Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Before Sigurd Olson, and before Calvin Rutstrum, there was Howard Greene.

Camp scene from 1915 at Lake Vermillion, in the mist.

Because there is a difference between the history we know and the stories we keep, the experience of this book is magical.

from the Foreword to Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916.


Over the course of ten years, Milwaukee businessman Howard Greene, along with his young sons and some friends, would take several month-long journeys to canoe and camp in the north woods of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Canada. The first journey was in 1906. Here is an anecdote, written by Martha Greene Phillips (daughter of Howard Greene), about one of The Gang's last epic trips.


Tower, Minnesota, on Lake Vermillion, was the put-in point for The Gang’s penultimate canoe trip. The trip began on August 14, 1915, with camp the first night at Hoodoo Point. They began the next day’s paddle in rough weather, and when they finally landed for the night, they realized a pair of problems. Their canoes were overloaded, and one of the hired men wanted to quit. Dad returned to Tower the next morning to buy birchbark and to hire a new man.

Dad, middle-aged and balding, with a trim mustache, and still neatly dressed in his fairly fresh camp clothing, would have quickly been noted as an outsider in Tower. He inquired about town, and after hearing of a person he might want to hire, approached Merrill, a clean-cut man of fifty, who had worked as a timber cruiser.

Merrill hesitated.

“Are you a tenderfoot or not?”

Dad replied that he “didn’t know but that I had been in the woods somewhat and that he might consider me a tender-foot but that I thought I could take of myself under ordinary circumstances.”

Merrill asked:

“Have you been in these woods before?”

Dad told him he had gone from Ely to Ranier and from Windidgoostigwan, Ontario, to Ranier.

Merrill negotiated a $4-per-day wage, and shortly after, met Dad at the landing with a pack on his back.

Dad was a Milwaukee businessman, yet chose not to stay in a lodge or to find one of the few guides operating in the Northwoods for his trips. He had field experience during the Spanish–American War, had spent time in the country as a child and young man, and had extensive knowledge of nature. His travel partners, the Doc, Billy Mac, and Bill, were each knowledgeable and experienced outdoorsmen. They knew how to outfit their own trips, which was no small feat during those years. The men they hired were there to help in camp, and often had less knowledge of the proposed itinerary and conditions than the campers.

Howard Greene.

Dad’s descriptions of their apparently effortless planning and outfitting for their trips belie what they had to know and how much preparation went into their trips.A look at the customs documents listing the “Camp Outfit for 1911” tells much more detail about how they camped and canoed in the early 1900’s, and how different it was then. Now people enter a designated wilderness carrying maps, guidebooks, outfitter-supplied convenience foods, Kevlar canoes, pop-up nylon tents, and wearing fleece and Gore-Tex clothing to meet whatever weather conditions one encounters.

What did a group of men take along for four weeks in the woods in 1915? They took their wood and canvas guide canoes; extra paddles for each; white lead and shellac for repairs; large canvas amazon, or "A," tents; 5 1/2 x 8-foot ground cloths; ropes; and poles. They carried pack straps, axes, rifles, provision bags, canvas buckets, a sewing outfit, “doctor shop,” twine, leather conditioner, and a repair kit that included “tools, wire, nails, cloth, screws, tacks, etc.”

The men carried bedrolls made up of wool blankets; their pillows were rolled-up clothing. Dad used his rough gray wool Hudson’s Bay blankets from his Spanish–American War years. Included in the commissary were such provisions as yeast and 100 pounds of flour and other baking ingredients, all so that they could bake bread in camp along the way; a case of evaporated milk; 30 pounds of bacon; many pounds of “dehydro” vegetables and fruits; several dozens of cans of tinned meats, such as deviled ham, sardines, and corned beef; dried beans; and a case of pilot bread, spices, sugar, corn meal, breakfast cereals, candles, and clothesline. The list is quite detailed and extensive, the amounts staggering. Most interesting of all, the lists included foods now a mystery to most of us, like Erbswurst.

Erbswurst, a dried vegetable-and-bean packed sausage casing, dates to the Franco-Prussian War, when it was a protein-packed ration for the soldiers. Later, when in use by outdoorsmen, it was nicknamed “dynamite soup” because of the sausages’ semblance to sticks of dynamite.

Beyond the provisions and supplies that comprised their “outfit,” the Gang had their own personal “tool kits” of survival skills that they had developed over years of experience in the outdoors. Doc was the master canoe patcher, while Dad led the group in orienting and trail reading skills. Each knew how to cook in camp, how to pack through a portage, and how to “rope” a canoe through rapids.

On one of the Gang’s earlier trips, Dad taught one of the hired men how to rope a canoe down a rapids – the man was apparently tickled to learn this skill, a new one even though he had already been in the woods for years.

Before each trip, the men created their own route maps based on USGS survey maps, many of which they later found to lack clear or accurate details and place names. When they came across a new and interesting feature in the landscape it was not something they recognized from a guidebook. The petroglyphs they encountered were a complete mystery and surprise; coming across the petroglyphs is now, to a modern traveler, a powerful experience – I can only imagine what Dad and the Gang must have thought as they saw them and began to puzzle them out.

Along all the rivers and lakes they paddled, the Gang appreciated much of the natural history they encountered. Dad was well schooled in geology, due to his having grown up with a father who was an expert amateur geologist and fossil collector. Doc was the quintessential naturalist, with an excellent sense of flora and fauna. Billy Mac and Bill were well-versed in natural science and in outdoors skills. The Gang brought a pretty full complement of knowledge and skills to each trip.

While they may have been Milwaukee businessmen, they were not amateur outdoorsmen.


Martha Greene Phillips spent several years researching her father’s canoeing and camping adventures and editing and annotating his journals of those trips for Border Country: The Northwoods Canoe Journals of Howard Greene, 1906–1916. She is also the author of The Floating Boathouses on the Upper Mississippi River and lives near Madison, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

F. Scott Fitzgerald in MN snippets: Thanksgiving, a football captain, and Crocus Hill Pharmacy

In these three snippets, we meet the childhood and teen-aged friends of F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first piece appears in the book F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota (2017). The final two have not been published previously. 


Photograph by Jeff Krueger.

Clark residence (1884)
In 1908 Charles A. Clark, treasurer for the Northern Pacific Railroad, lived at 454 Holly Avenue with his wife, seven children, and five servants. The oldest boy was Robert D., and his sister Caroline M. was just one year younger. By 1919 the Clarks had moved to 96 Virginia Street. Over Thanksgiving in 1919, they hosted a dance for Caroline at the University Club for "seventy-five members of the younger society." It is possible F. Scott Fitzgerald was among them since Caroline was in Fitzgerald's dancing class, and Robert had appeared in a couple of Fitzgerald's juvenile plays.

Although Fitzgerald wrote Robert Clark a reproachful missive in 1920 in response to a letter Clark had sent telling the author he should write for "real people," Clark remained one of Fitzgerald's strongest supporters, telling those who asked that Fitzgerald was not an outsider, but a valued member of their social circle. A couple of years after the postal spat, Clark, along with Fitzgerald, was a member of the Cotillion Club.

In a letter to Marie Hersey Hamm in 1936, Fitzgerald confessed that he still considered Saint Paul his home, "but the people who make it so are not only such a few—the Kalmans, Nonnie [Norris Jackson], Bob Clarke and a scattering of others."

Joe McKibben II.
14 July 1918 Pioneer Press, 3rd sec., p. 2.

McKibbin residence (1887)—razed 1927

Soon after F. Scott Fitzgerald arrived at Princeton University in the fall of 1913, he visited his St. Paul friend Norris Jackson in the latter’s room at 13 Little Hall. Another St. Paulite, Joe McKibbin, who had grown up at in a duplex at 83 Virginia Street in St. Paul, stopped by Jackson’s room to welcome his two hometown acquaintances. A couple classes ahead of Fitzgerald, McKibbin had attended Hill School with his next-door neighbor Laurence Noyes, whose father had built 83-85 Virginia. McKibbin had brought along a classmate and suggested the group go for a stroll. “We walked down through the campus and along a canal, a nice sort of place to walk,” Jackson recalled. Fitzgerald was acting a bit odd. According to Jackson, “ He sort of skipped around….”

A day or two later, Fitzgerald burst into Jackson’s room and asked, “Do you know who that was we were with on Sunday?” Jackson said, yes, it was Joe McKibbin. “But do you know who the senior was?” Jackson responded affirmatively. “Well,” Fitzgerald added, “he’s the…captain of the football team, and I acted just like a damn fool.”

McKibbin’s friend and Princeton football captain for 1913 was Hobey Baker. Fitzgerald’s meeting with Baker is noted in his Ledger. In This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald presents an admiring snapshot of Baker, who loved singing, as “Allenby,” the football captain:

Now, far down the shadowy line of University Place a white-clad phalanx broke the gloom, and marching figures, white-shirted, white-trousered, swung rhythmically up the street, with linked arms and heads thrown back [singing “Going Back to Nassau Hall”]. Amory closed his eyes as the ghostly procession drew near. The song soared so high that all dropped out except the tenors, who bore the melody triumphantly past the danger-point and relinquished it to the fantastic chorus. Then Amory opened his eyes, half afraid that sight would spoil the rich illusion of harmony. He sighed eagerly. There at the head of the white platoon marched Allenby, the football captain, slim and defiant, as if aware that this year the hopes of the college rested on him, that his hundred-and-sixty pounds were expected to dodge to victory through the heavy blue and crimson lines. Fascinated, Amory watched each rank of linked arms as it came abreast, the faces indistinct above the polo shirts, the voices blent in a paean of triumph—and then the procession passed through Shadowy Campbell Arch, and the voices grew fainter as it wound eastward over the campus.

Not coincidentally, Fitzgerald named the hero of the novel Amory Blaine, an obvious homage to Hobart Amory Hare Baker. Even had McKibbin not brought Baker by Jackson’s room that October day, Fitzgerald may have still honored the athlete, who was just a couple inches taller than the five-foot-seven-inch Fitzgerald and weighed 165 pounds. However, the encounter certainly was seared into Fitzgerald’s hero-worshipping mind—at least according to Jackson.

McKibbin, Jackson, and Fitzgerald continued to cross paths at Princeton. At one meeting, Fitzgerald told his two hometown friends “that he wanted five good principles to live up to.”

Like Fitzgerald, McKibbin joined the armed services during WWI. In 1923, McKibbin met Dorothy Ann Scarritt, a 1919 graduate of Smith College, in Dellwood, Minnesota. She came from a well-to-do Kansas City family and was visiting friends in in the posh community nestled up against the northeast corner of White Bear Lake. Joe and Dorothy became engaged, but broke their engagement in 1925 after she contracted tuberculosis, a disease which also afflicted Fitzgerald. She went for a cure at a sanatorium near Santa Fe, and after eleven months recovered. Joe and she were married in 1927 and settled down in St. Paul, where he worked for his father’s fur company, McKibbin, Driscoll, and Dorsey, founded in 1886. Joe died from Hodgkin’s disease in 1931, leaving Dorothy with an eleven-month-old son.

Having enjoyed the time she spent in the southwestern United States, Dorothy returned to Sante Fe, where she eventually was offered a job by Robert Oppenheimer. She earned the title of “Gatekeeper to Los Alamos” and became one of the key players in the Manhattan Project.

Coincidentally, Joe’s sister, Allison, who was eleven years his senior, married Charles H. Bigelow, Jr., in 1911 when she was 29. She thus became step-mother to Alida Bigelow, one of Fitzgerald’s great friends, and Joe would become her step-uncle.

Image courtesy of Penzeys Spices, c. 1950s.

678 Grand Avenue
Crocus Hill Pharmacy (1906)

Throughout the years, several people have indicated to me that Edward Fitzgerald, father of F. Scott Fitzgerald, patronized Crocus Hill Pharmacy, a drug store located at the corner of Dale and Grand, for his cigars. However, from the available records, it’s clear that at the time the Fitzgeralds lived in St. Paul the pharmacy was located at the corner of Grand and St. Albans. The 1920 St. Paul City Directory listed the pharmacy at 678 Grand Avenue, as did the January 1922 Northwestern Druggist. Louis Lockwood designed the building at 674-678 Grand Avenue in 1906 as Crocus Hill Market.

In 1915, Wesley St. Clair became sole owner of the pharmacy. According to Joe Watson, who worked at the pharmacy, St. Clair wore a “Billy Goat beard” and was called “Doc.” Watson also indicated that Edward came in regularly to purchase Tom Moore cigars. One day after Scott married Zelda, the author entered the pharmacy with his father. Scott was driving a 1920s Buick touring car, red with a tan top.

“‘Dad, I’m going to buy you a box of cigars,’ Scott told his father,” said Watson. “Edward replied, ‘Forget it. You have a wife and child to support.’ Scott forgot it.”

See also: F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Minnesota State Fair's tunnel of love.

F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar and historian Dave Page has been writing about Fitzgerald for years, focusing on his youth and early career in St. Paul. He is author of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: The Writer and His Friends at Home (Minnesota, 2017). He is coauthor of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota: Toward the Summit and coeditor of The St. Paul Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of which were nominated for Minnesota Book Awards. He is editor of The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Minnesota, 2013).


This piece draws upon the following sources:
Clark residence
-Year: 1910, Census Place: St. Paul Ward 7, Ramsey, MN. The 1910 Census mistakenly says 454 Summit, but the St. Paul City Directories of 1909 and 1912 list 454 Holly Ave. as the Clark family's address.
-"Society," Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Nov. 26, 1919, p. 10.
-Bruccoli, ed., A Life in Letters, p. 45.
-Clark, letter to Jack Koblas, May 17, 1976.
-"Cotillion Cub Will Give Fancy Dress Ball," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Apr. 2, 1922, sec. 6, p. 1.
-Turnbull, Letters, p. 546.

McKibbin residence
-The Dial, 1910, Volume XIV, p. 168.
-St. Paul Building Permits
-Norris and Betty Jackson. Interview of Lloyd Hackl. November 1982, St. Paul, MN. Minnesota Historical Society Library, St. Paul.
-John Davies, The Legend of Hobey Baker (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968), p. 68.
-Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, 2nd revised edition (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), p. 58.
-Dorothy McKibbin. Interview with Martin Sherwin, Santa Fe, NM, 20 July 1979. Voices of the Manhattan Project.

Crocus Hill Pharmacy
-St. Paul City Directory. St. Paul, MN: R.L. Polk & Co., 1920, p. 282.
-"Twin Cities," Northwestern Druggist, Vol. 30, No. 1. January 1922, p. 56.
-Minnesota Historical Society. "Crocus Hill Market." mnhs.org.
-Hugh Craig, ed. National Association of Retail Druggists Journal, Vol. 20. April 1915, p. 27.
-Watson, Joe. Interview by Jack Koblas. Telephone. 7 July 1976.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Give to the Max Day: Making our books a reality.

Dear Reader,

This week, in preparation for Give to the Max Day on Thursday, we’re celebrating some of our favorite moments this past year. This message that Mike Osterholm shared with a room full of children and adults is one of mine.

Mike was at Red Balloon to celebrate the launch of Creekfinding, a true story chronicling his restoration of a creek that hadn’t run in more than half a century. Decades ago, the creek was filled and buried to create a farm, a common practice in the region during the time but one that displaced the species of plants and animals that relied on this ecosystem. With beautiful illustrations by Claudia McGehee, author Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells young readers about the seven years Mike spent uncovering and repairing the creek bed, planting grasses, and reintroducing fish species, including the brook trout, Iowa’s only native strain of trout. The trout in Brook Creek—the apt name for the restored waterway—are now reproducing on their own.

“Long after I am gone these trout will be there,” Mike said in an article in the Des Moines Register. “When you think of one’s contribution in a lifetime – what we give to our kids and community – this will live in perpetuity.”

“The book will be around for a long time, too,” the article notes.

Books are a legacy all on their own, but this particular book doesn’t just contribute to Mike’s legacy, or even Jacqueline’s or Claudia’s. Its very existence is tied up in the legacy of a philanthropist who wanted to bring books about natural history, environmental science, and conservation topics into fruition. Her name was Margaret W. Harmon, and her gift to the University of Minnesota Press has made possible more than a dozen books for children and adults, including 2008’s The Great Minnesota Fish Book and the forthcoming Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, a guidebook for the whole family that teaches us how to find and identify our state’s beautiful expanse of native flowers.

I think Margaret would be especially proud to have a hand in making Creekfinding a reality because of the myriad of lessons it teaches us. Without this book, Mike and his inspiring message of environmental stewardship and hopeful promise that damage can be reversed would reach fewer eyes and ears.

Beyond the direct message of the narrative, the beauty of this book is in the way it illuminates the roles we each play in sharing stories like this one. Mike does something worth sharing with the world. Jacqueline and Claudia use imaginative descriptions and illustrations to create Mike’s story. We publish it. Audiences read it. And donors like Margaret Harmon, and donors like you, make that a reality.

This Give to the Max Day, consider where you fit in to this constellation—it may be in more place than one. And if you want to make sure stories like Creekfinding will always be told, give a gift today.

Thank you,
Molly Fuller, Outreach and Development Manager

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

#UPWeek: Knowing the Facts.

 The theme of University Press Week 2017 is #LookItUP: Knowledge Matters.
In today’s political climate—where “fake news” and “alternate facts” are believed by so many people—valuing expertise and knowledge can feel like a radical act. University presses not only believe in facts and knowledge, but traffic in them daily, publishing approximately 14,000 books and more than 1,100 journals each year, read by people around the globe.

In line with this theme, we'd like to alert readers to a few things happening locally. Milkweed Editions, in partnership with PEN America and The Riveter, is hosting Be The Facts You Wish to Read: A press freedom panel discussion with local journalists and authors, 6:00PM on Monday, November 20th, in downtown Minneapolis.
More info  ||  RSVP

At the beginning of 2017, the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul launched a monthly "Book Gathering" series, which spotlights timely topics, community events, local organizations, and relevant booklists. Materials are listed here.

Now, we bring you to an essay by author John Hartigan Jr. about the precarious state of facts and knowledge today. Thanks for reading.

University of Texas, Austin

The current surge in “climate change denial” and “alternative facts” offers an opportunity to reflect on social constructionist arguments about scientific knowledge. Versions of such claims are longstanding but they were critically highlighted in the “science wars,” a series of academic skirmishes over the status of facts—artificial products or realist glimpses of a world “out there”? The polemical contours of that moment are cast in strange relief by recent contests over the disappearance of scientific reports from government websites. An object of knowledge as massively complex and unwieldy as “climate change” is a singular example of the constructedness of scientific claims; yet few who chanted “socially constructed” then seem inclined to do so now. That reaction appears squelched by anxious concerns that such hard-won facts be maintained and promoted.

What happened to social construction, and how does that stance matter now? In broad domains of critical thinking pertaining to race and gender, it never went away and remains a mainstay of classroom lectures and introductory comments in department talks. Even as genetics research created increasingly tangible and realist renderings of racial thinking, “race is socially constructed” stays a mantra for turning attention from scientific claims and towards the social ways that “race matters.” My own work on race and genetics, sometime ago, diagnosed this problem in Latourian terms: race continues to “gain in reality” despite constructivist critiques. Bruno Latour, of course, is a touchstone for these questions; he claims his counsel is now sought by climate scientists nervously contending with the perilous state of their facts. But in this account, what stands out is his glib sense of what was at stake in his previous work: “it felt good to put scientists down a little.”

Looking back over the last couple of decades of generative work in science and technology studies (STS), two things are apparent. First, the task and motivation initially seemed animated by a desire to assail the inaccessibility of science and to rupture the implacable visage of its singular facts. Indeed, the challenge, especially for ethnographers working in labs, was to gain access to the sites of knowledge production; additionally, there were hurdles of being taken seriously by scientists, who saw little to gain from (or comprehend in) considering a cultural perspective on their labor. Second, such accounts perhaps mimicked the orientation of their subjects’ fixation on the end results, the artifacts of scientific production. There was not much attention to knowledge base from which these were generated, the slowly assembled, largely reliable understanding of how the world works.

Today the situation is different—STS scholars are approaching scientific knowledge with an altered sensibility and orientation towards how their accounts may matter. Simply, we too are engaged in a process of knowing the world, not just critiquing certain authoritative claims about its operations. And it’s increasingly apparent that navigating our world requires multiple forms of expertise; questions and contests over access are generating an alternative approach. That is to use ethnography to tap the expertise of scientists and make it accessible to publics contending with the challenge of knowing our complex world. This is evident in Lisa Messeri’s Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds. As cultural critics like Gayatri Spivak and Paul Gilroy promote “planetarity” or “the planetary” as means of conjuring an anti-racist solidarity for our species, Messeri suggest these efforts might learn something from her ethnographic subjects, planetary scientists. These researches have honed and realized a “planetary imagination,” “one that has been professionally productive for scientists and perhaps can also be meaningful for social scientists and humanists who similarly grapple with planetary phenomena” (2017:12). That is, rather than just deconstructing their facts, there’s something of value to learn here. That ethnography is an excellent means for making that knowledge base accessible is further borne out in Priscilla Song’s ethnographic account (Biomedical Odysseys) of “how an alternative form of biological knowledge is reshaping human relations and futures” (2017:4). As well, Candis Callison use ethnography (How Climate Change Comes to Matter) “to excavate climate change as a multiply instantiated fact, with varying scientific, political ethical and moral contours” (2014:22). In her account, climate change is “an emergent form of life,” one we are struggling to know and understand; such efforts are not advanced or enhanced by regarding it as “social construction.”

My own efforts to assail the social constructedness of race (Care of the Species) eventually led me to a national plant genomics institute in Mexico, where researchers were studying “razas de maíz” or races of corn. Initially, I seized on fluctuating assessments of how many such races exist—59, 62, or 48, depending on whether you ask breeders or geneticists—to conclude that the razas are social constructs. Before long, though, I realized such a tart finding kept me from learning much about maize in all its varieties. Once I moved past treating these geneticists as ciphers for racial ideology, they were able to teach me to recognize how these distinctive life forms are reflections of the huge climatic and geographic variation in Mexico, and that biomes worked together with ethnicity to generate morphologically distinctive plants. This does not suggest “race is real” in any simplistic manner; “raza,” in Spanish is used on domesticated species, not natural ones, reflecting the history of the concept, which predates its application to humans. As well, when I then ventured into the botanical gardens in Spain—first to learn this history, then to regard these sites ethnographically—I initially fixated on tumultuous points of uncertainty within taxonomy; again because I trained to analyze social constructions. Gradually, I grew more impressed with taxonomists’ capacity—despite the constructedness of species—to discern and recognize botanical forms. And as I thought about the devilish predicament of rapid extinctions of both plant and animal life forms, their expertise warranted a better accounting than social construction affords. Fortunately, botanical gardens are designed exactly with this end in mind, to introduce people to plants they’ve never met before. I encourage you to visit one soon.

As we think about the precarious status of facts and knowledge today, we need to reconsider the tendency toward critique that dominates in the humanities. The world we live in requires manifold forms of expertise; a critical consciousness isn’t sufficient. We need to devise ways to combine both in addressing enduring problems of access to science. Our accounts of natural science research are means, certainly, to foster a critical stance on facts, but also to promote the fundamental forms of scientific literacy required of understanding something as complicated as climate change.

John Hartigan Jr. is author of Care of the Species: Races of Corn and the Science of Plant Biodiversity and Director of the Américo Paredes Center for Cultural Studies, University of Texas, Austin. Hartigan is on Twitter @aesopsanthro as Aesop’s Anthro.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Judge Miles Lord: Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keeper

Miles Lord: Minnesota's Maverick Judge will air on TPT/Twin Cities PBS
on Sunday, Nov. 19. Here's a preview.
More about the book.


There was once a generation of young Minnesotans who, imbued with a social-gospel populism, set out to make their state, their nation, and their world a better place for all. Especially in today’s times, the legacy of these men so dedicated to the common good—and who loomed so large on the national scene—is well worth remembrance.

They were a remarkable crew with strikingly similar backgrounds: growing up poor in small towns, forged by the Great Depression and hard work, and embracing a commitment to the least fortunate. “The moral test of a government,” as Hubert Humphrey would say, “is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

Hubert Horatio Humphrey was the leader of these coming-of-age young men who banded together in the 1940s, when he was first campaigning for mayor of Minneapolis. Humphrey was initially little known, but he transfixed students and other young volunteers—who became known as “the diaper brigade”—with his message that, together, they could create a better world.

“He inspired us and taught us,” Miles Lord would say, “and bent us like tender willows in a nursery.”

Lord, a college student at the time, was among the youngest of the group. From his threadbare beginnings on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, he would go on to become a one-of-a-kind maverick on the federal bench, a judge who believed that the deck was stacked in favor of the rich and powerful and who set out to balance the scales of justice for “the little guy.”

Others among this group included Walter Mondale, who would become widely credited for redefining the vice presidency, and Orville Freeman, who would initiate the federal food stamp and school breakfast programs for the poor while serving in the Kennedy and Johnson cabinets. And there was also Eugene McCarthy, who got his start organizing for Humphrey and first ran for Congress in 1948, borrowing a ramshackle Chevy from Hubert as a campaign sound truck.

In 1964, Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy were the two final contenders for LBJ’s vice presidency, and they appeared back-to-back on Meet the Press. “Senator, it strikes some of us that you have an embarrassment of riches in Minnesota,” one of the panelists said. “How do you account for this? What is there about Minnesota?”

What there was about Minnesota was that, in this era, the state bred public servants with an extraordinary devotion to the common good. For Miles Lord, that began when he was a young boy growing up in one of the poorest families on the Iron Range. During those years, he was deeply moved by the sermons in church. He listened to the story of Cain and Abel and envisioned the two brothers on the Range, with Cain pushing Abel into an iron ore pit that Abel could not escape. “I never wanted to repeat Cain’s mistake and have God ask me about it,” he would later say.

As with others in Humphrey’s following, Miles Lord’s life was forever changed when their paths crossed. Humphrey led by example, including when, still early in his career, he rocketed to fame at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with his call for an unyielding commitment to civil rights. (“The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”) Later, the Washington Post would call Humphrey, as a senator, “the idea factory for many of the Kennedy administration bills.” The Peace Corps, in fact, was a Humphrey idea. And, of course, Humphrey was at the helm of the effort that broke the historic Senate filibuster on the way to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the year 1968 brought a sharp schism between Humphrey and his one-time disciple Eugene McCarthy. Humphrey, as the sitting vice president and later presidential candidate, had become beholden to LBJ and the escalating war in Vietnam, while McCarthy embarked on a quixotic mission to rally the antiwar movement with his own campaign for the presidency. (Miles Lord, caught between his two friends, designated himself as the “unofficial envoy” between the two candidates.) Later, Humphrey would put much of the blame for his loss on himself. “I had lost some of my personal identity and personal forcefulness,” he would say. And McCarthy, despite the bitterness of 1968, would come to call Humphrey’s loss “just short of tragedy.”

Indeed, Humphrey became a “forgotten man,” as one historian would lament in the New York Times. “Poor Humphrey could never catch a break,” he wrote. “That such a figure in American history is largely ignored today is sad.”

Miles Lord is also too little remembered today, despite all the trails he broke. During his years on the bench, from 1966 to 1985, he fought battles aplenty on behalf of the poor, the disadvantaged, and, as he would say, “the meek,” and his bold rulings—holding big corporations accountable, protecting the environment, standing up for consumers, defending the rights of women, and weighing in on issues ranging from disability rights to education reform to nuclear disarmament—reshaped jurisprudence for decades to come.

“I happen to believe that might does not make right,” he used to say. “I believe that the poor are blessed and we have a duty to help them.”

If Judge Lord were on the bench today, there is no doubt his voice would be heard. Among other things, he would be speaking out against big corporations that abuse the public trust. “Many people denounce crime in the street,” he used to say, “but few examine crime in the skyscraper.” He would also be singing the praises of immigrants; he never forgot his years on the Iron Range, growing up surrounded by hardworking immigrants from dozens of countries, and, once on the bench, nothing brought Judge Lord more joy than swearing in new citizens. (After the standard Oath of Allegiance, he would give an improvised oath more to his liking about the need to be “our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”)

There is also no doubt that, if he were alive today, Miles Lord would be urging us all to heed better selves. And he would be quoting his favorite poem, which he often used to exhort his audiences to reach out to their brothers and sisters—and to the extended family of man—who were in need of help:

I am only one,
But I still am one.
I cannot do everything,
But I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

“That applies to me,” he said. “And, my friends, it applies to you.”


The documentary Miles Lord: Minnesota's Maverick Judge is a co-production of Twin Cities PBS/TPT Partnerships and the University of Minnesota Press, with funding provided by Ciresi Conlin LLP, and can be seen statewide on PBS stations and streaming at tpt.org beginning November 19, 2017. Here's a trailer.


Roberta Walburn is author of Miles Lord: The Maverick Judge Who Brought Corporate America to Justice. Walburn is an attorney based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she has been named one of the most influential members of the legal profession in state history and recognized by the University of Minnesota for “shaping the legal landscape for the benefit of society.” Previously, she worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Buffalo (N.Y.) Evening News and as a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, as well as serving as a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Miles Lord.

"An intimate, compelling portrait of a courageous and exceptional man who believed in justice and never backed down."
—Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action