New Historians

On November 20th, at 10:30am,  the MCHS will be holding our “New Historians” youth event, an event for home school, parochial, and public school children.  This month’s topic will be railroads in McLeod County.  For more information contact the museum 320-587-2109

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The Story of Thomas Wakeman

It was late July.  Insects chirped rhythmically in the golden prairie grasses and hardwood groves of western Minnesota.  On the prairie, squatting over a hole in the ground was a boy of seventeen.  His name was Wowinape, a Dakota name that means “To Seek Refuge”.

For twenty-six days he wandered the Minnesota Prairie.  He carried along his father’s shotgun, yet had only one cartridge left – with it he shot at a wolf, but only wounded the animal.  It ran into its den, a hole in the ground over which young Wowinape found himself standing.  He waited patiently for the wolf to stick its head out.  Though he had no bullets left for his gun, he had his hunting knife – this he held in his hands while he waited.

It may have been minutes, or it may have been hours.  Either way, the wolf eventually peeked out of its den.  Wowinape reached out and grabbed the animal, stabbing at it with his knife.  The wolf fought back, clawing at the boy and slicing a deep gash in his leg.  It was of no use, however, as the knife wounds became too much and the wolf died.

Wowinape took the wolf, skinned it, quartered it, and began cutting the meat into thin strips.  He then took sharpened sticks and pushed them into the ground, then placed the wolf meat atop of them to dry.

Wowinape was born in 1846.  His father was the famous leader, Little Crow.  In 1862, his father led a faction of the Dakota in a war against the whites, one that was unsuccessful.  On July 3rd of 1863, Wowinape and Little Crow were picking berries north of Hutchinson when Little Crow was shot and killed.

Grieving, Wowinape placed new moccasins on his father’s feet, wrapped him in a blanket, and fled the scene.  Before leaving he grabbed his father’s shotgun, but the weight of two guns was too much to bear, so he discarded his own and continued on with the other.

Hungry and alone, Wowinape had only one place to go.  Some of his people were camped near Devils Lake, so he began the trek north, one hundred-sixty five miles on foot.

Not only was Wowinape alone, but he had no food.  Luckily, he found a path recently taken by a company of soldiers, and he was able to scavenge some of the food scraps they left behind.  With wolf meat drying on sticks, however, the issue of hunger could be set aside for a while.

Drying meat took time, so Wowinape was forced to wait.  During that time, on July 28, he was surprised by a party of acting scouts for the U.S. Army.  Ironically, the scouts came from Devils Lake.  They took Wowinape to Camp Atkinson, dressed his wounds, fed him, and cleaned him up.  He was then sent to Fort Snelling where he was confined and sentenced to hang for allegedly taking part in the war.

While in prison, Wowinape converted to Christianity and changed his name to Thomas Wakeman.  In 1865 his death sentence was commuted, and the son of Little Crow was granted his freedom.  He returned home to Dakota Territory to live with his people.  In 1874 he married Judith Minnetonka.  They had six children.

In 1879, Thomas Wakeman and a group of friends started a young men’s association called Koskada Okadiciye.  In 1885 the association was recognized by the YMCA and renamed the Sioux Young Men’s Christian Association (SYMCA).  At the age of forty years, Thomas Wakeman, the son of Little Crow, died of tuberculosis.  It was a short life for Thomas Wakeman, yet it was a long road ahead for the young Wowinape whose journey to seek refuge began on that fateful day in July, 1863.

Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club

On November 26, at 10:30 am, the MCHS will be holding its monthly members breakfast club.  For the month of November, Lynn Buck will be speaking about the historic art of quilting.  As always, we will have coffee, juice, and an assortment of breakfast type snacks.  Hope to see you there!

Museum Hours

Our apologies, but due to construction, we are open for research only until mid-February 2019.

Then and Now Photo Series

July 17th, 2019, The Hutchinson Center for the Arts and McLeod County Historical Society will be hosting a photo exhibit at the Center for the Arts building in Hutchinson.  The photos are a side by side comparison, old and new, of street scenes from each of McLeod County’s nine communities.  To accompany the photos are booklets that tell the history of the communities. The reception begins at 5pm and runs until 7pm.

A Real Frontiersman

With bullets cutting through the air, and whizzing over his head, Albert H. DeLong ran for his life.  The Indians were attacking, firing bullets that ripped at the ground in front of his path, bullets that sent dirt and rocks flying through the air, yet he and the rest of the scouts of the Ninth Minnesota proceeded up Kelley’s Bluff, intending to take what high ground was available to fend off the attack and make way for the rest of the Ninth.  As he reached cover on the bluff, and gazed down into the tree line, he heard the bloodcurdling war whoops of the attackers charging out of the woods.  Greatly outnumbered, he and the rest of the scouts could only watch in terror as they prepared themselves for what might have been their last day on earth.

Albert H. Delong was born on April 12, 1842, in St. Lawrence County, NY.  At the age of seven years, he and his parents became part of the westward expansion.  It was 1849, the year of the westward 49er.  While a great number of people were heading to California, however, the Delong family set their sights on Wisconsin in the North Country.  For ten years they stayed put; then in 1859, they again headed west, this time heading for Minnesota.

There could be no better place for a young man of seventeen to live.  Minnesota abounded with northern wilderness.  The hardwood groves, vast prairies, wild game, and a Native American presence made the young state a mecca for boyish adventurers, and Delong quickly took advantage.  In the communities of Green Leaf, Cedar Lake, and Hutchinson, the young man gained a reputation as a hunter and trapper, and befriended a well-known Mdewakanton Chief named Little Crow.  In addition to all this, he paid for a claim in Ellsworth Township and leased a flour mill at the outlet of Cedar Lake.

Albert DeLong was twenty years of age in 1862, and like many in Minnesota, was skeptical at first news of trouble with the Dakota Indians in 1862.  In fact, he ignored a warning given to him by a friend known as Charley Minnetonka.  He later remarked how Minnetonka had always worn civilian clothing, but on the day of his warning, was wearing a bright red robe and acted strangely when he warned Albert of a “Big fight coming”.  He finally realized the truth behind Minnetonka’s warning on August 18, when he learned that five settlers were killed in Acton by four Dakota men from the Rice Creek band.

Because of his knowledge of the countryside and of Little Crow, DeLong was made a scout for the Ninth Minnesota, a Union regiment of local volunteers and new recruits created to defend the region from warring bands of Dakota.  The regiment reported to Glencoe on August 31 and was given orders to march to patrol Forest City, Acton, and Hutchinson.  September found them camped in the front yard of an abandoned farm near Kelley’s Bluff.

It wasn’t long before the camp realized they were in the midst of a large force of Dakota under the leadership of Little Crow.  It was decided that the encampment should break camp under cover of darkness and retreat from the area before they were ambushed.  They were late, however, and it was dawn before the Ninth was ready to push out of the area.

DeLong and some other men were scouting ahead of the Ninth.  They followed a trail that left the woods and went onto the prairie.  While heading up Kelley’s Bluff, DeLong and the other scouts spotted rifles glistening in the sun below, meaning Little Crow and his men were waiting to ambush them.  In mere moments, a yell came from the wood line and the Indians charged, waving blankets and firing muskets at the scouts ahead of the main force.  While DeLong and the scouts ran for cover, twenty men from the Ninth charged Little Crow’s force to allow the rest time to climb the bluff.  Once the entire force was in position, it was debated whether to entrench themselves on Kelley’s Bluff, or try and retreat toward the stockade in Hutchinson.  Before the decision to retreat was made, DeLong had stolen away from the battle, snuck through Dakota lines, and was heading toward Hutchinson for reinforcements.

The Ninth began their retreat south.  The wounded were placed in wagons, the dead left behind as they fled.  They made it as far as Cedar Mills where the Dakota caught up with them and the fighting commenced.  In an attempt to slow the advance of the Indians, food and other goods were thrown from the wagons in hopes that the Dakota would stop their chase and pick them up.  It worked, and the pursuit began to lag.

A short way out of Hutchinson, a group of reinforcements from the stockade, with A. H. DeLong in the lead, met up with the rest of the Ninth.  By nightfall they made it to the safety of the fort.  The wounded were brought into the hotel, outside of the stockade.  The following day, Little Crow regrouped his forces and attacked Hutchinson, destroying all but the stockade and one home.

Albert DeLong lived in Greenleaf for a number of years before moving to Hutchinson.  He married twice and had one son.  DeLong was the first chief of the Hutchinson Fire Department when it reorganized in 1893, and was a charter member of the Gopher Campfire Club.  In 1935 he was the last survivor still living from the battle of Kelley’s Bluff, the last survivor of the battle of Hutchinson, and the last living member of the Litchfield G.A.R.  In 1936, the long and adventurous life of Albert DeLong ended.  He was a man among men, and the last true frontiersman of central Minnesota.

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.

August 27th Dakota War Roundtable Discussion

On August 27, at 10:30am, the McLeod County Historical Society will be hosting it’s monthly Breakfast Club meeting.  Each month members are invited to the museum for free coffee and donuts.  In addition, we like to offer either a speaker, or a topic for discussion.  This month, the topic will be the US-Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising.  Since many settlers in McLeod County found themselves affected by the war, there will be many stories to discuss.

*Not up to date on the conflict, no problem, stop in and listen to the discussion over a hot cup of coffee.

**Not a member, have no fear.  The membership requirement for this month’s discussion will be waived.

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!