Are blogs over?
Back in the reading saddle.

A surprise favorite.

Whenever I index books, it is always a real bonus when they turn out to be readable, fascinating books (they don't always, particularly when I'm indexing literary criticism). Particularly because when I index a book I end up reading it at least twice.

One of the titles I've most enjoyed indexing was one I did last year: Northern Slave Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey, by Walt Bachman. It's a history/biography of a man named Joseph Godfrey, who was born into slavery in Minnesota in the 1830s, and his role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Wait a second. Did you say born into Minnesota? That's right, I did. And that's just one of the fascinating aspects of this book. Godfrey was born to a woman who was held in slavery by a U.S. Army officer in Minnesota--which, it turns out, was pretty common in the army. It was common enough, in fact, that a healthy (well, not so healthy, if you were one of the slaves) slave trade went on at all sorts of military posts in states that have traditionally been considered free territories.

But there's much more to the story. Joseph Godfrey eventually made his way into the Native American community in the area (details are a bit fuzzy on how he escaped indentured servitude, because of course there aren't many primary sources documenting his life early on) and married a Dakota woman. When a group of Dakota Indians banded together and decided to declare war on German-American Minnesota settlers in 1862 (I need to read more about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in general, since I'd never heard of it before), primary accounts refer to one massacre in particular: an ambush after which it was reported that "it was, as I am informed, Wabashaw's band, a negro leading them, who committed the murders." (p. xvii.) After the war, when many Dakotas and other Native Americans were taken into captivity and put on trial, it transpired that Joseph Godfrey had taken part in the massacres, but the question became: did he take part willingly, or was he forced to by his adopted community?

Add in some strangely compelling accounts of the rushed trials of the Dakotas, and a fascinating dash of information about Abraham Lincoln*, and the end result is a really, really great book. It's put out by a small independent publisher, the Pond Dakota Press (part of the Pond Dakota Heritage Society), but it should certainly be sought out and made a part of every public library collection (as well as more academic libraries, and of course, individuals looking for a good book to add to their TBR piles).**

*That guy was incredible. In the middle of everything else he had to do as president, he personally looked through trial transcripts (and assigned others to help him) to make sure the Dakota warriors sentenced to execution were not sentenced just because they happened to be in the general area.

**And of course, I can promise you that it is as extensively indexed as I could make it.