Minnesota tragedy and modern-day opportunity

There has been considerable interest over the years in the events of the Dakota Conflict of 1862, which involved a branch of the Eastlick family. John Eastlick and two of his sons were killed in an Indian attack upon settlers at Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota on August 20, 1862. His wife, Lavina, and two sons, Merton and Johnny, survived the attack. Another son’s fate is unknown, although family lore says he survived but was never reunited with his family.

In 1997, after hearing about Lake Shetek for so long, Pete and I wanted to go there on our road trip. We were on a tight schedule having made a commitment to meet up with relatives in central Iowa by dinner time. We had to decide between visiting the lake itself, not knowing if there was anything there to see, or going to the museum in New Ulm, which reportedly had a whole floor devoted to the events of the Dakota Conflict. We were driving south from relatives in Park Rapids that morning, and had to be in Des Moines by nightfall. I turned to Pete and said, “So, which do you want to see? We won’t have time to do both.” He said, “We’ve GOT to see the lake…” So at the last minute we made the decision to continue on to Murray County. I’m SO GLAD we did!!

As we crossed the county line, we realized what day it was…August 20th (please imagine “Twilight Zone” theme here). It was the 135th anniversary of the Lake Shetek massacre TO THE DAY!!

I literally had goosebumps as we made our way to the State Park at Lake Shetek. At the entry, a grand monument stood sentry over the mass grave of the murdered settlers. Inside the park there was much to see, including a replica cabin and mapped, self-guided tour information to such places as the Eastlick cabin site and the Eastlick Marsh, complete with observation deck for viewing wildlife. The park is used as a picnic and camping site, as well as being a memorial to the events of 135 years ago. It is a beautiful area.

The high point of the day was when we happened to meet Paul Carpenter, a Sioux Falls cardiologist who is the great-grandson of Charlie Hatch, another settler who survived the violence (the one who hurried to warn other settlers on the lake of the impending danger). It was so remarkable to meet Dr. Carpenter, as he only happened to be there that day hoping to run into others connected with Lake Shetek history. Over lunch he said I was the first Eastlick he’d met!  He’d known of the Eastlicks all his life, as his great- grandfather had written a poem about the massacre, which mentioned the Eastlick family by name.  He had grown up reciting that same poem.

Ten years earlier Dr. Carpenter had helped to organize a reunion of settler descendants with those of a small band of Lakota men who rescued the captive women and children taken at Lake Shetek. These men were never officially thanked for the danger in which they placed themselves. Nor were they reimbursed by the government for the goods they gave up in barter for the safe return of the two women and six children who had been held captive for several weeks. Dr. Carpenter has taken on the cause of reconciliation between whites and Native Americans, realizing that what happened at Lake Shetek that day, and throughout the region during that time period was the tragic result of an escalation of tensions between a people spreading westward, as they believed was their rightful destiny, and a people attempting to protect the region they had inhabited for centuries. So many such sad stories of American expansion west resulted from this clashing of cultures and objectives.

Dr. Carpenter later wrote that he had gone back to the monument that day after lunch with us in nearby Currie. There at the ranger office he was told two Indians had come into the park for a ceremony. He met up with them and found out that one of them was a descendant of Santee who had attacked the Lower Sioux Agency at the beginning of the conflict. They had come to smoke the peace pipe, hoping to promote peace at the site of previous conflict. Paul joined them in smoking the peace pipe near the monument. He hopes that we can remember the past but commit ourselves to better relations with the Native Americans in the future.



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2 Responses to Minnesota tragedy and modern-day opportunity

  1. Hello Leslie,
    I just ran across your lovely tribute to our shared history of Lake Shetek.
    Thank you for writing it.

    I wondered if you knew about the documentary “Return to Shetek: The Courage of the Fool Soldiers?”

    The website above describes it.

    Hoping to meet you soon, Barbara

    • Leslie says:

      Barbara, so nice to hear from you! I had not heard of the documentary, although I am quite familiar with the story of the Fool Soldiers. In 2002, dozens of people gathered at Lake Shetek for the 140th anniversary of the tragedy. Among the events sponsored by the State Park and area historians was a collection of speakers, some who descended from the white settlers and others from the Lakota. We honored the Fool Soldiers that day and heard the story of how they sacrificed their own goods to secure the safety of the settler captives. It was an amazing experience! Coming up in 2012 is the 150th anniversary; there will likely be several Eastlicks in attendance. Feel free to email me. I would love to hear how you descend from the people involved in that historic event.

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