Author chronicles LaFramboise family

NEW ULM – The author of “Red Earth, White Road: The History of the LaFramboise Family” chronicled the family’s role in and around the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Thursday at the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) 83rd Annual Meeting at Turner Hall.

Janet Timmerman, the new director of the Murray County Museum and historic properties, told the story of fur trader, trading post owner, interpreter for the Sioux at several treaty signing events and Nicollet County’s largest landowner, when he died in 1856.

Of French and Dakota (Metis) blood, LaFramboise was considered one of the best educated men in the Northwest Territory. Speaking French, English, Ottawa, Chippewa and Dakota, he guided German settlers in choosing the present site of New Ulm and married four times. His wives included two daughters of Chief Sleepy Eye.

LaFramboise set up a trading post where the Minnesota and Cottonwood Rivers meet south of New Ulm in 1832, then established the Little Rock Trading Post in Ridgely Township, Nicollet County, several miles east of Fort Ridgely State Park, just north of the Minnesota River. Little Rock was one of the few area buildings the Dakota did not burn to the ground as they raced across the prairie on horseback, from Fort Ridgely to New Ulm in August 1862.

Timmerman described how the mixed blood trading families came to be.

“Many traders married into tribes they traded with, creating new trading relationships,” Timmerman said. “…Things changed so rapidly when the Dakota were driven off their land and European settlers rushed in. America’s melting pot hadn’t melted yet.

Joseph LaFramboise Jr., the son of Joseph LaFramboise Sr., lived near the Upper Sioux Agency at the time of the uprising of 1862. He helped organize a soldiers’ lodge that opposed the war.

Living with his family at Fort Snelling after the uprising, Joseph Jr. was chosen as a scout in General Sibley’s 1863 Dakota Territory expedition. He later served in scout camps created to protect area settlers.

“The Dakota were not sure if they could trust mixed blood people during the war,” Timmerman said. Some of the LaFramboise family wore buckskin clothing to assimilate the Dakota, then fled their camps when they learned the Dakota were unsure how to deal with them, she said.

William LaFramboise, another son of Joseph Sr., was active in defending the first Dakota attack on Fort Ridgely at age 16. His name is on the Fort Ridgely monument.

Timmerman described what it was like to be a Dakota in Minnesota during and after the uprising. She pieced together much of her book from letters and interviews with the LaFramboise family.

“It was a very dangerous situation. If you even looked like a Native American, Sibley’s troops would shoot you on sight,” she said. “An enraged white population made things so bad, many Dakota wouldn’t even talk about it for decades, making their stories very hard to find.”

Timmerman’s talk was sponsored by Joseph LaFramboise’s great-great-grandson, Jerry Weldy and his family of rural Fairfax and Franklin.

Earlier in the evening, BCHS Co-Treasurer Gary Wiltscheck said the organization funds itself with its $1.1 million in assets including an investment account, Brown County budget money, grants, operating income and membership fees.

Co-Treasurer Jerry Gulden thanked BCHS volunteers for their work that included popping popcorn in the New Ulm Popcorn Wagon for more than 1,600 visitors outside the museum this year. Museum visitation was 7,314 in 2013 so far.

Bob Burgess, BCHS Director, said special U.S.-Dakota War programming is planned for Aug. 18-24, 2014 in addition to walking tours, talks and other events, often in conjunction with the New Ulm Public Library. Coming interpretive exhibits will detail World War I and the prohibition era.

Burgess said Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Grants were important in securing funding for core building upgrades and major design work for the national award-winning, 3rd floor exhibit, “Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the U.S.-Dakota War.”

Retiring BCHS Board of Trustee members are Terry Sveine and Marianne Schotzko. Anne Earl, Lisa Besemer and Vicki Pieser of New Ulm plus Cherry Taylor, Comfrey; and Gulden of North Mankato were elected to the 2014 BCHS Board of Trustees.

For more information, call 507-233-2616 or visit

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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