Lorenzo Lawrence (Towanetaton)

Dr. Lawrence talks about his ancestor's life and involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War.

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Lorenzo was born during the time just before the treaties and our major loss of lands in Minnesota, kind of the closing era; back in 1824 is when he was born, by his own admission. Some say he was born in 1820. I happened to look it up and compare dates and different things, and I believe he was right, I believe he was born in 1824. And they had at that time separate extended families. You had a nuclear family, but you had an extended family, which was just as important. And so he lived with his aunt on his mother’s side in the early years. And when he was about eleven years old he decided he wanted to go to his mother. In fact, the early notes that I've seen scribbled on him said that he cried to be with his mother; he must have missed his mother. And he joined his mother; I believe he joined here where Minneapolis and Saint Paul now is, and then she later moved down to Lac qui Parle, and she was married to a man down there by the name of Left Hand. Now when I first wrote this book, I stated in there that Left Hand was Lorenzo’s father. I found out later that Lorenzo didn’t know who his father was, that he either died from alcohol or was poisoned when Lorenzo was still a baby. So Lorenzo never knew his father. So he eventually joined his mother down at Lac qui Parle and she was with the missionaries. But she was the second wife of his because they still had polygamous marriages in those days. And when she became a Christian woman she found out that that was wrong, according to what she was believing. And Left Hand on the other hand, wanted to become a Christian, but he was told by the missionaries, “You can only have one wife, so you have to make a decision.” And he said he couldn’t decide that, “You’re asking me to put away part of my family.” Anyway, he decided rather than do that, he would keep his family, he wouldn’t join the church. And so he moved back to Kaposia, Saint Paul, where he died. But in the meantime, Katherine, Lorenzo’s mother, said she would leave the relationship and she went off to live with the missionaries, where she lived for fifty-one years until she was ninety-seven years old. So Lorenzo had the opportunity to grow up, at least in his later years, under the influence of his mother and the missionaries. So he knew about traditional religion and everything, but he never got involved in it like his mother was. His mother was a very prominent member of the Medicine Dance Society and a very prestigious position for a woman to hold in those days. And she left all that; she gave it all up. She took her medicine ball and took it to Joseph Renville who had that fort, and had him burn it publically as a testimony that she was not going to follow that, and she was going to follow the Lord. So Lorenzo had a tremendous witness or testimony to see in his own mother, plus the fact that he was the oldest boy and probably had the responsibility of taking care of the family, since his step father left. I think that prompted him to follow that path, or follow that direction.

 So he was one of the first members of the church at Lac qui Parle.  Then later they moved over to Yellow Medicine County where he was one of the founders of the Hazelwood Republic there, and that’s where the outbreak took place.  When that outbreak took place, it put that handful of Christian men in a very delicate position because they were being pulled one way and another way over here, and they were kind of caught between the two factions that were involved in it, the Sisseton Wahpeton not wanting to be a part of that whole thing, but the two Lower Sioux Bands were the ones that were involved in it.  And so they were caught in between that and he spent one whole night talking with his friend, Simon, who I later found out was his cousin, about what they should do.  And his decision was, well, I’ll just take my family and go up north into the north woods and wait it out, and when it’s over with, we’ll come back.  In the meantime Lorenzo’s mother, there was a white woman that was captive with her three children, that was held captive by the Lower Sioux bands, who managed to get away when they were moving, and some of the friendly Indians, or Indians from the Upper Sioux, found her and brought her to Lorenzo’s mother and she hid her in a root cellar.  But they were going to move the whole camp the next day and she figured that they would find her and she would probably be killed.  And so when Lorenzo came back from being up all night visiting with this guy, his cousin, she told him, “You’re going to have to try to get her to safety at Fort Ridgely because she’s going to be killed if they find her, and we’re going to move tomorrow.”  And so that’s when he took them down and hid them out and hid them during the day, during the movement, and then it took him five days and five nights to get them to safety because they had to travel at night, trying to stay hid from both Indians and non-Indians.  DL: We were talking about Lorenzo and how he took the women captive and the children down to Fort Ridgely, which was believed to be maybe the only safe place at the time, and they weren’t sure of that either, because they thought maybe the Little Crow warriors had taken the fort too, but they weren’t sure.  But they didn’t have much choice before they could go. Lorenzo was Dakota, leading some non-Dakota people to safety.  What would have happened to him if they all had been discovered?

The warriors had stated that if they caught him they were going to kill him, because they shot his house and he was staying in a teepee because they were told to move out of their houses, and they shot that full of holes and they left a message that this is what they were going to do to him if they caught him, because they knew that he had taken Mrs. DeCamp and her children and helped them to escape. So I’m pretty certain that if they had caught him, he would have been killed, including his own family. On the other hand, his wife was scared of the soldiers and she didn’t want to go because she was more afraid of the soldiers. So there were a lot of feelings there between the people that were in the group. Of course, the little children didn’t know what was going on. But she went along with him. And when they got to the fort they welcomed him because he told them he had these people, he told them to look at them, come and see them. So one soldier came down to the river where they were, and he had them hid out somewhere while he was going to go up; he was going to go up by himself. There was a chance that he walked up to that fort during that time and he could have been shot. But it so happened that one of the soldiers came down to the ferry where they were. I suppose to get water. Then he called out to him, called him over. I think if Lorenzo would have walked up to the fort he was taking a chance. And I think he knew that. But it turned out that they came down and they got all the woman and children and took them up to the fort, and the ordeal was more or less over for them. Lorenzo was questioned, or interrogated about what was happening, and so he answered their questions and then he took them to where he saw bodies.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Elden Lawrence Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Lorenzo Lawrence (Towanetaton) April 23, 2024. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1297

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