Why is there a national monument near a small town on the Minnesota prairie? Why do the town’s residents dress as Indians each summer and perform a historical pageant based on a Victorian-era poem? To answer such questions, Building on a Borrowed Past: Place and Identity in Pipestone, Minnesota shows what happens when one culture absorbs the heritage of another for civic advantage.
Founded in 1874, Pipestone was named for the quarries where regional tribes excavated soft stone for making pipes. George Catlin and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described the place and its tribal history. Promotion by white residents of the quarries as central to America’s Indian heritage helped Pipestone obtain a federal Indian boarding school in the 1890s and a national monument in the 1930s. The annual “Song of Hiawatha” pageant attracted tourists after World War II. Sally J. Southwick’s prizewinning study demonstrates how average, small–town citizens contributed to the generic image of “the Indian” in American culture.
Examining oral histories, memoirs, newspapers, federal documents, civic group records, and promotional literature, Southwick focuses on the role of middle–class individuals in establishing a historical, place–based identity. Building on a Borrowed Past reveals how identities are formed through adaptation of cultural, spiritual, racial, and historical symbols.