andrew McGill, in 1888. He proved a much better vote-getter than McGill (that year, anyway), but still won his first election with only 51 percent of the vote. The next time around he did much worse—he was re-elected, yes, but with only 36 percent of the vote in a four-way contest. With his Republican Party fractured and the legislature divided, he was unable to get much done in office. He did not try for a third term. His second act, as director of the United States Census Bureau, was far more successful. When he took that job in 1897, he left Minnesota and never returned. He is known, to some, as the Father of the Modern US Census.
March of the Governors #13:
Knute Nelson (1843-1923) spent two years as Governor of Minnesota on his way to becoming a representative in the US Senate, where he served for twenty-eight years. Nelson was the first prominent Scandinavian-American politician in Minnesota and in the United States. He immigrated from Voss, Norway, to Chicago as a six-year-old child and spent most of his upbringing in Norwegian-immigrant communities in Wisconsin. He made his way to Minnesota after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War and apprenticing to become a lawyer. As a politician, Nelson leveraged his dual identity as a Norwegian and war veteran to gain support from both Scandinavian and American-born populations. During Nelson’s long and accomplished career, he made what is arguably his longest-lasting mark as a US representative with the passage of the Nelson Act in 1888.
March of the Governors #14:
David Marston Clough
David Marston Clough was a lumber baron and politician who served as Minnesota’s Republican governor from 1895 to 1899. Born in New Hampshire in 1846, he moved with his family to Spencer Brook Township, Minnesota, in 1857. He was successful in the lumber business and moved into politics, serving as a city council member in Minneapolis, state senator, and lieutenant governor before his elevation to the gubernatorial seat upon the election of Governor Knute Nelson to the US Senate. He was then elected in his own right and served one two-year term before declining to run for reelection (and controversially endorsing the Democratic candidate in the following election). Shortly thereafter, he moved to Everett, Washington, to continue in the lumber business until his death in 1924.
March of the Governors #15:
Three-term US congressman John Lind, a traditional Republican with a stream of populism coursing through his veins, made a major political course change in 1894. Unhappy with Republican policies, Lind, the first Swedish-American elected to Congress, opted not to run for a fourth term and quit the party. Two years later a fusion of Democrats, Populists and left-leaning Republicans convinced him to run for governor. David Clough narrowly defeated him. In 1898, Lind returned for another gubernatorial run, this time cruising to a convincing victory. A self-described political orphan during his second run for governor, John Lind proved a zealous, highly-principled advocate for progressive ideals. This former Republican broke that party’s hold on the governorship that began in 1859 with Alexander Ramsey.
Spring 2019: 100 Years of the International Institute of Minnesota
International Institute podcast available here
In December 1919 the International Institute of Minnesota opened its doors in St. Paul to serve the needs of recent immigrants. One hundred years later, and still in St. Paul, it continues pursuing the same mission. In the spring 2019 issue of Ramsey County History magazine author Krista Hanson chronicles the first hundred years of the International Institute. In this issue of the Ramsey County History podcast, we interview the author.
Spring 2018: The Caves Beneath Our Feet
Beneath Our Feet podcast available here.
No one knows more about subterranean St. Paul — the caves beneath our feet — than geologist and author Greg Brick. In his new book, Minnesota Caves: History and Lore, Brick describes the many caves, both natural and human-made, under St. Paul — their legends, their lore, and their reality.
North Star: Civil War Stories with Daniel Bergin & Bill Green
North Star: Civil War Stories podcast available here
Ramsey County Historical Society and TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) have collaborated in the production of a new documentary film, North Star: Civil War Stories, about Minnesotans of African heritage who served in the Civil War. At the premiere screening, filmmaker Daniel Bergin and historian Bill Green discussed the project.
The Crusade for Forgotten Souls: Minnesota’s State Hospitals
Crusade for Forgotten Souls podcast available here
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Minnesota led the nation in reform and modernization of the treatment of the mentally ill. But it didn’t last. Author Susan Bartlett Foote has told the story, a story at the same time inspiring and disheartening, in her new book, Crusade for Forgotten Souls. She brings to life some heroic and nearly forgotten people: the amazing mental health worker Engla Shey, the clergyman Arthur Foote, and the crusading governor, Luther Youngdahl.
Spring 2017: Fort Snelling During the Civil War
Fort Snelling During the Civil War podcast available here.
The Euro-American phase of Minnesota history begins with Fort Snelling, starting in 1820. The fort’s busiest period was 1861-1865 — the Civil War and the Dakota Conflict. All of the soldiers headed south to fight for the Union, and west to fight the Dakota, passed through the fort. And over a thousand displaced Dakota were interned there too. Steve Osman’s new book, Fort Snelling and the Civil War published by the Ramsey County Historical Society — is full of stories you’ve never heard before.
Winter 2016: “Ford for the Defense” in Highland Park
Ford Motor Company podcast available here.
For almost a century the Ford Motor Company built vehicles in St. Paul, first on University Avenue, and from 1925 onward in Highland Park. Architect and historian Brian McMahon has now published a book telling the story of Ford in St. Paul, The Ford Century. And for the Fall 2016 issue of Ramsey County History magazine McMahon wrote an article about the Highland Park factory’s defense production during World War II. We talked with Brian McMahon about both themes.
Spring 2016: Mayor for Life: An Interview with George Latimer
Interview with Latimer available here.
He was sometimes known as “mayor for life.” George Latimer served as mayor of St. Paul from 1976 to 1990, the longest consecutive term in St. Paul history. A lot happened on his watch: the Town Square and Lowertown developments, the Dutch elm plague; the departure of big employers like Whirlpool and Amhoist; a population decline of 40,000, and plenty more. Throughout it all Mr. Latimer remained very popular; he is still popular today. In this interview you will hear some of the reason why: there is lots of laughter.
Spring 2015: Joe Rolette’s Famous Stunt
Debunking Joe Rolette available here.
For more than a century pioneer legislator Joe Rolette has been credited for preventing the Minnesta State Capitol from being moved from St. Paul to St. Peter. The story has been repeated countless times. But is it true?
In this episode, Minnesota historian William Lass makes the case that the popular story is folklore, not history.
Fall 2014: Prince Hubertus zu Lowenstein at Hamline/What Is MNopedia?
German Friend podcast here.
What can an anti-Nazi writer and intellectual, exiled in the United States, do for his beloved Germany? Over 70 years ago, Prinz Hubertus zu Lowenstein visited St. Paul and met Hamline University student John Larson. A lifelong friendship and flood of letters ensued. John Larson has now assembled some of these letters, from WWII and after, into a book entitled The German Friend, published by RCHS. Paul Nelson interviewed Mr. Larson at his home in Taylors Falls.
The Minnesota Historical Society has created a new venture called MNopedia: short-form articles of state history – including several Ramsey County stories – in an online encyclopedia. This podcast also has an interview with MNopedia’s then-editor, Molly Huber.
Summer 2014: The Murder of John Hays/Swede Hollow
St. Paul First Murder/Old Swede Hollow podcast here.
Edward Phelan was one of St. Paul’s very first settlers. Was he also a murderer? In September 1839 the body of Phelan’s cabin-mate, John Hays, was found floating in the Mississippi River. He had been beaten to death. Phelan was charged with the crime, but not convicted. Now, 170 years later, St. Paul author Gary Brueggemann believes he has solved the case. He tells the tale in his new book, Minnesota’s Oldest Murder Mystery. We met with Gary Brueggemann at Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul.
Swede Hollow is a ravine on St. Paul’s east side, and for a hundred years — 1850s to 1950s — a receptor neighborhood for recent immigrants. Swedes first, then Italians, then Mexican-Americans. St. Paul historian Steve Trimble edited the Swede Hollow memoirs of Michael Sanchelli for the Spring 2014 issue of Ramsey County History magazine. Steve Trimble joined us to talk about life in old Swede Hollow.
Spring 2014: The Saga of I-35/East Side Freedom Library
Struggle Over I-35/East Side Freddom Library here.
Author and historian John Milton tells the story of how citizen opposition delayed for many years the completion of Interstate Highway 35 through Saint Paul. And labor historian Peter Rachleff describes how he and his partner Beth Cleary plan to convert the closed Arlington Hills public library into the East Side Freedom Library in Saint Paul.
A Walk Through Gibbs Farm
Walk Through Gibbs Farm podcast here.
The Gibbs Farm museum preserves remnants of both native and pioneer life from the mid-19th century, right in the middle of a densely populated urban environment. There you can find farm buildings from the Gibbs family, an archeological site, re-creations of a sod hut, native tipi and long house, native prairie and an early orchard, and a one-room school house.
Who Was Harriet Bishop?
Who was Harriet Bishop? podcast available here.
Harriet Bishop is the only well-known woman among St. Paul’s early settlers. In fact, she may be the best-known of all. She was Minnesota’s first schoolteacher, yes, but what else do we know about her? Minnesota’s leading historian, Professor Mary Wingerd, brings us closer to the real Harriet Bishop — writer, land speculator, jilted bride, divorcee — a person far more interesting than our image of her as virtuous schoolmarm.