The Defense of New Ulm

“Honor, to Whom Honor is Due!”

Remembering the Pioneers of Brown County, Minnesota

Who Perished During the Dakota Uprising

By Don Heinrich Tolzmann

Today, the 26th of August, marks the conclusion of a week’s programming for the 150th commemorative anniversary of the Dakota Uprising of 1862. It has been an important week recalling and re-examining the events of that time, but perhaps none is more important than today’s program honoring those who lost their lives in 1862.

As you stroll through the New Ulm Cemetery you will see gravesites of men, women, and children who had come to the area in the hope of finding a better life for themselves and their descendants.

They were unarmed civilians who suffered a cruel and terrible fate. We can be thankful that their loved ones did not forget them. We can be thankful to the city of New Ulm and to Brown County that it has not forgotten them. We can also be thankful to those who defended New Ulm during two attacks upon the city and lived to tell their story.

Jacob Nix, the commander of the first defense of New Ulm, once wrote: “Honor, to whom honor is due.” New Ulm has remained true to that motto by means of its monuments and markers. But the ones that really bring home the impact of 1862 are the gravesites here.

None of these people deserved to die and have their lives cut short. Many of them had just arrived in the country and truly deserved to be called pioneers. They were not armed soldiers like those fighting at the front in the Civil War in the East. They were here on what became the home front of a terrible war.

All too often discussion of 1862 revolves around causes and outcomes of the conflict, but the real focus should be on those who paid the ultimate price and lost their lives – they should never be forgotten.

We should resolve, as Lincoln said in his Gettysburg address: “these dead shall not have died in vain.” They were the pioneers who came to pave the way for the future. They are part of our history, regardless of whether they are related to us or not. 

Anyone with roots in the area knows that 1862 is part of the region’s historical memory and has grown up hearing about it. The events of that year cannot and should not ever be forgotten.

So, as you walk through the cemetery today, keep that thought in mind and ponder those innocent men, women, and children who lost their lives and promise that they will be remembered now and at commemorative anniversaries in the future.

Let us keep the motto of Jacob Nix alive: “Honor, to whom honor is due.”

Presented August 26, 2012 at the New Ulm Cemetery as part of the commemorative programs for the 150th anniversary of the Dakota Uprising held in New Ulm in August 2012.

For Nix’s eyewitness account of the Uprising, see: Jacob Nix, The Sioux Uprising in Minnesota, 1862: Jacob Nix’s Eyewitness History. Ed. Don Heinrich Tolzmann. (Indianapolis: Max Kade German-American Center & Indiana German Heritage Society, 1994).

New Ulm After the Dakota Uprising

By Don Heinrich Tolzmann

The two attacks on New Ulm on August 19 and 23, 1862, caused the entire town to seek refuge elsewhere. What was it like then? New Ulm teacher Rudolf Leonhart provides us with an eyewitness account.  He wrote that “the Indians had burned our mills and the entire wheat supply of the neighboring farmers and had left us not more than 40 sacks of flour with the task of feeding at least 2,500 persons.”

“The farms of the neighborhood were destroyed, two-thirds of the city lay in ashes and ruins, and even under the best of conditions most of these poor refugees would have starved to death in case they would have stayed,” according to Leonhart.

So the town was evacuated and an exodus of its residents and refugees began, with people finding their way to Mankato, St. Peter, St. Paul, and elsewhere.

Leonhart described a woman among the refugees who had lost her entire family except for one child.  He asked “In the end, it makes one wonder if it wouldn’t have been a blessing if a bullet hadn’t put an end to her suffering and memories.”

“When I saw her an hour later in a wagon on the way to Mankato I couldn’t help thinking so. There seemed to be no life in her and her features bore the expression of emptiness – I doubt this woman ever recovered from this frightful week to enjoy life anymore.”

A letter published in the Minnesota Staats-Zeitung from J. Forster of New Ulm and dated September 13 describes the conditions of the refugees.

“In such straits one often thought of the home place – a truly painful thought! Families that just a few days ago had plenty and lack nothing now camped out on the ground, or at best on straw, not owning a thing. One saw, for example, the head of a family of six or more persons bent down in sorrow, the face pale, eyes filled with grief, with heartbreak emanating from all his movements – all looked badly now, and despair ate at his soul when thinking what might become of his family.”

Forster further reports that a day after the exodus from New Ulm that “a cavalry unit of 500 men was sent to New Ulm, so as to protect us on our return, but New Ulm was empty. Capt. Daniel occupied the place.” 

“At the battle site of New Ulm one found all the buildings that hadn’t been burned had all been broken into, with chests and crates opened and their contents stolen.” According to Forster “The place had been totally plundered.”

Although Leonhart was invited to take his former position as teacher in New Ulm, he refused, writing “I felt that didn’t have the right to expose my family to danger again, which although unlikely was still a possibility.”

Like many, Leonhart had lost everything. After moving to Pittsburgh with his family, he wrote “And, gradually I was able to pull myself up out of the bitterest poverty.”

He was one of the many who did not return. For those that did, they had the job of re- building a town from the ruins that remained.

Note: For Leonhart’s eyewitness account, of the Uprising see: Rudolf Leonhart, Memories of New Ulm: My Experiences during the Indian Uprising in Minnesota. Translated from German and edited by Don Heinrich Tolzmann. (Roseville, Minnesota: Edinborough Press, 2005).

Family and Friends of Dakota Uprising Victims: