New Ulm: Stories and Reflections




New Ulm

Narrator: Founded in the 1850s, New Ulm was a haven for German immigrants to start a new life on the prairie. But clashes over land rights and unfulfilled promises led to tension between the Dakota and these new arrivals, culminating in the U.S-Dakota war of 1862. Two attacks on the town during the war destroyed most buildings and left settlers to start anew or leave the area altogether.

Descriptions of European Immigrant Life on the Prairie

Sebastian May, German settler, 1850s (read by John Farrell): "I have been on my land two years. It took me quite a time to find a suitable place to establish a home. I feel so at home here. It is as if I were still in Germany”

Fred Juni: “The founders of New Ulm - the people that originally laid it out and planted the city - had great foresight. It’s laid out by Germanic culture, very neat and orderly, and every street is straight and every block is square. And they did it based on their heritage and all the things that their instincts told them were right.”

Mary Fellegy: “Grandpa Diepolder was born in 1856. He would tell us stories when his parents came over here from Germany. There were no doctors around so he was nursed by Indians and they lived in a bark house.”

Sylvan Schumacher: “Our neighbor, Charlie Schneider, he would tell us about when he was younger that if he was supposed to catch some fish, he would get a couple sandwiches and give them to the Indian boys and then they would go down and they would take this stick when they saw this fish, and they could flip them right out of the water. When the Indian Uprising took place, they told them that they should leave immediately because the Indians were on the warpath. They packed up the wagons and they got to New Ulm before the real Uprising took place, because they warned them way ahead of time.”

Reflections on the Legacy of 1862 left on the People of New Ulm

Narrator: Following two Dakota attacks on New Ulm, many settlers left to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

Robert Beussman: “New Ulm basically became a ghost town. Everybody moved and went back to St. Peter, or someplace, and then they just slowly trickled back into New Ulm and tried to restart.”

Narrator: Eventually New Ulm rebuilt and to this day the community is still processing the events of the war.

Mary Fellegy: “Quite a while ago, we had a Dakota speaking, and the first thing he said, ‘I was afraid to come to New Ulm.’ And I will never forget that statement. And to be afraid in 2000, or in the 1900s, it's terrible! This is what he opened his talk with, and I’ll never forget that.”

Fred Juni: “It impacted everyone in one way or another. It impacted the Civil War in some small way. And I think to the people of Brown County, that conflict molded a great deal of what we are. To forget that, I think it would just absolutely, absolutely almost immoral and wrong.”