Fort Ridgely

Fort Ridgely was a United States Army outpost from 1853 to 1867, to which Alburn Newcomb frequently helped transport troops during the Dakota War of 1982

Alburn Newcomb, like so many other early settlers, wanted little more than a peaceful existence in the Minnesota wilderness. Fate, however, had other plans.

Born in 1836 in Pennsylvania, Newcomb began eyeing the west at the age of 21. His initial motivation for migrating was to better his condition, presumably a health ailment as many others came west for the same reason. In 1856 he rode the rails to Galena, Illinois, as far west as the railroad went at the time. From there he procured a team and drove north to Platteville, Wisconsin.

For a time he operated a ferry boat. In 1858 he again found himself on the move, this time hitching a ride with a family moving to McLeod County, Minnesota.

Minnesota was a mecca for westward migration in the late 1850s. Land was cheap, easy to find, and small communities such as Glencoe and Hutchinson were sprouting up across the region. Newcomb made a claim in Sumter Township and began living the simple life as a frontiersman trapping furs for the Hudson Bay Company.

By 1861, Newcomb had established himself as a tried-and-true trapper. He’d lived in the region for three years and was likely well acquainted with the rivers, streams, trails and “backcountry” of the area. Like many men at the time, however, his life was interrupted.

Civil war broke out in the United States and a call went out for all able-bodied men to enlist in the Union Army. Of those dutiful men, Newcomb was one of the first who sought to enlist. He was rejected, likely due to his condition, and resumed his life as a frontiersman. His chance to fight for his home would come soon, however, as in 1862 a large faction of Dakota/Sioux began waging war on white settlers in Minnesota.

Newcomb did not aid in the war effort as a citizen soldier, but instead played the role as a teamster that transported troops across the region to the westerly outposts at Fort Ridgely, Fort Abercrombie, and the numerous outposts that were scattered throughout the settlements in Minnesota. It was a job that was fraught with danger. Oftentimes the bulk of the soldiers would go ahead into the most dangerous areas in search of the enemy, leaving the teamsters and a small guard duty alone and at the mercy of an ambush. In fact, the life expectancy of a teamster was short, and many felt their demise at the hands of a war party was a foregone conclusion.

Dangerous or not, Newcomb continued to transport troops across the wilderness until the war ended.

With the war over, he returned to his home in Sumter Township, hoping to resume his simplistic life, yet found that the home he left was no more. As was the case with most farms and settlements in the affected areas of the war, Newcomb’s home was destroyed.

Disgusted, he left Minnesota for Iowa where his brother lived. The stay was short lived, however, and a year later he moved to Glencoe, where he attempted to resume the life he had left the year prior. Far too much change had taken place, however. The fur trade had declined greatly and Newcomb found it nearly impossible to make a living as a frontiersman. He instead began transporting people as a stage driver, making regular trips between Blakely and Hutchinson.

In 1881, 22 years after he came to McLeod County, Newcomb began the simple life he sought back in 1858. He located a farm in Sumter Township and spent his remaining years working the land until his death in 1908.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1-4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 320-587-2109.