Vikings Red with Blood and Dead: White Martyrs and the Conquest of the American Frontier
By David Krueger
Claremont Journal of Religion, Vol.1 (2012)
Abstract: In 1898, a Swedish American immigrant unearthed a mysterious stone from a Minnesota farm field. The stone had an inscription written in a runic alphabet telling the story of a party of Scandinavian explorers who lost their lives while traversing the area in the fourteenth century. Although Scholars have dismissed the stone as a nineteenth-century hoax, some Minnesotans have ardently defended its authenticity. This paper illustrates how local residents used the artifact to legitimate the white conquest of the American frontier by producing and disseminating a civic religious narrative of a primordial Viking sacrifice at the hands of Indians.
Introduction: Alexandria is a small town in western Minnesota that local residents affectionately refer to as the ‘Birthplace of America.’ This claim is emblazoned on the shield of a twenty-eight-foot fiberglass Viking statue that stands across the street from the local history museum. Enshrine in this museum is an artifact known as the Kensington Stone or KRS. Many residents believe that the KRS explains the origins of Alexandria and its neighboring communities. The verifiable history of the stone begins in 1898 when it was unearthed from a farm field by a Swedish immigrant near the village of Kensington. As local legend has it, the farmer Olaf Ohman discovered the two hundred pound stone tangled in the roots of a tree. The stone face has a runic inscription later translated as follows:
8 Swedes and 22 Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland westward. We had our camp by two rocky islets one day’s journey north of this stone. We were out of fishing one day. When we came home we found 10 men red with blood and dead. Ave Virgo Maria, save us from evil. Year: 1362.
If the inscription on the stone were authentic, it would prove that Europeans had traveled through what is now Minnesota 140 years before Christopher Columbus first sailed into the Caribbean. The authenticity of the KRS as a legitimate medieval artifact has been fiercely debated since its discovery. The KRS and the environment in which it was found have been analyzed by scholars in the fields of geology, archaeology, Scandinavian linguistics, and Nordic history throughout the twentieth century. Most have concluded that the evidence indicates that the KRS is a hoax, created in the late nineteenth century by the immigrant farmer and his neighbors.