Anthropologist Franky Jackson interest in the Renville County area is personal — he has ancestors who fought on both sides of the U.S./Dakota War of 1962; he hopes to bring his interest in shared history to his new position as Renville County Museum director.
Life in Minnesota — and relationships between the Dakota and white settlers in the 1860s — was far more complex than some want to acknowledge.
One of anthropologist Franky Jackson’s passion projects is exploring an almost unknown topic — the Dakota warriors who served on the northern side during the Civil War.
“In 1861, a Dakota volunteer unit was formed, and in 1864, Dakota were allowed to enlist in the U.S. Army,” he said last week.
In other words, it’s not impossible that some of the Union soldiers who fought side-by-side at the Battle of Gettysburg may have fought each other in southwest Minnesota just a few years earlier.
“I’m fascinated by that, because it’s our shared history,” Jackson said.
Jackson knows a thing or two about shared history — he’s a product of it himself.
During the U.S./Dakota War of 1862, Jackson’s ancestors could be found on both sides of the battlefield.
“My mother’s maiden name was Quinn. I’m distantly related to Peter Quinn, who was (one of the first white settlers) killed at the ferry crossing,”
At the same time, Jackson is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.
However, although Jackson grew up partly on tribal lands, he also spent some of his formative years living in Europe.
“My father was in the army, so I grew up in Germany,” he said.
“We were novelties, certainly. When you’re the only Native Americans among thousands (of soldiers), you sort of stand out,” he laughed.
When Jackson was growing up, his goal was to become a tribal teacher. He earned his BA degree in anthropology at the University of Minnesota at Morris.
Becoming a teacher had to wait. Instead, Jackson spent years as a tribal liaison and cultural resource specialist based in Denver, Colorado, and Bismark, North Dakota.
As a liaison, Jackson was frequently a go-between for tribes across the midwest and west interacting with the federal government.
Another of Jackson’s goals: manage a museum. When he moved to Morton a year ago to be closer to his wife’s family, he finally got the opportunity.
Last month, Jackson was named the new director of the Renville County Historical Museum in Morton, replacing Carl Colwell.
“For the first year, I’m just going to follow in the footsteps Carl laid out,” Jackson said. “In year two, I’ll look at introducing some new programming, and partnering with other historical societies on projects.”
Jackson inherits the museum at an important time. It recently got a Minnesota Historical Society grant to do a complete inventory of the museum’s contents.
“It’s perfect timing for me, because I can learn firsthand what we have here,” he said.
That yearlong project will be going on while the museum also builds a new storage facility.
As a military child who grew up all over the world, Jackson understands what it’s like to pick up and move a lot.
Nevertheless, he says he’s in Morton for the long haul, both because of his family, and his new role in the community.
“I understand I’m the first minority member in Minnesota to manage a historical society,” Jackson said, “and I’m 100 percent confident I was hired because of my ability. It’s says volumes about how far we’ve progressed as a society.”