The Defenders Monument, erected in honor of those who died defending New Ulm during the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, including Jason's great great grandfather, Max Haack.
On August 17, 1862, the Uprising began when a few raucous teens made a really bad decision which then escalated until there was full out war. After years of oppression and failed promises, outright theft and violence against the Dakota Natives by the U.S. government, Indian Agents, and a flood of ignorant (and some not so ignorant) settlers, the proverbial straw came crashing down and all hell let loose.
Just on a dare, the fragile “peace” shattered when four teenagers were returning from a hunting trip. They were angry, agitated youths, forever hearing of and experiencing the privations and betrayals that came from living on the reservations in Minnesota, small allotments of land that were relegated to the Native peoples after the tribe’s leaders were tricked into signing away the rights to the land for money they never received. Those teens were a powder keg, and the slightest provocation—or even just bad luck—could have sparked them to explode. It was an early Sunday morning. Passing a homestead on their way back home, they debated about stealing some eggs from a white settler’s hen house they passed. When one hesitated, another dared him to show he wasn’t afraid of the White Man. To prove his courage, the Dakota youth challenged the farmer to a shooting contest among them all. When they’d finished showing off to each other their marksmanship, the Dakotas reloaded their guns and fired on the farmer and other settlers there at the homestead, killing all five of them. The Natives fled to their camp and implored their leaders to take up their weapons and join them in finally wiping out the White Man. The elders were slow to jump into a fight because they realized the power of the Army and its never-ending supply of soldiers and weapons, and that the U.S. government would retaliate quickly and fiercely for any attack on its citizens. But the teens were livid and bent on finally getting revenge for the suffering their people had endured for as long as they could remember. They finally talked enough of the others into fighting, and so the war took off.
Little Crow was among the leaders the teens were trying to persuade. Jason’s great great grandmother, Elizabeth Haack (German, pronounced Hock) knew Little Crow. He and some other warriors had once been stranded in a snow storm near the Haack homestead and, as some stories tell it, he’d taken ill (or his son was ill), and Elizabeth nursed him back to health in her home. Because of Elizabeth’s previous help to Little Crow, he sent a warning after that fateful Sunday morning to Elizabeth to get to safety, that war was coming. The first time I heard the story from Jason’s dad, he told how she left with her three children and her cow and headed for Fort Ridgely. We visited the site of the Uprising and the fort, and walked the road traveled by her and the other settlers and her cow fleeing to the fort. But after obtaining letters and documents from the local historical society, I learned that she probably left the cow. After the Uprising, when at least 700 settlers had been killed, including Jason’s great great grandfather Max who was in New Ulm shooting at the advancing Dakota, the letters stated that she didn’t actually take the cow but left it and its calf to fend for themselves. After all the fighting was over, the cow wandered back to the homestead, but her calf wasn’t with her anymore and her milk had dried up.
Using Plat Maps, we searched for and found the site of Jason’s grandparents’ homestead just outside of New Ulm. Only a stone chimney and crumbling hearth stand there now. Because I wanted to collect information to write a novel about Elizabeth, I just had to have photographs or videos of the site. In the car at the river bank where the chimney stands, we inspected the ruins, but the mosquitoes were so thick, we couldn’t tolerate being outside, let alone stand still long enough to shoot any pictures. The six of up plowed back inside the car and slammed shut the doors, all the while slapping at the cloud of bugs swarming us. But I needed photographs. So I got this brilliant idea. Spencer, dear Spencer, had never had the trouble with mosquitoes like the other kids. While Molly would come back from our Minnesota trips with hundreds of bites, Spencer had none. Zilch. Zero. (You see where I'm going with this?) Molly got so miserably sick and her face swelled up so badly, I dosed her up with Benadryl and she slept for three days straight. But Spencer! He never got a welt. Nothing. He could have been a Marine in the tropical jungle without an issue (except that he was just a kid). So I threw the camera into his hands, told him to go get ’em son, opened the door for the briefest of seconds, and pushed him out. The audio of the footage he filmed is all buzzing and slapping. The lighting is dark because of the thick cloud of bugs around him and the camera. But I got my photos! (Well, he got my photos.)
What I should have gotten was the Best Mom of the Year Award. Again. I could have had a shelf to hold those trophies. They’d all need a nice plaque engraved with “Fail.” I hope he can forgive me. I’m pretty lucky he didn’t give me his own version of an Uprising for subjecting him to such awful things. When I finish the Elizabeth novel, I'll definitely need to dedicate it to him and his faithful service in the face of hazardous duty.
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