From Cannon Falls to St. Paul, wagon train marks Sesquicentennial

Wagon train
The wagon train made a pit stop at the College of St. Catherines before it continued down Summit Avenue to the Capitol.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

As the horses and riders pulled up to the Capitol after their week-long trek, hundreds of people crowded around to greet the wagon train.

The drivers and passengers, dressed in period costume, were clearly glad to be there.

"Happy birthday, Minnesota!"

Wagon driver Doc Haldy is from near Aitkin, and said he had a ball.

The Sesquicentennial Wagon Train arrives.
The sesquicentennial wagon train arrives at the State Capitol to herald the start of Statehood Week.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

"It's been a wonderful experience, and I wouldn't trade it for two good meals and a sack of flour," said Haldy.

Wearing a pale leather jacket with long fringe, Haldy was soaking up the attention.

"We've had mostly really great weather. And I'll tell you what, it's really very moving to see all these people meet us and greet us along the way, and especially here at the Capitol," he said. "This is kind of a rush."

The wagon train arrived in the Twin Cities early in the weekend. It slowly made its way through Minneapolis and into St. Paul, where it headed down Summit Ave. to the Capitol.

A protest group calling itself the Seven Fires Summit blocked the wagon train for about an hour on Saturday as it arrived at Fort Snelling.

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Representatives of the mostly Dakota group say the sesquicentennial is making a mockery of the historic genocide of Native Americans. Seven people were arrested and released with warnings.

On Sunday, after marching from Mounds Park, the group played music and held protest signs across the street from the Capitol. When the wagons arrived for the ceremony, the group marched peacefully in front of it, but did not attempt to delay it.

Chris Mato Nunpa is a retired professor of Dakota studies and a representative of Seven Fires Summit. He says it's important for the state to openly acknowledge its painful past.

"Unless the history of Minnesota includes massive land theft, broken treaties and genocide, then it will still remain a whitewashed, literally a whitewashed, history," he said.

Mato Nunpa said he would like to see Minnesota use the celebrations as an opportunity to paint a truer picture of its history.

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As the horses moved past the Capitol, the official ceremony got underway. Gov. Tim Pawlenty spoke briefly, saying this was a day to celebrate what makes Minnesota special.

"It's the spirit that makes hundreds converge on a lakeside town each year to celebrate the opening of the walleye season. It's the spirit of our rural neighbors who show up to harvest friends' corn when they hear he or she has been hurt or sick," the governor said.

"It's the spirit that brings out volunteers for countless youth hockey games and soccer teams, charity walks, food shelf collections, mentoring programs, and military families willing to dedicate their lives to a cause or a purpose that is bigger than just themselves," Pawlenty said.

The governor then ceded the stage to a handful of elementary school students who read essays on the meaning of statehood. A number of public officials, including Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, also spoke.

Towards the end of the afternoon, the wagon train left St. Paul and headed out.

Today, it will visit Bemidji, one of a handful of cities designated as honorary capitals for the week. The other honorary capitals are Thief River Falls, Detroit Lakes, New Ulm and Winona.

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