A Frantic State of Mind

Carver, Carver County MN. August 20, 1862

It was a scene of utter chaos. Several hundred Refugees were swarming the city of Carver, MN. They were settlers, country folk striving to raise families on the Minnesota frontier – yet, just a day prior, their entire world had blown up. Nearly one-thousand Dakota warriors, angry from their treatment by the United States government, left their reservation in the west and were on a mission to rid their ancestral lands of white settlers.

The attacks were brutal. Entire families, unsuspecting of the warrior’s motives, were killed or taken captive. Some war parties were particularly callous, taking time to torture their victims before killing them. Hearing news of the horrific scenes unfolding to the west, settlers fled in terror, abandoning their homes and leaving their possessions behind. In carts, wagons, or on foot, they made their way east as fast as possible, stopping on for brief periods to rest exhausted oxen or horses – all the white watching nervously to the west for approaching war parties.

In Carver, MN, news of the outbreak reached town the night prior when refugees from nearby Henderson began filtering in. They told of the murders to the west and spread false rumors of Fort Ridgely being wiped out by thousands of blood-thirsty warriors who were rapidly moving east to attack Fort Snelling. It certainly put the town in a state of anxiety, yet nothing could prepare them for what they would witness at sunrise.

On the morning of August 20th, no Indians appeared. What came instead were several hundred refugees from neighboring McLeod County, all crazed with fear and frantically fleeing east. The locals in Carver had never witnessed anything like it before. It seemed the entire population of western Minnesota was now on their doorstep. One onlooker would later recall,

“About the hour of seven in the morning we began to recruit the entire population of McLeod County. On they came, some on foot, some on horseback and some on crutches, sleds, wagons of all shades of manufacture — some with great, big, round wheels; some with low, block wheels; some with only three wheels; some with two only. They brought with them bundles of clothes, axes, spades and shovels; some more, some less of the same; some running with children on their backs, seated upon a ponderous bundle, strapped over the shoulders. Thus matters went on until in came a boy, on a very spirited horse, claiming to be direct from Glencoe, shouting out as he rode at full speed through the streets, that the Indians had burned Glencoe and Young America, and were on a rapid march for Carver! Oh! such a scene I never desire to witness again.” – The Weekly Pioneer and Democrat, Aug. 29, 1862.

At the docks a steamer was boarding refugees to bring them safely to St. Paul. It was chaos from the start. They refugees were panicking, pushing and shoving to get aboard. Mother’s shrieked as children were thrown aside by grown men who raced aboard the steamer. In a matter of minutes, the pilot had to step in and stop people from climbing aboard – the steamer reached its capacity and was showing signs of strain. It didn’t stop the refugees, however, as they jumped from the dock over the steamer’s sides, desperately hanging onto whatever would aid them in their attempt to flee.

The boat was finally able to kick off, yet the scene it left behind was of absolute lunacy. Those on shore screamed with despair for the steamer to return. They quickly found a second, much smaller, craft on shore and stampeded toward it. In a matter of moments, it was full to the brim and heading down stream.

The McLeod County residents had reason for panic. There was little to stand in the way of the attackers sweeping across the county. The army had only a marginal presence on the frontier, and a detachment of troops had already been defeated. Of course, there were some settlers who chose to stay. They built fortifications, raised home guards, and pledged to defend their communities. They were few, however, as most chose to flee, stricken with fear and absent of reason. In the days to follow, some would muster enough courage to return to their communities and aid in its defense. Most would flee to St. Paul; many would never return. Of those who returned, the majority did so long after the troubles were over.

The entire episode of Minnesota History would not last long, yet a multitude of damage was done. When it was all over, anywhere from 450 to 800 civilians perished on the prairies, and apx. 150 Dakota warriors. It stands today as the bloodiest period of state and local history. A time, and a place that put people in a frantic state of mind.


  1. Jerry Weldy says

    And to think my ancestors fled WEST to Fort Ridgely–as it was only 5 miles away.Leaving behind their wonderful farm in the Minnesota valley. All survived, and the farmstead suffered
    no major damage except for food stuffs taken by unknown persons.