Driving back from the reservation, I cross a small bridge into Saint Paul. I feel the troubled waters. I think of my grandfather’s people,the Dakota. I think of how they lived by the water, how they made fire by the water.
During an 1883 visit to Saint Paul, the great Mark Twain observed: “How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary—but always whiskey! Such is the case.”
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, I was three years old. Two years later, my silver-haired father, Verne Cummings, was drafted into the Army. He was thirty-five and the father of two. After basic training, Dad was assigned to Special Troops, Headquarters Company, 8th Infantry Division, and spent the next two years in Europe. Dad always said he was assigned to Special Troops because he knew how to run a movie projector. Even though he had never finished high school, Dad was quickly promoted. After the German surrender, Sergeant Cummings led his squad to liberate one of the concentration camps.
In the fall after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, hundreds of Dakota women and children were force-marched for seven days to Fort Snelling from their reservation in western Minnesota. That winter, over fifteen hundred Dakota were detained on Pike Island below the fort. Under military patrol and with only thin blankets, the prisoners watched this wooded island fill with snow.