New Ulm, 1860

This is a painting of New Ulm, Minnesota, by Julius Berndt done in 1860. Founded in 1854 by an association of German-Americans called the Chicago Land Society, New Ulm became a haven for German immigrants. By 1860 the town’s population was 635 people, many of them recent immigrants who spoke little or no English and were not yet naturalized citizens. New Ulm was one of many towns founded during a tremendous influx of European settlers in Minnesota Territory. The 1850 territorial census recorded 6,077 non-Indian residents. By 1860, that number had grown to 169,654. Like many towns dotting the territory, New Ulm attracted immigrants who spoke the same language and held similar world views.

New Ulm attracted members of a German political party called the Turners. Nearby Milford Township was settled by Bohemian Germans, while members of the German Evangelical churches settled across the river in Renville County. Unlike fur-trade era settlers who relied on Dakota relationships for survival, newer settlers arrived in numbers large enough to make their communities tight-knit and self-reliant.

On August 14, a group of New Ulm residents voiced their concerns in a strongly worded petition sent to Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey. In it, the settlers described delays in payments to the Dakota, rumors of corruption in the state’s office of Indian Affairs, and their fears that a war was imminent. An excerpt from their letter reflects the level of panic, fueled by fact and rumor, running rampant before the war:

That the payment for the Dacotah and Sioux nation of Indians has this year been delayed up to this time. That said Indians considering said payment justly due to them and relying on the same for their subsistence, have become by such delay exceedingly exasperated, have committed several outrages and threaten to overwhelm these frontier settlements with Indian Warfare. That your memorialists are in eminent danger to see their families massacred by said Indians, if the able bodied men of these settlements should be removed from here under the militia draft, before said Indians are appeased by receiving what is justly due them. That the rumor has spread here far and wide that the United States Government has paid the money in gold for said Indians long ago, but that said money has been corruptly misapplied in speculations on the discount between gold and paper currency and otherwise by the Hon. Clark Thompson, Superintendent of the Indian Affairs in the State of Minnesota, and that this is the reason of the delay of the payment.

Dated August 14th, A. D. 1862

Of the 47 signers of this petition, two (Johan Schneider and Ernst Dietrich) were killed on August 18. A third (G. W. Otto Barth) was wounded August 23 and died shortly after.

This photo is of the first white settlers of New Ulm, in 1854.