Settlers’ grave sites marked

NEW ULM – The civilian victims in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 received special honors Sunday at the New Ulm City Cemetery.

A dedication ceremony, which was hosted by the Junior Pioneers of New Ulm and the Brown County Historical Society, showcased 33 new gravestones for civilians killed during the war.

Located in the back of the cemetery just past the maintenance building, only numbered stones previously marked the grave sites since burials took place more than 150 years ago. Numbered stones were common in the era for people without surviving family to bury them, for those who could not afford a gravestone and for pauper graves.

The Junior Pioneers worked with the Brown County Historical Society to place gravestones displaying the name of each individual buried at each numbered stone. Identities were determined after extensive historical investigation. Junior Pioneers spent $5,000 on the project, making it one of the biggest and most expensive projects the group has ever completed.

Brown County Historical Society representative Darla Gebhard said the identification of each grave site provides a tangible place for families of the victims to visit and for help in tracking their ancestry. The project research also provided insights, such as the proximity to which family members were buried near each other despite the ongoing battles between settlers and the Dakota.

Most of the 33 pioneers buried at the site were civilians simply caught up in a larger, bloodier conflict. Many attempted to flee to forts or towns for safety. The majority came from Milford Township, and most were women and children.

Two of the newly dedicated grave markers symbolize two causalities whose precise burial spot is unknown. One represents an infant and the other is for a mother.

New Ulm resident Jeffrey Juni, who has researched his family’s extensive history during the 1862 battles and his family members who died in the conflict, spoke at the dedication.

Civilians buried at the dedicated site should be remembered and respected for the hardships they faced in the summer of 1862, Juni said. His personal story focused on Mary Juni-Zitlaff, his great-great-stepaunt, who was eight months pregnant when she was killed in Renville County while enroute with a group to Fort Ridgely for safety. Seventeen of his aunt’s group of 23 died in the conflict.

Despite the loss of many lives and his family’s own personal tragedy, Juni learned to be more open and understanding from his study of the hardships all sides faced.

While researching the history of 1862, Juni made friends with the great-grandson of a Dakota man who saved numerous settlers during the conflict. The friendship fostered a deeper understanding of the situation, Juni said.

Juni expressed hope that people today will remember to honor the memories of those buried at the New Ulm site, and that they will learn to develop a deep respect for the experiences of the settlers and Dakota in the 19th century.

“We may not ever truly understand what happened, but we can learn from it and use it to persevere in our lives,” said Juni.

As part of Sunday’s event, the Junior Pioneers and the Historical Society hosted guided tours of other grave sites in the pioneer section of the cemetery.

The cemetery dedication took place on Aug. 25 because it is the anniversary of the evacuation of New Ulm during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at

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