A Minor Change Makes All The Difference
Throughout the history of the United States, pioneers of the Western frontier faced the problem of natives already living on the land they were settling. Plymouth’s history is full of stories and documents that talk about this important historical issue. A huge challenge for any historical society is to make sure all perspectives are given a fair chance. Here in Plymouth, there are a plethora of documents that speak of the settlers’ experiences, but few that give the perspective of the natives. When we interpret this part of Plymouth’s history, we need to keep this in mind. This point became very clear recently.
While working through various family histories of Plymouth, digitizing them for the website, I came across a discrepancy between two documents related to the Frederick Radintz family. The two documents were copies of each other except for some formatting differences and a few word changes. The significant discrepancy lay in the following paragraph:
The Indians were quite numerous but not troublesome. A tribe camped at Gleason’s Lake in about 1855. After the Sioux and Chippewa war on the Minnesota River near Shakopee, the Chippewa came through the territory and one band stopped at the log cabin and stole all of the bread in the oven.
One of the copies eliminated the phrase “but not troublesome” from the paragraph. Instead it began:
There were many Indians in the area.
My initial reaction was that whoever copied the document must have eliminated this phrase to put the natives in a worse light and perpetuate the idea that they were consistently criminal and violent against settlers. This, of course, would be a gross misrepresentation of what I saw before me.
What are some of the issues with this viewpoint?
- First, there is nothing to indicate which document was written first. It is possible that this phrase was actually added later rather than being eliminated.
- Second, I cannot determine why this passage was altered. It is very possible that the author chose to eliminate it for reasons other than a personal bias. The phrase “not troublesome” doesn’t actually fit that well within the context of the whole paragraph since the rest of it speaks of war and theft.
- Lastly, we know nothing about the author of these two documents because that too was not provided.
In truth, little knowledge can come out of this discrepancy because of the lack of information we have.
The relationship between natives and settlers will continue to come to the forefront in Plymouth’s early history. These two documents highlight how important it will be to dig deeply and make sure these stories are told in a historically accurate way.
To learn more about the Frederick Radintz family, please see our Family Histories webpage.