The Press interviewed local author Verne Pickering about his new book, “Stands Before his People: Enmegahbowh and the Ojibwe,” which will be published this month. For more information, visit the author’s website at standsbefore.com.
Q. Tell us a little about your background. What sparked your interest in writing this book?
A. I grew up in the small village of Hatley, Wisconsin, with two brothers and a sister. My parents started a retail building material busines and the boys participated early in delivery with hired men. After high school graduation, I attended the University of Wisconsin in an electrical engineering course. My work career included Univac, Data Display, Control Data, and the State of Minnesota. I was also self-employed in the business of equipping businesses with computer accounting systems. I did a lot of technical writing and probably learned more about writing from editors than from formal schooling.
I am married, have two children and three grandchildren. My wife and I built a house on Bald Eagle Lake where we all enjoyed water skiing, sailing and all the other water activities. We currently live in a condo north of White Bear Lake. We all loved snow skiing locally and in the West. To round out the skiing sport, we also all cross-country skied. We are well-traveled in the United States and Europe.
In retirement, I wrote an autobiography for family history. I then self-published “Hatley, History of a Central Wisconsin Village,” which was a bestseller in my hometown of 500. Then I wrote a biography of Dorothy Haas, a very interesting teacher in the area, and produced copies on my computer. A copy of this book was deposited in the White Bear Lake Depot Museum.
As a board member of Episcopal Community Services, I met the Rev. Stephen Schaitberger. The social services organization was liquidated, and I was asked to write a history of the organization, which I did. Stephen and I had a final lunch together and reviewed the history. Before we parted, he asked me if I would like to transcribe some letters he had collected. I casually said, “sure.” Stephen had collected the documents over 30 years.
Q. How long did it take to research and write?
A. The documents that Stephen had collected turned out to be about 1,000 in number. The primary subject of the collection was Enmegahbowh, an Ojibwe who had learned English early, became a Methodist missionary, was further educated by the Methodists and did mission work in Northern Minnesota among the Ojibwe, Enmegahbowh married, and some time later, the Methodist Mission was abandoned. The Episcopalian J. Lloyd Breck (after whom the Breck Academy in named) then met Enmegahbowh and they started a mission at Gull Lake. Then Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple became acquainted with Enmegahbowh. Etc. Etc.
The letters were transcribed, and the printed documents were scanned. An archive ordered by date and originator was created. The period covered was the 1800s. Enmegahbowh had participated in numerous treaties, accompanied delegations to Washington, D.C., and facilitated communication between the Ojibwe and the ever-increasing white settlers, agents and politicians. The archive was produced in seven years. After the creation of the archive, the subject was researched, written, edited and after three years is ready for publication.
Q. What audience is the book geared to?
A. Much of the action of the book takes place in Northern Minnesota, and those who visit Northern Minnesota are the primary market for the book. Much action also takes place in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota. Beyond the primary market described, many bestsellers have been written about other Indian groups, notably “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” The book is unique in that a Native American much involved in politics and relations between natives and settlers left an extensive written record.
Q. What do you hope readers learn from this book?
A. The book is written as a history of a unique period (1800 to the early 1900s) in American history. It is left to the reader to decide lessons to be learned.
Q. Who is your favorite author(s)?
A. John Grisham. My favored authors are reality-based (history, politics, economics, etc.).
Q. Do you have anything else in the works?
A. Promotion of our current book will occupy a lot of time. I have no ideas for further writing.