Michael Portillo's journey from Minnesota to the Deep South continues. Michael learns about an epic poem featuring American Indian characters.
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I have crossed the Atlantic
to ride the railroads of North America with my
reliable Appletons' guide.
Published in the late 19th century,
Appletons' General Guide to North America will direct me to all
that's novel, beautiful, memorable, and striking in the United States.
THEY SHOUT IN SWEDISH
As I journey across this vast continent,
I'll discover how pioneers and cowboys conquered the West.
And how the railroads tied this nation together,
helping to create the global superstate of today.
I'm continuing a journey across America's Midwest
that will take in some of the most vibrant cities in the United States.
They were founded in an age of settlement
and early industrialisation,
but they became great in the railway age.
As the modern world cut a swathe across the country,
older cultures faced extinction.
I've begun my journey in Minnesota's Twin Cities.
I'll follow the Mississippi River south
before crossing into Wisconsin at La Crosse.
I'll push east towards Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan.
Then turn south to Chicago before travelling the length of Illinois,
I'll find myself back on the Mississippi
at my journey's end in Memphis, Tennessee.
Today, I continue my tour of the Twin Cities,
Minneapolis and St Paul.
Along the way,
I'll use my diplomatic skills at a Swedish-American lunch.
What a very... What a very interesting texture.
Feel the rhythm of a great American epic poem.
So you get what sounds to us like a tom-tom beat.
Boom-boom. Boom-boom. Boom-boom.
By the shores of Gitche Gumee.
And experience life as a turn-of-the-century tycoon.
Oh, beautiful. Let's bounce on the bed.
These people knew how to live.
Each of the two 19th-century cities of St Paul and Minneapolis
grew by playing to its strengths on the Mississippi River.
St Paul as the most northerly port...
..and Minneapolis with its industry driven by the St Anthony Falls.
Their characters remain distinct today.
St Paul, older and more conservative,
Minneapolis, younger and more hip.
First stop, breakfast, in one of Minneapolis' favourite haunts.
This must be the narrowest diner I've ever been in.
And there's no room at the counter,
so I guess we just stand here, do we? OK.
Originally a storage shed,
made from a corrugated roof over an alleyway,
this building has been used as an eating place since 1937
and became Al's Diner in the 1950s.
Right, that seat is yours, sir.
That one is mine. Thank you very much.
I will smear the bacteria.
This is a very thin diner.
-Very, very thin.
-This is how big Americans were back in 1950.
-How many pancakes do you want?
-How many do you recommend?
-You've got to keep that girlish figure.
-Short while he blows!
-Short while he blows.
Doug Grina still operates a system of credit
that dates back to the time when the diner catered for workers
from the nearby railway yard.
These books you see down here, those are prepaid credit for regulars.
And it started when Al would come in in the mornings and do prep work,
he would have railroad workers come in about 4.30 in the morning.
He wasn't ready to open, but he'd have sweet rolls and coffee
for them and he'd ask them to write down what they ate.
And he learned very quickly, better get the money first.
Right. Are you a regular?
I am not. This is my first time here.
And what brought you here? What made you think of coming?
-All of my friends.
-Obviously, it's a great novelty,
having such a narrow diner, but is the food good too?
Yeah. Oh, yeah.
And you get cabaret thrown in from behind the counter, don't you?
-Voila, your steaming heap.
-Thank you very much indeed.
-Nearly arrived in my lap.
-This here is real maple syrup.
Squeezed from trees.
Swimming in butter, glued with maple syrup.
Stuffed with fruit.
I'm taking the metro south
to explore the earliest period in the history of the Twin Cities,
when European fur traders and trappers began to trade
with Native Americans.
Appletons' tells me that the first building in St Paul
was erected in 1838 and for several years thereafter,
it was simply an Indian trading post.
The first treaty with the Sioux Indians,
throwing their lands open to settlement, was made in 1837.
I'm on my way to Fort Snelling,
which stands on a cliff overlooking the confluence
of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.
It's a sacred place for the Dakota Sioux Indians.
The fort was built by the United States Army in 1825,
when white men and Native Americans traded cordially,
but within less than 40 years,
the Dakota had been stripped of their Minnesota homelands
and were at war with United States.
These beautiful lands belonged to Native Americans, but when Europeans
arrived here, hungry for land and wealth,
they behaved as though the territory was theirs.
It was an appalling clash of culture,
the Europeans with their mass production and their rifles
and their steam engines and their railways,
the Native Americans advanced philosophically,
but technologically backward.
What happened to the Native Americans
is one of the darkest chapters in United States' history,
something for which even today they have difficulty in atoning.
The governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsay,
declared all Dakota must be exterminated
or driven out of the state.
Thousands were imprisoned and 38 were killed
in the largest mass execution in United States history.
1,700 women and children were forced to march 150 miles to Fort Snelling,
where they were interned in a camp
before being exiled to western reservations.
Ramona Kitto Stately is an expert
in American-Indian culture and language.
Ramona, we meet in a delightful spot.
You are Dakota, is that right?
-Yes, I am.
-What is the significance to the Dakota of Fort Snelling?
Fort Snelling is actually the place of our creation.
For us, this is the centre of our universe.
We call it Bdote.
It is the place of our genesis,
but it is also the place of our genocide.
The people who were brought to Fort Snelling,
the non-combatant Dakota people,
they were housed in what's been described as a concentration camp.
Is that a fair expression?
If you look at what the determinants of
a concentration camp are, it meets every single one of the criteria.
And yes, it was a place of holding for our Dakota women and children,
under very harsh conditions, for the purpose of exile and removal.
They would have done it probably sooner,
except this Bdote was frozen.
So they had to keep them here for six months.
And the Dakota were literally shipped out.
The women were shipped out, right here at this landing.
They were boarded on steamboats and taken to Crow Creek and then
eventually Santee, which is where my people live in exile today.
-A long way from here.
-A long way from here.
What do you think were the consequences for the Dakota
of the Indian War of 1862?
The consequences were exactly what they were meant to be,
which was exile, loss of land.
There's no faster way to bring the hearts of people to
their knees than to separate them from their language, their culture,
their medicines, their food supply,
their water and all of their ancestors,
who are buried along this beautiful river valley.
Since 2002, every other year,
descendants of the Dakota prisoners have retraced
the steps of the forced march to Fort Snelling.
Placing prayer flags at every mile, singing traditional songs,
and telling stories of their ancestors.
One of the ways for us to even be able to begin that healing is to
bring back the language, to bring back the culture, to remember,
to put back together the oldest cultural knowledge
on this continent.
Go back to that point where our mothers lost their voice
and reclaim it.
European migration to the Midwest eased during the Dakota War,
but grew steadily after the Dakota were exiled.
I've come to South Minneapolis and the American Swedish Institute,
where I'm meeting current president Bruce Karstadt,
to find out how this community keeps its heritage alive.
-Michael, welcome to the American Swedish Institute.
-A pleasure to have you here.
-Thank you. Great to be here.
-Let's go up. Yep.
-What a pile.
This extravagant French-style chateaux was built by Swedish
newspaper baron Swan Turnblad,
who left it to the Institute
to be used as a museum and cultural centre.
So, when was the peak period
of Swedish immigration into the United States?
It was between 1860 and 1910.
About 20% of Sweden's population
or 1.2 million of a five million population country
left Sweden for principally North America and the United States.
The majority of these emigrants were farmers,
attracted to Minnesota by its familiar landscape and climate.
They built hospitals, churches, and schools
that upheld Swedish values and reinforced ties with their homeland.
And what about food?
When Swedes came here,
packed in their trunk were recipe cards and pots and pans and other
You will find cherished recipes for Swedish meatballs,
for baked rye bread, lutefisk,
and all sorts of other delicacies that were important to them.
-What on earth is lutefisk?
-Reconstituted dried cod.
So, drying of fish, like meat, is a way of preserving food.
And so, one way in which today's Swedish Americans
honour that tradition and that past is
by having lutefisk at Christmas time.
It's closer to Midsummer than Christmas, but tonight,
the Institute is holding a special dinner and lutefisk is on the menu.
Nordic food specialist Patrice Johnson is head chef
and I'm going to lend a hand.
Hello. Are you Patrice?
-Hi, Michael. Nice to meet you.
I've come to help you... Help you, make lutefisk.
I'm happy for your help.
Lutefisk kind of makes itself.
-But you have to keep an eye on it.
-So you can help me with that.
Now, what I've heard about this dish does not encourage me at all.
Do you know how it's made?
Well, I believe you start with dried cod, is that right?
It is, that's true. And then they soak it in lye.
Isn't that stuff you use for making soap?
Yeah. That's the same stuff.
But you can see that the lye in the water
has made it a little bit gelatinous.
Oh. It has.
Ah, I'm relieved. Not too smelly at this point.
I'll pop that in there, shall I?
Yeah. And we are going to put some salt and some white pepper on this.
And I'm going to put a little bit of allspice on there as well.
Allspice is indicative of lutefisk.
Now, that is really nice.
-Isn't that nice?
I'm relieved that we've got some of that in there as well.
'The fish is covered in unsalted butter and steam cooked
'in the oven until it flakes.
'Overcook it and it turns to mush.'
Goodbye, little fishy.
'30 minutes later, and it's ready to serve.'
Yeah... I can smell it.
'Outside in the garden,
'13 hungry Swedish Americans are waiting to tuck in.'
Hey, everybody. The lutefisk is here.
Happy Christmas to one and all.
There we are. You're going to have a big piece.
-You're a brave man.
'Lutefisk is traditionally served with boiled potatoes and either a
'butter or a cream sauce.'
Would you like some fish with that cream?
-I did put rather a lot of cream on.
Also to deaden the taste.
Hm! THEY LAUGH
What a very interesting texture.
-Memorable, isn't it?
'I'm not alone.
'Not everyone here is a lutefisk fan.'
Oh. Oh, you're exporting...
Are you not too keen on it?
No, I'm not, but I love making it.
I've made it for over 40 years.
When we lived away from Minnesota,
I would have it shipped in overnight,
so he could have it for Christmas Eve.
And you really do like it.
I do like it. Yes. Absolutely.
I grew up with it and, yeah, it
brings me back to Christmases of long ago
and parents and grandparents.
-Now, that's nice.
'No Swedish feast would be complete without aquavit.'
Oh, thank you very much.
'A spirit flavoured with herbs and spices
'first distilled in Sweden in the 15th century.'
We are going to do a skol.
THEY SING IN SWEDISH
And it's not over yet.
The Swedish fiddle group Spelmanslag
plays songs based on traditional melodies,
sung by Swedish maidens to their cattle in the pastures.
And by miners and loggers as they walked to work.
My dear American-Swedish friends,
what a memorable evening this has been and thank you so much.
I'm up early and back on the Metro,
which is taking me out to the west of the city
to a place that has been on the tourist map for over a century,
and is still attracting visitors today,
thanks in part to its literary connections.
Appletons' tells me that the Minnehaha Falls,
"which were immortalised by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
"are picturesquely situated, but hardly merit the prominence
"that Mr Longfellow's poem has obtained for them."
Nonetheless, I'll go and have a look.
Where would I be now if I'd been put off by mediocre reviews?
In the early 19th century,
a pioneering landscape photograph of the falls gained
wide circulation in the United States.
It may have inspired Longfellow to write his epic poem,
The Song Of Hiawatha.
Enchanted by the name Minnehaha,
Longfellow used it for his Native American hero's beautiful lover.
To hear more, I'm meeting Charles Calhoun,
who has written a book about Longfellow.
Welcome to Minnehaha Falls, Michael.
Thank you very much. Did Longfellow come here to study...?
No, no, no. He was very desk-bound in his very beautiful house in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard, where he had been teaching,
but he had a wonderful imagination
and he could take what he read in these books about Indian legends
and more and this wonderful array of Indian place names
and personal names and turn it into a great epic.
The poem tells of the life of Hiawatha,
a mythical Native American warrior and leader,
from his birth to manhood.
And the tragedy of his love for the beautiful Minnehaha.
Hiawatha performs brave and magical deeds, slays foes,
and woos his lover, but she dies.
He quits his people, sailing into the sunset.
Do you think he had an intention with the poem?
Yes, he was one of these 19th-century poets
who wanted to write a great bardic epic that would summarise
the history of this country and bring its peoples,
it's varied peoples, together.
And he saw that the obvious material wasn't in New England,
it was in the West, where the Native Americans were still thriving.
The song of Hiawatha became an instant bestseller
and made Longfellow one of the wealthiest and best-known authors
of his day.
But many Americans criticised his choice of subject matter.
As you read it,
what attitude from him towards Native Americans do you infer?
Well, I think he was sympathetic, certainly,
or he wouldn't have launched such a huge project, but he,
like many people in his time,
he saw them as noble savages and he stressed the noble part of it.
Yet, for most Americans at that time,
it was the savage side of that phrase that really predominated.
It is so strange, the poem comes out and has this huge readership,
yet within a generation,
so many of the Native Americans in this country have been wiped out.
Tell me about the sound of the poem. It has a very specific metre.
Yes, it's written in a metre called trochaic tetrameter.
Which means a strong beat, a soft beat,
a strong beat, a soft beat, over four measures.
So you get what sounds to us like a tom-tom beat.
Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom.
By the shores of Gitche Gumee.
You might be surprised to know that I,
brought up maybe 4,500 miles from Minnehaha Falls,
was taught the poem at school.
Excellent. That makes my day to hear that.
And how much of it do you remember?
Ah! Well, what I remember is precisely the beat.
-I remember the metre.
But now, it looks like you've got a copy of it there.
Yes, a very nice early edition.
-Please, help yourself.
-Thank you very much.
"There the ancient Arrow-maker Made his arrow heads of sandstone.
"With him dwelt his dark-eyed daughter,
"Wayward as the Minnehaha,
"With her moods of shade and sunshine,
"Eyes that smiled and frowned alternate,
"Feet as rapid as the river,
"Tresses flowing like the water,
"And as musical a laughter.
"And he named her from the river, From the waterfall he named her.
"Minnehaha, Laughing Water."
-It's lovely. Absolutely lovely.
I could read from the railroad timetable now, if you'd like.
Now the 0800 passes, now the 805 approaches.
At the time of my guidebook,
freight accounted for the largest share of railroad
business in the United States, as it does today,
but a new era of opulent passenger travel was dawning.
Although I've grown fond of the Metro,
it's not hard to imagine a more luxurious railway carriage.
In the heyday on the railroads between the Twin Cities and Chicago,
what was known as the Milwaukee Road, prestigious trains ran.
Special cars catered for the pre-jet jet set, the rich, the famous,
I've come to a rail yard in north-east Minneapolis,
home to a collection of beloved relics of the Milwaukee Road.
Rail enthusiast Steve Sandberg will be my guide to the golden age of
luxury train travel.
-Welcome to Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes.
And of beautifully-restored rolling stock.
How come they are in such great condition?
Well, they've been wonderfully restored
by the members of the Friends Of The 261,
which is a non-profit railway heritage organisation,
here in the United States.
What was the origin of luxury travel on American railroads?
Well, really, post 1900 was when most of your families,
the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, the Woolworths,
all of those famous families,
owned fleets of private Pullman cars.
It's like a corporate jet in today's era.
And all of America's wealthiest people
would have not only one but several Pullman private cars.
Pullman is an iconic name and brand,
-may we start with the Pullman car, please?
-Come this way.
With the advent of the sleeper car,
express transcontinental rail travel was reduced from weeks
to a few days.
-Thank you very much.
-Welcome aboard the Lambert's Point.
Ah! Beautiful luxury.
Well, if we come this way, we've got bedrooms, dining room and kitchen.
-Come on in.
-Oh, look at this one.
-And this is the master bedroom.
Oh, beautiful. Let's bounce on the bed.
-These people knew how to live.
-Yes, absolutely splendid.
This is how some of America's wealthiest and famous people
would have travelled cross-country at the turn of the century.
'Then, like today, the dining car was the heart of life on board.'
Ah, yes. Look at this.
Isn't that beautiful?
'And on the Lambert's Point,
'private chefs prepared everything from scratch,
'from turtle soup to porterhouse steak.'
-Crystal, I take it?
So, when the airplane starts to compete in the post-war years,
how do the railroads respond?
Well, right after World War II,
railroads started to go with more luxury travel for the masses.
They thought that they would actually just put
the airline industry right out of business.
From the mid-1940s,
railroad companies all over the United States
launched new high-speed services with Pullman cars
to attract upmarket passengers and business travellers.
On the Pennsylvania Railway,
they've put a new cheap-fare luxury train into service
between Chicago and New York.
It's the company's answer to the competitive Western Railway scheme.
And though the fares are reduced, the comfort has increased.
They're trying the Pullman appeal.
Here in the Twin Cities, they went one better.
The Hiawatha was an entirely streamlined train
with a distinctive orange and grey livery,
including the world's first double-decker car,
topped with a glass dome.
Custom-built for the Milwaukee Road Rail Company.
What amazes me about these cars is the size.
They are so wide, they are so high, and of course,
you've got the beautiful vista of the countryside passing.
Yes, this car, when it was built,
it was the heaviest passenger rail car ever built, at 248,000 pounds.
16 feet tall, 85 feet long.
So, what does the Hiawatha train really consist of?
Well, in 1934,
the concept was developed for a high-speed train
that would operate at speeds of 110-120mph,
from Minneapolis to Chicago.
There was two each day that ran out of Minneapolis and two that departed
each day out of Chicago.
They had the morning Hiawatha and the afternoon Hiawatha.
And it's so interesting to see the way that luxury
has been developed for a fairly mass market here.
So, this was competing with the airplane?
Yeah, this was all about space, luxury, and speed,
and when you were travelling in 1948 on an airplane,
it was very cramped, it was very noisy,
and it was an unpressurised cabin that didn't go very far
between fuelling stops.
Frankly, I need no more persuading.
I'm booked on the afternoon Hiawatha out of Minneapolis,
which today is pulling a piece of railroad history.
-Good morning. Welcome aboard.
And I've bagged the back seat for the ride of a lifetime.
Designed by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens,
the Cedar Rapids car is one of only four
sky top observation parlour lounges ever built
and the only one still gracing the rails today.
And so, a dream come true.
Riding on the tracks of the old Milwaukee Road in a Cedar Rapids
observation car from 1948.
That moment in history
when the design of airliner and train collided
to produce this beautiful object.
The airlines won the war against the railroads.
But in the modern world, when the greatest luxury is quality time,
you're hard pressed to beat this.
The classic American locomotive had at its front a V-shaped grille
that was known as a cow pusher.
The railroads brought the immigrants who in fact pushed aside the buffalo
and the Native American.
The poet Longfellow, in his epic Hiawatha, included the Indian
in the national story.
He was ahead of his time,
in showing respect, even if a little patronising,
for a civilisation that was squashed as the trains rolled west.
Next time, on my travels, I immerse myself in Native American culture.
-How do you like it?
-I love it.
Visit an extraordinary wildlife refuge...
Is it a healthy bald eagle colony?
At one point, we had single digits for eagle nests
and now we are up over 300.
..and take a crash course in lacrosse.
-That's all right. We got a helmet for a reason.
Didn't even see it.
Michael Portillo continues his journey from the northern state of Minnesota to the Deep South.
Michael discovers the story of Hiawatha and his lover Minnehaha, an epic poem featuring American Indian characters. He then meets a Dakota Sioux expert on Native American culture to learn about a dark chapter in United States history and how it is marked today.
Michael has to put his diplomatic skills to the test at a Swedish-American lunch, where the centrepiece of the menu is reconstituted dried cod.
And there is a taste of the golden age of luxury rail travel as Michael bounces on a bed in a beautifully restored Pullman carriage.