On November 16, 2012 the Blue Earth County (MN) Historical Society quietly rendered its verdict in a ten-month long investigation into a timber in its collection long-reputed to be a beam from the 1862 scaffold that executed 38 Dakota men simultaneously at Mankato, Blue Earth County, December 26, 1862.
Their conclusion: John F. Meagher, the beam’s donor, lied.
While BECHS has brought its internal investigation to a close, outside scholars continue to advance the story. The Winter 2013 edition of Minnesota’s Heritage magazine, available in January 2013, contains an article by Dale Blanshan, “The Surviving Piece of the Mankato Scaffold.”
The editors provide this preview:*
“Blanshan uses forensic evidence to argue that the timber can only be a piece of the 1862 scaffold. The author deciphered a confusing assortment of mortices and cut marks to support his claim. He correctly identifies corner brace mortices as used in 19th century timber framing, ties the spacing of the rope notches to the width of a military file (one man in ranks), and draws attention to old rot on only one side of the beam indicating that it had lain on damp soil for many years when reused as a warehouse flooring support. Some doubts remain based on an incomplete chain of provenance after 1862, but the chances that a conspiracy of fraud produced such a convincing artifact – and prior to 1927 – seem highly unlikely.”
My conclusion: Blue Earth County Historical Society volunteers turned up new evidence and BECHS is to be commended for adding these findings to the public record. Unfortunately, almost all the new evidence comes from newspaper sources, which are not reliable when used as BECHS does, as authoritative evidence.
Further, the video shows BECHS interpreting this weak evidence in a single direction: to disprove Meagher’s claim. BECHS has ‘proved’ its own hypothesis, which makes its conclusions questionable. The same findings would be received differently if they were the result of an independent investigation.
For me, the questions of the legitimacy of Meagher’s claim for his scaffolding beam are still as unsettled as when I began writing about it back in February.
Click on the “Blue Earth County Beam” link in the Categories list in the right sidebar to follow the contested story of this “relic” of 1862. Like the scale model of the scaffold, the story is portrait in miniature of the ongoing contest to control the history of 1862 and its many meanings.
For the record:
- I am a member of the Blue Earth County Historical Society and agreed to be part of an independent investigation of the beam if it materialized.
- Blanshan contacted me early in his investigation but I have not read the article.
- *Update 2/11/13 The managing editor of Minnesota’s Heritage has asked to clarify that it is not her magazine’s policy to provide previews and that the summary I quoted reflects the opinion of the editor who answered my request to verify that the magazine was publishing the article, not the opinion of the editorial board. The Winter 2013, No. 7 edition of Minnesota’s Heritage also contains a counterpoint article to Blanshan’s written by the Blue Earth County Historical Society.