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LaBatte: ‘Murder mystery’ at Acton was a primary cause of U.S.-Dakota war of 1862

Accounts repeat, differ on details

August 15, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - A New Ulm resident of white and Dakota descent described a number of interpretations and gave his opinion of the Aug. 17, 1862 incident in Acton Township, Meeker County he said spurred the start of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

"I call it a murder mystery that was not start of the war, but a primary cause of it," said John LaBatte Tuesday at the Brown County Historical Museum Annex.

The program was the first of a series of historical discussions that continue today at noon through Friday at the museum annex. Audience members are encouraged to bring bag lunches.

According to accounts, four young male Indian hunters found chicken eggs near a fence near the settlers' cabins about three miles south of Grove City.

The Indians went to Robinson Jones' cabin and asked for something to eat and/or drink but were refused.

The Indians followed Jones to a neighbor's nearby cabin and engaged in target shooting with him.

Fact Box

Lunch and a Bite

of History

Today - Noon at BCHS Annex

Gary Wiltscheck will speak on the Dakota War in general.

Thursday - Noon at BCHS Annex

John Isch will speak on the Dakota Trials.

"After shooting at a mark, the Indians reloaded their guns while Jones did not," LaBatte said. "Without warning, they shot Jones, his wife, their adopted daughter, Clara Wilson and two other settlers. Two other women and several children escaped by hiding."

The Indians rode their horses 40 miles south to a reservation near Redwood Falls, reported what they had done to the Sioux chiefs. The chiefs decided to wage war against the whites at a time when Indians were starving to death and their treaty payments had not arrived on time. More than $70,000 in payments to the Indians arrived at Fort Ridgely by train that day, but not in time to stop the war.

The settlers' bodies were buried in a single grave in a Lutheran Cemetery near Litchfield. In 1878, the state of Minnesota erected a granite monument at the site.

LaBatte said Gov. Alexander Ramsey called the Indians "barbaric" and that the government was not to blame for the war. A Gen. Andrews immediately followed, saying the government was to blame for the war.

"The Indians at Acton were outcasts from other villages who wanted to prove their bravery and/or they may have been insulted by what a white woman said to them according to some narratives," LaBatte said. "They would have gone to war whether or not other Indians agreed with them."

He said, according to a Dakota source, two of the Indians involved in the Acton murders were later killed by Indians for all the misery the killings caused.

"Many accounts called the Acton murders the last straw before the war," LaBatte said.

He added that few Indians will mention it, but the Dakota side of his family was paid by the government about 40 years ago for lands taken from them in the 19th century.

In other activities this week, the Jonathan Brown-Shetek Trailer Marker Dedication will take place at 9:30 a.m., Friday, Aug. 17 on Brown County Road 24, (the Old Shetek Trail), three miles southeast of Springfield.

For more information, visit

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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