Jackson takes care of unfinished business
JACKSON -- The sound of raindrops hitting the roof and pavement outside provided accompaniment for the chorus of "Amazing Grace" sung by the assembled crowd of about 100 people Saturday morning in Ashley Park's shelterhouse along the banks of the Des Moines River in Jackson. The downpour didn't deter the proceedings as the community came together to take care of unfinished business -- the dedication of a monument 102 years after it was erected and a memorial service for the victims of two massacres, one in 1857 and one in 1862.
It was a weekend devoted to history, timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. Jackson County was a key site in the clashes between Native Americans and the settlers that invaded their land, beginning in 1857, when the community was then known as Springfield. Jackson County Commissioner Rosemary Schultz, a teacher of history, provided a historical overview of the uprisings that shaped the future history of the area.
"In the spring of 1857, Inkpaduta and his band of about 50 warriors came through here," she said. "It was the beginning of the great Indian wars, and you'll never find it in the history books."
Six settlers were killed in that initial raid, and any that remained fled the area. But by 1860, people had begun to return to the area -- first American-born homesteaders, then more from Norway.
"By 1862, we had 250 residents here in Jackson, but they were very isolated," Schultz explained. "There was no railroad, no telegraph. They had little contact. ... They were infringing on Indian land. ... They wanted to take the land, plow it up, plant crops. ... By 1862, the Indians had only a little strip of land on the Minnesota River that they could be on. They were hungry, they were starving, and that provoked the attacks."
The first altercations occurred near New Ulm, then spread to the Redwood Falls and Lake Shetek area. A young boy fled New Ulm and made it to Jackson to warn the settlers there, and work began on a fort, but those precautions were too late. The Native American warriors struck the next day, killing 13, in what came to be known as the Belmont massacre..
The names of the five victims from 1857 and the 13 from 1862 are immortalized for posterity on a monument that was erected by the state in 1910 in Ashley Park. But the monument was never dedicated, according to a newspaper account of the time, because of a "lack of interest."
The Jackson County Historical Society decided to rectify that with Saturday's ceremony, which also included a memorial service for the victims, since no record can be found of their funerals or burials.
"This is the first memorial service I've done for someone who died 150 years ago," remarked the Rev. Bryan Simmons, pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Jackson, who officiated the memorial part of the program. "We didn't know them personally, but we are connected to them through time. What has happened in the past has shaped and formed your family in unknown ways. ... We cannot change the past, and it can have a profound effect on the future."
Other historical events, including programs and tours at Jackson's Fort Belmont and the Jackson County Historical Society Museum in Lakefield, were scheduled throughout the weekend. On hand for it all were members of the Langeland family, whose ancestors were among the victims and survivors of the 1862 attack.
Edna Johnson of Plymouth is the granddaughter of Julia Langeland, whose life was somehow spared.
"They didn't want to waste bullets on the children," she explained, addressing the gathering on behalf of the Langeland clan. "So they took her by her feet and put her head by a stump. ... My grandma survived, and she had my mother, Josephine."
By the conclusion of the dedication and memorial ceremony, the rain had subsided, and the participants were able to walk around and view the 1910 monument and adjacent pioneer cabin that stand on the Ashley Park grounds. The Jackson City Council recently authorized the restoration of the cabin, which is nearly completed. It is believed that the structure was built in 1856 and therefore was standing at the time of both massacres, making it the oldest building in Jackson County.