Close to a hundred miles

Mr. Manderfeld talks about his family's experience in the events before, during, and after the U.S.-Dakota War, as well as his opinion on the war itself.

Audio Chapters

DL: You mentioned that you didn’t hear too much about the 1862 US/Dakota war while you were growing up.

WM: No, no, very little as far as I can recall.

DL: Did you have family members who lived through that time?

WM: Well I suppose my great grandfather was involved. His brother and his cousin they were…

DL: His younger brother Henry. So that would be your great great uncle, Henry.

WM: Yeah, I suppose, yeah.

DL: I’ve heard of an Anton.

WM: Anton, that was my…

AM: He was at Big Stone Lake. And he escaped up there but his brother and his cousin were killed.

WM: Anton was…

DL: So let’s back up. You say your great great grandfather was involved with that… Wait now, what was your great great grandfather’s name?

WM: Anton.

AM: His great grandfather.

WM: Oh, great grandfather. Great great would have been Hobert. Hobert was great great, Anton was great grandfather.

DL: So your great grandfather Anton and your uncle Henry, what was their involvement?

WM: Well Anton joined some kind of an army I guess. That’s why he ended up at Big Stone.

AM: He signed up to work for the government for the Indians, putting up buildings and things.

DL: Was he and Indian Agent – what was called an Indian Agent?

WM: No, he would have just been a laborer.

DL: He was connected to the Dakota through some kind of employment, some kind of work?

WM: Yes, I guess that’s what you would call it.

DL: Where was he located when he did this work? Where did they do the work?

WM: That’s when he ended up at Big Stone Lake.

DL: What were they doing there? What kind of work was it?

WM: I don’t know, is that in the written up somewhere, the kind of work they did?

AM: I think they were teaching the Indians to farm.

WM: OK, then that was it -- farming practice.

AM: Teaching them how to put up buildings and there was something about burning coal.

DL: What became of him? What happened next? He’s working there and…

WM: During the time they were up there, the Indians ambushed them and his brother and cousin got killed. He hid out in the bushes or whatever it was and got saved. I don’t know how long he stayed up there but when he came back to Fort Ridgely, he just traveled at night because he was afraid of traveling in the daytime. [He was] barefoot and had no food I suppose. The farms and places along the way, along the river on the way down…most of the people were deceased or died or killed. Then there was food in there then he probably helped himself to it if the Indians didn’t. That was his food. And I guess he, from the stories that we got at night, you know he traveled at night, you can imagine you don’t have much direction. So one night he must have ended up by morning back at the same place that he had started. But he eventually got his way down to Fort Ridgely.

DL: Your great grandfather then just walked from Big Stone Lake to Fort Ridgely. How far is that?

AM: Big Stone Lake is 150 miles from here.

WM: So I suppose it would be close to a hundred miles.

DL: That took him a while to do that.

AM: I think it was eight or ten days. Something like that.

DL: Now there was this ambush and his brother and his cousin were killed. Where was that?

WM: At Big Stone Lake.

DL: He finally arrived at Fort Ridgely.

WM: Yes.

DL: I wonder what that was like. I wonder if they were worried that he was Dakota. If they knew that he was white and it was safe for him to just walk up there. That would have been a challenge too.

WM: I would imagine it would have been. I don’t know -- did he really know any people that were at Fort Ridgely? I suppose not.

DL: He must have known the area well to know to go to the fort. Where was he living at the time? Where was his home?

WM: I suppose the place where I am now, the home place where they homesteaded.

DL: That would be where?

WM: In Sigel Township.

DL: What’s your opinion of the war?

WM: Oh I don’t know, it’s hard to say. {Laughter} I suppose you could look at it this way: The Indians were here first and we kind of tried to chase them out. I don’t think they really would have really chased them out. They tried to make friends with them and they probably tried to teach them things. So I think as far as I felt about it, they would have had a right to be here. But I think it was a matter that the government didn’t get their money or something is what started the war I suppose. So I think if it wouldn’t have been for their money and stuff that they were supposed to be getting, maybe things would have been different. They might have grown up and farmed together next to each other. The Indians weren’t really farmers but they tried to teach them how [to farm.]

DL: You even had family members who tried to teach them.

WM: Yeah sure, Anton; that’s kind of what he was involved in. He tried to show them how to raise corn and stuff like that.

DL: What do you think of the treaties?

WM: Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t really follow that too much in history.

DL: Do you think it’s a good idea to commemorate the events of the mid 1800’s?

WM: Yes I think so. I often wish we would have either started sooner or talked to older people, but by the time we started [learning our history] it was about 1976. What did we get started with at that time? By that time all the old people were passed away. So we didn’t have anybody to rely on for answers so we just had to go through all kinds of papers and stuff. We did have a lot of old papers and stuff that my grandparents and great grandparents probably had in the old house. The old house is still standing there but they built a new one in 1939. There was one box of old papers that we had up in the attic for many years that we finally dug up.

DL: What were they about?

WM: Oh, all the different work he did. He kept a – not a diary but a list of all his stills and a book where he had all the money that he spent on like snuff and oh, I don’t know what else – every little bit. And money that I think he probably borrowed to somebody else once in awhile. Sometimes it was just ten cents or a quarter or something. But he had a little ledger. It was only a small ledger. It’s pretty hard to read but we could make out a lot of interesting things in there.

DL:... Mr. Manderfeld, what is your opinion of the war?

WM: Gosh I don’t know. Well I suppose the Indians had a right to be here so I suppose they fought for what they thought was theirs and I imagine we probably would have done the same if we were there.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Willard Manderfeld Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Thursday, August 11, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Close to a hundred miles July 22, 2024.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.