History Quest

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.

New Hours

The McLeod County History Museum is now open to the public six days a week.  Stop in Monday through Friday from 10am-4pm, and Saturday from 1pm-4pm.  We’re closed on Sunday, but are also open by appointment.  Thanks, and we’ll see you soon!

Martin McLeod: A Man of Exceptional Quality

He wasn’t used to the snowshoes.  The snow was deep, and the cold, blowing wind around him made walking in the shoes increasingly difficult.  He didn’t walk so much, but rather dragged his feet through the snow.  The rawhide thongs on the shoes cut into his moccasins, chafing his feet.  Each step was excruciating – more excruciating than the last –  so much that his blistered feet began to bleed, leaving behind a trail of blood on the hard outer crust of snow he walked on.

Martin McLeod was new to the region.   He was in his early twenties, a clerk from Montreal and unprepared for the rigors of the Minnesota wilderness.  He came west with a group of explorers headed by a man named James Dickson, an impractical idealist with visions of ruling over a self-constructed kingdom.  They broke trail from Lake Superior and found themselves at the Red River Colony.  However, within a year the group had become disillusioned with Dickson and began to scatter.  McLeod and two others accompanied a guide south toward the mouth of the Minnesota River.  It was to be a long, arduous journey of seven hundred-fifty miles through the Minnesota wilderness, in winter, and on foot.

The trek south was hard.  McLeod nearly drowned, nearly froze to death, and he was often on the verge of starvation.  In his journal he recorded “Out of provisions, obliged to kill one of our dogs; “dog meat excellent eating.”    During one instance, the small group was waylaid by a wet, snowy blizzard from which they were separated and forced to survive on their own.  McLeod was one of the lucky survivors.  Using his snowshoe to dig a shallow trench in the snow, he wrapped himself in a waterlogged buffalo robe and waited out the storm in clothes that froze to his skin.

Martin McLeod came to the North Country at a time when the promise of wealth came through the fur trade.  With the help of Henry H. Sibley, as well as a number of other prominent traders of the time, McLeod soon became a well-known fur trader in the region.  Few white men found themselves trapping or hunting for furs, but rather became merchants who depended on the Indians for labor.  McLeod was one of these, traveling between trading posts and Indian encampments encouraging the natives to hunt and bring in more and more furs.  This tactic was successful in bringing in high quality furs, yet it played a role in overhunting as well as oversaturating the fur market, both of which helped to usher an end to the trade.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, as the fur trade came to an end, McLeod as well as the other trade merchants began looking toward treaty negotiation between the United States and Native Americans as a means to create wealth.  Many of them, McLeod included, ran for public office as a way to lobby officials in an attempt to buy land from the Indians, who in turn would receive stipends from the government with which they could buy goods from the trade merchants.  With money guaranteed from the government, many trade merchants began selling on credit and inflating their prices.  When the Indians’ money ran out, the traders would lobby for new treaties.  It became a vicious cycle that ultimately led to war between factions of Dakota Indians and white settlers in Minnesota.

Martin McLeod was one of the few who took umbrage to the way treaty negotiations were made with the Indians.  Never one to approve of the whiskey traders pushing their product on the natives, McLeod resented the fact that his peers pursued treaties that benefited them at the expense of the tribes, going so far as to distance himself from his peers to the point of being reclusive.

The late 1850’s saw McLeod discontent with the direction Minnesota was heading.  He withdrew to his home and fell deep into debt.  By 1860 he was broke.  On November 20th of that year, Martin McLeod died.  It was a quiet end to an adventurous life.

History Quest (formerly Spotlight on the Collection)

Our first episode of History Quest!  Check it out on HCVN Channel 10 Tuesday June 5th-6pm and Thursday June 7th-10am.  You can also view it on the museum’s facebook page, as well as the “links” section on this webpage.

Historical Happenings

Our monthly radio spot will be returning on June 29th to feature MCHS’s new Executive Director, Brian Haines.  Make sure to tune in!

History Quest

The McLeod County Historical Society’s monthly television spot on HCVN will feature a new name with a new twist.  Formerly known as “Spotlight on the Collection”, History Quest goes out of the museum to literally walk in the footsteps of McLeod County’s historic figures as we travel to legendary sites in the county.  Watch us on cable access channel 7 & 10!

2018 Then and Now Fashion Show!

The 2018 Then and Now Fashion is almost here! Back by popular demand, this event will take guests on a tour of past McLeod County fashions and cast a spotlight on what current trends some of the area’s local business owners are selling today! Appetizers and beverages will be served and guests will have a chance to win beautiful door prizes and participate in a live auction! Be sure to check our Facebook page (link below) to see special previews and sneak peaks before the event!

Tickets are $25.00, are only being sold at the McLeod County Historical Society, and must be purchased before April 29th. Don’t miss your chance to revel in the trends of decades past!

The Then and Now Fashion couldn’t be possible without the support of these local businesses: Amazing Grace Boutique, The Village Shop, PURSE-a-nalities, Lillians of Hutchinson, and The Enchanted Trunk. Thank you for your support!

McLeod County Historical Society: Then and Now Facebook Event

Note from the Director

Hello!  My name is Brian Haines, Executive Director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum.  My journey here has been a long one.  I first realized my passion for history in a course at Ridgewater College.  From there I went on to study at St. Cloud State University to further my education in the discipline.  Shortly after graduation I found myself working at odd jobs that had little to do with history.  Finally, an opportunity presented itself when the Paynesville Area Historical Society began looking for a steward of their local history.

I worked as Director of the Paynesville History Museum for four years.  It was a wonderful experience; however, when the opportunity arose to accept an executive position with the McLeod County Historical Society, I could not turn it down.  Though I’ll always cherish my time in Paynesville, the prospects of directing a large institution, and the history of the county and surrounding area made choosing this organization easy.

One thing I’ve learned as a museum administrator is that a museum is not just a place to collect and store dusty artifacts, but rather it’s a place of excitement – a place where history comes alive.  The stories, the adventure, the passion, and the romanticized images of bygone eras are what live inside the doors of a history museum; no one person can deny the animate sensations afforded by a simple stroll through the museum gallery.  If I could only use one phrase to describe the experience, it would be that a museum like this is a “literal time machine”.

Above and beyond the aspirations for myself as Director of this institute, is to do my part to make the museum experience fun.  I hope to bring some new and exciting events to the museum, events that are outside the standard of what museums are typically known for.  To wit, I’ll do my best to offer you the most fun you’ve ever had in a museum.

Though I could go on and on about the things I’d like to do, and the things I’ve done in the past, I’ll part with a short conversation I had with my wife the other night.  She asked, “Anything new at work?”  I replied, “No, I work at a history museum.”

Brian Haines

Director, McLeod County Historical Society