Dust falls on history everywhere else. Dust and maybe some cobwebs rest on history elsewhere, waiting for someone to give it a good brush-off, but not Minnesota. Minnesota history gets dusty, buried, flooded, blown up, disguised, and gets a plaque erected some distance away that says, "Show's over. There's nothing to see here. Move along."

I've been asked if my novel is more fiction or real. On the one hand, that's funny because a novel is fiction. But when you look at the rest of the bookstore, isn't that fiction too? Current events books try to pass off a two-dimensional world for a three-dimensional world. The world has always been flat, the books say. The funny thing about history is whether or not it exists. The gods of the Greek and Roman Empires were myth but so is claiming that everything was invented by the Greeks or Romans simply because no other records exist to the contrary. 

Then there's Myth America. Columbus discovered America. Right... Not the Native Americans who were already there with diverse languages and cultures. Not the Vikings. Not the Chinese. Columbus. Right...  And Columbus was looking for a short route to Asia, not for mythical Anthilia, with seven cities and beaches of gold. And America, either the pair of continents or the United States, was named after
Amerigo Vespucci, who made up accounts of four voyages to the new world. Myth America.

With all this fiction in the non-fiction, it's funny that I wanted reality for my fiction.

I don't know how others write, but I write in my sleep. It sounds silly and definitely something you don't want to try in a coffeehouse, but my dreams propel my story.

Once while writing my novel, I needed a representation, a real place to represent Minnesota and the Twin Cities. So I went to sleep. I dreamt of a place, the oldest place in the state.

The place was a cave that was both old and new. When I woke, I checked the Internet. Couldn't find much. Maybe the Internet is a myth too. 

Newspaper microfilm describes a cave with a half-open mouth "the upper lip being widely curved. It is about six feet across. By lying flat and peering across the shimmering water, one can see where the roof settles toward the surface. This probably is the throat, which all agree, leads to the wider chamber within. One can see a distance of about forty feet. This is true also of the sides, but the only light is that reflected from the water." The legend of the cave stretches further back.

"In the beginning, there was only whole. The whole was a hole in the ground. This was the House of God. From here, the vast Laurentian Mountains began, springing up and across the world. From here, water began, starting great rivers. From here, sand ran, making ground. From here, the wind blew, making air. From here, life began... crawling, growing, swimming, and flying everywhere."

And love. According to the account of the unwritten story of the legend of the blessed event, love was born here. It was very romantic. Too romantic for the Internet to handle.

And when people died, this was where they were taken... back to the beginning.

This cave was all of those things and more and was in Minnesota long before there was a Minnesota or a United States.

It used to be that if you were really irritating, people would pay you to leave town. Really. It took Jon Carver, a Connecticut shoemaker, about two years to become that irritating. He was paid to leave town, going off exploring and leaving behind his wife and seven kids.

Technically, Carver wasn't paid. He was put on commission with the potential of being paid back if the group he was with managed to find an east-west waterway... like a Panama Canal in Minnesota.

He found water in Minnesota, but he didn't find a Panama Canal.

As a consolation prize, the Dakota took his group to Wakan Teebe (or Wakon Teebe or Wakan Tipi), which means House of God or Home of the Great Spirit or Home of Spirits. Carver did what really anyone does visiting a church: he created some graffiti on the wall of the entranceway.
Wakan Teebe map
Carver returned to Connecticut and wasn't paid. So he went to England, wrote up his travels -- claimed the Dakota gave him Wakan Teebe and other lands, married again, and died in poverty.

In the future, Google Earth will not only zoom in on a place; it will also zoom in on time. If you could zoom in on a bookstore in the 1770s, you would not believe your eyes because the fiction and non-fiction books would be all mixed together. You could hardly tell them apart. Carver's account of his travels has him embellishing his importance in the Midwest to increase his chances of being paid, and his publisher plagerized accounts from other travelers. Now that you've been warned, here is how Carver described Wakan Teebe in 1767:

About thirty miles below the Falls of St. Anthony, at which I arrived the tenth day after I left Lake Pepin, is a remarkable cave of an amazing depth. The Indians term it Wakon-teebe, that is, the Dwelling of the Great Spirit. The entrance into it is about ten feet wide, the height of it five feet. The arch within is near fifteen feet high and about thirty feet broad. The bottom of it consists of fine clear sand. About twenty feet from the entrance begins a lake, the water of which is transparent, and extends to an unsearchable distance; for the darkness of the cave prevents all attempts to acquire a knowledge of it. I threw a small pebble towards the interior parts of it, with my utmost strength... [Ow! Carver! Cut it out.] I could hear that it fell into water, and notwithstanding it was of so small a size, it caused an astonishing and horrible noise, th
at reverberated through all those gloomy regions. I found in this caveWakon-teebe many Indian hieroglyphics, which appeared very ancient, for time had nearly covered them in moss, so that it was with difficulty that I could see them. They were cut in a rude manner... [Carver, how do you know how the hieroglyphs were cut? You weren't there.] ...upon the inside of the walls, which were composed of a stone so extremely soft that it might easily be penetrated with a knife: a stone everywhere to be found near the Mississippi. The cave is only accessible by ascending a narrow steep passage, that lies near the brink of the river.

Wakan Teebe survived the carving by Carver. But for how long?

book was a big hit after he died.  Some of Carver's decendents, either from his American wife or his English wife, appealed to the King of England that the cave was owned by them, that the Dakota's gave the sacred place to Carver. The King denied their claim.
view from Mounds Park
Wakan Teebe became a tourist attraction and a beer cellar for a local brewery. Wakan Teebe was blown up by the nearby railroad in 1869 and then redestroyed in 1885, if you believe all the accounts and a historical plaque at the west end of  Mounds Park; it no longer exists.

But Wakan Teebe isn't in Mounds Park.

St. Paul's Mounds Park was created in 1896 to preserve the native American burial mounds.
But the creation of the park destroyed eleven mounds. Six are left.
The 1st step isn't the deepest.
Every other decade the newspapers have reported someone uncovering Wakan Teebe with shovels or a bulldozer or intense spiritualism. I just wanted to find it. Unfortunately, I started from Mounds Park... in winter. Bad idea. Don't do that.

Winter is full of unknowns. You don't know who that bundled up person is that is coming toward you, and you don't know whether the snow covers rocks or loose dirt when hiking without a trail. Oh, and hiking shoes may have been more appropriate than my sneakers. With a little crow cawing advice, I hiked my way down the cliff. My coat picked up clumps of thistle burrs along the way.
Dayton's Cave
Cave entrances can look like a hole in the ground, but I was looking for something that better fit my dream and Carver's description. I was looking for something on the side or base of the bluff. And I was actually looking for two caves. Dayton's Cave would be on the left, and Wakan Teebe would be on the right. Right away, I found the entrance to a cave. But was it the right one or the left one?

A small leap over a giggling limestone-block-bordered stream brought me to standing in front of a wrought-iron gated cave -- fancy-shmancy. Peering through the bars, I saw even, tube-like walls and ceilings that headed off in three directions, almost like the beginnings of a St. Paul subway.
Wakan Teebe
I didn't think St. Paul had a subway.  

Intuition led me east, as if this wasn't Wakan Teebe. I trudged through snow with a top layer of ice. If  you step down just right, the snow won't get in your sneakers, but on the way back out of the snow-hole you just created, you're bound to get snow in the sneakers.  Up ahead, across a pool of water, there was a dark shape at the base of the bluff. It looked like a giant mouth. I walked closer with a sense of wonderment.

"Oh God, what have they done?" I thought as I witnessed the strangest sight.
Wakan Teebe - mouth sealed
Over the mouth of the cave was a thick rust-covered iron wall with metal girders propped up against it,as if wedged to keep someone or something of immense force inside the cave. The area  in front of the cave was flooded and dammed to keep the cave and its vicinity permanently water-bound.

If this is the House of God, it has been God Dammed.

Comparing the regal wrought iron fence-work of Dayton's Cave (the picture below the snow print) with Wakan Teebe, it is almost as if something scared people about Wakan Teebe, enough to put up the iron wall, welded with iron girders to prop the wall up, and damming the area in front of the cave with an earthen dam.

Maybe there's another reason. On the other side of the dam lake from Wakan Teebe, down the dam slope, over the hogwire fence are the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks. The earthen dam does prevent the tracks from being flooded. Yeah, that must be it.

Except... that theory doesn't hold water. The dam also prevents some lower land along the bluff east of Wakan Teebe from being flooded -- wetland-ish. And most everywhere else, runoff tunnels are used. A runoff tunnel could take water under the train tracks and under Highway 61 to the Mississippi. North by northwest of Wakan Teebe, Phalen Creek runs through plenty of tunnels. Possibly, the Phalen Creek tunnels could be used for the Wakan Teebe water.

The show's-over-there's-nothing-to-see-here-
Show's Over. Move along. That means you.move-along plaque is some distance away and over a hundred feet up. It says "Today only a debris-filled remnant of the once large cavern remains. It was destroyed by railroad construction about 1869." Shouldn't those two sentences be turned around? It seems to be saying that today a debris-filled remnant was destroyed in 1869. The message is that the cave is gone. What's left is a cave remnant. What's a remnant? If it takes 4 people 5 days to dig a hole, how long does it take 3 people to dig half a hole?

What is half a hole? It's still a hole.

But the land lies.

A group of Dakota requested that the cave stay sealed.

In 1977, St. Paul was ready to open up Wakan Teebe as a tourist attraction or as a park. A local Dakota group requested that Wakan Teebe remain closed and worked with the city to make it more closed off.

That's what I've read, but I'd love to hear more. I'm left to wonder what made them want Wakan Teebe to be kept inaccessible.

I can't help but think about the previous Native American site in the area that was made into a park -- Mounds Park. Creating that park destroyed most of the mounds.

In the 1980s, the area around Wakan Teebe became a dumping ground. Since then a host of neighborhood groups and state agencies have worked on the site to turn it into the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary. The improvements have continued since I started visiting Wakan Teebe. To all the people that have been involved in that process, I say, thank you.

On April 11, 2014, the Indian Mounds Park mounds group was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It's about time.

Someday, Wakan Teebe will be restored. A description of what I imagined is in the novel, Hopes and Dreams: Stuck on AutoDrive.

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