Civil War Trails



The trails that our family followed in 1870 weren’t confined to just stream valleys. Their overland route from Waseca to the Kanaranzi Creek was probably laid out 10-15 years earlier, before the Civil War. This map was compiled (Trygg, 1964) from the field notes of those early surveyors who laid out the grid of townships and sections over the land.

The north trail is labeled as “Madelia to Sioux City” and also as the “Mail Route to Sioux Falls and Yankton”. It’s highly likely that this is the trail that the Shurr’s covered wagon followed, because Waseca is only about 50 miles east of Madelia. Family tradition says that they were part of a wagon train of Scandinavians headed for Dell Rapids in Dakota Territory. But, they left that group and drove south to get to the land in Iowa and eventually settled on Lone Tree Farm (shown by the purple star at the bottom of the map).

The south trail crossed Kanaranzi Creek at the purple oval about five miles upstream from the homestead on the Minnesota side of the Stateline. That south trail is labeled “Spirit Lake to Sioux City” and carries memories of earlier violent times. The Spirit Lake “Massacre” in 1857 has been suggested (Harnack, 1985, p.14) to be part of the reason that homesteading was delayed in southwestern Minnesota and adjacent areas in northwestern Iowa and eastern South Dakota.

One of the main participants in the 1857 action was a Dakota leader named Inkapaduta. My grandmother, Daisy Walker Shurr, shared an adage about him: “When the wind is in the northeast along Kanaranzi Creek, you can hear Inkapaduta’s war cry.” Although the local settlers vilified him and there is controversy about his role in the conflict (Van Nuys, 1998, p. 415-450), he has been generally held in high regard by many Native Americans.

During the Civil War in 1862, the U.S.-Dakota War was another conflict that may have limited early settlement. But in any case by the early 1870s, many of the first settlers in the area were Civil War veterans. Daisy’s father, James O. Walker, was a veteran who homesteaded along the Creek just over the county line to the east in Grand Prairie Township. He was one about eight veterans who clustered along the south trail (Heikes, 1984, p.11) within the purple oval. Her uncle, George Barnes, was also part of this cluster. His homestead on Kanaranzi Creek may have been the location of the battle that gave the Creek its name (Heikes, 1984, p.16).


This map of settlement patterns in Kanaranzi and Clinton Townships has Civil War veterans’ land patents marked with gold squares. Veterans were identified using newspaper coverage of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) preserved in the Rock County History Center. The GAR was a veterans’ organization active in both Rock and Nobles County in the decades following the Civil War. The four veterans who located north of the farm can be added to the eight just to the east to make a total of a dozen within the limited area of the purple oval. Two or three miles to the north near Magnolia, there were three or four more veterans who might also have been part of that “neighborhood” cluster. Another cluster of four veterans settled along the Rock River and the parallel trail that is shown as a gold line. The diagonal gold line in the northeast corner of the map is the southern trail shown on the first map.

Clusters of Civil War veterans have been identified and interpreted in South Dakota (Hackemer, 2019, p. 91):
“Those who settled in the older counties in Dakota Territory were more likely to do so with wartime comrades than those who settled in the newer counties farther west.
The number of clusters and their location may be more important than the number of men who settled in clusters. Although there are exceptions, clusters were more prevalent in counties where veterans are underrepresented relative to the rest of the population. Clusters may simply be markers for comradeship, but they also enabled veterans to more easily integrate into otherwise challenging environments with more established institutions or social structures, or simply to survive in challenging circumstances.”


Similar dynamics may have been at work along Kanaranzi Creek, although the large cluster of veterans within the purple oval may have almost qualified as a more formal “colony”. It has been suggested (Hackemer, in review) that men in such colonies usually had experienced more wartime trauma than other veterans. Daisy Walker’s uncle, George Barnes, was part of the “colony” and died at a relatively young age. It was thought that his death was a result of his Civil War duty (Crippen, unpublished manuscript, p. 227).

There were other colonies in the general area at a slightly later time. Young Englishmen were located just to the west in southwestern Minnesota and northwestern Iowa (Harnack, 1985, p.5). Irish immigrants were organized into a colony just to the east in adjacent Nobles County (Heikes, 1995, p.49-52). Both of those colonies, however, were one result of the railroads that replaced trails as the dominant overland travel routes.

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About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
This entry was posted in Family History, Farm History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Civil War Trails

  1. margshurr says:

    More history than I knew I was interested in. It is very enlightening. No need for reading historic novels…I guess I could read this instead. Thanks

    Like

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