In the foreword of "To Banish Forever," Cathy Coats notes the irony that she was writing about shocking events — a group of powerful white men planning to murder or displace Native people — while she was on land that had been stolen from those people. Coats, a metadata specialist at the University of Minnesota Libraries also notes that "Ho-Chunk people still live in the state of Minnesota, parts of which have always been their homelands. The call 'to banish forever' an entire group of human beings from this state is now replaced with the everlasting 'We are still here!' "

"On May 3, 1968, leaders at Mankato State College held a ceremony to open a time capsule that had lain inside the cornerstone of the university's historic Old Main Building for a century… Inside the box, along with other documents of 1860s Minnesota, was a copy of a four-page pamphlet, the Knights of the Forest's 'Ritual.'

"Mankato citizens had first sealed the time capsule inside the cornerstone of the Old Main Building at the Mankato Normal School on June 22, 1869, during a large dedication ceremony featuring fraternal organizations… A procession had traveled down Front Street, the main street in Mankato. At the parade's end, the crowd of twelve to fifteen hundred people waited to observe a musical performance, a reading of the contents of the time capsule box, and the 'laying of the cornerstone according to the impressive ceremonies of the Odd Fellows, conducted by Noble Grand [Sheldon] F. Barney.'

"It is quite likely that numerous members of the Knights of the Forest attended the 1869 cornerstone ceremony. This short-lived but influential secret society existed in Mankato and surrounding communities during the early months of 1863, immediately following the US–Dakota War and the execution of thirty-eight Dakota soldiers in Mankato. Its 'Ritual' contains the script for its opening ceremonies and initiation rites. The text of the group's membership oath promised to bind the men 'together as brothers in common interest' so they could go forth 'stronger and braver in the determination to banish forever from our beautiful State every Indian who now desecrates our soil.' The organization's goal was to provoke the removal of the Ho-Chunk Nation from its reservation in Blue Earth County and open the reservation to white ownership.

"Newspaper accounts published decades later allege that many of the area's prominent men were among the group's members; Asa Barney, John F. Meagher, and Charles A. Chapman disclosed their membership, and John J. Porter Jr.'s was featured in his obituary. Other likely members include Asa Barney's brother Sheldon, who presided over the cornerstone ceremony, and John J. Porter Jr.'s father, John J. Porter Sr., who was a vocal advocate for Ho-Chunk removal.

"As Mankato's leading citizens locked away the initiation rites and oath in the time capsule that day, marking it as a piece of the city's history worthy of preservation, they also locked away its compelling evidence of Minnesota's unexamined history of hate. No other copies of the document are known to exist.

"The initiation ritual of the Knights of the Forest and the oath its members swore were dedicated to a general anti-Indian sentiment and political allegiance, but all firsthand descriptions of the existence and participation in the group show that it focused exclusively on the nearby Ho-Chunk reservation. These Mankato men were not concerned with the removal of Dakota people from nearby Brown County, which was already assured. The Knights of the Forest organized after the Dakota hangings, after the government had already taken most of the Dakota people in Minnesota to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. Even before the Ho-Chunk were moved to the reservation on the Blue Earth River in 1855, most white settlers in Blue Earth County had vigorously opposed the reservation and had advocated, agitated, and organized for Ho-Chunk removal from Minnesota. Furthermore, the group existed only until the federal government forced the Ho-Chunk to leave the state. The men in Mankato took advantage of the postwar racialized rhetoric and settlers' hysteria to push the federal government into finally exiling the Ho-Chunk along with the Dakota.

"Following the US–Dakota War in the fall of 1862 and winter of 1863, a statewide call for extermination of 'all Indians' by white settlers and the threat of postwar mob violence in Mankato was a constant issue for federal and state authorities. Masses of men held 'secret meetings' and traveled from New Ulm, St. Peter, and all over Brown County to Mankato, threatening to attack Dakota prisoners. The execution in December publicly enacted and seemed to satisfy the desire for revenge among New Ulm and Brown County settlers who had fought battles with Dakota men close to their homes. But the men of Blue Earth County, who had not experienced conflicts with the Ho-Chunk near their homes, still had the reservation in their midst. Therefore, in January 1863, they organized a campaign for the ethnic cleansing of southern Minnesota."

To Banish Forever

By: Cathy Coats.

Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 174 pages, $19.95.

[Editor's note: This excerpt includes the term "ethnic cleansing," which the Star Tribune generally does not use because it's a euphemism for crimes against humanity, including murder and forced migration.]