“Grandma Koehler’s house was burned to the ground..."

Ms. Wels discusses her family's immigration to the U.S. and subsequent involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War.

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What were the perceptions of immigrants before and after they came to the area of New Ulm? What was the immigration experience like?

Audio Chapters

DL: Did you ever hear of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War during your growing up years?

LW: Oh yes, my dad talked about those a lot, because from his side of the family--and I’ve got the printed narrative-- this is my dad’s sister who did this for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2000. And she was a good source, as well as my dad; they were all interested because their parents talked a lot about when they came here. His grandmother, that would be my great-grandmother, came to America in 1844. Apparently they traveled on ships – theirs was a cholera-ridden ship and everybody was sick. She was only 8 years old. The ship docked in New Orleans, not on the East Coast. It came to New Orleans, and that’s where her mother and brother died. And her little sister went to live with another family and was never found again. They didn’t do follow-ups. The one remaining daughter and the father ended up in Cincinnati before moving west to Minnesota.

According to my aunt, more danger confronted Grandma Koehler when she arrived in New Ulm on a steamboat. [reading from news story]

“The area was filling up with German immigrants; this was between 1850 and 1862, the year of the uprising. The number of steamships bringing German immigrants up the Minnesota River Valley jumped from 4 per year, to 413. The big move was on. With the increase in homesteaders coming, there was increasing conflict between the new arrivals and the Dakota Indians who had signed a treaty to give up their land for these people coming in so they could farm.

“But Grandma Koehler befriended the Indians; she lived out of…”

LW: If New Ulm was a city at that time, which it wasn’t- it was just a cluster of homes.

“But she was very kind to the Indians when they came to the door. She would give them bread and they gave her moccasins for her children in return. While her husband was away at Fort Ridgely in August, 1862, those Indians tried to warn her of an impending attack by the Dakota warriors, but they could not speak each other’s languages.

“Grandma Koehler’s house was burned to the ground and she barely escaped to New Ulm with her children and her life.”

LW: They had a barricade here in town, so that’s where she came to for safety with her children. But Grandpa, the husband, was still up at the fort and the story was when the Indians came down the river and attacked the fort, he was up there working as a carpenter. The soldiers put a gun in his hands and said: “You’ve got to help us keep these Indians away from the fort”- which he did. And that gun was always a prize of my dad’s. He gave it to the Historical Society. It is there among the Indian mementos on the third floor, which is dedicated to beadwork and that kind of thing.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Lorraine Wels Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. “Grandma Koehler’s house was burned to the ground..." May 29, 2024. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1137

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