Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring Minnesota Civil War soldiers via history lessons & a puzzle January 25, 2013

Attendees, including Linda Karkhoff (whom you read about below) chat at a recent Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting in Faribault.

Attendees, including Linda Karkhoff (whom you will read about below) chat at a recent Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting in Faribault. And, yes, the guy on the right is wearing a Union cap. The display shows Karkhoff’s Civil War puzzle package.

MEMBERS OF THE CANNON VALLEY Civil War Roundtable, I’ve discovered, really know their history. They rattle off battlefields and battles, dates and names and other facts with convincing authority.

To be honest, I’m a bit intimidated by their knowledge. And I’ve told them so, even called them fanatics in a joking, but not unkind, way. That didn’t stop the club president from encouraging me to return to their monthly meetings. I’ve attended thrice during the past several years—when guest speakers’ topics especially interested me.

An 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, like the pistol used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

An 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, like the pistol used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, belongs to an area collector of Lincoln memorabilia.

First-time around, I listened to an area collector talk about some of the pieces in his collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. That was in 2009 and I posted about it here. He asked for anonymity given the value of his collection. I thought it wise to honor his request.

Dean Urdahl has written the trilogy of Uprising, Retribution and Pursuit.

Dean Urdahl has written the trilogy of Uprising, Retribution and Pursuit.

This past May, I heard Minnesota State Representative Dean Urdahl, a retired American history teacher, writer and co-chair of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, speak about the U.S. Dakota-War of 1862 and his trilogy of historical fiction novels. (Click here to read a post from that event.)

And just recently, educational consultant Quintin Pettigrew read excerpts from A Personal Narrative of Indian Massacres 1862, the diary of Lake Shetek Massacre survivor Lavina Eastlick. I’ve since acquired a copy of that survivor’s diary and will post about it at a later date.

Before Pettigrew took the floor at the recent Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting, Owatonna resident Linda Karkhoff spoke briefly about a Civil War related project she’s undertaken. She’s created a 550-piece limited edition (1,000) commemorative jigsaw puzzle honoring the 2nd Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.

A close-up of the 2nd Minnesota Civil War puzzle, made to commemorate Wasioja Civil War Days.

The photo shows the design of the puzzle Linda Karkhoff created as a commemorative piece for Wasioja Civil War Days. The puzzle honors the 2nd Minnesota Regiment, comprised of soldiers from southeastern Minnsota. Just note that lighting conditions were not good and I could not avoid glare reflected on the framed piece.

The 18 x 24-inch puzzle features, along with a U.S. map tracking the movement of the 2nd Minnesota, an imprint of a flag given to the regiment by the Loyal Ladies of the Louisville Soldiers Association.

Intrigued, I found an online copy of a letter presented to the Minnesotans along with that flag. Nanette B. Smith, president of the Loyal Ladies wrote:

Louisville Ky Feb 17th 1862

To Col Van Cleve 2nd Minnesota Regt

Sir I transmit to you a Flag to be presented in the name of the Loyal Ladies of the Louisville Soldiers Association, to your Regiment, designed to commemorate the battle of Mill Spring 19th January, and as a testimonial of our appreciation of the participation of yourself and those under your command in the glorious victory of that day.

Each Regiment is equally entitled to like honor; but the gallant conduct of those who come from a distant State to unite in subduing our rebel invaders excite the warmest emotions of our hearts.

I offer to you our congratulations and my individual acknowledgements of the important service rendered to our State by your command.

Very Respectfully Nannette B. Smith Prest L.S.R.A.

Now puzzle designer Karkhoff, who is a carpenter by trade, did not read that letter to attendees at the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting. But she did summarize that the Loyal Ladies’ flag was a thank you to the soldiers for pushing the Confederates out of Kentucky, thus saving Kentucky as a Union state.

She also shared that members of the 2nd Minnesota, comprised of soldiers from southeastern Minnesota, marched 6,000 miles—that’s walking—in four years. The unit’s drummer boy, she said, kept a diary, and survived the war. Such survival, she explained, was unheard of given drummer boys figurativley marched with targets on their backs.

This cloth bag holds the puzzle pieces and informational sheets.

This cloth bag holds the puzzle pieces and informational sheets.

You’ll find more information about the 2nd Minnesota, life as a Civil War soldier and the puzzle itself on informational sheets tucked inside the cloth bag holding Karkhoff’s puzzle. Even the bag is significant, similar to what a Civil War soldier would have carried for his tobacco and writing utensils, Karkhoff said.

A history buff, Karkhoff came up with the puzzle idea after she and several traveling friends discovered a lack of commemorative puzzles specific to an area or site they visited. She eventually formed Puzzled@ LLC and designed the 2nd Regiment puzzle.

The puzzle, she said, teaches history and geography and encourages teamwork, making it both educational and fun.

Now I’m one of those people who doesn’t care for puzzles. I’m too easily frustrated, don’t have the patience and, well, would rather read or write than puzzle over a jigsaw.

But for those of you who enjoy puzzles and/or are Civil War fanatics, and I mean that in a kind way, check out Puzzled@ by clicking here.

Puzzles may be purchased directly from Karkhoff (contact info is on her website; tell her I sent you); at Little Professor Book Center or the Steele County History Center in Owatonna; or at the Rice County Historical Society or Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

BONUS: An exhibit, “Minnesota and the Civil War,” opens March 2 at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Click here to learn more about this.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesota politician & writer shares his insights on “The Dakota War, a clash of cultures” May 18, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:15 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

This archway leads to the Wood Lake State Monument, on the site of the battle ending the U.S.-Dakota Conflict.

Dean Urdahl has written the trilogy of Uprising, Retribution and Pursuit.

I COULD HAVE LISTENED to Dean Urdahl for hours. Not Urdahl the Minnesota State Representative from District 18B. But Urdahl the historian, the retired American history teacher, the storyteller, the writer.

The southern Minnesota politician, who co-chairs the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, was in Faribault Thursday evening to talk about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and to promote his trilogy of historical fiction novels about that conflict.

Urdahl’s interest in the U.S.-Dakota War is rooted deep in family history, in the soil of Meeker County where his Norwegian immigrant ancestors settled in 1856 and where, on August 17, 1862, five settlers were killed by a small group of Dakota. That attack in Acton Township, only 1 ½ miles from Urdahl’s current home, marked the beginning of the war.

Urdahl’s great-great-grandfather helped bury those five victims in the cemetery of Ness Lutheran Church, a country church southwest of Litchfield. A monument there honors the five who were slain. The Representative grew up attending Ness Lutheran, listening to his mother tell stories about his ancestors and the area’s history. That sparked his interest in history and specifically a strong interest in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

“What happened in 1862 (in Minnesota) is largely ignored by historians,” Urdahl said, adding that the U.S.-Dakota War “gets scant attention and deserves more.”

In 1862, a divided nation was more focused on the conflict between North and South than on the clash between cultures in Minnesota, Urdahl explained.

This historian, however, certainly drew attention to the war between the white settlers/soldiers and the Dakota during his presentation, “The Dakota War, a clash of cultures,” at the monthly Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting in Faribault in this, the 150th anniversary year of the War.

Cultures collided, Urdahl said, as immigrants settled in the native home of the Dakota and the government adopted a policy “to turn them (the Dakota) into farmers.”

Conflict also existed among the Dakota—between “the blankets,” those sticking to traditional ways, and “cut-hairs,” those turning into farmers, he said.

Speaking without notes and with the skill of a master storyteller passionate about his subject, Urdahl mesmerized his audience, sharing information and a story-style time-line of how the U.S.-Dakota War unfolded.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township.

Urdahl’s talk was a refresher course for me, a native of Redwood County located at the geographical center of the War. I’ve always been interested in the conflict and even penned a term paper on “The Sioux Uprising of 1862,” as it was labeled when I was a high school student. My maternal ancestors lived in the New Ulm area in 1862 and were warned by friendly Indians to leave; the families fled to the safety of nearby St. Peter.

“We find throughout the war, friendly Indians warning people to leave,” Urdahl said.

That, and much of what this historian said, I already knew. You’ll find it written in books. But some of what Urdahl shared I had forgotten or never heard such as…

  • A drought in 1861 left the Dakota near starvation and relying on government food. (I didn’t recall the drought as preemptive to the desperate situation among the Dakota.)
  • In late July 1862, some 5,000 Dakota gathered at the Yellow Medicine Agency ready to storm the warehouses. Agents eventually released the storehouse of grain to the hungry Dakota, thus averting the start of the war for several weeks.
  • The settlers at Acton were challenged to a target shooting contest by the Dakota before they were killed.
  • The Dakota were intent on attacking New Ulm because they thought the town was built on reservation land. The reservation covered a 10-mile by 150-mile area along the Minnesota River.
  • From 500 – 800 Minnesotans were killed/died during the six-week war, only 75 of whom were soldiers. “The rest,” said Urdahl, “were Swedish, German and Norwegian immigrants who didn’t know what was going on.”
  • Although there is not an accurate count on the number of soldiers who died in the Battle of Birch Coulee, the count of dead horses stands at 90. “They could replace men, not horses,” Urdahl said.
  • When Fort Ridgely was under attack, fort leader Lt. Thomas P. Gere was coming down with the mumps.
  • During the final battle at Ft. Ridgely, doors on both ends of the surgeon’s quarters/headquarters were opened and a cannon ball fired down the hallway toward the stables where the Dakota were stationed.
  • A Confederate officer was reportedly spotted in Little Crow’s (Dakota leader) camp. Some speculate that the Confederacy played a role in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, thus diverting soldiers from the Confederate front by keeping them in Minnesota to fight the Dakota.
  • Little Crow lived in a brick house at the time of the War.

Trader Andrew Myrick refused to grant the Dakota credit, remarking, “Let them eat grass.” After an attack on the Lower Agency, Myrick was found dead, his mouth stuffed with grass.

The message on a marker near the Lower Sioux Agency reads: 75 feet north stood the building in which upwards of 100 Sioux Indians were tried by court martial, convicted and sentenced to death Nov. 1862.

As I listened to Urdahl’s presentation, I wondered how Native Americans would react to the information he shared. What perspective would they offer? Would they disagree with him, challenge his facts, voice their opinions? How would they feel?

“There are still very hard feelings on both sides,” this descendant of Norwegian immigrants told his audience. He occasionally gets e-mails from angry descendants of settlers killed during the U.S.-Dakota War.

Growing up in Redwood County decades ago, I was well aware of the animosity between whites and the Dakota passed down through the generations. I know the bad feelings still linger on both sides.

But perhaps in this 150th anniversary year, we can all (white and Dakota) strive to overcome, to understand and to, finally, forgive.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on December 26, 1862. This stands as the largest mass execution in American history. Initially, 303 were sentenced to death. President Abraham Lincoln approved the deaths of 39 and granted a last-minute reprieve to one other.

FYI: All of the above monument images were photographed within the past several years.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling