What: Vigilantes broke into a St. Cloud newspaper office and destroyed its printing press.


When: March 24, 1858.


Read all about it: Jane Grey Swisshelm was editor of the paper, the St. Cloud Visiter. She also was a social crusader who railed against slavery and for women’s rights. Following the 1862 Dakota War massacres, she became virulently anti-American Indian.

After the press was destroyed, Swisshelm addressed the townsfolk:

“The Press of the St. Cloud Visiter was last night destroyed,” she said. “Its type scattered on the street, or thrown into the river.”

The vandals who ransacked the office left behind a letter, which Swisshelm read to the crowd. “The citizens of St. Cloud have determined to abate this nuisance for which you have made the ‘Visiter’ a prime specimen, fit only for the inmates of brothels, and you seem to have had some experience of the tastes of such persons.”


Not-so-anonymous attack: The letter was signed by the Committee of Vigilance, but Swisshelm identified the handwriting as that of Sylvanus B. Lowry, Democratic political boss of St. Cloud. A Kentucky transplant who’d outraged abolitionists like Swisshelm by bringing slaves to Minnesota, Lowry was St. Cloud’s first mayor. While he never admitted to the attack, he was widely viewed as the likely suspect. His career peaked in 1862 with a stint in the state Senate. He died three years later.


What’s left: Swisshelm raised money to reopen the Visiter, but left Minnesota to serve as a nurse in the Civil War. The rival newspaper Lowry founded, the Union, survives to this day as the St. Cloud Times.

James Lileks