Sam Brown was a legendary frontiersman. He was the son of Major Joseph R. Brown, for whom Browns Valley was named. That valley lies between the headwaters of the Red and Minnesota Rivers on the western border of Minnesota-right at the tip of that little bump you see on the state map on our western border. In 1866, Sam Brown was assigned as a scout to Fort Wadsworth which was established only two years earlier in response to the Sioux uprising. The Fort was situated only a few miles west of the present-day city of Browns Valley, Minnesota. In April 1866, the western frontier of Minnesota was on edge with fear of another Indian uprising when a report reached Fort Wadsworth from one of their scouts concerning a column of Indians moving toward Minnesota. Sam Brown was quickly dispatched to warn settlers on his way to report the situation to the outpost at Elm River 60 miles north.
“I rolled off the pony in a heap. I staggered toward the stockade gate and fell headlong through the door of a house, where I lay in a stupor for hours.”
Sam Brown, Fort Wadsworth, Dakota Territory
Sam left in the fading light of dusk on April 19 and rode five hours on his stout pony, reaching the Elm River outpost a little after midnight — an amazing feat even for a seasoned frontiersman. The veteran scout was mortified to find out from the outpost that they in fact had already encountered the Indian peace messengers who had earlier passed near Fort Wadsworth on their way north with no intentions of going to Minnesota. Knowing he needed to quell a possible overreaction back at his home fort, he traded ponies and immediately set off for the 60-mile return ride in the dark. He encountered a fierce thunderstorm, but was still able to guide his pony back to the fort. Shivering from the cold rain he collapsed unconscious in the fort; when he awoke he was able to inform his commander of the false alarm, which the commander had already surmised.
I wonder if Sam Brown woke up saying the same thing as the citizens of Minnesota said after we woke up from the nation’s longest state government shutdown: “all that pain for this?” After not finishing their work on time and 20 days of our state workers being idled so that the political extremes could banter their message around, we ended up with a compromise that borrowed from our future generations and still left some $1.5 billion of a budget hole for the future legislature. To make matters worse our policymakers locked the public out of our Capitol while they spent billions of dollars and made significant changes in state policy that will affect us all.
Unfortunately, the results for the great outdoors was as frustrating as that fierce thunderstorm for Sam Brown had to battle through on his last leg back home. The general fund cuts to outdoor agencies were staggering: Metropolitan Parks cut 10.1%, Department of Natural Resources cut 11.2%, the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) cut 12.8%, the Minnesota Conservation Corps cut 32.7% and receiving the biggest general fund cut the pollution control agency at 40.4%. Fortunately, for many of these agencies we have worked very hard to get several dedicated accounts outside the general fund to preserve investments in our great outdoors. Unfortunately, this goes directly counter to what the voters said in 2008 when they adopted the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment when they were seeking additional investments.
To add insult to injury, there were several bad policy provisions that found their way into the final special session bills despite the condition set by the governor in accepting the $1.4 billion debt solution from the Republicans that there would be no bad policy. Our example, we now have weaker permit requirements for feedlots and provisions requiring agencies to ignore good science on mining discharges into wild rice waters.
Most of the senior lobbyists at the Capitol have rated this the worst legislative session they have ever seen in both process and outcome. If it’s any encouragement to the citizens of Minnesota, Sam Brown did recover from his challenging ride in April of 1866 and went on to help found the community of Browns Valley where he lived a long and productive life. And if you’re ever in Browns Valley, you can visit his first residence in the community that stands to this day as a monument to the great frontiersman. It’s going to take some good citizens of Minnesota to make this process better if we ever intend to leave our children and grandchildren lakes, rivers and wild places as pristine as we receive them.