Author Update

Author Colin Mustful has been busy this summer!  To begin, he published his first Online Educational Course on the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.  The course, published through Udemy.com, acts as an introduction to the U.S. – Dakota War by taking a broad look at the various people, places, and events leading up to and directly involved with this important history.  You can preview the course here:  https://www.udemy.com/the-us-dakota-war-of-1862/ or watch the YouTube trailer.

In the months of June and July, Colin made more than a dozen author presentations at schools, libraries, and historical organizations across the state.  Learn about the author’s visit to Blooming Prairie in THIS ARTICLE published shortly after his visit.  If you are interested in having the author visit your institution, please contact him at mnauthor@colinmustful.com.

Author Colin Mustful speaks at the Blooming Prairie Public Library

In July, Colin decided it was time to do some traveling!  Along with his twin brother, Colin did some hiking, camping, and sightseeing at Glacier National Park in Montana.  Less than a month later, Colin and his mom boarded a plane to Norway to visit some family and see the most beautiful country in the world!

Hiking in Glacier National Park
Lysefjord, Stavanger, Norway

In addition to all this, Colin has started Graduate School at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Colin is currently studying for his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.  This included a ten-day on-campus residency (July 20-30) in which Colin had the opportunity to workshop with other writers and to learn from accomplished authors in fiction and other genres.  This fall Colin will be reading books like How Fiction Works by James Wood and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  Also, he will be working with Howling Bird Press in selecting works of poetry to be published next spring.

           

Finally, Colin is continuing to work on his newest novel about the Sandy Lake Tragedy.  This tragic event left 400 Ojibwe dead in 1850 as a result of the negligence and ill-fated plans of U.S. Government officials.  Also, Colin is revising and republishing many of his YouTube videos regarding the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.  You can subscribe to the author’s YouTube channel here:  Colin Mustful YouTube.  Below is a recent video published by the author.

If you are looking for Colin this fall, you can find him coaching soccer at St. Francis High School, or assisting teachers and students in his role as a Para Professional at Secondary Technical Education Program in Anoka.

Colin Mustful coaching soccer at St. Francis High School

 

Visiting Students and Sharing My Work

I recently had the opportunity to meet the students of Waseca Intermediate School.  I had a great time sharing my work with the students and teaching them more about important historical topics.  In a letter to the editor of the Waseca County News, I was praised as, “a perfect addition to our sixth-grade Minnesota history curriculum.”

Read the Article here

Tomorrow, Monday, June 5, I am looking forward to visiting the students of North Junior High School in St. Cloud.  I will be speaking to students along with several other speakers as a part of their Minnesota Rendezvous.

I always look forward to sharing my work, especially with young students eager to learn.  Please contact me to set up a speaking engagement at your school or organization.

Confronting Criticism – A Learning Opportunity

Hello Dear Reader,

Two months ago, I received a negative Amazon review and I decided to share it with you.  I have received another negative review and decided it is only right that I share this one as well.  Although the criticism is hurtful, the reviewer made some valid points and good observations.  Rather than hide from, ignore, or cover up this feedback, I wish to accept it as constructive criticism.  In other words, I hope to make it into something positive.  The fact is, I have a lot to learn.  With that in mind, I will strive to be a better author, historian, and thoughtful member of the community.  Below you will find the reviewer’s comments as they were expressed on Amazon.  Thank you to all those who have taken the time to read and comment on my work.   I will continue to aim beyond what I can achieve.

View on Amazon

Colin Mustful’s book Thy Eternal Summer is seriously flawed on far too many levels.  For one thing, the writing is so cluttered with purple prose that it constantly breaks up the flow of the narrative: “Ten thousand eyes seemed fastened on Little Crow…” (this in a crowd of a few dozen people); “The room was oozing with people…” A room “oozing” with people? Really? Writing like this suggests that the author had literary aspirations but lacked the skill to achieve them.  When Mustful attempts to write fast-paced action scenes, his writing comes across as clumsy and amateurish, at best. At worst, it reads like a 6th grader’s effort to use words the definition of which he is somewhat confused about. But let the writing speak for itself: “They ran headstrong straight for the Sioux with courage and brash disregard for their lives.” (Does the author mean “headlong?”) “The Sioux opened up a ravenous fire.” (Not sure what to make of that one.) “In a great pack, the soldiers roared ahead with their bayonets thrust forward. Like one great force the men charged toward the angry and violent citizens hoping to influence their retreat.” (Because military assaults are all about hoping to influence the opposition to retreat, right?) First prize for silly sentence construction, though, would be this gem: “We were all exasperated as we literally ran for our lives.” A desperate flight from life-threatening danger would be many things, but exasperating?
Homophones present a particular challenge to this author; this book is littered with such missteps as: “Little Crow dawned [instead of donned] white attire including a jacket…;” “Like a Lord to his vessels [instead of vassals]…;” “The sites [instead of sights] of their rotting bodies… I had to turn my head at the site [ditto] of each…;” “his two followers let out a rift [instead of riff] of diabolical laughter…” It goes on and on like this. One could blame these rookie sort of errors on bad editorial work, but since this book was published by a vanity press which has a very unsavory reputation, it seems likely that the errors are the author’s alone.  All of these factors can be discounted as either the inevitable grammatical errors that show up in almost every book, or as stylistic points that are matters of personal opinion. What is more important, however, is that while Mustful goes to great lengths in his preface to tout the veracity of his historical fiction, he gets so many details of that history wrong that the quality of his research is suspect. Either he needs to do more research on the subject, or he is entirely too careless in his writing to support his claim of exhaustive research into this subject. When it comes to the military commission trials that occurred after the war (one of the most controversial parts of this history), Mustful demonstrates a thorough lack of knowledge about the processes of 19th century military law and the actual conduct of the 1862 military commission trials. Furthermore, by inserting a white protagonist into the trials, a man who was never actually involved in any way with this event, he detracts from the actual history itself and confuses the real story for readers who might not already be well-versed in the facts of the matter. This would not matter so much, were it not for the fact that Mustful stresses his reliability as a historian. If this book is to be taken as evidence, then his work does not support the claim.  This book is not well-written as a story, and it is rather bad as historical fiction. Mustful aims far beyond what he can achieve as both a writer and a historian.

Announcing a new course on the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862

Author/historian Colin Mustful is proud to announce the publication of a new course titled, The U.S. – Dakota War of 1862: A Historical Overview.  Published through Udemy.com, this online course offers students, educators, and anyone interested in this history, an introduction to the people, places, and events of the U.S. – Dakota War.  To learn more or enroll, please follow the link below.

https://www.udemy.com/the-us-dakota-war-of-1862/

St. James and the U.S. – Dakota War

During the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, the town of St. James had yet to be founded and the Watonwan County was not heavily settled.  Until 1860, Watonwan County was still a part of Brown County.  Those living in the area were a part of the Rosendale settlement.  The nearest town was Madelia while a trip to Mankato at the time took five to seven days round-trip.

1895 map of Watonwan County and surrounding area

When news of the war reached Watonwan County in August of 1862, the settlers turned their minds to fight or flight.  Fort Cox was quickly erected in Madelia to protect the settlers.  Those that remained upon their settlements were threatened as the Dakota attacked several locations throughout Watonwan County.  One such attack took place at the home of Nils Torsen.  Here was gathered Jacob Thorvaldsen, George Knudson, and Maria Torsen Overig.  Knudson and Overig managed to hide in a cornfield and then fled by cover of darkness to Madelia.  Meanwhile, Thorvaldsen ran for the cover of the woods and followed the river to Madelia.  A settler named Ole Jorgensen, who had helped provide safety for Knudson and Overig, was later shot by Dakota men as he went out seeking horses.  Jorgensen managed to conceal himself in slough where he was later picked up safely by a  party of U.S. soldiers.

After the war had ended, more soldiers were sent and more stockades were built at Madelia, Lake Hanska, North Branch, and Long Lake.  With the stockades built and protection established, the settlers decided it was safe to return to their homes.  However, in April of 1863 a small group of Dakota launched a raid at Long Lake which resulted in the death of  five men while wounding several others.  Ole Palme and Gabriel Ellingson were attacked and killed near Kansas Lake while returning from fishing and trapping.  At Long Lake, Guldorand Palmeson was killed.  Then, at the home of Salve Torgenson, the Dakota killed a soldier named Monson, who had been hired for protection, while severely wounding Mrs. Torgenson.  After this tragedy the settlement was wholly abandoned until 1866, when peace and safety were completely restored.

1874 Map of Watonwan County

As for the city of St. James, it was not founded until eight years after the war in 1870.  This was thanks wholly to the expansion of the railroad.  In 1867, the directors of the Sioux City and St. Paul railroads decided to complete a line between the two cities which was to be operated in two divisions.  The division point was set as the center of Watonwan County.  That central point became known as St. James and the railroad was completed there in June, 1870.  In July, 1870, a town had been laid out and on July 18, the first building had been constructed.  Then, “buildings went up as if by magic, and in six weeks time, the town was built.”

Front Street, St. James, 1880-1881; courtesy of MNHS

Sources:

“History:  Naming and Settlement,” City of St. James, Minnesota, (Accessed May 18, 2017), http://www.ci.stjames.mn.us/index.aspx?nid=155.

“Study Resource Guide US – Dakota War of 1862 Watonwan County,” US Dakota War 1862 Minnesota County by County, (Accessed May 18, 2017), http://www.usdakotawarmncountybycounty.com/county/watonwan-county-us-dakota-war.pdf.

John A. Brown, History of Cottonwood and Watonwan Counties, Vol. 1, (Indianapolis, Indiana:  B.F. Bowen & Company, Inc., 1916).

Local History: Reads Landing

In 1830, the United States government met with members of the Dakota, Sac, and Winnebago tribes at Prairie du Chien in hopes of negotiating a peace between them.  As a provision in the treaty, a parcel of land west of Lake Pepin was set aside for Dakota “half-breeds” as they were called at the time.  The land, which runs between present day Red Wing and Wabasha, was meant only for those of mixed Dakota heritage.

The “Half-Breed Tract” remained largely unsettled until 1851 when the Dakota sold their land west of the Mississippi River in the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota.  Although the treaties allowed for the repurchase of the Half-Breed Tract, this provision was stricken out by Congress.  But, this did not prevent settlers from illegally squatting on that land.  Although their claims came into question, the government was unable to remove the illegal squatters and offered the “half-breed” claimants exchanging scrip which they could use to obtain up to 640 acres of unsurveyed federal lands.  However, much of the exchanging scrip was illegally bought up by land speculators.

The Half-Breed Tract 320,000 acres west of Lake Pepin set aside for Dakota Half-Breeds

Within the “Half-Breed Tract” was Read’s Landing, located at the foot of Lake Pepin and near the confluence of the Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers.  Because of its convenient location, Read’s Landing was a meeting place for all river travelers, both Indian and white.  The first trading post on the spot was established by Augustine Rocque in the early 1800s.  But the name of the area was taken from Charles R. Read, who established a trading post at the spot in 1847.

Wabasha’s Village on the Mississippi by Seth Eastman, Courtesy of MNHS

Read was an adventurous young Englishman who moved to the region at just ten years of age.  In 1839, Read served in the American army in the Indian Territory of Texas which made him acquainted with Native American character.  In 1844, he began working for the traders Nelson and Churchill on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin at the mouth of the Chippewa River.  In 1847, he established his own post on the opposite, or, Minnesota side, which angered Dakota leaders like Wabasha and Little Crow.

Then, in 1850, a Mr. S.F. Richards came to Read’s Landing and opened trade with the native people and also supplied the lumber camps up the Chippewa Valley.  This was the impetus that sparked major growth and made Read’s Landing a place of some note.  As the volume of the lumber trade along the Chippewa and its tributaries increased from year to year, the volume of trade at Read’s Landing increased until its yearly aggregate was out of all proportion to the size of the town.  It was in fact the Mississippi landing for all the supplies necessary to provision, clothe and equip the lumber camps and mills, and employees connected by waterway.

Read’s Landing, 1870, Courtesy of MNHS

But, the growth and prosperity of Read’s Landing was short-lived.  The first major setback was the Western Wisconsin railway to Eau Claire completed in 1870.  The railways were utilized by the lumber camps as a source of distribution rather than the waterways.  The railroads were quicker and could be used throughout the long winter months, unlike the waterways which froze over.  The final stroke that put a definitive end to Read’s Landing as a commercial center was the completion of the Chippewa Valley railroad to Wabasha in 1882.

According to historian Dr. L.H. Bunnell, Reads Landing had one consolation in her decay – “She has not lost ground by any penny-wise pound-foolish policy of her citizens, individually or collectively.  She has been the victim of circumstances over which she had no control.  No human prescience could have averted the destiny upon which she has fallen.  She could no more prevent the tide of business from following the channels of necessity, and flowing  where the lumber rafts crowd the streams, than could old Wahpashaw prevent the passing away of his people from the homes long enjoyed by them on the shores of the great Father of Waters.”

Sources:

Dr. L.H. Bunnell, History of Wabasha County, “Chapter 10:  Pepin Township,” http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mnwabbio/ch10.htm (accessed May 10, 2017).

Johnson, Frederick. “”Half-Breed” Tract and Scrip.” MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/half-breed-tract-and-scrip (accessed May 10, 2017).

Jerome Christenson, Winona Daily News, “Read’s Landing:  Once a Booming Metropolis,” published April 6, 2016, http://www.winonadailynews.com/special-section/pieces-of-the-past/reads-landing-once-a-booming-metropolis/article_4227f13a-921e-57d3-b6b9-87d0bf3e2419.html, (accessed May 10, 2017).

Stories from the U.S. – Dakota War – Sauk River Valley

When war broke out in Minnesota in 1862, there was a great deal of panic that swept throughout the state.  Once news of the attacks was received, residents moved quickly to larger settlements and forts for safety.  When large settlements or forts were not nearby, they formed their own stockades and temporary forts.  Much is known of the major events endured during the U.S. – Dakota War, but much less is known about smaller events and communities where people bound together for safety and protection.  One such community was the Sauk River Valley in central Minnesota.

The Sauk River Valley was settled in 1854 by German Catholics who came at the urging the Reverend Francis Pierz, an Indian missionary.  A few years later, they were followed by Benedictine monks who established St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.  Frontier life was difficult as settlers had to endure harsh winters, calamitous grasshopper plagues, and famine.

On August 20, 1862, news of the outbreak of war had reached the Sauk River Valley.  Settlers immediately fled to the areas of Richmond, St. Joseph, St. Cloud, and even St. Paul.  Many had great concern that the nearby Ojibwe would join the war effort and doom the settlers.  But the Benedictine Monks acted quickly to protect the settlers and were instrumental in assisting the various settlements with plans for defense.   At Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Richmond, Father Magnus Mayer engineered the protection of the parishioners.  Father Magnus opened the church and had the surrounding prairie plowed under and a seven foot high earthen works erected.  Also, loopholes were put in the ramparts at intervals.

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, courtesy of Stearns County Historical Society

Though the stockade offered limited protection, the people worked together to ensure their safety.  Many of the women and girls were trained to cast bullets while the men, under armed cover, went from one field to the other to collect the harvest.  When Father Bruno Riess arrived, he furthered the protection by making a list of all available fighting men, had officers chosen, and reported to the Governor that there was an immediate need for arms and ammunition.  After a few weeks, the settlers were ready to return to their homes, but then one evening a dozen families arrived with news of a slaughter not five miles from Richmond.  This happened to be a freight wagon of merchants traveling from Pembina to St. Cloud in which three were killed.

Father Magnus Mayer, courtesy of St. John’s Abbey
Father Bruno Riess, courtesy of St. John’s Abbey

By this time Company G. of the 25th Wisconsin Regiment arrived at Richmond to provide relief.  However, as reported by Father Riess, for some mysterious reason patrols of troops sent out to scout never came back alive.  One night, after the Captain of the Company had been slain, Company G departed never to come back.

It is likely, however, that the men of Company G had become sick with measles.  Rather than having been killed, they were sent to the hospital in St. Cloud.  Chauncey H. Cooke of Company G. in a letter to his mother October 20, 1862, reported that he and ten of his comrades were laid up.

By October, the war in Minnesota had ended and people began to return to their homes.  The Sauk River Valley did not face any major attacks during the war, but showed bravery and resilience in a time of panic and fear.  This was thanks in large part to the Catholic ministers like Magnus Mayer and Bruno Riess who helped found the region.

Sources:

Wedl, Janice and Mary Alice Wedl Keenan.  You are my People, I am Your God:  History of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Richmond, Minnesota, 1856-2006.   Richmond, Minnesota:  The Church, 2006.

Historical Information, St. James Parish, Jacobs Prairie, Minnesota, accessed May 1, 2017, https://stjamesjp.wordpress.com/historical-information/

Cooke, Chauncey H.  “A Badger Boy in Blue:  The Letters of Chauncey H. Cooke.”  Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 4, No. 1. (1920-1921): Pages 75-100.

A Negative Review

Hello,

I typically reserve my blog for historical blurbs and promotional information. Today I’d like to share with you a starkly negative review I recently received on Amazon for my novel, Ceding Contempt.  I’d like to share this with you for two reasons.  First, I do not wish to hide from my criticism.  I may not like it, but I seek to accept it and learn from it.  Second, I wish to better define for readers what my work is and what it is not.  This review and my response to it, will give you a better idea of what my work represents and whether or not it is for you.  If you have already read my work, I encourage you to leave a review of your own, positive or negative.  This will help me know my audience and how I can better accommodate that audience.

Two Star Rating by History Reader, March 29, 2017
Not a convincing portrayal of the negotiations nor of FB Meyer

I had not planned to review this book. I don’t like raining on any one’s parade, especially someone trying to make a living at historical fiction, but while the author presents many of the unconscionable and /or unethical efforts on the part of traders, half bloods, the state of MN, and a US treaty commission to buy Dakota lands, the book’s plot did not show the full complexity of the history of the treaty negotiations and often misleads those not familiar with the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. The line of reasoning struck me as simplistic.

The US held most of the cards in the negotiation of these treaties. The Dakota, with lands that they had depleted by an unsustainable harvest of trapping and hunting for food and trade, were on the edge of starvation and had been there, off and on, for decades. They had little chance with, or knowledge of the complexity and sophistication of treaty/legislative deliberations except to walk out on any treaty with which they felt uncomfortable with. I wish that they had for their own sake but instead, they agreed, willingly, to the price offered. The young Mdewakantons at Mendota failed to shoot Little Crow and other chieftains who signed the treaty, as they earlier threatened to do, but apparently did not later hold him partly responsible for their plight in 1862. While the author states that hunger played part in the acceptance of the treaty by the Dakota, responsibility for the plight of the Dakota is not shared along with the Office of Indian Afffairs/Department of the Interior and others.

In addition, a 19th C Frank Blackwell Meyer is imbued with a 21st C mindset, stating thoughts and opinions that would probably not be said or even conceived by even the most sympathetic in the 19th C. It sounded odd like reruns of “Dr Quinn Medicine Woman”. No one at that time would have been concerned with destruction of this “vibrant culture” (I cannot recall Mr Mustful’s exact words but something to this effect) much less express it in these terms. This Meyer was a contemporary 21st C person sent back in time via a time warp.

Its also odd that the author’s FB Meyer showed little thought about his career or purpose for coming out to paint and draw natives “in the wild”, as it was often done by other painters of the 19th C. His career as a history/ genre painter rests on this experience on the frontier and yet he is rapidly drawn into the politics and undercurrents of the treaty by near strangers who somehow feel free to “bare their souls” to him, including a Dakota boy who is 8 or so, going on 65 years of age. Young, aspiring FB Meyer seemed to forget why he was there. It just was not convincing.

I hope that Mr Mustful will redouble his efforts to tell the whole story in future novels with more convincing period characters.

My response, posted April 4, 2017

Hello, History Reader! Thank you so much for your thorough review of my novel, Ceding Contempt. While your observations are articulate and accurate I’d like readers to know that we do not share the same goals through this work. As stated in my author’s note, “This is not the conclusive source on these historical events.” It is meant as an introduction through the use of fiction. You are absolutely right that Mayer expresses thoughts and opinions that would not be said or even conceived by a person in the 19th Century. He is me. He is expressing my own thoughts and opinions. Again, as stated in my author’s note “I am not without bias. I come to you with my own set of experiences and perspectives, something from which I cannot divorce myself. But I have, to the best of my knowledge and ability, written something that is informative and entertaining. It is a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, utilizing elements of both.”

These prefaces do not exempt me from giving the reader an appropriate and necessary level of historical integrity, but it should temper the expectations of readers seeking historical fact through this one source. Rather, my intention was to create an intriguing story that is relatable and just captivating enough to get people thinking. I wish to introduce the history while giving the reader the tools to seek out the truth for themselves. Furthermore, I intentionally sought to express modern nomenclature in order to make the novel more palatable to younger readers in the education system, especially in regard to the sensitivity of these issues. I did not wish to detract in any way from historical references by using language or terms that are now considered antiquated or unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this does, in some ways, have the effect of “sparing us from history.”

Regarding the situation of the Dakota at that time, again you are accurate in your description though some might argue. However, as stated previously, we have different goals. The weeks spent at Traverse des Sioux, as far as I can tell, were a time of celebration, pride, and ostentatiousness for the Dakota people. It was a fleeting opportunity for the Dakota to show off their traditional ways of life. In his journal, Mayer was particularly observant and fond of these displays of traditional Dakota living. I decided, through my writing, to express the side of the Dakota that was witnessed at Traverse des Sioux, rather than the poor and wretched conditions and influences that had steadily destroyed and collapsed the Dakota people and their ability/tools for treaty negotiation. However, through Mayer’s (implausible) interviews I still sought to show the reality of the Native condition.

You are right, this is not a period history despite being set in 1851. It is my hope that it is an entertaining though fictionalized story that introduces readers to the people and places involved in this history. I also hope to elicit in readers the same thoughts and emotions and stark revelations through reading this novel as I had in researching it.

I will continue my work. I am currently writing a novel about the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. I will also be attending graduate school to study for my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. This will provide me with more tools and knowledge to improve upon my writing and hopefully create a great period history someday.

Thanks again for reading my novel and for your thoughtful review.

Kindest Regards.

Click here to see this on Amazon.