Local people, places featured in new tpt documentary

By Kremena Spengler

Staff Writer

NEW ULM – Starting in the spring of 2012, Brown County Historical Society Museum Research Librarian Darla Gebhard spent many, many hours leading a film crew through New Ulm and its environs.

She also welcomed the tpt crew, led by Stephanie Mosher and Emily Goldberg, to her living room, for a morning-long interview.

Just recently, Gebhard and husband Allan also traveled to the tpt studio in St. Paul on Public Television’s invitation, to view and provide input on footage to be potentially included in a new documentary’s final version.

Gebhard was one of the local people most extensively involved in the creation of “The Past Is Alive Within Us: The U.S.-Dakota Conflict,” a production scheduled to premiere on Thursday, Dec. 26, on tpt 2; significantly, the date 38 Native Americans were executed in Mankato.

The two-hour documentary, a mix of historical information and contemporary stories, will introduce viewers to some of the key people and events of the 1862 war and demonstrate how this critical period in our history continues to affect Minnesotans and the descendants of Dakota exiled from Minnesota, says a tpt press release. Designed to build a better understanding of historical interpretation and encourage critical thinking, the program will look at the subject through the lens of public memory.

The documentary represents the result of nearly two years of diligent research and production by tpt and distills several hundred hours of interviews into a two-hour program, the tpt press release sums up. The film includes 80 diverse voices from those who were impacted by the events and perspectives from experts, community leaders, artists and historians.

“We are delighted that tpt’s production crew made such a dedicated effort to visit Brown County,” said Brown County Historical Society Museum Director Bob Burgess. “The crew became a regular visitor to our community and nearly all our 2012 events. They will be limited on time, but I am sure they will represent our history in a balanced manner, and the product, we hope, will be balanced. I can’t wait to see it!”

With Gebhard as guide, the film crew toured battle sites in New Ulm and Milford Township. Their purpose, said Gebhard, was to get a feel of history: an idea for the where the battles took place, who were the people involved, etc, etc; a sense of time and place. The crew attended the local talks and symposiums that marked the events’ 150th anniversary; the re-dedications of the Defenders Monument and Milford Monument; ceremonies in the pioneer section of the local cemetery; and Thunder in the Valley… The crew also shadowed Gebhard during the setting up and opening of the special exhibition about the war on the third floor of the museum, all throughout interviewing historians and visitors to the events on their knowledge, perspectives and impressions…

Gebhard -and others in Brown County – represented the story from a settlers’ perspective. However, Gebhard noted, the crew went through similar efforts to study the events through the eyes of many others: Native Americans with ancestors on both sides of the historic divide that led to the war, the U.S. military, the government…

Gebhard believes that the film makers will likely end up with “a well-rounded” story. She is also hopeful that the museum might be able to obtain a DVD of the documentary, and even, if at all contractually possible, footage that did not make it into the final product. The unused footage, mused Gebhard, may well contain valuable perspectives that would be otherwise lost to future generations. The memories have remained in group consciousness, through oral histories, and it is amazing how alive – “how close to heart” – the distant events remain today for so many people, adds Gebhard.

“This is an extremely important story; one that we’re proud to share with the citizens of Minnesota,” shared tpt’s Senior Vice President and Chief Content Officer, Terry O’Reilly. “… Our hope is that it will open the door to understanding a dark chapter in Minnesota and American history, stimulate dialogue about the legacy of the war and help inform those conversations for generations to come.”

“The Past is Alive Within Us: The U.S.-Dakota Conflict” premieres on Thursday, Dec. 26, at 8 p.m. on tpt 2 (as well as on tpt.org); repeating on tpt LIFE at 8 p.m. Monday, Dec 30, and on tpt MN at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1.

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