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Dakota routed Euro-Americans at first

August 23, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - A St. Cloud-based archeologist who has done work in North and South America and the Middle East detailed Dakota attacks in Milford Township and on New Ulm Wednesday at Turner Hall.

Dr. Richard Rothaus said the Dakota routed Euro-American settlers at Acton, the Lower Agency, Milford and the Battle of Redwood Ferry and won five of the first six battles in August 1862 with the element of surprise.

Rothaus said the Turner Society members who founded New Ulm left European political chaos and came here to be left alone, read books and do their exercises but soon found themselves attacked twice by Dakota warriors.

"The Turners picked a Dakota burial area to settle, but then they didn't have television and movies back then," Rothaus said.

He said the goals of Dakota warriors were to acquire all the portable goods they could, especially weapons and food, kill as many people as possible and instill fear.

"They wanted to do bad things to people that others wouldn't forget, like killing them slowly," Rothaus added.

He described two Dakota warrior leaders as unique characters in a clash of two cultures that didn't understand each other.

"Little Crow had both forearms shot on a dare, then refused to have them amputated," Rothaus said. "Sitting Bull once sat down in a field and smoked a pipe while soldiers were shooting at him."

He added that recent archeological digs in Milford Township turned up arrowheads, keys, glass shards, pottery, nails and a porcelain doll's head estimated to be about 150 years old.

Rothaus said two Dakota attacks on New Ulm were thwarted by barricades of upturned wagons and whatever else could be found, burned buildings and a thunderstorm. He said the Indians refused to fight in the rain.

Rothaus considered the two Dakota attacks on New Ulm ended as a draw, despite everyone except Capt. Jacob Nix retreating to Mankato for a time.

"The Dakota may have considered the New Ulm attacks a victory," Rothaus added. "The Euro-Americans' decision to burn buildings when the Dakota got really close to them was a great tactical decision in a desperate situation."

He praised the Brown County Historical Society for its detailed records of the U.S. Dakota-War period.

"It's among the best historical societies in the state with the luxury of having people with ancestors in the battle, which gives them added passion for their work," Rothaus said.

Michelle Terrell, PhD, detailed a Dakota attack at Wood Lake in which 300 to 600 warriors mounted and on foot ambushed about 1,200 soldiers commanded by Henry H. Sibley by hiding in roadside grass and on top of a ravine.

"The Indians ambushed the soldiers in September 1862 as they were marching in a long line in the morning," Terrell said. "They surprised the soldiers who collapsed in confusion at first before more troops flanked the Dakota, caused many casualties, driving the Dakota off in the last battle fought by the Sioux."

The battle led to the release of those held captive and the surrender of many Dakota at nearby Camp Release.

Terrell said an archeological dig in and around the commissary (stone storehouse at Fort Ridgely State Park) turned up smoking pipes, a pocket knife and fragments of a glass flask engraved with an Indian and an eagle.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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