High school history lessons are often steeped in facts from far-off places where students have never been. That lesson was turned on its head Wednesday when students from the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District toured historic sites located just a few miles from their school that were important locations 150 years ago during the U.S.-Dakota War.
"A lot of the history, the important part of it, starts right in their backyards. And they need to know how important their backyards are," said Theresa Nelson, ACGC history and social studies teacher.
"It makes them feel special and it makes history feel special," she said.
Nelson on Friday began a four-day class exploration of a pivotal period in Minnesota's history between white settlers and the native Dakota.
The classes included lessons about the timeline of the conflict and the treaties the U.S. forged, and broke, with the Dakota.
On Wednesday students heard a presentation from Minnesota author Michael Keigan, who wrote "Heroes of the Uprising -- Minnesota's Dakota Uprising of 1862."
Keigan's family has its roots in Meeker County and he grew up listening to his dad's stories about the war and the historic sites near his family's farm home, including the Battle of Acton.
A registered nurse and history buff, Keigan said when he discovered his own nieces and nephews knew very little about the war and the area's landmarks, he decided to write a book to tell the story.
Keigan made sure Wednesday the students knew the story began well before the first settler was killed. He spoke about how the Dakota had been continually pushed further west and were starving to death, in part because of broken treaties and delayed supplies the U.S. government had promised to deliver.
The heroes in his book include both settlers and Dakota people "because we need to remember their deeds and the effort they put forth in trying to save themselves, their families and their people," wrote Keigan on the back cover of his book.
Nelson said she has led her students in discussions about the "hard decisions that a lot of people made, on both sides" while facing life or death during the war.
Today Nelson will teach students about the long-term effects of the six-week war of 1862 that was sparked by an incident in Acton Township, down the road from the high school in Grove City.
Standing around the stone monument on a chilly afternoon, students listened as Keigan retold the story of how six settlers were killed at the location, and how those events led to terrifying consequences for other settlers and the Dakota.
The students also toured the Acton battle site where U.S. military troops battled with the Dakota in what is now a cornfield. Keigan pointed to where a small pine tree was growing, saying that's the approximate location where the first soldier was killed.
The tour ended at the Ness Church, where a healing ceremony was held this summer to help calm the simmering emotions about the war that still linger.
Keigan said the ACGC students were "lucky enough" to have a teacher who was willing to take them on a journey through the local history.