Our Oregon friend Charley Thompson recently spent a few weeks in the area, catching up on things and renewing old connections. He grew up along the river in Granite and likes to stay in touch with friends from those days as well as a lot of relatives in the area. It was fun to have him back here for a visit. Despite living in the grand mountainous country of the west, he still enjoys getting out and around the beautiful Minnesota River valley and checking out places where we camped, hiked and had campfires years ago.

When he retired from his forester position with the federal Bureau of Land Management in Portland, he moved back to the city of La Grande in northeastern Oregon. He had lived in La Grande several years ago and liked the historic college town and the mild climate which is sunnier and drier than the west end of that expansive state.

La Grande is on the route of the Oregon Trail, near the Blue Mountains and not far from the beautiful Wallowa River Valley where the Nez Perce Indians had lived for centuries. They were forced from their homeland in 1877 as European immigrants and settlers moved in. The story of the treatment and fate of the Nez Perce is a sad one and deserves its own column someday.

Charley booked a flight back to Oregon early this past Sunday and we arranged to give him a ride to the Twin Cities the night before. He spotted a music event at Zella’s Restaurant in downtown Hutchinson on Saturday that sounded good, so we made plans to take that route into the cities and stop there for supper. A few good friends joined us there and made it a fun early evening event.

I haven’t been through Hutchinson in a good while but their downtown, which sits around a central square park just north of the Crow River is nicely alive and in well-tended. After the pleasant evening, we headed into the Cities in pouring rain and dropped Charley off at his hotel in Bloomington. The coffee-fueled drive home started with more rain but when it stopped we were nearly alone on Highway 212, west of Glencoe. Drinking coffee after 11 p.m. is a sure recipe for a wide-awake drive and a sleepless night but it was well worth it. 

Earlier this summer Jerry Ostensoe and I spent some time kicking around ghost towns and historic sites in the Dakotas and Montana. Many of these historic sites involved Native American conflicts with early immigrant European settlers and the U.S. Calvary. More than once we spotted references to the 1862 Dakota Conflict in our area.

During those travels, we often talked about the people involved in those conflicts including Little Crow, the interesting and conflicted Mdewakanton Dakota leader who fled Minnesota following the Battle of Wood Lake and the release of captives at Camp Release. He was in North Dakota and southern Canada for a time but by the summer of 1863, despite a bounty being placed on him, he had returned to his homeland in Minnesota.

Little Crow was shot and killed by an early settler farmer and his son on July 3, 1863. They spotted him while he was foraging for raspberries with one of his sons, a few miles north of Hutchinson.

I have, for a long time, wanted to visit the site and our trip to Hutchinson seemed like the right time. Jerry, having been there years ago, still had a good idea where to find it, so we left a bit early and turned north at Hutchinson for six miles and then a half mile west to the where a four-foot boulder with a rather unremarkable bronze plaque sits along the paved county highway. It reads simply, “Chief Little Crow leader of the Sioux Indian Outbreak in 1862 was shot and killed about 330 feet south of this point by Nathan Lamson and his son Chauncey July 3, 1863.”

The marker was placed there in 1929. Nathan Lamson who was wounded by gunfire in the confrontation was rewarded the $500 bounty by the State of Minnesota for bringing in Little Crow’s scalp. It was an inglorious and discomforting end to a fascinating and important historical personality. Little Crow’s leadership is an amazing story and is worth more study and also another column someday. 

Most of us don’t need to be reminded that there is an election next Tuesday. The constant barrage of advertising by candidates is one thing but the negative gutter-level nature that many candidates or their cronies’ stoop to is amazing. And it works. Americans seem to respond to the negative messages.

Sadly, for many folks that negative advertising is such a big turn-off that they avoid participating in elections. That’s a shame. The best thing that each eligible voter can do is vote. I trust that most of this column’s readers are faithful voters but if you are not, now is a good time to change that and show up and vote.

If you know someone who is eligible to vote but doesn’t take the time to show up at the polls, encourage them to take a few minutes to vote. If they aren’t registered to vote, they can do that easily at the voting poll locations and it only takes a few minutes.

It is important, and it is necessary. Failing to vote is not acceptable. Whatever the result, it is always good to have a say in what happens with all levels of our government. Be sure to vote next Tuesday.