J.H. Stevens

J.H. Stevens organized a home guard to protect Glencoe from the Dakota attack that never came.

The early years of McLeod County must have been something to see. Not only was the landscape a wild and fruitful one, but for those coming to the region to settle, the world was their oyster. The entire state was in an infant stage, and with a future that had not yet been written, the sky was the limit. It was something akin to a newborn baby. The child, or in this case the land, had endless opportunities in front of it.

I often think that perhaps this is what people had in mind when they traveled to the North Country to build homes and start new lives. Men like the Hutchinson brothers could have looked along the banks of the Crow River at their future townsite and imagined it to be the "Star of the North," a place where they could establish civilization and progress on the frontier — a veritable oasis of society and culture in a new world with endless opportunity.

What may have escaped the minds of some settlers is that they were not entering a new world. Rather, they were calling home a place that already had society, culture, laws and politics. And, over the course of those formative years of building western civilization on the frontier, those doing so would have to find a way to fit into the world in which they entered.

For centuries, the region that would become McLeod County was within the realm of the Dakota nation, the eastern portion of the great Sioux nation that extended out of the Big Woods and onto the Great Plains. They were a remarkable nation with their own laws, their own borders, their own politics, and with their own enemies and allies. It was a society, a culture and a civilization in every sense.

In the mid-1850s, though, they no longer held legal claim to their ancestral lands. They were still very much a presence and a force in central and south-central Minnesota. In many ways, the principles of their society still held sway in the region. Those coming to the land with ideas of building sanctuaries of society would quickly find that they would first have to fit into a world of frontier society where they were but another “tribe” among those already established in the region.

For the most part, relations between the settlers and Native Americans in Minnesota were regarded as kindly. In McLeod County, traveling bands of Dakota often came through and camped close to white settlements, such as Glencoe on the banks of Buffalo Creek, outside of Hutchinson on the Crow River, and they even frequented the settlement of Koniska. They usually came to hunt and often ventured into the settlements and farmsteads to trade venison for flour, lard, meal or tobacco. Like all people, however, both Native Americans and white settlers possessed a desire to not be wronged by the other, and like all people, it happened.

In the spring of 1857, the first notable incident between white settlers and Dakotas happened at a place called Spirit Lake. A renegade Dakota leader named Inkpaduta and his band attacked white settlers in northern Iowa. The attacks were made in revenge for the killing of Inkpaduta’s family members. In all, 35-40 settlers were killed.

Though relations between the settlers and Dakota in the McLeod County region were good, news of the Spirit Lake attacks put many on edge. In the summer of 1857, a rumor from St. Peter reached the settlers in Glencoe and Hutchinson. The story was that a large band of 700 Dakota warriors, mounted on horseback, were heading to Glencoe to attack the town in revenge for an injury inflicted on a Dakota man by a white man in the area.

The rumor turned the town of Glencoe on its head. The alarm was raised and sent out to settlers in the countryside, telling them to come in to Glencoe with their families for protection, and to bring along any weapons and ammunition they had.

A blacksmith named A.B. White was dispatched to St. Peter to find out if the rumor was true and to obtain any information on the whereabouts of the mounted war party. Meanwhile, Col. J.H. Stevens, a veteran of the Mexican War, was put in charge of forming a home guard and to conduct a defense of the town. All the guns in town were cleaned, the ammunition divided, and guards posted. Stevens put out an advanced guard on the outskirts of town and instructed that if anyone attempted to pass the picket line, that the guard demand a countersign three times and, if no answer was given, to shoot.

Later that night, Henry Jacobs, a German immigrant, was guarding the road from St. Peter to Glencoe. At roughly 11 p.m., Jacobs heard a horse approaching his position. He assumed the hoofbeats were of an advanced scout, meaning 699 Dakota warriors were shortly behind. Jacobs brought his rifle to his shoulder, pulled the hammer back and proclaimed, “Who goes there?” three times.

Finally, a response came from the rider: “I’m A.B. White of Glencoe, blacksmith and wagonmaker.”

When the sun came up the next day, the settlers gathered in town all went back to their farms. Undoubtedly White found that the rumor was just that, a rumor. In the days to follow, the fears of an Indian attack ceased. According to stories, however, the teasing of Henry Jacobs did not.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. Do you have a historical anecdote to share? Haines can be reached at 320-587-2109 or by email at director@mcleodhistory.org.

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