Personal, Family Stories from the U.S.-Dakota of 1862 Captured in New Oral History Project

Thu, 2012-05-31 12:14 -- amy.danielson

Julianna Olsen, Marketing and Communication,
Amy Danielson, Marketing and Communication, 651-259-3020

ST. PAUL, Minn., May 31--Even 150 years after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, stories of this disastrous time in Minnesota history live on in people throughout Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and Canada.  Minnesota Historical Society staff members have recorded dozens of these oral histories from descendants of those touched by the war and they are now available for all to hear and read at

“Oral histories capture stories of families in their own words and they give us perspective unlike any other,” said Deborah Locke, project manager.  “These histories are personal and heartfelt and the interviewees are passionate about their families' place in the story of Minnesota.”

Many cultures around the world use oral traditions to remember and relay history throughout generations.  Minnesota Historical Society staff conducted interviews in homes throughout the Minnesota River Valley as well as in tribal community centers on Dakota reservations.  Full transcripts and audio as well as selected quotes are available at

See below for participant names, where they live and interview excerpts.  Oral histories from people in Canada and the Upper Midwest will be added throughout 2012. The public will also be invited to share their own personal and family stories related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 on a "Share Your Story" component to be added to in mid-June.

This year marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War, fought in southwestern Minnesota in the late summer of 1862.  The war lasted just six weeks, but its causes began decades earlier and the profound loss and consequences of the war are still felt today.  The war ended with hundreds dead, the Dakota people exiled from their homeland and the largest mass execution in U.S. history: the hangings of 38 Dakota men in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862.

Oral History Excerpts

Walter LaBatte of Granite Falls:
I learned oral history from my dad. Stories that his mom had told him about life then, about how there were Indian villages all the way up the Minnesota River Valley. That was before the war. She was four years old and was brought into Camp Release in that summer/fall of 1862. Her and her mother and brothers took a walk to Lower Sioux. That’s where the trials were held. Coincidentally her future husband’s cabin [log house store] was used as François LaBatte… If you know history you know that François LaBatte, the trials were held at his store. I’ll tell you a story about that later. She told him about the horrors of that walk. It’s pretty well told about some of the horrors. One of them was walking through this town and they threw hot water on them in December. She remembers that.

Robert Buessman of New Ulm:
The story goes that they were on a farm in Milford, in Milford Township and one of the friendly natives came and said: there’s trouble, you gotta get out of here. So they started packing their stuff up and they headed off the farm yard, heading into New Ulm and from around the haystack, is the way the story goes that I was told, came a warrior in paint, and attacked with a tomahawk. My great-grandfather leveled his double-barrel, pulled both triggers, and nothing happened. He turned the weapon and used it as a club to defend himself. They took off, Great-Grandmother fell off the wagon, supposedly the wagon drove over her, they stopped long enough to throw her into the back of the wagon, and headed off to town. The story has it that Great-Grandfather helped defend the city.

Oral History Participants

Participants were chosen based on recommendations from local historical societies or tribal council members. In some cases, word of mouth led to an interest in the project and a desire to be interviewed.  These are the participants whose oral histories have already been posted

Barbara Anderson, Granite Falls, MN
Judith Anywaush, Granite Falls, MN
Lisa Besemer, New Ulm, MN
Robert Beussman, New Ulm, MN
Dean Blue, Granite Falls, MN
Clifford Canku, Sisseton, SD
Michael Childs, Welch, MN
Evelyn Eischen, New Ulm, MN
Mary Fellegy, New Ulm, MN
Sandra Geshick, Morton, MN
George Glotzbach, New Ulm, MN
Alice Henle, New Ulm, MN
Fred Juni, New Ulm, MN
Donna Korstad, Granite Falls, MN
John LaBatte, New Ulm, MN
Walter LaBatte, Granite Falls, MN
Elden Lawrence, Near Peever, SD
Orlin Mack, New Ulm, MN
Willard Manderfeld, New Ulm, MN
Ruby Minkel, Morton, MN
Ray Owen, Welch, MN
Joan Pendleton, Morton, MN
Dallas Ross, Granite Falls, MN
Richard Runck, New Ulm, MN
Carrie Schommer, Granite Falls, MN
Sylvan Schumacher, New Ulm, MN
Ellen Scott, Redwood Falls, MN
Terry Sveine, New Ulm, MN
LaVonne Swenson, Morton, MN
Jerry Weldy, New Ulm, MN
Lorraine Wels, New Ulm, MN
Byron White, Lake Elmo, MN
Deborah White, Welch, MN
Lillian Wilson, Morton, MN

Throughout this year, the Minnesota Historical Society is offering many new ways to learn about the U.S.-Dakota War, how it shaped our state and how its bitter consequences are still felt today. "The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862," an exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, opens June 30. Visit for a list of all initiatives, events and resources for commemorating and learning about the war.

Many projects and programs related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 are made possible by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849.The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, the Society preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and ExploreMinnesota Tourism.