A Piece of Hallowed Ground

A Piece of Hallowed Ground

August 19, 1862:

Little Andrew Cummings came running to the front door of his family’s log cabin calling for his mother.  With tears in his eyes he cried out “Oh Mamma, they are coming again.  A man with bullet holes in his hat says the Indians are coming”.  Andrew’s father immediately ran to warn his neighbors, while his mother took provision to keep her younger children safe in case a warring band of Indians came in while her husband was away.  Andrew had reason to cry for his mother.  Earlier in the day, at school, a man came to warn that the Indians were coming from the west to kill the white settlers, and that the children should be sent home immediately.  They moved hastily, packing some belongings into a wagon and set off for Glencoe, the nearest town, where a large caravan of settlers were staging themselves to evacuate the women and children to St. Paul.  Nearly all the people would be evacuated, minus the fifteen men who chose to stay behind and erect a stockade to protect all who came for refuge.

Fifteen miles away, in Hutchinson, a similar scene was unfolding.  News of warring bands of Dakota Indians reached town on the 19th, yet a coordinated effort to evacuate the town and raise a home guard was not undertaken until August 23rd.  On that day a party of men, mostly old men and boys, gathered together to discuss the situation.  Refugees were coming into town and there was little to protect them from a surprise attack.  The men circulated a paper for which to draft a home guard, but few of the men in attendance signed, most giving excuses of staying home to protect farms or fleeing east.

Appalled by the unwillingness of the men to protect their town, three women made the decision to cajole the remaining Hutchinson men to stay and defend the town.  Their names were Mrs. Sarah Harrington, Mrs. David Ells, and Mrs. Ellen Harrington.  Together the three women urged the men to form a home guard, going so far as to pledge themselves into service.

Once the settlers decided to stay, the work of erecting a stockade commenced.  In just 12 days the workers built a solid, one-hundred foot square, wooden stockade with a three foot trench dug around the perimeter.  The stockade stood eight feet tall, and bay stations were built at each corner.  Any townsperson who was not out scouting the countryside was regulated to stockade duty.

The morning of September 4th started off gorgeously.  The sun was shining, and the air was pleasant.  A group of men decided to head to their farms to save some of the wheat that had been neglected while building up the town’s defenses.  On the way to Acoma Township, the men were ambushed.  Quickly, they turned around and headed back to Hutchinson.

The attacking Dakota pursued the men toward Hutchinson.  Eye witnesses recount how the Dakota charged into town, but the charge abruptly halted once the fort came into view; however, with far superior numbers, the Indians went on to burn the town while the settlers huddled inside the protection of the stockade.

By noon, a large portion of town was engulfed in flames.  There were several close calls during the fight, but most of the shooting was at long range, and the Hutchinson Home Guard stayed safely inside the fort.  By 4pm the fires began burning down.  Then, a company of forty soldiers was seen coming down the road from Glencoe.  Upon sight of reinforcements, the enemy retreated.

The fight for Hutchinson was over, but the wretched affair of Hutchinson was not.  Though the attack only lasted for one day, many of those inside the fort had no place to go, their homes being destroyed by the enemy.  As a result, the stockade became home to many through the fall and winter.  Disease began to run rampant inside the stockade, diphtheria claiming the lives of forty children, their distressed parents forced to watch as the disease caused their children to gasp for air until the deadly disease claimed them.  Some families lost multiple children, who in haste, were buried in unmarked graves at Hutchinson’s Oakland Cemetery.  Over time the graves became lost, only to be found years later when grave diggers struck fragments of the rudely made coffins.

Today, a trip to Library Square reveals a boulder with a plaque commemorating the stockade’s location.  Many of us pass it by without giving it a second thought, knowing little of the tragic events that took place on the very spot so many years ago.  A quick stop at the monument offers a humbling moment, knowing that just a brief moment in history made this place in Hutchinson a piece of hallowed ground.

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