The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
In his painting, View of Mendota, 1848, Seth Eastman has created a remarkably detailed portrait of Mendota, a settlement built in the 1830s at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Mendota was the home and base of operations of Henry Hastings Sibley, the American Fur Company's regional manager. Sibley, who may have commissioned the painting, was already moving out of the fur trade and into politics by 1848. He was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Territory in 1849 and became the state's first governor in 1858.
Eastman (1808-1875) was an acclaimed American artist as well as a career soldier. He was stationed at Fort Snelling from 1830 to 1831 and from 1841 to 1848, when he served as the fort's commander. In his painting, he depicts Mendota as seen from Fort Snelling, including the Sibley and Faribault houses, both of which still stand today as historic sites.
Harry and Mary Zimmermann, whose family had been in Minnesota since the mid-1800s, purchased View of Mendota, 1848 in 1937. In honor of their memory, the painting has been given to the Minnesota Historical Society by their daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, and her two sons. It joins several other art works in the Society collections by Eastman. The Society is deeply grateful for this extraordinary act of generosity and commitment to Minnesota and its citizens.
Brian Szott, Curator of Art
These are the words of the Olmsted County coroner's jury concerning the 1901 death of a Henry Schmelzer in Rochester, Minnesota. Mr. Schmelzer committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid, and the bottle containing the poison is pictured here. The bottle was discovered in the coroner's inquest file (no. 151) for Mr. Schmelzer, along with statements given by coroner's inquest witnesses. Witnesses included Henry's two brothers and his spouse, Emma. According to the testimony, Henry had been depressed for sometime about his failing crops. His body was found three days after he went missing in the unfinished basement of the new part of a Catholic church. The empty bottle of carbolic acid was found near Henry's body.
Recently the State Archives collection received coroner's inquest files dating from the 1880s to the 1980s from the Olmsted County District Court. Usually, a coroner's inquest was only conducted if a death was caused by homicide and suicide, or if the death was somehow suspicious. Not all of the files contain such details about a death, such as Mr. Schmelzer's, but coroner's records are useful for family history. The State Archives preserves coroner's inquest files, and coroner's registers and record books from most of Minnesota's counties. These records are available for use in the Society's Library.
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist
This collection provides wonderful documentation of how Minnesota celebrated its centennial and will be useful for planning the state's sesquicentennial celebration in 2008. The Statehood Centennial Commission records are part of the State Archives collections, cataloged in the Society's online catalog, MN PALS, and available for use in the Society's Library.
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist
Pictured are samples from a recent acquisition of 125 mug shots and 85 Bertillon cards which originated with, or were used by, the St. Paul Police Department. This collection documents the identification and incarceration of criminals thought to be in the City of St. Paul and surrounding areas from 1891 through 1911. "House sneak," "safe blower," and "swindler" were not uncommon criminal occupations, and tattoos, scars, moles and physical shortcomings were duly noted. One card in the collection describes a criminal as follows: "Walks slightly pigeon-toed, slightly stooped shoulders, round lump on top and back of head..."Most of the mug shot cards were created by the St. Paul Police Department, but some originated in other cities' police departments, including Duluth, Minneapolis, Superior (Wisconsin), Chicago, Kansas City, Fargo, Denver, and New Orleans. Most are marked "Personal Property Jno. J. O'Connor," presumably the same John J. O'Connor who was Chief of Police for the City of St. Paul from 1900 to 1912 and from 1914 to 1920.
Mug shot cards are 4 by 2 1/2 inches (pocket size) with a photo of the criminal on the front and the criminal's name, alias(es), residence, legitimate and criminal occupations, physical measurements, features and "peculiarities" on the back.
The Bertillon cards are 6 by 5 1/2 inches, offering front/profile photographs of the criminal and Bertillon measurements on the front of the card, while the back lists information similar to the mug shot cards. The Bertillon System was an improvement of identification over simple mug shots and basic physical measurements, and was a forerunner to fingerprinting. It was developed by French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon in the early 1880s to increase the accuracy of criminal identification by measuring certain bony portions of the body, including the skull, foot, cubit, trunk and left middle finger. This identification method spread throughout Europe and was introduced into the United States in 1887.
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist
Candy Kuehn's wearable art pieces are much more than just functional clothing. As a fiber artist her pieces reflect changing moods, passage of time and lively experiences interpreted with painted and dyed fabrics and embellishments of feathers and beads.
The Society's collection often serves as inspiration for contemporary design by Minnesota artists. In this case, Candy took her inspiration from historic costume fashioning colors and materials that can be seen in the elaborate draping of the mid 19th century or the mix of textured fabrics often seen in the early 20th century. The Society's collection is building for the future by adding the work of contemporary Minnesota artists from several venues each year.
Thought to be one of only two or three original copies in the world, the "Treaty of Washington," signed in 1858, called for the Yankton Sioux to cede more than 11 million acres of land known as the Yankton Delta - between the Big Sioux and Missouri Rivers - in exchange for a 430,000-acre reservation.
In return, the Yankton were to receive $1.6 million in payments or money expended "for their benefit," paid over 50 years. Yankton leaders agreed to sign the treaty only after they were given the rights to the quarry at Pipestone, Minnesota. The U.S. Senate ratified the document on February 16, 1859 and was "proclaimed" by President James Buchanan on February 26. In accordance with the treaty, the Dakota people have mined the sacred stone from the quarry, though the treaty obligations were never totally fulfilled.
"Thanks to the generous support of our donors, the Minnesota Historical Society was able to quickly secure a document that several other institutions were interested in acquiring," said Patrick Coleman, a Society acquisitions librarian. "It gives us great honor to house a piece of history that has such enormous significance."
Further information about of the 1858 Treaty of Washington, including a link to a transcript, is available in the MHS Library Catalog.
A resident of Winona, Minnesota, Lester entered the service in April 1861 and acquired his first taste of command as captain of Company "K" of the First Minnesota Regiment. His gentlemanly manner and skill as a drillmaster inspired governor Ramsey to appoint him to head the newly-formed Third Regiment in the fall of that year. But nearly three months to the day after receiving this sword, Lester's reputation as a man of untarnished honor would be sullied in action against the notorious Confederate cavalry wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The ill-fated event took place on July 13, 1862 when Forrest launched an attack against Union forces defending the railroad junction at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Taking the Federal camps by surprise at dawn, the Confederates quickly captured more than one hundred Union soldiers. With only the Third Minnesota remaining on the field, Forrest devised a plot to force Lester to capitulate. Under a flag of truce, he invited Lester to meet with captured Union officers in Murfreesboro. Forrest lined the streets of town with as many Confederate soldiers as he could muster, giving the Union commander the impression that he was desperately outnumbered. Upon his return, Lester put the decision to a vote among his officers. In the end, a secret ballot favored surrender, and the Third Minnesota was relinquished with scarcely a fight.
The regiment was paroled and returned to Minnesota to participate in the Dakota Conflict and subsequent campaigns in the South. Colonel Lester and the officers who voted for surrender were held accountable for the debacle at Murfreesboro and were dismissed from the service in December 1862. Disgraced, Henry Lester left Minnesota and returned to his native state of New York where he lived until his death in 1902.
The Minnesota Historical Society purchased Colonel Lester's sword at auction in March 2005. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, this important Civil War artifact will now be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
This article appeared in the Summer 2005 issue of Minnesota History.
- Lester's Surrender at Murfreesboro by Walter N. Trenerry
- Civil War Research at MHS
- Civil War Collection
- Christie Civil War Papers
- Civil War books
- Historic Fort Snelling
- Birch Coulee Battlefield
- Fort Ridgely
- Charles Bornarth's Civil War Sword