Tricounty News

Coming Home

© 2012, Duane Stanley

We left Julia Frost about four columns back after she and others of the Watkins/Frost family took refuge at Mrs. Waterhouse's home in Anoka. Only William, with his wife and daughter, had remained at the fort throughout the terrifying 10 weeks, and Joe helped with building the fort before meeting up with the family in Anoka. After six weeks as refugees, most of their little band returned to Maine Prairie, likely immediately after word spread of Col. Sibley's defeat of Dakota warriors at Wood Lake, and the immediate release of the prisoners that had been held by Little Crow's forces.

On Sept. 26, at Camp Release, 269 prisoners were handed over to Sibley: 107 white settlers and 162 "mixed bloods." The "active" part of the Dakota conflict had ended though much tragedy still lay ahead. Little Crow, with a small band of warriors-perhaps 60-abandoned the reservation and Indian villages of the Minnesota Valley. His tribe headed into the Dakota territory, while he sought to build renewed support from other tribes in the Dakotas and even, with a trip up into Canada, an attempt to bring England into the conflict. But his efforts proved fruitless. Small groups of warriors wandered on their own throughout the wide area, occasionally stealing horses.

Sibley's victory did not mean fear and terror was replaced by calm and confidence in the lives of the settlers. Occasional Indian sightings in the spring of 1863 were cause for considerable alarm, but clearly worst of the threat had subsided. The Watkins family returned in two wagons: a light, one-horse express wagon, and the heavy army wagon. "Father took the Vandervorts and Sister Ida with him.... Father's load being heavy, after they crossed at Clearwater, Joseph drove on ahead. Night came on and it grew so dark that the horses could not see to follow the road. The girls wanted to get out and find the road, but father would not let them, but got out and held to the harness until he found the horses' heads, and then by getting down on his hands and knees he found the road." Recall that

Mr. Watkins was almost blind.

About this time, in late October and early November, families started to leave the sanctuary of the fort, but not without trepidation. At first, the Watkins family, rather than returning to the large Pearl Lake place, which was just within the edge of the woods, chose to stay together at "the Shad," the farm brother William had rented the previous winter. It was almost in the middle of the prairie, providing a greater sense of security against a surprise attack. The delayed harvesting was in full swing. Neither

B.U. Watkins' fields, nor William's, had been cut before the refugees fled the prairie. Only Alvah Frost's wheat was largely ruined as it lay on the ground or stood in shocks during those weeks of exile. In contrast, the uncut Watkins' farms produced an abundant harvest.

With her first child's birth imminent, Julia herself remained in Anoka with her mother and sister-in-law, awaiting the big event. Just three weeks after Charlie Frost arrived on the scene in early October, aware that the coming winter would soon close off the only way to cross the Mississippi, the remaining family members began their trip home, driven by Emerson Vandervort.

Frost described the trip: "I felt strong enough for the return home, although I knew how much I risked; and I remember to this far-away day what I endured on that journey of two day's duration. It turned zero weather, and when we reached the crossing, our ferry boat was the last one for the season. I was well wrapped in blankets and my fine baby boy of 12 pounds in my arms; I kept him there, not venturing to hand him over to mother for even a little change; the wind was sweeping, bitter cold, and I feared to expose my little one in the least, so I sat in one position through all the long and weary miles. Whatever the physical discomfort, I was going home and my heart was singing for joy!

"My buried wedding dishes were exhumed from their imperfect burial in the garden, and though the Indians had left them untouched, one of the steers had not, he had jumped over the garden fence and walked over our "buried treasure," breaking some of the dishes, though we counted this but a small loss. We could but look with dismay upon the wreck of the fine garden we had planted so hopefully in the spring upon our rich claim. It was our new household's first real garden. We had set out 400 cabbage plants which, when we left, were already giving promise of the large yield; corn, potatoes, beans-all had been given into the care of the rich earth by us and then left. How hard Alvah had worked over that garden, and now what a ruin!"

As winter burst upon them, the Watkins/Frost family held a family conference; the anxieties of the frightening three months had pulled the (now 10-member) family even closer. "After a family council had deliberated on the whole outlook and present situation, we concluded it was best for us to stay together in father's house at Pearl Lake Place. Alvah and I had rooms upstairs, and Brother Will and Julia had the parlor for their bedroom, while they cooked and ate at the family table. We had our kitchen upstairs, and so we lived together through the long, cold winter and laid plans for the coming spring."

Precautions were taken to prevent any devastating surprises. Overnight, horses were kept close to the house, where it was hoped they would provide an early warning if they smelled Indians in the area. From the second story, brother Joe would stand guard overnight, at least in the beginning. But the cold winter passed slowly, without further incident for the Maine Prairie residents.

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Thank you for joining us

Oct. 23, to hear all about "Moccasins on Maine Prairie" with Duane Stanley presenting history with a master story-telling style and program that never lost his attentive audience. And the refreshments were delicious! Don't miss any of our outstanding program events; 2013 promises a year full of them.

Exclusive celebration of this season: Join us for an evening of fellowship at the society's sixth annual potluck dinner at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in Kimball's Historic City Hall. It's free and open to the public. Bring a main dish or food item for the table. Bring family, friends, appetite, or come alone and meet with some of our popular society cookbook cooks. Besides all the other great folks who enjoy history. Utensils and beverage are provided.

Remember our society's fiscal year is January to January. Your new or renewed memberships are so appreciated to fulfull the budget. If you've already done that, thank you very much in advance.

Gift giving just got easier. Christmas isn't far away and the gift of history is a great idea. Everything from a gift certificate to a commemorative set of postcasrds and assortment of designer souvenirs are wallet friendly. Next year's membership is even an excellent idea. All will be available at the Tuesday, Nov. 13 Holiday Potluck or just call or e-mail us and we'll arrange pickup or delivery to your favorite people.

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History satisfies our thirsty imagination