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Agreement protects Wood Lake Battlefield site as Minnesota prepares to observe 150th anniversary of 1862 US Dakota Conflict

The late Mike Ose of Redwood Falls spoke about the Battle of Wood Lake at the site now being protected during a symposium and tour held by the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association.

WOOD LAKE -- One of the most important battlefield sites from the 1862 US Dakota Conflict is being protected as Minnesota prepares to observe the 150th anniversary of the war.

The Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association announced this week that it has signed a conservation easement with a family owning a critical portion of the area where the Battle of Wood Lake took place on Sept. 23, 1862. It allows the non-profit organization to develop a 53-acre portion of the battlefield site as a memorial to the Dakota warriors and U.S. soldiers who clashed here, as well as to develop an interpretive trail to tell the history, according to Tom Hoosier of Rochester, president and founder of the WLBPA.

The Association worked for over six years towards the goal of protecting the site, and was successful in having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Why this site - also considered a US Civil War era battlefield- was not recognized many years ago for its importance to our history remains a surprise to Hoosier.

"I have no idea why, but it's done, and that's the important part,'' said Hoosier.

The association is devoted to telling both sides of the history represented here. It has been working with the State Historic Preservation Office and the Civil War Trust to see that the site is protected and recognized for its significance.

Hoosier said a parking area, walking trail and story boards will likely be developed as part of the first effort to tell the story of what happened here. The site will be restored to native prairie. Tall prairie grasses covered the steep creek and hilly terrain where the fighting occurred.

The Battle of Wood Lake was the final battle of the Conflict of 1862. Col. Henry Sibley and 1,619 troops were camped near the battlefield site. Little Crow and over 700 warriors were planning to ambush the soldiers, but only after they broke camp and would have been strung out in a column over two miles long.

The plans were foiled when some of Sibley's men disobeyed orders and set out to grub potatoes in nearby gardens. They nearly rode over some of the warriors concealed in the tall grasses, and the fighting began. The advantage belonged to Sibley. The soldiers were armed with muzzle-loaded Springfield rifles and cannons that fired 6- and 12-pound exploding balls and canisters. Little Crow's warriors carried double-barrel shotguns.

Muriel and John Coulter of Tracy own the property. Muriel Coulter's family homesteaded the land, and her father, Halvor Odden, is believed to have visited with some of the soldiers who had fought in the battle and returned later to see it.

The Coulter property includes the portion of Wood Lake Creek where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. John Coulter said it is a very scenic area, and looks more like an area of the western U.S. than the southwestern prairie of Minnesota.

Coulter said he and his wife feel that protecting the battlefield is the right to do. This agreement assures that it will remain unchanged by farming or other activities.

Hoosier said the organization will be discussing plans for the site at its annual meeting in February. He said the association is hopeful that in the future it will be able to work with neighboring landowners to protect or commemorate other parts of the battlefield as well.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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