My lunch with Redford

I was going to write about The Hill’s 10th anniversary, or the importance of the upcoming presidential debates, or maybe the impact of this week’s U.S. District court decision on the Federal Election Commission and political fundraising.

But that was before I had lunch with Robert Redford at Bobby Van’s on Monday. (To be completely honest, as Dan Rather might say, I didn’t actually have lunch with the famous actor, director and producer, but he was right there at a nearby table with Robert Lynch, the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, so, technically, I won’t have to say I’ve done something that I deeply regret.)

Anyway, I didn’t want to bother Mr. Redford as he ate his hamburger salad, so I didn’t ask him if it was true that he got kicked off the University of Colorado baseball team in 1955 and lost his scholarship because of heavy drinking, or why he threw like a girl in “The Natural,” or whether he and Paul Newman actually jumped off that cliff in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” or if he liked playing Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men.”

And I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that I still wear the T-shirt that I bought several years ago at his Sundance resort in Utah when I work out at the Y.

However, I learned that Mr. Redford, who enlisted Mr. Lynch’s help when he gave a major arts-policy speech at the Kennedy Center last September, was in town to attend today’s opening of the new National Museum of the American Indian. So if I had actually spoken to him, I would have told him about the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862.

That happened in my native Minnesota and was one of the most tragic chapters in the history of the American Indian. During the summer of 1862, Dakota Sioux warriors led by Little Crow, protesting the loss of hunting grounds to white settlers and broken promises by the U.S. government, went on a rampage that left between 400 and 800 settlers and soldiers dead.

U.S. troops, led by Brig. Gen. Henry Sibley, who served as a delegate to Congress from the Minnesota and Wisconsin territories and later as governor of Minnesota, rounded up some 1,200 warriors after convincing them they would be treated as prisoners of war. They were then disarmed and brought before a military tribunal, even though this had never been done before by the Army, and 303 men were condemned to death.

After Minnesota politicians claimed on the floor of Congress that most of the Indians had committed atrocities, President Lincoln personally reviewed the trial transcripts and decided such claims were false. He wrote out the names of 39 of the most obvious offenders to be executed and ordered the rest released. That document remains one of the most valuable in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection.

On Dec. 26, the 39 warriors were hanged in a public square in Mankato — where I was once a newspaper editor — in what remains the largest mass execution in American history. One of the warriors was saved when the rope broke. In an ironic footnote, a doctor from a nearby town claimed the body of a warrior named Cut Nose and used it to teach his two sons anatomy. The sons were Charles and William Mayo, founders of the famed Mayo Clinic.

Maybe I can convince Mr. Redford to make a movie about this.

Albert Eisele is editor of The Hill.