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.
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.
DeLong was age 20 in 1862, and like many in Minnesota he was skeptical at first news of trouble with the Dakota Indians. 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 of a “big fight coming.” He finally realized the truth behind Minnetonka’s warning on Aug. 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 Aug. 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, 20 men from the Ninth charged Little Crow’s force to allow the rest of the men 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 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.
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 Conservation 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.