Interviewing shoemakers, potato farmers, clay diggers, pottery workers, river dwellers—as well as working with children to write their own poems about these communities, and ultimately creating readers’ theater productions from both interviews and student writing. The theater productions featured local readers and musicians.
Here is an excerpt:
Oh native bird, bird of town
feathers of black and red,
singing on a fence post,
Oh native bird, sing our song
while you spread your feathers,
and fly into the sunset.
Bedeh-wankaton. Bedeh means by the river, by the lake. My Dakota ancestors were great-great grandmother, daughter of Chief Wabasha, the Third, and her husband, the grandson of Chief Red Wing. (Fern Krashner)
Oh river, you are a snake slithering through channels, bringing dead fish, clams, floods, eagles.
The Indian word for Red Wing is Hoopahusha which is Swan’s feather dyed scarlet.
When Chief Red Wing’s band went hunting toward White Bear Lake, they come home to find their village burned down by settlers who had come up the river.
Oh, river, the way you flow.
You sound like rain on my face
Prairie Island where I was born,
Prairie Island pow-wows where Grandpa drummed and sang
while we danced around the table.
Where Grandpa with mighty hands and arms
taught us to make bows and arrows
Where Grandpa and Grandma sat around the table
beading beautiful dresses and moccasins.
In the Dakota war, my ancestors fought on the whites’ side.
1861: In the Civil War, the First Minnesota Regiment saw action early in the bloody battle of Bull Run.
1862: In the Dakota war, John Other Day saved 200 white people, yet he and my relatives were sent to a reservation in Nebraska; they escaped back to their land in Maiden Rock. Then to Prairie Island. No whites lived here; they lived in town.
Oh River, You carry bugs
fish, logs, boats, and ducks. You
carry me places I’ve never been before
Her mother came with three little babies across the ocean all by herself, bringing her own food. Her husband had come earlier and found occupation at the stone quarries. The home he built for his family was a log cabin. (Gladys Holst)
In early Red Wing, horses were everywhere: coarse hair, silky manes, curved necks, moist nostrils, hard hooves, glistening eyes, thundering legs.
I’m watching the parade move past Remmler’s Brewery, my father’s hand holding tight to me, carriages driven by men in top hats. Beer mingling with the smell of perfume. Silky manes and glistening eyes moving past. (M. Decker)
1870: First mail arrived by train over the new tracks of the Chicago-Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad
In the 1890s, clams and mussels from the river were made into mother-of-pearl handles and buttons. On July 13, 1890 occurred Red Wing’s greatest tragedy, the sinking of the pleasure boat Sea Wing, which a tornado capsized on Lake Pepin.
River, you have a language, you gargle and splash angry with big waves. (Kari)