Q&A: Who were some unsung heroes during the U.S. – Dakota War?
Dr. Alfred and Eliza Muller – Dr. Alfred Muller acted as the post surgeon, along with brave assistance from his wife Eliza, at Fort Ridgely during the attacks on August 20 and 22. In several first-hand accounts the Muller’s are praised for their efforts in soothing and saving the wounded. Commander of the fort, Lt. Sheehan boasted that, “Post Surgeon Muller was active in attention to the wounded and ill, nobly seconded by his brave wife, who was, throughout the dark days, an angel of mercy and comfort to the sufferers, and who, with many other ladies, admirably illustrated the quality of most praiseworthy courage in the midst of surrounding danger.”
Joseph Coursolle – Known as Hinhankaga (The Owl) to the Dakota, Joseph Coursolle was a mixed-blood blacksmith who was raised at Mendota. He married and moved to the Traverse des Sioux and became a teamster and fur trader. In 1860 he and his family moved to the Redwood or Lower Sioux Agency. At the time war broke out, Joseph and most of his family escaped to Fort Ridgely. Joseph immediately enlisted in Captain Joseph Anderson’s company of mounted militia. He fought in the Battles of Fort Ridgely and the Battle of Birch Coulee. After the war he continued as a guide and scout for General Sibley’s army. Joseph left a personal account of the first attack at Fort Ridgely –
A flaming arrow stuck in the shingles of the officer’s quarters and a blaze started to spread. “Corporal Coursolle,” shouted Captain Anderson, “climb up on that roof and chop out the fire!” Every Indian bow and gun will be shooting at me, I thought. My legs felt wobbly but up the ladder I went, two rungs at a time. Bullets and arrows whistled past my head. Never did an ax swing faster than mine as I whacked out the fire. The ladder was too slow; I rolled off the roof and landed with grunt on the soft top of an earthwork wall. I thought there would be more holes in me than a sieve. But I didn’t have a scratch.
Ferryman Mauley – Those who wished to escape the Redwood Agency on August 18 and reach the safety of Fort Ridgely, had to do so by crossing the Minnesota River at the ferry crossing. The operator was an old Frenchman named Mauley. Rather than flee and save his own life, this noble man stayed until all had crossed. By the time he tried to flee, it was too late and he lost his life. Below his great deeds are described by Private Oscar G. Wall –
History is adorned with no grander spectacle than was exhibited in this humble, unpolished frontiersman, and of all heroes who won renown in that conflict, his memory should have been the first to be recognized and honored, as his was the first great service rendered when the tragedy that came like a fiery bolt from a clear sky, overwhelmed the Agency in the early morning of August 18th. Here is a man who deliberately gave his life that others might live . . . and may his memory ever be cherished and perpetuated in his adopted country as that of the hero of heroes in the fiery ordeal that tried men’s souls at Redwood, for there does not exist in history a nobler instance of intrepidity or greatness of soul than this man exhibited.
Read Jannette DeCamp’s description of Ferryman Mauley’s heroic actions – page 378-379
Read Joseph Coursolle’s testimony following the U.S. – Dakota War
Oscar Garrett Wall, Recollections of the Sioux Massacre, (Lake City, Minnesota: The Home Printery, 1909).
Gary Clayton Anderson and Allan R. Woolworth, eds., Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988).
Minnesota Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865, Vol. 2, (St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1893).