The Renville County Rangers
By Don Heinrich Tolzmann
Renville County can take pride in the Renville Rangers who served from August 19 to November 28, 1862 and fought in the important Battles of Fort Ridgley and Wood Lake. A roster of the Rangers can be found in the following list from: Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865 (St. Paul 1891), p. 780.
The Renville County Pioneers Association
By Don Heinrich Tolzmann
In the years after the 1862 Uprising, several historical societies were formed in Minnesota for the purpose of recording and documenting the experiences of the pioneers. One of them was the Renville County Pioneers Association, which was founded in 1902. According to the county history, its goal was “to perpetuate the memory of the settlement of Renville county and the strenuous times of those primitive days by frequent social reunions; to preserve the history of those early days and the persons who bore the hardships and privations of that wild frontier life; to cultivate the spirit of good fellowship; and to hallow the memory of those early pioneers who blazed the way to civilization.”
An indication of the Association’s interest in 1862 was the appointment of a committee in 1904 which was tasked with the assignment of locating unmarked graves of pioneers who perished during the Uprising. The Committee consisted of Henry Ahrens, Millard N. White and William Wichmann. At the 1905 meeting, the Committee reported it had located five such graves and White was appointed to chair a committee that was to seek support from the Minnesota Historical Society and from the Renville County Commissioners “to suitably mark these hallowed spots.”
In his 1906 message, L.A. Brooks, president of the Association, stated "I again take the liberty to urge that Renville county, which contributed such a large share to the history, not only of Minnesota, but especially of Minnesota valley, would be fully justified in appropriating the means needed to mark the resting places of those who sacrificed life and all, to lay the foundation for the blessings and prosperity now enjoyed by the younger generation and a few pioneers, who are still left. It would seem though, that our state, which is spending so much money to perpetuate patriotic and deserving deeds in the past, could well afford to concede a trifle for the purpose of showing future generations where those early martyrs sleep."
The 1906 meeting was an important one for the Renville County Pioneers Association, as one of its most active members, William Wichmann, was elected president. Thanks primarily to his vision and dedication, the Association succeeded in attaining its goals of honoring the memory of the pioneers who perished in 1862. Wichmann was the son of German immigrants, Diedrich and Margaret Wichmann, who had settled in Renville County.
Wichmann’s family came from Hanover, Germany to America in 1852, first settling in Cook County Illinois and then moving to Cottonwood Township in Brown County in 1858. In 1860 they moved to Beaver Falls Township in Renville County. During the Uprising, the family escaped to Fort Ridgley, but then moved on to Illinois, not returning to Minnesota until 1864, when they moved to New Ulm. In 1865, they finally returned to the Renville County farm. For the biography of Diedrich Wichmann at the Find a Grave website, see: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=wichmann&GSfn=diedrich+&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=58424633&df=all&
The 1862 Uprising experience no doubt made a deep and lasting impression on Wichmann evidenced by the leadership role he played as president of the Renville County Pioneers Association. He even wrote a narrative of his family’s experience, which can be found referenced at the Find A Grave link above.
As a young man, Wichmann was engaged in farming in Beaver Falls Township until 1889, when he was elected Sheriff of Renville County and then moved his place of residence to Beaver Falls. Thereafter, he moved back to his farm, living there until 1909, when he retired to Morton. From 1903 to 1907, he served as Representative of Renville County in the Minnesota State Legislature. Wichmann also served on the village council and other offices in Morton. Additionally, he was president of the New State Bank of Morton and was a member of the German Lutheran Church.
The Hon. State Representative William Wichmann President of the Renville County Pioneers Association
The Renville County history notes his service as president of the Pioneers Association and his strong interest in 1862: “He was also president of the Pioneers' Association of Renville County, for several years, again elected this year, and was instrumental in having monuments erected to mark the graves of several slain in the Indian outbreak. In this work, Mr. Wichmann has attained a widespread fame. He has made a lifelong study of the incidents of the massacre, and at the expense of much time and money has labored, through the erection of monuments, markers and otherwise, to perpetuate the memory of those martyrs to civilization who perished at the hands of the revengeful Sioux.”
At the 1907 meeting a membership badge designed by Charles Kenning was officially adopted.
Membership badge of Albert Tolzmann (Grandfather of the author)
At the 1907 meeting, Wichmann reported that “through the efforts of John A. Dalzell the legislature appropriated a small sum for the marking the graves of massacred victims, and a committee consisting of William Wichmann and Charles Kenning was appointed to go before the county commissioners and arrange the matter with them.”
For the 1908 meeting speakers included Assistant Attorney General Geo. W. Peterson; J.F. Jacobsen, a gubernatorial candidate; and George Welch, State Immigration Commissioner. Such speakers indicate that the Association was attracting state office-holders and seekers to its programs. During the 1908 meeting, the committee on monuments reported that the graves of Mrs. R. S. Henderson and her two daughters, Jehiel Wedge, Eugene White and Radner Earle, had been marked. Also, a paper written by Dr. E.W. Earle on the Uprising was presented by Wichman and subsequently was published as a pamphlet.
A high point of the 1912 annual meeting was a visit from Governor A.O. Eberhart who spoke to a huge audience at Buffalo Lake for an event entitled “Old Settlers Reunion.”
Governor Eberhart speaking at the 1912 Old Settlers Reunion of the Renville County Pioneers Association at Buffalo Lake
The 1915 annual meeting included addresses from then Governor Winfield S. Hammond and Lt. Governor J.A.A. Burnquist. Additionally, a committee was appointed “to cooperate and advise with the parties now at work in the preparation of a history of Renville County.” This resulted in the publication in 1916 of the two volume history of the county by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge in 1916.
Chapter Forty-Three of volume two provides a history of the county’s monuments and markers (pp. 1342-50). This is an overview of the valuable contributions made by the Association in erecting historical monuments and markers throughout the county. Most important and perhaps most symbolic of all of them was the Schwandt Memorial Monument, which was erected on 18 August 1915.
The county history notes of Wichmann’s work for the Schwandt Monument: “He served entirely without recompense, and achieved results which could scarcely have been expected had more than twice the amount appropriated been expended. Mr. Wichmann was also the prime mover in the erection of the Schwandt Monument.”
The importance of the historical markers and monuments in Renville County was commented on by Curtiss-Wedge in the introduction to Chapter Forty-Three of the county history, where he notes “Rich as Renville county is in historic tradition, sanctified as her soil has been by the blood of martyrs, notable as her territory is as the scene of some of the most stirring events in Minnesota history, it is fitting that many hallowed spots, here and there, should be marked with permanent marble and granite, suitably inscribed as a memorial to the past and an inspiration to the future.”
Those that perished and those that survived the 1862 Uprising will be honored during the 150th anniversary year of 2012. At the same time, a special word of gratitude is due to the Renville County Pioneer Association and its president, the Hon. State Representative William Wichmann, for all that they accomplished a century ago before and after the 50th anniversary of the Uprising. They helped “preserve the history of those early days and the persons who bore the hardships and privations of that wild frontier life.”
For the link to Volume One of the Renville County history by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, see:
For a link to Volume Two of the Renville County history by Curtiss-Wedge, see:
Additionally, a monument at Fort Ridgley lists the names of the Renville Rangers who helped defend the fort in 1862. It was erected in 1896 by the State of Minnesota and bears the inscription:
In Memory of the Fallen:
In Recognition of the Living and
for the Emulation of Future Generations
Footnote to the Renville Rangers
Minnesota Commission on the Wood Lake Battlefield, 1907, verbatim Report on the Battle of Wood Lake:
"We call attention to a few errors which appear in Minnesota in the civil and Indian Wars. In the roster of the men composing the Renville Rangers, found in Vol. 1, Page 720, Joseph Paro (Perrault) is said to have been killed at Wood Lake. This is an error. Mr. Perrault lived for several years afterward. The man killed belonging to the Rangers was Ernest Paul, his family name being erroneously printed "Pole" in the roster. Several men of this company had already enlisted in the Tenth Minnesota, one of them being Paul, and his name is found in the roster of Company I of that regiment as published in Vol. 1, Page 485, but it is not noted that he was killed in this action. This fact appears, however, in the original muster out roll at Washington.
In the list of the wounded is the name of Alexis Roach of the Rangers, Vol. 2, Page 244, but this name does not appear in the roster of Co. I above mentioned. The true name of the wounded man is Alexis Demarce, a half-blood, the roster, page 780, erroneously printed "Algis Demar"... He was a son of Racquet Demarce, an old trader, who had at one time a post at the mouth of the Cottonwood River. Photo above is Fort Ridgely State Monument.