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To Banish Forever: A Secret Society, the Ho-Chunk, and Ethnic Cleansing in Minnesota by Cathy Coats tells the untold story of the Ho-Chunk exile from Minnesota, in which local white residents formed a secret society, the Knights of the Forest, that sought to expel all Indigenous people from the region and deny their claims to some of the richest farmland in the world. 

Coats was inspired after reading a Mankato newspaper quote about the Knights of the Forest from the novel Last Standing Woman by Winona LaDuke. From there, she embarked on a decade-long journey of working with Ho-Chunk scholars and tribal members, leading to the new book. 

Coats is a metadata specialist at the University of Minnesota Libraries and previously worked as a cataloger at the St. Cloud State University Library. She is an award-winning researcher who received Masters of Arts in Public History from St. Cloud University in 2017. 

Native News Online sat down with Coats to discuss To Banish Forever. We spoke with her about the history of the Ho-Chunk people in Mankato, what inspired her to write the book, and what she wants the general public to take away from her work.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Native News Online: Tell me about the upcoming book To Banish Forever

Coats: This book focuses on a secret society that was in Mankato, Minnesota, which was formed right after the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862. Their whole focus was to remove the Ho-Chunk people from Minnesota by using scare tactics out at the reservation. Members would wait around the reservation, waiting to shoot anybody who wanted to leave the reservation. 

The book also focuses on the experiences of the Ho-Chunk people during that time. The Ho-Chunk people were not really involved in the war at the time, but there were some reports of them being at battles. In large, the Ho-Chunk people as a group did not make war with the U.S., which shows what was going on in the culture and Mankato at the time and the sentiment against all Native people in the state. It really is a culmination of decades long history between the United States. Many Ho-Chunk people died, which was a moment of ethnic cleansing and genocide in our state that we could do a better job recognizing.  

NNO: What inspired you to want to tell this story? 

Coats: I first heard about the Knights of the Forest as an undergraduate after reading Last Standing Woman by Winona LaDuke. After taking a Minnesota history class, I was interested in looking into the group and what they actually did. My professor was very encouraging and told me to go down to Mankato, talk with Ho-Chunk people, and look into it more. After going down to Mankato, I found a lot. With the secretive nature of this story, I thought I wouldn’t be able to find anybody. I want to engage in truth telling in Minnesota history. 

NNO: What is the most interesting thing that you found that you included in the book?

Coats: When I first found the ritual document at Mankato State archives, it was a moment of realization for me. Reading their language and how they generalize the Ho-Chunk people, as well as reading articles targeting them painted this picture of what was really going on in Mankato at the time. 

NNO: How long did it take you to research everything and put it all together in your book?

Coats: I started working on it in graduate school almost a decade ago. The baseline research was there, and after I graduated my graduate thesis went online. I had a lot of people reach out, and they really wanted it published. 

NNO: What are your future plans after releasing the book?

Coats: Right now I am just getting this one off of the ground, but I have some thoughts of telling more history. There is one guy named Henry Rice who has never really been looked into. He came to Minnesota with the Ho-Chunk people and is deeply rooted with them. He is also known among a lot of local historians as a very shady person. He was always doing shady business deals and a very sly guy. He is hard to nail down, but has definitely betrayed the Ho-Chunk people here in Minnesota. 

NNO: What do you hope that the general public will take away from this book? 

Coats: I hope this is the start of justice work for Ho-Chunk people in Minnesota. I hope the general public takes away that Ho-Chunk people are here and a part of this state. I also hope they come to some reconciliation on what happened in Mankato. I know we have made strides towards that recently, but if we can bring the Ho-Chunk people and the Knights of the Forest into that story better, it would be a more complete picture of the war and state history in general. 

To Banish Forever: A Secret Society, the Ho-Chunk, and Ethnic Cleansing in Minnesota is available wherever books are sold on January 16.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.