Dozens learn about U.S.-Dakota War sites in New Ulm

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Terry Sveine of the Brown County Historical Society leads an adult walking tour of downtown New Ulm U.S.-Dakota War sites Saturday.

NEW ULM — With vigor and passion, Terry Sveine led an adult walking tour of downtown New Ulm U.S.-Dakota War sites Saturday.

Sveine said the Dakota were beset by broken treaty promises after giving up their Southern Minnesota land more than 150 years ago.

Their hardships let to a flashpoint that erupted in violence in August 1862.

He said it was reported a number of Dakota stole eggs from settlers at Acton, in what is now Meeker County, south of Grove City in August 1862. The incident erupted in violence when the Dakota killed the settlers who tried to stop them.

The flames of violence were stoked by a number of issues.

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Terry Sveine of the Brown County Historical Society points to a map on a historic plaque to explain the events of the Battle of New Ulm during a tour of downtown US-Dakota War sites Saturday.

Sveine said the Dakota were coerced by white people to cut their hair, wear Western clothing and change their religion. On top of that, many of them were starving, before about a third of them decided to go to war.

“They saw going to war as the only way to get their land back,” Sveine said.

He talked about the Milford Massacre, when 52 Milford Township settlers were killed by the Dakota on Aug. 18, 1862. Milford Township was considered to have the highest percentage of its population lost in the entire war.

The largest group of Milford settlers were ambushed about five miles west of New Ulm while crossing a bridge. Survivors managed to escape to New Ulm and warn settlers of a coming attack. A monument honoring the memory of the 52 settlers is located north of Essig, just west of County Road 29, eight miles west of New Ulm.

New Ulm was attacked the next day and again four days later. Sveine said a number of buildings not located downtown, were set on fire by settlers to prevent them from being occupied by the Dakota.

New Ulm settlers prepared for the attack in other ways including barricading streets and packing women and children into three downtown buildings.

“A thunderstorm wet the Indians’ ammunition and they dispersed,” Sveine said.

Led by New Ulm defender Jacob Nix, a small number of settlers returned fire. Six settlers died in the first New Ulm attack. Five were wounded including Nix, who lost a finger to gun fire.

Sveine said a hospital, manned by several doctors was set up for the second attack on New Ulm. Citizen-soldiers from St. Peter, Le Sueur, Mankato, Lafayette and New Ulm battled helped protect more than 1,000 settlers barricaded in downtown New Ulm.

“Barricades were set up with pieces of wood and mattresses,” Sveine. “Some people call this a conflict. It was a full-blown war.”

The Dakota circled New Ulm but soldiers charged out of the downtown barricades and drove out the Dakota that had superior numbers.

The next day, faced with a shortage of food, ammunition and disease epidemics, about 2,000 people evacuated New Ulm. They made it safely to Mankato, escorted by about 150 troops.

Sveine said about 650 settlers died in the war, he described as including the largest attack on a town by Indians.

On Dec. 26, 1862, 38 Indian men were hanged in Mankato. Sveine said it was the largest simultaneous mass hanging in U.S. history.

“Sham trials were held. Some lasted just three minutes in a language foreign to the Indians,” Sveine said.

The commemoration of the 1862 US-Dakota War continues today with a tour of the Pioneer section of the New Ulm City Cemetery, starting at 2 p.m.

For more information, visit http://www.browncountyhistorymn.org/