A chance meeting with a Dakota Indian leader forever changed the course of Louis George “Bud” Lawrence’s life, leading him to march in support of Dakota Indian causes, co-found an annual powwow and talk frequently about the need for reconciliation with Dakota Indians in his home of Mankato — the site where 38 Dakota men were hanged in 1862 in the nation’s largest mass execution.
Doing what he could to make the world more just came naturally to Lawrence, said his daughter, Barbara Kaus.
“When you see something that isn’t right, he always wanted to try to make it better,” Kaus said.
Lawrence, of Mankato, died Nov. 29. He was 86.
A Norwegian who had dark hair and a dark complexion, Lawrence sometimes had to correct people who thought he had indigenous ancestry. He was raised in Clements and Kasson, Minn., and served in the Army. He worked for the state Department of Natural Resources and eventually became manager of Robby’s Restaurant and then Hardee’s in Rochester.
Lawrence hired women and people with disabilities to work in the restaurant, upending the customary thinking at the time in the mostly male-dominated fast-food business. He faced criticism for the hires, said Kaus, but stuck with them because he felt it was the right thing to do.
“Dad was someone of great character and integrity,” she said.
It was while camping and fishing with his family on the Mississippi River near the Prairie Island Indian Community that he met Amos Owen, a Dakota Sioux spiritual leader. The two developed a deep friendship, and eventually, in a measure of respect for the Dakota Sioux history of the region, Lawrence helped Owen and Jim Buckley establish the Mahkato Wacipi Powwow in 1972.
The custom continues, with the powwow drawing up to 4,500 people each September to Mankato’s Land of Memories Park. A history buff who knew about the mass execution, Lawrence learned from Dakota Indian friends that many of them avoided Mankato or would drive through at night if they had to pass through the area because of the indelible taint of the executions.
“Dad always wanted to reconcile and make things better,” said his son, Alan Lawrence. “And so when it came to his Indian friends and Mankato being a dark spot in their lives … he wanted to change that.”
Two years ago as Lawrence’s health began to fade, some American Indian friends sang an honor song for him at the powwow in recognition of his work, said David Brave Heart, a Mankato resident and Dakota Indian.
“He was a very respected member of this community and well liked,” said Brave Heart. “He will be sorely missed.”
A master of the American Indian flute, Brave Heart would play for Lawrence while visiting him in hospice. In his last days, Lawrence was visited by Owen’s eldest son, Art, who bestowed him with an American Indian name, “Red Heart,” to signify his spiritual connection to indigenous people.
Lawrence is survived by his wife, Shirley Lawrence, of Mankato; children Alan Lawrence, of Mankato, Barbara Kaus, of North Mankato, and Susan Enevold, of Victoria.
A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Mankato. Visitation will be held 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the church and again one hour before the service. A private burial will follow at Hay Creek German Methodist Cemetery in Hay Creek, Minn.