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New Ulm, Minnesota

Town in Brown County, Minnesota, founded in 1854 by the German Land Company of Chicago. The city was named after the city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria in southern Germany.

“Nelson said there were the ruins of a house, on the place, where people had lived before the Indians came raiding through. The house had been burned and no one knew what became of the people who had lived in it, but anyway they never came back.” / “Oh!” Ma exclaimed, “the Minnesota massacres. Did the Indians go right through here?” / “Yes! Clear to New Ulm,” Pa said. – manuscript, On the Banks of Plum Creek

In her Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that when the family was traveling west to Plum Creek from Uncle Peter’s farm on the Zumbro River in Wabasha County, Minnesota, they stopped at a New Ulm beer garden and, west of town, they passed “the grassy mounds that Pa said were ruins of houses where Indians had killed the settlers in an Indian masacree [massacre] years before.” There are countless accounts of the Minnesota Massacre both online and in print; to read about the events in Brown County, click HERE.

As the Indian villages located near the Minnesota River along the northern border of Redwood County and the Redwood Agency were involved in the conflict, Laura Ingalls Wilder must have intended to bring the story closer to their home along Plum Creek by writing about similar “grassy mounds” west of New Ulm and placing them on Charles Ingalls’ preemption claim near the dugout site. The story was removed at some point in the manuscript process and does not appear in published On the Banks of Plum Creek. There is no surviving historical evidence that settlers were massacred and their homes burned while living on the dugout property in August 1862, but settlers from Murray, Lyon, and Redwood County did flee to New Ulm and may have passed directly through Charles Ingalls’ future farmland.

Redwood County was created in November 1862, when it was separated from Brown County after the Sioux uprising. At the time of the 1860 census, there were 120 settlers – many of them traders or voyagers – living in “Redwood.” What became known as North Hero township was surveyed (by section) in May 1859. Clearly, Wilder knew about the Minnesota Massacre, and in studying Walnut Grove history may have heard about the early settlement of the area by men entering North Hero Township from the south, coming from the northern part of neighboring Murray County in the late 1850s. Settler John Renniker traveled to New Ulm for supplies and when returning, was murdered by Sioux warriors near where the wagon road crossed Plum Creek. This crossing was on Section 8, Township 109, Range 38, and lay directly between and within a mile or two of both Charles Ingalls’ preemption claim and his later tree claim / homestead in Section 4. Was this the site Mr. Ingalls had been told about?

The Nobles road was the work of Col. William Nobles, a government project undertaken in 1857-1859 to connect Fort Ridgley to the Missouri River and on to the Pacific Ocean. In 1861, a branch road connected New Ulm (in Brown County) to Lake Shetek (in Murray County) and branched to the south two miles east of Walnut Grove. When breaking from this road, travel along Plum Creek was a popular route. It is not known which road the Ingallses used, but most likely it was the Nobles road, as all accounts have the family arriving at the dugout property from the north.

Clear to New Ulm. Reading assignment: Terry Keenan, The Great Sioux Uprising: Rebellion on the Plains, August-September 1862 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: De Capo Press, 2003). From the handwritten manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek:

One day they found large, gray rock. It was high enough that Laura had to scramble and pull herself up with her hands to get to the top.

On top it was flat and quite smooth, wide enough for Laura and Mary to run side by side and long enough so they could race its length. It was a wonderful place to play.

Still farther back on the prairie there was a shallow, square sunken place in the ground. The ground was rough and uneven around the edges as if there had been piles of something there. At one end of the sunken place was a pile of scattered rocks. Grass grew over everything nearly hiding the rocks as though grass had grown there for years. It was a strange looking place.

Pa went with Laura and Mary to look at it. He dug a little way into some of the rough places and then stood quietly looking at it. He was so still that Laura and Mary were quiet too for what seemed like a long time.

Back at the house, Pa described the place to Ma. “It must be what Nelson was telling me about,” he told her.

“Nelson said there were the ruins of a house, on the place, where people had lived before the Indians came raiding through. The house had been burned and no one knew what became of the people who had lived in it, but anyway they never came back.”

“Oh!” Ma exclaimed, “the Minnesota massacres. Did the Indians go right through here?”

“Yes! Clear to New Ulm,” Pa said.

And at last Laura thought she knew what a massacre was. It was burning houses and driving people away so they never came back. But she had Mary did not play by the ruined, grass grown cellar and tumbled chimney of the burned house. They liked better to play on the big boulder.

Clear to New Ulm. Note: J.H. Ingalls and Charles Ingalls were first cousins:

“At the time of the Sioux outbreak in Minnesota, in August 1862, I was living with my parents seven miles below Yellow Medicine agency… I will state when the outbreak occurred the Ingalls family consisted of Mr. J. H. Ingalls, a widower, and his four children, living on the same side of the river and about a mile above our home. All of these children were taken into captivity by the Lower Sioux, on the next day after the outbreak, and subsequently the morning of the 19th when old Porter Rouillard escaped from the murderous attack upon the stores at Yellow Medicine and fled down along the river towards my home he passed the Ingallses’ place shouting: ‘Indians, Indians killing everybody at Yellow Medicine!’ Mr. Ingalls heard the voice as he lay in bed partly awake and quickly aroused the children and sent Jennie and Amanda down to Brown’s to find out what the trouble was, telling them to hurry back. When the girls reached our place they found everything in utter confusion and everybody excited. The neighbors had gathered there and were getting into wagons and going off and the girls jumping into one of the wagons went along. They were a few hours afterwards taken into captivity along with our family and carried off to Little Crow’s camp, and remained with the Indians until the general delivery at Camp Release. While Jennie and Amanda were being carried off by Cut Nose and his miserable crew the rest of the Indians went on up the Minnesota valley killing and plundering as they went until they reached the Ingallses’ place. After killing Mr. Ingalls they took Melvina and George prisoners and also carried them to Little Crow’s. Jennie, Amanda, and George were delivered at Camp Release but Melvina was carried off across the prairies by the Lower Sioux who fled immediately after the battle of Wood Lake. I heard nothing of Melvina after that until when I was at Crow Creek news came that she had been delivered to her friends in Minnesota. In looking over some old papers I find that my father was administrator of the estate of J.H. Ingalls, and that as such administrator he recovered in 1864 some money due the estate from the government and that he paid it over to the children. I have heard nothing of them for forty years.” — South Dakota Historical Collections, Volume 5, 1910.


New Ulm, Minnesota (PG)