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Unsung heroes

May 26, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

While he was growing up, Michael Keigan said his family would get in the car and visit some of the historical sites relating to the Dakota Uprising of 1862.

It just took quite a few years for him to put those thoughts down on paper.

Keigan recently published a book on the 1862 Dakota Uprising titled "Heroes of the Uprising," which focuses on the heroes of both sides, settler and native. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Uprising.

Keigan, who resides in Aitkin, said that he's heard stories about the Uprising since he was a young boy from his father, who was an English teacher and a great storyteller. Keigan's father grew up three miles southeast of Grove City, which was near the spot where the Uprising started. His mother was raised on a farm five miles north of Hutchinson, right next to the county line between McLeod and Meeker counties.

"The spot where Little Crow was killed in 1863 was located about one mile to the northwest of that farm," he said. "As a child, when my family would load up in the car and travel to see the two sets of grandparents, we would drive on roads that would take us right past these spots. Especially the site where Little Crow was killed."

Keigan said his father would tell him stories of how the Dakota had attacked at Forest City and at Hutchinson and how those attacks carried on in the Minnesota River Valley.

"The seeds that were planted in my head then germinated and stayed in the background quietly until about three years ago," he said. "That is when my wife and I started traveling all over the state of Minnesota visiting all of the state parks." More than a year ago, he published his first book, "Minnesota State Parks: A Camper's Guide."

When Keigan and his wife were driving all over the state for the state park book and researching, they visited all the parks in the southern, southwestern and western parts of the state that are and were very important to the story of the Uprising.

"All of a sudden, that little seed that had germinated in the back of my brain, sprouted," he said.

Keigan thinks he owns and has read every book that is historically related to the Uprising - from Gary Clayton Anderson and Ken Carley to Kurt Dahlin's wonderful picture books about the Uprising.

"All of them were of great value in researching and learning about the Uprising," he said. "But, I didn't stop there. I have spent many hours researching documents at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. Many times I would find out documents that I needed to see and would have them sent to the Kitchigami Library in Brainerd, much closer to where I live."

So for about two and a half years, he worked at writing the book.

"When I was nearing completion, I realized I didn't like what I had created," he said. "It was too much like the other books I had read. Then, I had the idea of how to make my book different."

Keigan said you can't tell the story of the Uprising without talking about the battles and massacres and all those events are what is usually remembered of the Uprising by the general public.

"I wanted my book to be different and I had discovered the difference that I was going to use," he said. "I emphasized the people who brought themselves to the forefront by their actions during the uprising. They were the 'heroes.' By telling their stories in greater detail helps to make my book a little different form all the other very good books about the subject."

A couple of the "heroes" Keigan details in his book include Little Crow and Merton Eastlick, an 11-year-old boy.

"I chose Little Crow as a hero because he was one of the leaders of his people and when push came to shove - the Eastern Dakota looked to Little Crow for the final word," Keigan said. "He did not want to go to war because he knew that it would not end well for his people; but, in the end, after one of his young braves accused him of being a coward - he told his warriors - 'Taoyateduta is not a coward, he will die with you.'"

Eastlick watched as many of his family was killed by Indians and carried his 15-month-old baby brother 40 miles through the prairie to safety, Keigan said.

"The story as I tell it in the book is the same story written by Merton's mother, Alvina - she survived, too," he said. "The story is very compelling and I have been asked by many people why hasn't that story been made into a movie. I would love to try and do that, but I'm no millionaire."

As he researched his latest book, Keigan said his favorite genre of film was the "cowboy and Indian" movie, remembering all the times he saw the settlers circling their wagons as the Indians attacked them.

"I learned that the city of New Ulm lived that history," he said. "On Aug. 23, they were attacked by 800 Dakota. The settlers out on the prairie had flooded into the town to find shelter. There were over 2,500 people packed into the small downtown area where some of the 'defenders' had thrown up barricades."

He also learned about a man named Joe Whitford who is recognized as the first citizen of Fergus Falls.

"I learned about the tragedy of his being killed near his home out there at what was then just a time collection of settlers' homes," he said. "His bones were later found by soldiers when one of the captive Dakota led the soldiers to the spot where he was killed."

Keigan's been to a majority of the sites and battlefields around the state and the last part of the book is a travelogue that gives people a turn by turn description of how to get to almost all of the monuments and sites. On Aug. 19, the newest monument to the Uprising will be dedicated near Grove City.

"This monument will commemorate the 'Battle of Acton' on Sept. 2, 1862," he said.

Keigan said he's gotten a lot of praise on his book, including a Brainerd radio station personality who interviewed him and said live how much he liked the book.

"I have had several people tell me that they took the book home and then a child at home got a hold of it and read it from cover to cover," he said.

And Keigan's started a new career of sorts as a public speaker. Last month he visited seventh-graders at Lakeview School and gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Uprising. He has presentations planned for the libraries in Tracy, New Ulm and Jackson.



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