CDS Audio Director John Biewen on the Broadcast Anniversary of “Little War on the Prairie”

A Dakota dancer at the annual Mahkato Wacipi (Pow Wow) in Mankato, Minnesota, September 21, 2012. Photograph Caroline Yang.

A Dakota dancer at the annual Mahkato Wacipi (Pow Wow) in Mankato, Minnesota, September 21, 2012. Photograph Caroline Yang.

“This may be the best episode of this radio show, ever.” “Unbelievably good and astonishingly tragic. I stood in my kitchen for an hour listening, fascinated, furious, and gut-punched.” These are just a few of the hundreds of comments received by the radio program This American Life following the November 2012 broadcast of Little War on the Prairie. The radio documentary by Center for Documentary Studies audio director John Biewen tells the long-overlooked story of a troubling, violent episode in the Plains Indian wars of the nineteenth century, a history that Biewen, a Minnesota native, says is “deeply at odds with the state’s cherished tale of peaceful settlement by Scandinavian and German settlers.”

 

A year later, Biewen reflects on Little War and the intense reactions of Minnesotans who heard it in his essay “Documenting Home.” Click here to read the full essay. He writes, “My job, as I understand it, is to document as honestly as possible what I see and hear . . . . It’s not a question for me of being “nice” versus telling the “cruel” truth. I spent a year trying to tell the story of 1862 in part because of the way I feel about the place I came from. I want Minnesotans —I want us—to be our best selves. And that includes being honest about our history.”

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