There was a company of soldiers sent up on a steamboat from St. Paul on the Minnesota River to help out at the siege of New Elm, but they were crowded so hard up at Fort Riley, a short ways up from New Elm, located on the banks of the Minnesota River that those soldiers had to steam up there and help out at Fort Ridgley.  This left New Elm to defend itself.  If it had not been for the stone buildings in New Elm they would have crowded and taken the little city of New Elm.  But shortly after the first raid of New Elm the 30th Regiment of Minnesota, commanded by General Sibley came up and rounded up those Indians, hung thirty-nine of them.

Little Cotton Wood

From there we traveled west to a small colony of Norwegians, probably eight or ten families. This colony was called the Little Cotton Wood.  Here we visited for one week.  From here we could see for twenty miles north to the Big Cotton Wood River and land was level and not a tree in sight.  We made this in one day, this was the end of our destination here.  The first night we camped on the bank of the Cotton Wood River.  This river had a nice belt of timber on it.  

​Travels from Wisconsin to Minnesota

Eating Tree Bark

We landed early at our new home about the last part of June.  We broke up a small patch of prairie sod, planted a few potatoes and some garden stuff.  It produced pretty well.  Plenty of fish in the river.  Father put up all the hay we needed for our little bunch of stock for the winter and our cows gave lots of milk so we had plenty of butter and cheese put up for the winter.  We were a little short of flour, one sack of flour to start in with, this my dear Mother made last until Spring.  During the winter my Father would go down in the timber on the river, peel off the rough bark on the Slippery Elm wood trees then he would peel off the inside bark next to the tree, take this home, chop this up fine, cook this.  This would make a thick porridge, sift in a little flour.  We had plenty of milk and cream so Mother would mix in some of this.  This would make a very nutritious and healthy food.

A Journey When J.P. Peterson Was Eight Years Old

Photo courtesy of Lakota Sioux Indian Village 

Leaving Wisconsin

In the spring of 1861 we moved from Columbia County, Wisconsin and moved to Browns County, Minnesota and located on what was then a Sioux Reservation, seven miles above New Elm, MN on the Big Cotton Wood River.

Above photo courtesy of Travois 


Close to where we camped this first night, there was an empty log house.  It had been occupied by a French man and his squaw.  It seemed this French man had put on a party one night.  He invited a lot of his Indian neighbors.  It seems he had prepared himself with plenty of whisky.  In this same house he had a keg of powder standing and thru their drunken carousing it seems the keg of powder got too close to the fire and exploded and killed some of the Indians, but did not kill the Frenchman.  This must of made some of the Indians pretty hostile as they then took and butchered the Frenchman.  And when we moved into this log house you could see where the blood had spattered on the logs.  This was not a very inevitable house to move into.  Those Indians that were killed in this explosion they had buried just a few rods in front of our door.  Their graves were dug only about three feet deep.  They were laid away wrapped in their blankets with some hay put on top of the blanket, then some poles across the grave, some hay on top of those poles than a thin layer of dust on top.  Of this I remember so well as my brother and myself used to take a pole and punch down on those bodies.  Ever so often there were some squaws used to come and howl at this grave.

Blacksmith Shop

At La Crosse we camped two days as we were waiting for a family to join us here to go west with us.  Our next move was here to cross the Black River and the Mississippi  River.  Our first stop in Minnesota was at Chatfield, here we camped two days while Father went and visited some friends.  Next stop was at Rochester, here we camped overnight.  Next morning while we were eating breakfast a man came up riding on a black horse.   We had camped beside of a real black smith shop. 

$400 for Rochester

There were only mere shacks where Rochester is now located.   It seems this man owned the land where Rochester is now located.  He wanted to sell his preemption to Father for $400.00.  He might as well have asked $4,000.00 for all the money Father had was fifty dollars when we left Wisconsin.

Indian Camp

Just a few days before Christmas I never will forget my brother and myself was sent over to a neighbors to get a mid wife for my mother.  She lived three-fourths of a mile from our home.  To get there we had to go by an Indian camp and before we started we heard an awful pow wow.  The Indians we could see was dancing around some poles, these poles was stuck up the same as they do for their teepee, but no cover on them.  There they had a nice fire burning and where these poles came together they had a large bunch of Indian scalps with their long hair tied to the top of those poles with their long black hair to tip poles of this fire that they had burning below, blood dripping down on the fire from the scalps hanging above.  Believe me from there to where we was going to call on this woman we made fast time.  Going back we side tracked.  This camp this same fall we had bad luck in losing one of our work oxen.  He fell over a cut bank and broke his neck, this left us only those 2 two year old steers to move back East with.

Neighbors massacred

Father was not stuck, he hitched up those 2 steers that he broke in the spring, sold off what heavy stuff we had.  This made the load very light so about the last part of May we started back for Pierce County, Wisconsin.  This trip had to be made slowly as our steers were too weak to move fast, but we had no mishap.  This good Indian called on us in the spring and gave us the same advice that he did in the fall.  Those dear neighbors we left behind when the Indians did break out this same good Indian came and notified our neighbors we had left behind and in a hurry they all hitched up their ox teams and hiked for New Elm all except one German family.  They did not believe in the friendly warning, they were seven children, father and mother in this family.  This family was all butchered in the most brutal way.

Photo courtesy of Covered Wagons 
This style of wagon has lynch pin axles instead of the thimble skein axles being used 10 years later until the turn of the century.

Below:  Photo courtesy of Fine Art America

The 30th Minnesota Regiment

At Mankato the Sioux Chief, Little Crow was shot close to New Elm.  The rest of the tribe was rounded up then and started west for the Missouri River and a short ways east of the Missouri river this tribe split up about half of them went up to Devils Lake.  The other half went west to the river and crossed a short ways below Fort Rise.  This 30th of Minnesota camped here at the river for some time after they drove the Indians across the river.  I was personally acquainted with some of those soldiers that were in this 30th regiment.  They told me that most of the boys that were in this regiment were terribly mad at the General.  Some of those boys that were in this regiment had folks that had been massacred by those redskins and that there were times they could have taken them and annihilated the whole tribe, but at such times the soldiers were always ordered to camp and give the tribe a chance to get away. 

Friendly Indian

Shortly after we landed here we made an acquaintance with an old Indian.  This was the only Indian that I can remember used a wagon seat, used poles.  One pole on each side.  Of these two poles were fastened short poles, on this, canvasses they carried all their movables, squaws, papooses and where there were too many kids some were carried on the ponies back.  The long poles were fastened to a kind of a collar ring over the neck of the pony.  It was a sight to see a caravan of a thousand or more of them in a string move across the plains.  

I was seven years old

My father rigged up an old lynch pin narrow tire wagon with a canvas cover on the wagon, three cows, 2 two-year old steer calves and our family at this time consisted of Father, Mother and one boy nine years old, myself seven years old, my sister five years old. 

Traveling 400 miles

Our destination was 400 miles so it was up to my brother and myself to drive the stock behind the wagon a foot.  We made good time.  We managed about twenty miles a day on practically no road.  Our first stop was at Kilbourn, Wisconsin.  There we crossed the Wisconsin River.  Next town was Newlispen, the third stop was Sparta and the fourth town was La Crosse. We followed the Milwaukee Railroad all the way from Kilbourn to La Crosse on this trip.  Most all the way it is practically all white sand and crup pine and swamps.  This was the end of the Milwaukee Railroad going west, no railroad west of the Mississippi at this time.

As told by J.P. Peterson (John Peter Peterson)

J.P. Peterson is the Great-grandfather of Jon Quentin Peterson

Photos and website links added by Kristin (Johnson/Granquist) Peterson

New Elm Refugees

Those families that left their home in such a hurry and went into New Elm after staying New Elm for a few days saw no Indians, they fixed up a wagon in such a shape that if they should meet a small squad of Indians they would be able to stand them off.  Those few men took this outfit then and started back to the home they had left in such a hurry to try and bring back some food with them as starvation was getting them all with so many refugees that had drifted into town and none of them had taken time to take any food with them.  Those few men that went back, all neighbors of ours, met no Indians going out to their homes, in a hurry they loaded up what food they could pack in their wagon and started back for New Elm.  When they came within one-half mile of New Elm they met the whole squad of Indians.  All those were massacred except one man.  This was the same man that moved west with us from Wisconsin.  He was riding on a pony behind the wagon.  He was shot off the pony but not killed.  He rolled himself into the brush and they paid no more attention to him but finished killing the rest of them.  The man had rolled himself into the brush managed to crawl into town and at about ten o’clock at night, he managed to tell the story of the massacre.  This man died before morning.  This squad of Indians tried to take the town of New Elm, but all those refugees that had come into town and the town people managed to hold the town, but the Indians burned up all the frame buildings on the outskirts.  But there were stone building enough in town to hold all the people.  This is really what saved them.  Many were the redskins that fell from the muzzle loaders of those sturdy homesteaders.

On the left is a map of today showing the current highways and the route (in blue) that J.P. and his family may have taken in 1861

Photo courtesy of Log Cabins

Indian Village

Our next stop was at Carson, here we camped two days while Father went to see some more friends and relations.  Our next stop from there was St. Peter, here we made a short stop.  From there we headed for Mankato, here we struck the worst road on the whole trip.  Out a short ways from St. Peter in the early morning we struck a village of the Winnebago Indians.  We traveled all day trying to pass through the village, but we could not make it, we had to camp in their village.  For about twenty miles their teepees stood on each side of the trail as close as they could stand.  They were peaceable Indians, they never bothered us any.  After leaving this village we struck a belt of timber, we never thought we could get through with our old wagon.  But finally we reached the Village of Mankato.  Here we made one more short stop as we had to cross the Minnesota River.  On the west side of this river was a small village by the name of South Bend.

Mankato, Minnesota December 1862. 

 The Hanging of the thirty-eight Sioux Indians


This closes my narration of the Indians and our travel in 1861 and 1862.  I forgot to mention that the Sioux Indians broke out on the war path in 1862, August, second.

(signed J. P. Peterson)

Kilbourn, Wisconsin was changed to Wisconsin Dells

The Indians put on a Reservation

At one time particularly, they told me where they came up to a farm house, took an Indian and dragged him that the soldiers had been chasing west that had struck for the Missouri and dragged him to a fire and threw him into the fire.  Here the soldiers were ordered to camp for very near a week to give the Indians plenty of time to build rafts to cross the river with and as soon as they were all and well across, then the soldiers were permitted to move up to the river and shoot and the Indians were all safe over on the other side.  The Indians took their blanks and shot at the soldiers.  The one-half of the Indians that went up to Devils Lake and located there and they are still located there where there was a reserve set aside for them.  Those that went across the Missouri River were finally rounded up and put on a reserve so I will leave them there with Sitting Bull as their Chief.

In last part of the summer of 1861 we could see a caravan for more than ten miles coming heading right for where we lived and when they came within forty rods of where we lived they pitched their tents.  Inside of twenty minutes it looked like a good size city.  The next morning they pulled stakes and moved on.  At this time they were on their buffalo hunt, putting up dried buffalo meat for future use.  This Indian I speak of sported a wagon, we got very friendly with.  Whenever he traveled across where we lived he would always unhitch his pony, feed him, come in and visit a couple of hours for he knew there was a cup of coffee and a handout in site.  This same Indian could talk some English.  My dear mother would always give him a bite to eat when he made his trip.  I am going to try and show you we were well paid for the kindness my mother showed him.   This same Indian we made out must have held some kind of office as he held some authority over those Indians.  We had not been acquainted long with this Indian until he tried to inform us that all the Sioux Indians was going the next summer on a war path against all the white people and for us to try and move out in the spring as soon as we could.  From that time on my dear mother would not give father any peace until he had to promise Mother that he would move us back east the coming spring just as soon as the roads would be fit to travel.