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History in the cupboard

You never knows where history lies, hides or is tucked away.

Langley resident Marilyn Alexander knows that for sure.

She's been keeping history tucked away in her cabinet for decades, and now she wants to share it with the world.

Look inside Alexander's attic and be transported into the past. For year's she's been keeping watch over a number of Indian artifacts originally owned by her grandfather, Albert Kaiser.

After hearing about the opening of the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian, Alexander contacted the museum by mail and sent pictures and descriptions of the items the she had to offer.

The National Museum of the American Indian is the sixteenth museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It is the first national museum dedicated to the preservation, study and exhibition of the life, languages, literature, history and arts of Native Americans.

Alexander said that she and the rest of her family long knew that Indians made an impression on her grandfather's life.

She'd heard the colorful stories her grandfather had to tell. She'd even traveled to a pow wow with him.

Albert Kaiser was born in New Ulm, Minn., in 1864.

He was an infant during the time of an event famous with Minnesotans -- the New Ulm Indian Uprising, part of the Dakota Conflict. His home was in the path of the Indian onslaught. Newspaper articles at the time even depicted his mother being chased out of their home with Albert in her arms, Alexander said.

As a young man, Kaiser was a printer who took his press by horse-drawn wagon to settle in an area in northern Minnesota. He was one of the founders of Fosston, and on his press he printed the claims of others eager to settle in the soon-to-be boomtown. Profits from his claim-printing business went toward the purchase of shares in several of the local banks springing up at the time.

As the president of the First National Bank of Bagley, Minn. during the early 1900s, Kaiser acted as the paymaster for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. His duties as paymaster included making monthly visits to deliver payments to residents of the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Upon his visits, there would often be much celebration and gift-giving. Over the years of his service, he was given numerous tribal beadwork items, pipes, deerskin clothes and other handmade items.

"Grandpa was always very respectful of them," Alexander said.

"The fact that they were kept all these years show how much of a treasure they were to my family," she said.

Kaiser remained an important man in Minnesota. In the 1920s he was a busy banker helping local farmers get loans.

He died in 1942. And Alexander estimates that much of her grandfather's Indian artifact collection dates back 100 years.

Much of it was made by the Chippewa or Ojibwe people, but not all, as some of the items given to Kaiser were obtained through trade between the people of the White Earth Indian Reservation and tribes throughout the nation.

Items include a 2-foot-long carved wooden peace pipe and various other pipes with intricate inlays detailing their slender shapes.

There's a hatchet head, which Alexander suspects was created more for the tourist trade than for any other use.

Intricately beaded bag covers that the Indians would use to adorn saddle bags on their horses and other bags still hold their beauty.

There's also infant moccasins, bow cases, belts, knife sheaths, leather and silver arm protectors for archery and -- napkin rings?

"While you can tell that some of the items were used by the Indians, we suspect that many of them were actually made for the tourist trade in the area," Alexander said.

Indians were always just a part of life for Alexander and her family, as the area was densely populated with Indians

"My family like many other pioneer families of Minnesota lived in an area where they were surrounded by Indians," Alexander said.

"There wasn't a lot of historical fascination, it was just simply a part of the history of the area, the Indian Wars and all," she explained.

Alexander said she remembers the White Earth Indian Reservation, which is Minnesota's largest and historically poorest Indian reservation, being a "dreadful place," at the time.

"Items such as this weren't exactly treasured by the people of the area because of the history behind them," Alexander said. "People were conflicted at the time over what Indians' place in society should be."

Alexander admits that her portion of the collection is but a fraction of the glorious Indian artifacts that were once housed in her grandfather's attic. Other items are now in the possession of her siblings or lost in the test of time.

"All the same, they were always important to us and my grandmother wanted us to take care of them," Alexander said. "She always had a lot of affection for them."

Alexander returned this week from five days in Washington, D.C., where she met with representatives of the National Museum of the American Indian to talk about how the items could possibly fit into the museum's vast collection.

"We had a wonderful time in D.C. and the museum was great. There were just a limited number of tribes on display at the moment and they weren't sure when others would cycle through," Alexander said. "It felt like the items were just going to back into the basement for a while."

After the visit, Alexander decided that the items would be better displayed if donated to the Minnesota Historical Society. The historical society has been around since founded in 1849, nine years before Minnesota became a state.

The change in plans will be a homecoming of such for the artifacts.

The museum is also already home to some of the family's history. A medicine wagon owned by pioneer pharmacist Frederick Mark, Albert Kaiser's father-in-law (Alexander's great-grandfather) is already in the historical society's collection. Alexander's siblings are also considering contributing some of their Indian items to the Minnesota Historical Society.

"It's just silly to have items like this tucked away in people's attics. They should be on display for people to see them," Alexander said. "Take a look in your attic and you too might realize that there's history there."

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