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,
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
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
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
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
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
This cave was all of those things and more and was in
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
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
As a consolation prize, the Dakota took his group to Wakan Teebe (or Wakon Teebe or Wakan Tipi),
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
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;
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
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:
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, that
reverberated through all those gloomy regions. I found in this cave
many Indian hieroglyphics, which appeared very ancient, for
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 knowhow
the hieroglyphs were cut? You weren't
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
Carver's 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
Teebe became a tourist attraction and a beer cellar for
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
But Wakan Teebe isn't in Mounds Park.
Paul's Mounds Park was created in 1896 to
preserve the native American burial mounds.
the creation of the park destroyed eleven mounds. Six are left.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
the mouth of the cave was a thick rust-covered iron
wall with metal girders propped
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
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
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
Wakan Teebe, down the dam slope, over the hogwire fence are the
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-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
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
what made them want Wakan Teebe to be kept inaccessible.
I can't help but think about the previous Native American
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
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