“Please give them help. Please give them the money we said we were going to give them.”

Ms. Besemer shares what she learned and her perspective on the U.S.-Dakota War.

Audio Chapters

DL: In your growing up years, did you ever hear of the reason for the start of the war?

LB: My dad would just say that we were mean to the Indians. That we held off giving them food etcetera.

DL: We as in…

LB: The white people I should say. But also the Indians stole a lot, is what I’ve heard other people say too. You know I didn’t realize how close to the reservation line we really were. From this farm you could actually almost see the reservation lines. So that was the only thing I remember dad saying, that we weren’t always so kind either.

DL: Were there family stories about the fact that they were starving and that their culture had been pretty decimated?

LB: No. You know my dad always loved Indian folklore so he always looked at both sides of it.
But my dad wasn’t that old, either. It would be interesting to go back another generation to see what those people thought of the Indians.

DL: It’s a very tough job during this county’s history.

LB: It is, it is. But I think more and more people are seeing both sides of it, especially I think with the Historical Society. The first article we’re publishing in the paper is about the letter that the New Ulm people sent to the governor saying, “Please give them help. Please give them the money we said we were going to give them.” So I think that kind of set the tone right away that there are definitely two sides. In years past, New Ulm celebrated the Indian massacre or whatever but now it’s more that we are just commemorating it, because our pioneers lived through it. We understand that but we also see the other side, I think.

DL: It’s a complex story. There’s no question.

LB: It is, it is, right. And I guess, when you read the books and you hear what we did to the Indians, but then the brutality of the Indians against the whites and what they did to especially the Henle family -- it’s kind of like well, now, did they have to be so mean? We were making them starve, also, so was that very nice?

DL: It was war. It happened in Vietnam and World War II.

LB: Yes, that’s right, nothing pretty about it.

DL: Would you say there was any winner or loser to that war?

LB: No. I really don’t. I mean you look at this farm site. For the next 30 years people would maybe just buy and sell. It wasn’t really settled. I don’t believe there were any accounts that these buildings were burned down during the Indian uprising, either. You just think of families that lost… I don’t know. No, I don’t think there were any winners or losers.

DL: What is your opinion of the war?

LB: What is my opinion of the war? I just think it could have been settled without bloodshed like it was. If we had honored the promises that we had given the Indians for the land. Why did it have to come to that? I think that the Indians planned it so well. It was during the Civil War, so a lot of the men were gone fighting, so their strategy was good. But then the brutality of some of their killings, of some of the kids etcetera, makes me sad. Especially as a mom, you know to watch your child go through some of those beatings it was just… What a horrid thing. I definitely look at both sides.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Lisa Besemer Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm (Milford Township), MN | Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. “Please give them help. Please give them the money we said we were going to give them.” November 13, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/996

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.