Guest Opinion: Clearing the air on Lyman P. White Memorial Park

Statements made about such decisions Lyman White made while mayor of the city are fabricated.

Lyman P. White Memorial Park postcard-1920-1945
A small sign informs visitors to the entrance of Lyman P. White Memorial Park, later known as Tourist Park in Brainerd.
Contributed / Carl Faust

As many of you may have noticed, the city is nearing the completion of one of its newest jewels along the Mississippi River. Opening the first weekend in June, this new amphitheater and park located along East River Road will have its grand unveiling exactly 100 years after its creation. I welcome all who are available to join us.

Brainerd Mayor Dave Badeaux

In 1921 the city of Brainerd was gifted a chunk of land by a man named Almond White. His only request was that it be named after his father — “Lyman P. White Memorial Park.” That park continued to operate for years as a tourist camp along the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Over time the cost and the reduced usage led to it no longer operating. Smash cut to many years later and the entire fact that the park existed faded from our memories and eventually, a parking lot was put in its place.

Through the efforts of countless citizens over an almost 13 year period the Brainerd Riverfront Committee was able to create a vision for what could be. Members came, and members went, but the core vision was eventually realized and through funding from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources through the state of Minnesota, a grand park and connection point to our local trail system was created. It is through the efforts of these individuals that we are able to see such an incredible transformation taking place.

Yet the history of the site remained. The city, in realizing its prior agreement, made the decision to rededicate this park land with the name of that man’s father per the donor’s request. I will not speak for all those involved in the decision, but I will speak from my own personal context. Social media posts have popped up in recent weeks about the namesake of this park and it is in our best interest that we clear the air and have an honest discussion about the claims being made.

Lyman P. White has often been referred to as the Father of Brainerd. He was a man who was instrumental in the creation of not just our city but was also a founding member of our school district, a founding member of the local agricultural society, as well as our first Council President, and the second Mayor of Brainerd. It is his time spent in this last role that is being called into question regarding decisions that were attributed to him under his hand as mayor.


When Mr. White died in 1902 the Brainerd Dispatch ran an obituary. Within the paragraphs was the statement that, “During the time he was mayor here he had an ordinance passed, that all Indians found within the city limits after dark should be locked up and it had a good effect.” The statement appears to be directly lifted from a longer quote in a book entitled “History of the Upper Mississippi Valley” written in 1881. The passage inside that writing states that, “During the time he was Mayor of Brainerd, he had an ordinance passed, that all Indians found within the city limits after dark should be locked up within a building prepared for that purpose, and the people were freed from the night prowlings and hideous whoops that would have otherwise disturbed their slumbers.”

Those statements, as viewed from today, have raised some to call for this 100-year-old park to be renamed. The problem is the statements made about such actions are fabricated.

I speak to you now not only as the mayor of our beautiful city, but as a supporter of history. For the entirety of my life, I have been fascinated by the past. Not because it is clean or easily palatable, but because much like we as individuals it is messy and complicated. As a principle, I tend to lean toward the camp of viewing history warts and all, and I believe it is important for us to ask the question “why?” in an effort to better formulate our paths forward.

The time frame of the late 1800s is most certainly one of unpleasant decisions and brutality in many aspects of life including that of the relationship between area natives and settlers. In 1886 my great-grandfather, George. S. Badeaux, moved to Brainerd from the Muskegon region of Michigan. His father was a French Canadian fur trader. His mother was a woman of 100% native descent. At that time the relationship between the European settlers and the native tribes was one that was not ideal. Countless laws were enacted at the federal and state level that required natives to remain on the reservation lands set for them. Minnesota was one such state. In June of 1872 Gov. Horace Austin issued a proclamation requiring just that. If you can imagine, being 50% native meant that my great-grandfather had to endure things that were not fair for anyone to endure. Yet he remained. Eventually, he had sons, one of which was my own grandfather, who went on to become a doctor, and who also decided to remain here in our beautiful area.

Fast forward two generations and you would be hard-pressed to know that my direct lineage comes from those native to our section of the world. My dark hair and tone of skin can at times show through, but so do the freckles and redness of my beard from my mother’s Scottish Irish heritage. My sole purpose in bringing this up is to share that my own family knows the harshness of the timeframe in question and the exact conflicts that are spoken of here within.

Great-grandfathers are not distant relatives, they are family, and it pains me to know that the world at that time was one that could often be unkind. Yet as I stand here nearly 140 years later, I am reminded that the choices we make as leaders today will be viewed by others in times we can’t begin to understand.

And so, we return to the item at hand — the grand opening of a beautiful new addition to our city. It is my job as mayor to speak to our history and to help showcase the positive while in turn not running from our past. So, I set to work collaborating with two local historians, Carl “Fert” Faust and Jeremy Jackson, to uncover what truths may lie in the words being read from our past.

What transpired was not a mission to disprove those statements, but rather an in-depth investigation to bring any truths to light in whatever direction that may lead. All in all, over 300 pages of handwritten meeting minutes and ordinances were gathered as well as countless news articles from that timespan. It became immediately clear through simple attrition of dates, that no such ordinance was passed during the time that Mr. White was mayor of the city of Brainerd. In fact, that turned out to be only a period of one year starting in 1874. However, to be certain that no confusion about his role in the matter was in place, this historical data collection was extended to include the entire time frame from the city’s inception, when Mr. White was council president, through the years in which the city lost its charter, and concluding in 1882 one full year after the claims were made. What has been concluded and can be noted as historical fact is that at no point during that time frame was there ever an ordinance in the city of Brainerd that made it illegal for natives to be present after dark, and the claims made against Mr. White are simply put, not true.


Many hypotheses can be made as to why this claim was made, but I will leave those for others to make on their own behalf. What I will speak to however is my role as an elected official in this instance. It is my job as the mayor of the city of Brainerd to stand at the front and take these questions head on. As elected officials, we’re tasked with doing the work of the people.

We will not always agree on everything, but it is through this trusted relationship that I take one simple philosophy — do what you think is right and do so with twenty-five years in our future in mind.

There are many issues today that will be viewed differently in another generation. My goal has been, and will continue to be, to remove the here and now from our decisions and focus on where we will be in the future. It may be commonplace today to fear and villainize our past.

However, I simply do not believe that every decision we make today will be viewed as correct in the future, and I understand as such that efforts to be holier than thou create an unsustainable path forward. Our past is not a tidy one. It remains difficult and ripe with moments from which we should learn. With how important mental health has become, I refuse to subscribe to an ideology that reduces the sole value of an individual’s worth to the worst thing you can find out about them on Google. Especially when what we find is often far from the truth.

Not everyone will agree about what cities should and should not name pieces in their stewardship. However, I will act in my position with the knowledge that future generations will look back on the decisions I make with eyes that are their own in a time that is also not ours as well. And I do so, hoping that they allow for the same level of compassion and understanding for setting and time as we will allow those that came before us.

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