Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
© 2012, Duane Stanley
"[N]ow that we were united once more we could just be glad and satisfied, and go to work to begin life anew." Such were the thoughts Julia Frost recorded as the Watkins and Frost families moved into the large Pearl Lake Place home by the end of 1862. Atwood describes the confidence of the settlers: "Thus far the Indians had found our people alert and watchful, brave and ready on the instant. Contious [?] and crafty as the Indians were, it is undoubtedly due to our attitude, that the savages were deterred from making any formidable raid upon our settlement. Thus we were saved from the fate of many other sections."
There were no additional Indian scares during the winter months, but settlers remained extremely anxious. Frost notes that when her sister-in-law gave birth in April, the new mother could not produce enough nourishment for the new baby. Frost tells us that she, herself, nursed both babies for a time. (She also tells that as life approached normality once her brother's family returned to Ohio, so too did the young mother's ability to produce milk for the baby.)
In the late spring, Little Crow returned to Minnesota with some of his warriors. Whatever his ultimate goal, stealing horses from the settlers was an immediate goal. Encounters in 1863 were few, but not without some murderous violence that would draw this remembrance in Mitchell's History of Stearns County: "Aside from occasional appearances and outrages,... there were no troubles from the Indians in 1863."
The most violent of the attacks on settlers was at the end of June, when four members of the Amos Dustin family were viciously murdered after leaving the town of Waverly. Only a six-year-old daughter, who had been hiding under her father's seat in the buckboard, survived, though drenched in her father's blood. When found, he had been shot with an arrow, slashed in his chest with a tomahawk, and had a hand cut off. The incident would result in Adjutant-General Malmros instituting a bounty of $25 on any Indian killed. In at least one incident the bounty was quickly claimed.
In Stearns County, Mitchell records a variety of local incidents including that a Mr. Doble near Fair Haven discovered three Indians driving away his cow on
July 11. He reported shooting one of the thieves. On July 26, Henry Block was shot in the hand while trying to scare off Indians attempting to steal horses. Four horses were stolen from stables in Maine Prairie that night. On July 27, a Mr. Kenney, driving near Clearwater, was shot at by Indians with a ball entering his arm.
Perhaps most dramatic was an incident the week of July 4. Frost recounts that on Sunday "as we were about to enter the church at Fairhaven for services, a man upon a foaming steed came dashing up to alarm the citizens by saying that a murdered man had been found in the woods... the very summer sunshine grew murky with our fears." The church men, taking lumber with them, found the body, made a casket, and buried his scalped remains of James McGannon. The victim's coat had been taken in the attack. No one knew at the time that the coat had already been found, near Hutchinson, alongside the body of the most infamous of all the Indians-Chief Little Crow himself. On July 3, two men out hunting found and fired upon resting Indians who had been picking berries. Chief Little Crow was mortally wounded. The next morning when Hutchinson residents came to search the site, they found "the body of an Indian, neatly laid out with a pair of new moccasins and the murdered McGannon's coat on or near it."
As the Indian threat subsided, the settlers of Maine Prairie were faced with yet another challenge to their dreams and determination. Frost describes it this way: "As spring approached, our men folk began to lay definite plans for the coming season, and decided to try farming on a larger scale; so they rented more land and put in corn and wheat.... The day our boys sowed spring wheat it rained enough to lay the dust, and then it never rained a single drop until the day they cut and brought in the poor yield of grain."
The string of challenges was too much for many settlers. They had faced a grasshopper plague, the Civil War, the "Sioux Uprising," and now a season without rain. Frost continued, "This season so discouraged Brother William that he made up his mind to return to Ohio." By the end of the summer, the rest of the family said their goodbyes to brother William who returned to Ohio with his family, and there they lived out their lives; the challenges of frontier life had proved too much.
We now say our goodbye to the rest of the family:
Elder B.U. Watkins became a respected spiritual leader for the Maine Prairie community. The year his wife, Saphronia died, in 1870, he helped establish the Christian Church, a church that has provided a foundation of faith for generations of believers. Watkins married an Ohio widow, Zelinda, who had served as a missionary in Canada. [Zelinda Hazen Wood Watkins was this author's own great, great grandmother.] They came back to Maine Prairie where they remained for a number of years before seeking a "less rigorous climate" in Cameron, Mo. There he died in 1890.
Young J.R. would become a very wealthy man with the J.R. Watkins Medical Company and its (unique at that time) approach of door-to-door sales in rural areas and a money-back satisfaction guarantee. He and his descendents led the company for 110 years. The company is still located in Winona, owned by the Irwin Jacobs family.
Ida, a teacher, would marry a young Civil War veteran, Datus Myers. He purchased the Pearl Lake farm of his father-in-law in 1884. He served in the Minnesota Legislature where he helped direct legislation that established the Reformatory outside St. Cloud; he became its first superintendent in 1887.
Julia and Alvah Frost served as evangelists for many years, mostly in Minnesota and Ohio. Young Charlie would live only two and a half years before he died of fever, but the couple had another son and a daughter, Adelaide, who served as missionary in India for 13 years. At the age of 75, and with the help of brother JR's wealth, Julia Frost wrote and published The Annals of Our Ancestors, the multi-generational story of the Watkins family that has been our source of the details we traced during this series of articles.
Frost's story, along with Atwood's history and a few other short accounts, give us what we know of life on Maine Prairie during the Dakota War of 150 years ago. These remaining pioneers determined, after half a century, to record their memories for us. Mary Greely Street, now at rest in the Maine Prairie cemetery wrote: "There are very few of those early pioneers left on Maine Prairie. You could count them on one hand. And when I return to my native town, I feel in a strange country until I enter the cemetery and read the old familiar names, and as I read them, I love to recall what each one did for the making and bettering of our grand state of Minnesota. Its early pioneers were heroes, suffering uncomplainingly.... It is hoped their descendants to the third and fourth, yes eighth and ninth generation will see that their heroic sacrifices shall not be forgotten and their memory honored."
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Thanks for making our sixth Annual Holiday Potluck event another huge success Nov. 13. Time passes so quickly when we get to spend it with friends like you.
Still seeking pre-1900 photos we can copy of any original Maine Prairie Village buildings. Our contact is at the end of this column.
Already scrambling to think of the perfect gifts for loved ones? Consider the gift that lasts all year: new or renewed membership. Just $10 and up. January is membership month, perfect timing and a great suprise!
If you're enjoying this series by Duane Stanley from April to this issue, how about sharing your family's story, what a wonderful legacy to remember your family. Thank you, Duane Stanley, for "Claiming the Dream" April 5, before the Civil War, through the rest of the story you're reading today! Seventeen chapters in all.
For more information, membership, souvenir gifts, tax-exempt donations, your stories and photos, please contact the Kimball Area Historical Society at
PO Box 55 (new) Kimball MN 55353, or call (320) 398-5250, or e-mail
, and visit us on Facebook, or website at www.kimballhistory.org.
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Memories that last a lifetime