Milford Monument

Mr. Lawrence reflects on the Milford, MN monument to the U.S.-Dakota War.

Things to think about: 

How do monuments reflect the time in which they were erected?

Audio Chapters

I repeated his journey as you know, on that canoe trip when I was trying to write that part of his story, and I realized I couldn’t do justice to that story. And I told my dean about that and he said, “You know there’s one thing.” I said, “I have to involve myself in some way, it’s got to have a different meaning for me.” That’s what I told my teachers. You can go out there and tell your students something and they’ll forget it, and you can teach them and they might remember it, but if you involve them, they’ll learn. And I said, “I have to practice what I preach.” And he said, you know, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in all these years, that’s the river.” And so that gave me the idea that I should repeat his canoe trip. And I kind of figured about where he went in with the captives and how they went down that river and ended up at Fort Ridgely. It took us two ten-hour days to get there, and we traveled in the daytime when everything was visible. He traveled at night with women and children, and I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been to keep four canoes going, and we couldn’t even manage one; we tipped over twice. But anyway, I think during that trip is when I started to really draw close to who Lorenzo was. When you read books and you read stories they usually tell you what happened, what a person is. Writers of books are always strong on four of the five W’s. They always talk about the who, what, when and where. But they leave out the most important one, and that’s the why. Why did this happen, why did he do that? He didn’t have to do that. He could have took his family and went up in the north woods and waited it out. Why did he decide – two things – one is he obeyed his mother, and that’s commendable in itself, because I wasn’t very commendable to my mother in my days. And the other thing is, he saw the children and the women, he saw the innocence, the hopelessness of innocence and that touched him. And I could identify with that part of it because I’ve been in two countries that were war-torn; one of them was Germany, and I could see the look on the little kids’ faces when the German civilians would come up, and they’d kind of hide behind their parents and look at us with fear, bewilderment. They didn’t know what to think of us, were we going to be friendly, bad, or what. They had the memory of all that happening, all those bombs and everything had to be in their mind, and knowing that we were probably the ones that did that, and what were they supposed to think about us. And that fear, I could see in their eyes, and that bewilderment. And the other place I saw that was in Korea. And as hard-hearted as I got in those years, that used to get through to me and I’d walk away and I couldn’t look at those kids. It didn’t seem to bother the other guys as much; I guess you develop a state of mind where you don’t let those things – you don’t think about it – you don’t want to look at those things. You don’t want to look behind that, and so you kind of turn a blind eye to things like that. You don’t let it get to you. That’s the best way.

DL: Is this the sort of thing that you could – would you rewrite this if you had the opportunity, or let it stand? EL: I think this part of it is good. I think I’d just let that – there’s nothing on it, outside of just telling who was here. The word ‘massacre’ is on there. They could have said they were killed, but killed is one thing, and then being massacred is another. And so like I said, it follows massacred by the Indians, so that’s pretty much describes how they felt about Indians at that time, and pretty much some of that is carried through to our modern time. DL: So you would not suggest that the state put up another explanation somewhere that says: this is the language of that period, and take it at face value. EL: I think that some explanation is probably warranted. Rather than changing the monument or the wording on it itself, I think it’s good to just leave that as it was at the time because it’s a part of the history and it tells about the mindset of the people at that time, and that’s what you want to preserve, is that this is how people felt and thought during that time. ...... If I was going to do that, I would put a plaque that fully tells the whole story and explains that some of the terminology is related back to that time; it probably wouldn’t be used in our day.

 Well, I don’t think I’d pay much attention to it....... I just passed by it and passed by it until I read about it in my study of history, and then I stopped to take a look at it. And then all of a sudden it kind of dawned on me that something very significant took place here in history. But I think underlying all of that is this idea that these were innocent lives. And I look at war differently, in the sense that I see innocent lives… Soldiers expect to die—that’s what you go in for, that’s what you serve for, and you expect that. It’s not such a tragedy because that’s what you’re called to do. But when innocent lives are lost, just victims of war, I look at this and I say this is symbolic, you know, these people were just living here and they were made victims of that Dakota Conflict. And I see it as kind of a tragedy, maybe even a shame when two sides can’t come together and then as a result innocent people die. And that happens in every war, and that’s the down side that I always look at first, of the innocent people that lose their lives because different sides have different viewpoints and different ways that they want to deal with things, in particular, going to war.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Elden Lawrence Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Milford Monument January 22, 2019.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.