How The Events Touched a Pioneer Family

Share your story submitted by: G. Sinell | Gaylord, MN

In a 1930 interview published in the  “Gaylord Hub,” the local paper of Gaylord, MN, (Sibley County), Mrs. Dorothea Gruenhagen Mueller, wife of John G. Mueller, recalled this memory of her childhood. At age 12 she was keeping house for her father on his farm in Arlington Township, Sibley County. Her father was pioneer Friederich Gruenhagen. Dorothea lived there with her widowed father until her marriage to John G. Mueller in1865, and Dorothea and her husband continued to live on that farm.

Dorothea remembers, “The Indians did not harm us, but to me, they seemed terrible creatures. When Father was away I would watch for them and hide behind something in the cabin. When they looked in the window they could not see me. I locked the door, and they didn’t try to break in. Sometimes though, they came up before I noticed them and then I gave them something to eat, generally milk and bread.”

Dorothea vividly remembered the day  in August of 1862 when they received a warning that the Sioux were on the war path. “A neighbor woman, Mrs. Chris Bening, came running to the cabin all out of breath and shouted to us that the Indians were headed our way and were killing people.  We hurried to get away, and Father packed our most valuable belongings in the big trunk we had brought from Germany and dug a hole to bury it in the back of the cabin. He had started to cover it when a man who lived nearby came up and said,
“Fritz you have not time to do that. The Indians are liable to be here anytime.” So we left without even locking the door.”

The family went to the nearby town of Henderson, where guards were stationed at night. They and the men around town were armed with clubs, pitchforks and similar weapons, as well as guns. They stayed there only one night, and they were ferried across the Minnesota River to Belle Plaine.  The family stayed there for two weeks in constant fear, until a body of soldiers marched through. Not long after that they returned to their home. Dorothea said, “When we got home we found our oxen, hogs and three cows running loose, but nothing had been disturbed. The trunk lay in the hole just as my father had left it.”

Life on the farm resumed, and through the remainder of the fall troops frequently marched past the cabin to and from Fort Ridgley. After the surrender at Camp Release, a large body went by with a number of Sioux en route to Mankato, where 38 of them were hanged on December 26, 1862. That time the troops camped about a mile from the Gruenhagen cabin. Some soldiers were billeted in the homes of settlers. Three were assigned to Dorothea and her father’s household.

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