Scandinavian Guards of Nicollet County
By Don Heinrich Tolzmann
Minnesota is well known for its Scandinavian heritage, so it is not surprising that news of the 1862 Uprising caused a Scandinavian company to be formed. Called the Scandinavian Guards, this unit was formed in St. Peter and consisted of Swedes as well as Norwegians.
Its commander was Captain Gustaf A. Stark, a twenty-two-year-old Swedish immigrant. The company was formed after the last attack on New Ulm, but still a month before the crucial Battle of Wood Lake (September 23, 1862), which brought the Uprising to a close, so the formation of the unit was well advised given the possibility of further hostilities in the region.
Charles S. Bryant and Abel B. Murch wrote of the Scandinavian Guards in their book A History of the Great Massacre by the Sioux Indians in Minnesota (Cincinnati, 1864), providing the following information as to its formation:
“When Colonel Sibley advanced from St. Peter in the direction of Fort Ridgley, he left Captain A. K. Skaro, of the 9th Regiment, at that point, with instructions to raise sufficient forces to guard the town and adjoining country. Under these auspices a company of ninety-eight members, including officers, was formed, under the name of the Scandinavian Guards, at that place, and organized on the 27th day of August, under the command of Captain Gustaf A. Stark. They were kept generally in motion in scouring the country, and doing guard duty in the region of country lying between Rush River and Swan Lake. On the 17th of September all fears of an attack from the Indians being attempted at that point having subsided, the company retired from the service, and was disbanded.”
Although other civilian-soldier companies formed during the Uprising had high concentrations of immigrants, especially Germans in units formed in Brown County, the Scandinavian Guards were the only unit with an ethnic designation to its name. The company was no doubt proud that its members were demonstrating their patriotism as recently arrived immigrants by coming together for the common defense of the area.
Had there been an outbreak of hostilities in its patrol area, the Scandinavian Guards would have been in place to come to the defense of Nicollet County.
A roster of the Scandinavian Guards can be found in the following list from: Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865 (St. Paul 1891).
Biographical information on individual members of the Scandinavian Guards can be found at the website of Telelaget of America. This site provides the following information about the Commander of the Scandinavian Guards: “Gustaf A. Stark - Swedish. His father's farm was located in Section 20 of New Sweden Township, Nicollet County. Served in Co. K, Second Regiment of Minnesota Volunteer Infantry (discharged for disability; Corporal), was Orderly Sergeant in the St. Peter Frontier Guards who served from August 19 until August 26, 1862 and was sent to defend New Ulm, was Captain of the Scandinavian Guards, and was in Co. B, First Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the "Mounted Rangers" when he was killed on July 24, 1863 in the Battle of Big Mound in Dakota Territory.” Source: http://www.telelaget.com/pioneers/norseland/scguard.htm
Stark (1840-63) is buried at the Big Mound Battlefield State Historic Site in Tappen, North Dakota, according to the Find A Grave website: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=stark&GSfn=gustaf&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=62025125&df=all&
The Battle of Big Mound in Dakota Territory in 1863 involved troops from Minnesota under the command of General Henry H. Sibley. For information on the battle, see the website of the Big Mound Battlefield State Historic Site: http://history.nd.gov/historicsites/sibleysully/bmb.html
Stark’s death in 1863 in North Dakota is a reminder that although the Uprising came to an end in 1862, for Minnesotans frontier warfare continued on for several years, with Minnesota keeping troops on its border till 1865.
Big Mound Battlefield in North Dakota