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Minnesota Indian Massacre

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This is the narrative of Justina Kreiger

Justina Kreiger was married to Frederick Kreiger July 1857 in Marquette County, Wisconsin. To that union three children were born, one being killed by the Indians and one left to starve, one alive and well. The three children of her first husband, all lived to manhood and womanhood.

In the Spring of 1862, just eleven weeks previous to the great Indian massacre, Mr. Kreiger and family settled on a homestead claim on the left side of the Minnesota River in Renville County, 45 miles above New Ulm, 27 miles from Fort Ridgely, 12 miles below Yellow Medicine and 11 miles above the mouth of Beaver Creek, where a thriving settlement had recently sprung up.

It was about 8 o'clock P.M. Monday, August 18, 1862, when we all determined to flee to Fort Ridgely. One of the neighbors, Mr. Schwandt, had not been informed of the raid, so a messenger was sent there. When the messenger arrived, he found Mr. Schwandt's oxen standing at the door eating flour, feathers were seen scattered all over the yard and the house seemed to have been plundered. John Walts, son-in-law of Mr. Schwandt, was lying on the floor dead. It was dark and no other bodies were seen. The house had a smell of fire but the fire had gone out. The daughter of Mr. Schwandt, Mrs. Walts, with child, was cut open alive and the child taken and nailed to a tree before the mother. The child struggled some time after the nails were driven through it. The thirteen year old son of Mr. Schwandt saw all this from a tree where he was hiding. This occurred on Monday forenoon. Mr. Schwandt was upon the roof shingling and was shot and he rolled to the ground dead. Mrs. Schwandt was found in a newly plowed field with her head cut off and near her was the hired man, dead.

The thirteen year old boy stayed in the tree until after dark, then started for Fort Ridgely. It took him 4 nights to travel to Fort Ridgely. He laid during the days and traveled in the nights. He saw many dead bodies on his way.

There were 13 families with 11 teams in our party that started for Fort Ridgely. We traveled as fast as we could, had traveled all night until two or three o'clock in the morning of Tuesday, August 19th. We first made toward the Chippewa River, then we turned our course toward Beaver Creek. In this direction we traveled until the sun was about 2 hours high. We found we had made about 14 miles. Eight Indians on horseback, some naked, and some with blankets on, all armed with guns, came up to us. In our train were 11 men armed with such guns as they had in the neighborhood. Our wagons and oxen were so arranged for best protection. The men at first determined to fight the Indians but when they came within about 100 yards the men were about to fire - when the Indians put down their guns and made signs not to fire. One Indian with whom all were acquainted, who had frequently been at my brother's house and spoke good English, came up to us. Paul Kitsman, my brother, stepped out of the wagon and shook hands with this savage. The Indian kissed my brother and showed great friendship. Like Judas, he betrayed us with a kiss. This Indian inquired about our concerns and where we were going. Paul Kitsman told him we were in flight for the Fort as all the people in the neighborhood had been killed by the Indians. The Indian said that the Sioux Indians did not kill, that it was the Chippewas that were killing and that they were on their way after the Chippewas to kill them - and told our people to return as the Chippewas were toward Beaver Creek and we would probably be killed if we went on. At the same time this pretending good Indian put his hands on my brother's shoulder and said, "You are a good man, it is too bad to kill you." Our folks were still determined to go on and would not yet consent to turn back. This Indian then went around and shook hands with all of us and said he would not hurt us, he would save us from harm.

Paul Kitsman had great confidence in this Indian. He had frequently gone hunting with him and thought he was a good Indian.

He motioned for the other Indians to come, they came and all seemed very friendly and shook hands with all the men and women telling the women to tell the children to stop crying as they wouldn't hurt them. All of us were now fully assured that they were friendly Indians. Seeing their success, the Indians put their guns into cases for that purpose and the whites put their guns back in the wagon. All now joined in a friendly meal of bread and milk and each of our folk gave the Indians some money. The teams were turned back and we retraced our steps 5 or 6 miles. They traveled in company with us. The men then asked the Indians if they could unyoke the oxen and let them feed. The Indians made no objections and seemed pleased with the idea. Our pretended friend now wished something to eat. We gave them bread, butter and watermelons. They retired about a fourth of a mile and ate their meal alone.

After dinner, they motioned us to go on. Paul Kitsman going toward them was told again to go on, they would not hurt us and would soon follow and protect us from the Chippewas and would see us to our homes in safety.

We moved on. The Indians coming up, some took position along side of the train, others in front and others in the rear. This new maneuver caused some suspicion and the whites talked in German to each other and thought it best to fire on the Indians, but all the guns were in the wagons and no one dared touch them lest the Indians recognize the motive and be the commencement of hostilities. Not withstanding the difficulties, all men were determined to fire except Paul Kitsman. He persuaded them not to do it, as he had all confidence in them. Besides, he said our guns are in the wagons and the Indians had theirs in their hands ready to fire in an instance and every white man would be shot before they could get their guns out of the wagons. So we traveled on until we came to the place Fross and Grondman had discovered the dead bodies the afternoon of the 18th of August. Our hitherto friendly Indians showed signs of anger and became impudent and frantic and drew up in line of battle behind our train. All having double barreled guns except one and could make 15 shots without reloading. They now came up and demanded our money. One Indian came up to receive the money, the others remained in battle line. I had the pocketbook and my husband came to me for the money. I gave him $5 and kept the rest myself. He told me at the time that he would be killed and gave me his pocket knife as a keep sake.

After the Indians had received the money, they started off to the settlements where the white people had been killed.

We still went on our way to our homes and within a mile and a half of our house we found 2 dead men who had been recently killed. These men were not recognized by our people, but had evidently been killed by the same Indians. We all concluded that our race was about ended, we were to die by friends. The men took their guns from the wagons and concluded that if they could reach a house they could protect themselves pretty well but while going forward toward our house 13 or 14 Indians came up behind us. When within 100 yards of the house the Indians immediately surrounded us and fired. All men but 3 fell the first fire. It was done so quickly that I could not see whether our men fired at all, yet, I believe, some did. No Indians, however, were killed. Mr. Foss and Mr. Golliet Jable and my husband were yet alive. The Indians then asked the women if they wanted to go along with them, promising to save all that would go and threatened all who refused with instant death. Some were willing to go but others refused. I told them I chose to die with my husband and children. My husband urged me to go saying that they probably would not kill me and I could perhaps get away in a short time. I still refused preferring to die with him and the children. One of the women started to go with them and turned back a few steps and told me to come and was shot dead. At the same time two men and six women were killed, leaving of all the men only my husband alive. Some of the children were also killed at this last fire. A number of the children yet remained around the wagon. These savages beat with the butts of their guns until they supposed all were dead. Some, soon after rose up with blood streaming down their faces. They were again beaten and killed. This was the most horrible scene I had yet witnessed. I still stood in the wagon refusing to go with the murderers. My husband urged me to go as he saw they were about to kill him. He stood by the wagon watching an Indian at his right ready to shoot while another behind with his gun aimed at him, both shot at the same time. Both shots took effect and one ball passed through the body of my husband and struck my dress below the knee. My husband dropped and seemed quite dead when the third and forth shot stuck him. I was about to jump from the wagon to go to my husband when was shot. Seventeen buck shot were afterwards ascertained entering my body. I fell back into the wagon. There were eight children in the wagon, either my own or my stepchildren. What had become of the children I did not know and what was the fate of the one second to baby I do not know to this day. All I knew was that I was seized by the hair and roughly dragged from the wagon and the wagon drawn over my ankles. I was not dead but almost if not quite insensible. I do not know how long I remained in this state. When I was shot the sun was shining but when I came to consciousness, it was dark. My baby, as the children told me afterwards, was lying about 5 yards from me crying. One of my stepchildren, a girl of thirteen years of age, took the baby and ran off with it. The Indians took two with them. A boy of four years, taken first by the Indians, got out of the wagon or in some other way made his escape and came back to his dead father. He took his father's hand and was crying and saying "pop's don't sleep so long." Two Indians came back and one of them took the boy by the hand handed him to the other Indian who then rode off with him. This child was afterwards recovered at Camp Release. The other one, I never heard what became of it. It was supposed that the Indians killed it as it was a delicate child and cried a great deal. Two of the boys ran away on the first attack and reached the woods some 80 rods away. The oldest boy, about eight, climbed a tree, witnessed the massacre. When he saw his mother had been killed and, while they were crying, a neighbor by the name of August Ceot came to them, told them that they should keep still so that the Indians would not hear them and come and kill them too.

Here, these boys remained hiding for three days as well as they could from the savages who were passing and repassing.

They went to the neighbor's house and turned out cattle, horses and whatever livestock was shut up in the stalls and pens. In this way, occasionally they found something to eat. On Wednesday morning, the 20th, they saw our house on fire.

On the third night after the massacre they concluded to go to the Fort, 27 miles distant. In reaching the Fort, they had spent 8 days and nights, traveling only at night and hiding by day in the tall prairie grass. They reached Fort Ridgely in safety, but some had narrow escapes. They often saw Indians but were not seen by the Indians. At one time, these children, hungry and lonely, found a friendly cow on who's milk they made a delicious meal. Another time they were journeying on the way and they saw a team coming on the road and were about to come out of their hiding place. As they saw it was white people and were ready to jump for joy when a company of Indians rose out of a clump of grass and ran toward the wagon, captured the team, turned it the other way and drove off with it. The screams of a woman in the wagon could be heard in the distance. Again, the disappointed children hid in the grass and crept in the grass the best they could. They saw the dead bodies of men, women, children and animals. In one place there were 7 dead Indians all placed in a row. This was near Beaver Creek, as they supposed. There were also many white people dead at this place too.

I must turn back now to trace the fate of my baby. My stepdaughter, aged thirteen years, as soon as the Indians had left, started off for the woods and in passing where I lay supposing me to be dead and finding the baby near by, crying, took the baby with her. The two girls who had been beaten over the head and left for dead, had now recovered, and they too went into the woods and were soon rejoined by the others. The two who were beaten over the head were also my stepchildren. The two older children went back to the house, leaving the baby in charge of the younger girl of six. As they came back they found 7 children and one woman who showed signs of life and to some extent had recovered.

There were some of the neighbor children. The woman was Anna Isable. She had received two wounds, a cut in the shoulder and a stab wound in the side. The girls picked up the children and carried them into the house. This was the house of my husband.

It was the evening of the 20th of August. They remained in the house all night. It was a terrible place, a hospital of invalid children with no one older than a thirteen year old girl to give directions for dressing of the wounds and nursing the infant children and giving food to the hungry in a house that had already been plundered of everything of value. The children cried piteously for their mothers who were either dead or in bondage worse than death. One poor child with her hand shot off moaned and sighed, saying to its suffering fellows that mother always took care of her when she was hurt but now she would not come to her. Poor child, her mother was among the dead.

When daylight first dawned, Mrs. Isable thinking it was unsafe to remain at this place, awoke the oldest girls and on consultation concluded to leave the young children and go into the woods or prairies. The girl of thirteen years (and principal dependence of the little company) awoke my two stepchildren and one of six years who had taken charge of the baby the previous day and August Urbin, age thirteen years. These, taking the baby with them quietly left the house. They hid in the grass near a small creek. They were here but a short time when the Indians came back with the ox team previously taken from the party now dead. They stripped the clothing from the men and women, then went into the house taking everything they wanted and there set fire to the house, and with it's destruction perished the seven children left there a short time before. To this awful scene the escaping party were eye witnessers. The Indians departed while the house was in flames. The children came to Mrs. Tilles house near the edge of the wood and being very hungry diligently hunted the house over, found flour and butter. They cooked their dinner here and fed the baby.

They remained in the woods and around the houses of the settlement for three days. The third day they saw a company of Indians go into August Frass' house, plundered it of all valuables and carried them away in a wagon. The baby had been left at Mrs. Tills' house asleep on the bed when the party had last taken their dinner.

The girls and Mrs. Isable became frightened when they saw the Indians and hid in the woods until dark. Then they started toward Fort Ridgely. They passed our house still smoldering and the fields of death, so many had lost their lives. They traveled by night and rested by day. In this way they journeyed 11 days, and all arrived at Fort Ridgely alive.

The incident of this hard and dangerous journey would be worthy of a longer dissertation. They saw many dead bodies both of the whites and Indians. They frequently saw small companies of Indians prowling over the prairies and in the timber. Their food consisted principally of corn eaten raw. They found a camp kettle which they used to carry water during a part of the time. They left the baby at Mrs. Tills' house and no further tidings has ever been heard of it. Who shall tell the fate of the poor little sufferer?

Our party when in sight of the Fort did not know the place. They feared it was an Indian camp. On the last day of their travels, the child of six fell from exhaustion and hunger. Mrs. Isable advised the older girl that they go and leave her, but she and the others cried and screamed at the very idea, that the advice was not heeded. The little sufferer soon showed signs of life. They were near a stream of water. They took her down to the creek and soon revived her by the free use of the water on her head. They remained here some time. They found a rind of melon in the road and gave it to the fainting child and by rest and tender care by the other children, she was again able to journey on with the others.

They had ascended the hill near the Fort and then sat down to deliberate what to do. Whether what they saw was Fort Ridgely or an Indian encampment? The children said it was Fort Ridgely but Mrs. Isable said it was a camp of the Indians. It was hard to decide what to do. Finally the children declared they saw the troops plainly. This proved to be the case and soon the troops came toward them and rescued the five children but doubting Mrs. Isable feared it was Indians and ran off as fast as she could but the soldiers soon caught her and bought her back and took them all to the Fort.

I remained on the field of the massacre in the place where I fell when shot until eleven or twelve o'clock at night on Tuesday, August 19th. All this time or nearly so, unconscious of the passing events. I arose with a feeble ability to move at all. I soon heard the tread of the savages and heard them speak in the Sioux language. They came near and proved to be two savages only. These two went over to the field examining the dead bodies and robbed them of whatever remained on them. They soon came to me, kicked me, then felt my pulse, first the right hand and then the left, then to be sure of my heart. I remained silent and held my breath. They conversed in Sioux. I shut my eyes and waited what else was to befall me. With a shudder the next moment a sharp pointed knife was felt at my throat, then passing downward to the lower portion of the abdomen, cutting not only the clothing but actually cutting the flesh, making a slight wound on the chest, but at the pit of the stomach entering the body and laying it open to the intestines. My arms were taken separately out of the clothing. I was seized roughly by the hair and hurled head long to the ground entirely naked. I became unconscious. Just how long, I do not know. Yet, I think, it was not a great while.

When I came to, I beheld one of the most horrible sights I had ever seen in the person of myself. I also saw these two savages, about eight rods off, a light from the north, probably the aurora, enabled me to see objects at a distance. I discovered my own condition. I saw one of these savages seize Wilhelmina Kitzman, niece, yet alive, hold her up by the foot, her head down, her clothing falling down now over her head. While holding her there with one hand, the other hand grasping a knife with which he hastily cut the flesh around the leg close to the body, and then twisted it and wrenching broke the ligaments and bone until the limb was entirely severed from the body. The child screaming frantically, "O God, O God." The child thus mutilated was thrown to the ground, stripped of her clothing and left to die. The other children of Paul Kitzman were taken along with the Indians crying piteously, and again I seemed to go off into unconsciousness. I do not know for how long but when I came to, I tried to get up with great difficulty. I succeeded in getting up on my left side and left arm, my right side being dead and useless. I now discovered that my clothing was all off. I crept around to see if I could find anything to cover me and thinking I would go into the house to see if I could find anything. I came across a bunch of something, when examining it found it was my own clothing. I bound them around me the best I could, and not daring to enter the house which had not yet been burned.

I turned my course toward Fort Ridgely. It was still night but it was light from the aurora perhaps. At least I could see no more. I made first to a creek some 600 yards from the house. I washed the blood from my person and drank some water. This night I made 6 miles according to my estimation of the distance passed over. I came to a settlement in the timber on some creek that ran into the Minnesota River. I did not know the name of this settlement. It was now nearly daylight. I remained here 3 days, weak, sick and wounded and faint from the loss of blood. My only nourishment all this time was water. I heard Indians around and being afraid of another attack, I made my way to the left through the prairies and thought to find the Chippewa Indians but found none. I saw plenty of Sioux Indians. I think it was Saturday, the 23rd of August. I laid down and thought I would die of hunger. There, I took to eating grass and drinking water. In this way I traveled by night and rested during the day.

On Sunday night, I came to a creek and found many dead people there. There were great quantities of bedding and furniture and books scattered around down the creek and out on the prairies. Then I crossed the creek, the water was up to my arm pits and the cane grass tall and thick. Here, again, I saw more dead persons, one woman lying on her back with a child near her with its legs pulled a sundry. Then, I traveled around on the prairies, saw no roads and had nothing to eat or water to drink for three days. During my wanderings, early in the morning, I gathered the dew from the grass and drank that. Sometimes when my clothing became wet from the dew, I tried to suck the moisture from them to relieve the burning thirst I experienced. At the end of those three terrible days, I came to a road. I followed this road. Once in a low place I found it too shallow, so I got down and lapped it up with my tongue. My tongue and lips were cracked from the terrible thirst.

I traveled on finding dead bodies all along the way. On the 13th day I came to Beaver Creek and for the first time I found out for certain where I was.

I saw a house in the field and went to it, saw that everything had been destroyed. The dog was alive and seemed to be barking at someone but showed friendliness toward me. Being afraid that savages were around, I went again into the woods. After staying there a short time, I heard a shot and heard someone calling in German. I did not answer the call, as it was not intended for me. After all was still, I went on, passed Beaver Creek and went up a hill. I saw an Indian with a gun pointed at some object. He soon went off in the opposite direction without discovering me. Fearing that there might be others about, I went to the woods, being weary, I laid down and went to sleep. When I awoke, it was about noon. I was again lost and did not know where to go. I wandered about in the woods and when evening came and the stars appeared, I knew the direction I must go. I took an eastern direction until I came to a creek again. I saw that it must be near the Minnesota River. I went to a house near by, took a buffalo robe, went to the river bottom and laid down to rest. I found some wild plums and ate some. That night it rained all night. The next morning I found I was too weak and tired to travel and remained there all that day and the next night, wishing some savage would come along and put an end to my suffering. It rained all this day and I felt I would surely die and never leave the place alive.

The cold sweat was on my forehead. With great effort I raised up to take one more look around me and to my surprise I saw two men with guns. I couldn't tell whether they were Indians or soldiers. I rejoiced, however, because I thought they would put an end to my suffering, but as they came nearer I saw their bayonets and knew they were soldiers. The soldiers fearing some trick seemed afraid to come near me.

After making sundry examinations they finally came up. One of my neighbors, Lewis Daily, first advanced and seeing I was a white woman called to his partner. They bought me some water to drink and wet my forehead and washed my face, and then carried me to a house nearby. They proposed to leave me here until other troops came up yielding to my earnest entreaties they carried me with them until other soldiers came up. One of them went in the house and found a dress and put it on me.

The clothes I had on were all torn to pieces. Dr. Daniels came along directly, examined my wounds and gave me some wine and water, made a requisition for a wagon to be fixed up with a bed and placed me in it. The train followed along the river bottom some distance, there took the open prairie. At the one place we found a woman and her two children cut up in pieces. The soldiers buried the bodies and passed along towards the Fort. The soldiers took good care of me. The doctor dressed my wounds and did all that could be done for me.

The wagon I was in soon came into a company with a burial party who were going into camp at Birch Cooley, The savages attached this burial party the following morning after the soldiers had rescued me, Thursday, September 2nd. In that disastrous affair, it was thought best to turn over all the wagons for better protection against the murderous fire of the Indians. When they came to the wagon in which I lay, someone said don't turn that wagon for it contains a sick woman. This was the only wagon left standing.

Behind the wagon and dead horses killed by the Indians our men lay on the ground and fought the Indians with a determination seldom if ever equaled. It was victory or death! I was in a good position to hear and to see all that went on during the battle. I was in the most exposed place. The wagon was a fine mark; standing up as it did above everything else in the open prairie, it afforded the best possible target for the savage marksmen. The wagon was literally shot to pieces. A cup in which I attempted to take my medicine during the fight was knocked away from my mouth. I did not attempt to reclaim it. The smell of gunpowder almost took my breath away. Some 5 wounds, very slight ones, was all the actual damage I sustained in this awful battle. I saw it all from commencement to the finish. Sleep was impossible and my hearing was wonderfully acute. The battle lasted all day and until about midnight when the savage Indians slept, I know not but I could not sleep.

About daylight September 3rd, the firing commenced again on both sides. Some time in the forenoon of this day I heard soldiers shout for joy, the shout went up. "Reinforcements coming." The Indians ceased their firing and went toward the soldiers coming to our relief. Finding they could not drive them off, the Indians soon returned making good time to keep out of the way of the shells which the coming soldiers occasionally dropped among them. The Indians have a great dread of the cannon and particularly the "rotten ball." They some times threw this out in advance to drive out the hidden foe from some secret hiding place. As soon as the Indians found that Colonel Silby had come prepared with big guns throwing shells over the prairie they fled like chaff driven by the wind. They were soon out of sight.

After the Indians had gone the doctor and an officer came to look after me. Supposing I could not have escaped so dangerous a fire, they seemed perfectly astonished to find me alive and unhurt except for the light marks left by the 5 shots merely drawing blood. How I escaped must ever remain a mystery to myself and others. The blanket in which I was wrapped was found on examination to have received 200 bullet holes during the fight and yet I was unharmed except for the slight wounds spoken of before. Who can imagine such an escape? Yet, I did, and am alive to tell the story.

When the soldiers had buried their dead, they returned to Fort Ridgely. I was placed under the charge of Dr. Muller, Surgeon of the Post. I hardly knew whether I was in a hospital or the doctor's own house; but I shall never forget the kind care taken of me by Mrs. Muller. The doctor extracted some nine buck shot out of my shoulder, the eighty eight are still there, they could not be taken out. My other wounds did not trouble me as much but were soon healed.

At the Fort I found four of my children, all but one by my first husband. Two of my own boys had been sent to St. Paul, these two are the boys who escaped with August Urban, a lad of thirteen years of age. My oldest boy was nine and the other eight.

Here, too, I found the five girls that came in with Mrs. Isable, three of these were my second husband's children, one of them by my first husband. After remaining at the Fort two days, I was able to go on to look up my other children. The third day I went to St. Peter, a distance of 45 miles and from there I took the steamboat and went directly to St. Paul, and from there made all haste to my mother's place in Wisconsin to see my children who had been sent there before.

I returned soon after to look after the child that had been made prisoner by the Indians but when I arrived in St. Paul the child had already been sent to Wisconsin by Mrs. Keefer. I had missed her on the way. In St. Paul I became acquainted with John Jacob Meyers, a country man of mine, who had lost all of his family in the late Indian Massacre. On relating of our mutual sufferings, we soon became attached to each other and on the 3rd day of November 1862 we were married.

My present husband is in the Service of the Government under Brigader General H. H. Sibley. I was 28 years old the 17th day of July 1863. My experience thus far has been a sad one. I hope never to go through or witness another Indian Massacre.

The names of Indian leaders are Little Crow, leader of the Sioux, Wowin apa, son of Little Crow. Indian John Other Day, friend of whites, saved the lives of 60 white people.

Pictures of other Indians: Cut Nose; Standing Buffalo

It might be interesting to know that the book in which this narrative was taken was picked up from a dump heap in the State of Oregon and was bought back to Wisconsin by people who live at Jefferson, Wisconsin and Henry Wineland saw it and knew it was the story of our people. He borrowed the book and let Addie Frisbie take it and she has copied it just so it was written by Justina Kreiger Meyers and I have copied it from her book.

Emma Polk

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