October 5, 2006 at 6:47 a.m.
Spirit Car offers historic detail which Wilson blends into the text like a gardener might methodically place specimen plants in her garden.
Crafting Spirit Car was a conscious effort, Wilson explains. Wilson’s goal was to make her ancestral native Dakota history an integral part of a story that is a reliable historic tale, but one that doesn’t read like a textbook.
Wilson’s maternal great-great-grandmother took shelter at Fort Ridgely when the “Dakota War” broke out in 1862 along the Minnesota River, near New Ulm. Great-great grandmother was a member of the Dakota nation, married to a white fur trader.
Wilson said she found herself driven to learn what that must have meant.
What imprint did her great-great-grandmother’s experiences during this historic event leave on family members forever? To what extent has Dakota history woven itself into the Wilson family fabric?
“It’s not that I didn’t care about my dad’s side of the family,” Wilson explains. It’s just that growing up as she did through the 1950s the patriarch was the dominant domestic theme. Wilson’s fraternal side of family history was well known to her. It was her father’s Scandinavian traditions that were celebrated in Wilson’s household.
“My mother’s family’s story” Wilson said, “was invisible on many levels.”
A few clues from her mother’s past, old letters and oral stories about attending Indian Boarding School, for example, pushed Wilson to embark on, “a journey to a Dakota past” as the subtitle of her book outs it.
In Spirit Car she has adventures in South Dakota and meets wonderful characters. They show her places and remember things-- both uplifting and terrible. One clue leads to another, a new acquaintance recalls something that sends her in a new direction.
It took almost 10 years to finish Spirit Car. Wilson’s 11-year-old daughter is a travel partner in the book and she was married just last month.
The book project started to truly look like reality when, in the mid-90’s Wilson won a grant from the state Historical Society to help fund her trips to South Dakota for research. A Jerome Travel Study grant also allowed Wilson to fund a couple weeks’ away at a time, immerse herself in historic records and “get my whole head into it,” Wilson added.
The outside funding “validated” her endeavors, gave her encouragement. In return she granted the society right-of-first refusal on the finished product, and Borealis did indeed jump on the publication.
Being an author means doing book promotions and making yourself accessible.
Wilson has done book tours/readings in South Dakota and Minnesota since Spirit Car was generally released in August. She sometimes does a reading accompanied by her brother playing guitar. People attending her readings are often working on their own family stories.
Wilson is scheduled to be at the new Wyoming Giese Memorial Library October 21, starting at 12:30. In September she was at Birchbark Books in Minneapolis and the Arlington Hills branch library of the St. Paul system.
Toward the end of Spirit Car, Wilson bumps the narrative to modern day.
She learns of an inaugural march being organized to honor native Americans forced to walk 150 miles from the Lower Sioux Reservation to a Fort Snelling concentration camp, after being “evicted” at the end of the Dakota War.
This section of the book painfully and gloriously describes that first 2002 commemorative march.
Wilson will be walking again in just a few weeks.
“It has been a life-changing thing to be a part of this,” she shared. “The march makes it (everything in the book) personal and very real. History just keeps impacting lives,” she observed.
It does. When we know about it.