1863 SCC Claim No. 289: In the matter of Ernst Dietrich deceased

In July 2013, almost 150 years after the Sioux Claims Commission convened hearings in Minnesota and recorded her testimony, Pauline Dietrich spoke again.

The story of Ernst Dietrich, told by his widow Pauline, was the first of 2,940 lost stories recovered in 2013 when we located the records Sioux Claims Commission in National Archives RG 217 among the settled accounts of the Second Auditor of the Treasury (1).

Dietrich reciept

“Two thousand two hundred & Sixty-two Dollars being the balance of the award of the Commissioners upon the Claim of Ernst Dietrich numbered 289” Receipt [1864] signed by a representative of Bigelow and Dalrymple, the legal firm representing Pauline Dietrich’s case.

Ernst and Pauline were Walt Bachman’s great-great-grandparents and I am grateful to Walt and Elizabeth for their permission to share Walt’s transcription of Claim No. 289.

Pauline was the widow of Ernst Dietrich, a New Ulm furniture maker and the leader of New Ulm’s civic orchestra. Ernst, Pauline tells us, was worried he might be drafted for three years of service in the Civil War. On the morning of August 18, 1862, accompanied by some brass players from the orchestra, Ernst rode off on a recruiting mission: to sign up enough volunteer soldiers to forestall the impending draft.

The recruiting party, with the United States flag flying from their horse-drawn wagon and brass horns glinting in the sun, unwittingly headed into the epicenter of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862. The Dakota warriors who shot the recruiters may have mistaken them for U.S. cavalry. (2) 

Ernst Dietrich died without a will. Pauline’s claim shows Henry Sublius, administrator for the estate, helped Pauline present Ernst’s claim on behalf of herself and their four children. Pauline lived off the $200 cash settlement she received from the Sioux Commissioners in 1863, and off the charity of friends and strangers until her settlement check arrived from the Treasury in 1864.

Dietrich list

At hearings held in Minnesota in 1863, Commissioners recorded the testimony of claimants and witnesses in ink that remains remarkably legible 150 years later. Lists of material goods lost, however, like this list presented by Pauline Dietrich, were written in (and on) the material at hand and presented at the hearing. Pauline’s list is written in pencil. The paper was exposed to moisture before it was filed. This image is historic (low-res and digitally enhanced), one of the first made from the claims collection at NARA by Candace Clifford in 2013.


(1) I use the plural “we” because the discovery was the fruit of teamwork. Like many other scholars since William Watts Folwell at the turn of the 20th century, I had tried and failed to find the missing records of the 1863 Sioux Claims Commission. My mentor, Alan Woolworth, among those who had searched, in his inimitable style, had dubbed them the “Holy Grail” of “things we’re stilling going to find out there [in the National Archives] someday!”

Alan was right. I shared the discovery story with him before he passed away in 2014. “Golly!” Alan said. “We knew where they were all along?!”

Yes, in a way, we have.

In the spring of 2013, researching a different story in the Institutional Archives of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), I discovered that in 1896, the MNHS, at that time, actively developing its collections on the subject of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, had located the Sioux Claims Commission Records on shelves in the Office of the Second Auditor of the Treasury in Washington D.C. Apparently not able to meet the Treasury’s requirements, the MNHS had not acquired copies.

117 years later in 2013, when I encountered that correspondence, I understood the significance of what I was reading. My burning question was: Had the 1863 Sioux Claims Commission files survived the intervening years to be accessioned among the Records of the Second Auditor of the Treasury when the National Archives was organized in 1935?

A donor with vision wanted to fund the answer. Walt Bachman understood better than anyone else in our research community what the Records of the Second Auditor of the Treasury might contain. Following Helen McCann White’s trail of research breadcrumbs to Second Auditor records in RG 217, Walt used Army Paymaster vouchers to prove that Joseph Godfrey’s mother, Courtney, was enslaved at the time of his birth at Fort Snelling, making Godfrey a slave born in Free territory. (See note 2 below.) Godfrey was said to have been ‘leading’ the Dakota warriors who killed Ernst Dietrich.

Walt connected me with Candace Clifford, a lighthouse historian who has worked in RG 217 for two decades, including compiling an Inventory of Historic Light Stations for the Department of the Interior. Candace accepted the assignment: to be my eyes and feet on the ground in Washington D.C., adding her experience in RG 217 to my knowledge of the history of the 1863 Sioux Claims Commission and the 117-year-old clues I’d found at the MNHS.

After days of improvising search-strategies in the face of dead-ends,  on July 27, 2013, we located the missing 1863 Sioux Claims Commission case files in RG 217. Subsequently, I have had the privilege of spending nearly four weeks’ grant-funded research time at NARA exploring and cataloging new Minnesota primary source findings in RG 217, including the 1863 SCC records.

(2) Walt Bachman, Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey (Pond Dakota Press, 2013). Bachman has continued to mine RG 217 and has now documented the extent of slaveholding by army officers in Free territory throughout the United States before the Civil War. The Last White House Slaves: The Story of Jane, President Zachary Taylor’s Enslaved Concubine (2019) is the first book in a series highlighting Bachman’s findings.




Posted in National Archives, Primary Sources | 1 Comment

Meet RG 217

Register of Indian Accounts No 1 Second Auditor

It’s easy to imagine why Record Group 217 has been obscure. The nondescript name, “Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury,” promises little more glamorous than 19th-century auditors’ records. As the target of research, RG 217 is a last-picked-child on the scholarly playground at the National Archives.

Today, RG 217 is on a fast track to becoming one of the hottest, underused records groups at NARA. Scholars love new primary sources. Since 2013, sometimes researchers wait their turn in the Reading Room to look at some boxes of RG 217 records. Given the funding and time, who wouldn’t like to go sleuthing on a story dated between 1775 and 1927 to see what history has forgotten?

Thanks to the grants of generous donors administered by the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum, I have been fortunate to conduct four research forays into RG 217 to identify new primary sources about Federal interactions with Dakota people in Minnesota in the 19th century.

The shelving required to house RG 217 is so extensive that it wraps from the West to the East sides of the stacks at Archives 1 in Washington D.C.   Removed from the stacks, the collection would cover three-quarters of a football field to a depth of one foot.

Claims bundle tied with box in background

Although the documents date to 1863, the red tape and Hollinger box are artifacts of 1995, the last time this section of RG 217 was processed by National Archives. The author, NARA, May 2014.

See the Table of Contents in the RG 217 link above to overview the entire collection.

Scholars have largely overlooked RG 217, not understanding how it was created or what it contains. In the late 18th, the 19th and the early 20th centuries, the Congressionally-mandated Treasury auditing process categorically removed documents from Federal agencies like the Office of Indian Affairs.

Records that did not require auditing –the vast majority, like letters received and sent, reports, maps, treaties — remained in the Indian Office.  Today, these documents are staples of scholarly research on Federal relations with Indian Nations in America, collected as National Archives RG 75, Records of the Office of Indian Affairs. Like many Record Groups at NARA, it has earned a reputation for divulging fascinating new information scholars are not looking for while keeping mum on subjects of intense interest.

Take the subject of Hugh Tyler. Students of Minnesota history know Tyler as a political friend of Alexander Ramsey, hired on as Commissary for the Treaties at Travers des Sioux and Mendota in 1851. We know little about Tyler apart from allegations made by a political rival, Madison Sweetser. In the wake of those Treaties. Sweetser alleged Tyler and Ramsey colluded to pass money under the table to their trader-cronies, money that rightly belonged to Dakota people.

A Congressional investigation exonerated Ramsey in 1854. William Watts Folwell, Minnesota’s first historian to assess the scandal, was dubious about the Senate findings.(1)  As Rhoda R. Gilman summarized Folwell’s argument, “No record was kept of Tyler’s activities. But his expenses [reimbursed by Ramsey from Indian Affairs funds] were considerable.”(2)

It turns out that Hugh Tyler’s records were retained. Modern scholars can examine Tyler’s activities during the negotiations of the 1851 Treaties –as well as Madison Sweetser’s and Alexander Ramsey’s settled accounts. (3) The records Folwell lamented as missing had been transferred from the Office of Indian Affairs to the Treasury for auditing. They are now located in RG 217.

Hugh Tyler Box Settled Account for T51

Hugh Tyler’s account covering Treaties made in Minnesota in 1851, settled in 1853. RG 217 NARA.


Hugh Tyler Box List of people he paid at T51 (2)

Documents like this list in Hugh Tyler’s Account No. 694 were created as an employee of the Office of Indian Affairs and transmitted to it for reporting. The OIA forwarded these documents to the Second Auditor of the Treasury for settlement. This detail from a ledger sheet shows the names of people Tyler hired (including a Steam Boat, a missionary,  a number of French-Dakota men and others associated with the fur trade), the date and amounts they were paid, and Auditor’s marks indicating the file contains a Voucher (receipt) signed by each person.

Settled accounts were permanently collected at the Treasury, where the records backed up the work of the last people to handle them: auditors. The documents were not returned to the Federal offices that generated them. When NARA opened in 1935, it followed the archival practice of preserving the provenance of the collections it accessioned. That meant that records that came into the National Archives from the Treasury retained the order and identifiers assigned to them there, further obscuring the origin of these records outside the Treasury Department.

For example, Tyler’s account from the Treaty of 1851 is not filed by that year, where a scholar would expect to find it in RG 75. Rather, it is filed in RG 217 among other accounts settled in 1853, the year the auditor closed Tyler’s case.

In this way, the historically invisible auditing process removed data-rich primary sources out of the NARA records collections scholars routinely consult. At the Treasury, some accounts were further removed by the time that passed before settlement. In the cases I have surveyed, an account may have been settled, and therefore was filed, from one to thirty-two years after the events captured in the file.

Institutional collections policies follow scholarly demand. We can’t be interested in records we don’t know exist.

But now we do. It is no coincidence that RG 217, among other newly discovered collections at NARA, is coming to light now. Digitization and the application of big data to history mean we have the tools at hand to mine these records for new stories and to update ones we think we know –tools that Folwell never dreamed of when he tried and failed to locate these records a century ago.


(1) William Watts Folwell A History of Minnesota Vol. 1, The Minnesota Historical Society. Press, 1921. p. 290-293.

(2) Rhoda R. Gilman, Henry Hastings Sibley: Divided Heart, The Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004, p. 131 and Mary Lethert Wingerd, quoting Gilman quoting Follwell in North Country: The Making of Minnesota, The University of Minnesota Press 2010, p. 383 n 31.

(3) Ramsey’s accounts from the Treaty are curiously misfiled in RG 217. If this anomaly is an artifact of the period settlement process, some accounts available to scholars today may not have been available during the Ramsey investigation.

Posted in National Archives, William Watts Folwell | Leave a comment

Whatever 3

Whatever 3

Monday, March 25, 2019, I had the pleasure of preaching to a choir –follow historians and history advocates at the Minnesota History Whatever 3.

Stephen Osman, now-retired from his position as Senior Historian at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS), and Megan Kellom, Archival Collections Cataloger specializing in government documents at the MNHS, joined me.

Our collective pitch: To tell new, inclusive stories, we need to include new sources.

Kellom told us about the wealth of underused government records and reference aids available to researchers in the Gale Library at the MNHS. Osman took us on a virtual research trip to the National Archives, whetting our appetites with new documents turning up in the ongoing search for Federal Military records generated in 1862-63 by the concentration camp at Fort Snelling where Dakota civilians were interned, and for the same records from Dakota Prison at Mankato.

I gave an unabashed pitch for the acquisition, digitization, and use of previously unknown and uninterpreted primary sources in the National Archives. I showed images from two of the four collections at NARA I have discovered and roughly cataloged via the grants of generous donors administered through the Minnesota Independent Scholars’ Forum.

As promised, I will devote several posts to images and transcriptions as samples of the content of these collections. It is a small way I can thank the visionary people who have funded the discovery work in the conviction that these sources and others in the National Archives are a legacy we can make accessible in real-time.

Carrie Reber Zeman

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A Tribute to Alan R. Woolworth

On Wednesday, August 13, 2014 we lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor with the passing of Alan R. Woolworth, who would have been 90 years old on August 19. A public memorial service will be held Saturday, August 30 at 6:30 PM at the James J. Hill House in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I am away from home and the files of biographical material from which to write the proper tribute I would love to give Alan. But I can share a little about Alan and his legacy by re-posting the remarks I made at the Gideon and Agnes Pond House on June 29, 2012. The occasion was the book launch party for A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity, which Zabelle Stodola and I dedicated to Alan. This post was originally published on July 7, 2012.

Alan Woolworth, about to celebrate his 88th birthday, arrived early to get a front-row seat, proudly wearing one of his “Nebraska” caps. Alan did the undergraduate work that led to his career in archaeology, museum collections, and research, at the University of Nebraska.

“Now I need to tell you another story. Zabelle is right. Alan did not technically contribute to this book. But I have to tell you why: it because even before I started he had already loaned me his entire private collection of Minnesota captivity narratives.

It started a decade ago with a single binder. Alan knew I had little children because they came along with me on many visits to his office at the Minnesota History Center. These visits started when there was only one child. Then there were two. Then there were three. (Before there were four!) Those were the days before Alan’s research collections were available in the Library and even though he was supposed to be retired, he’d come into the office just about any time anybody asked.

Alan loves children. But I think he took pity on me. Because one particularly crazy morning at home, my phone rang and Alan said, “I’m on my way into the office and I have something I think you could use. Can I drop it off on my way?”

A few moments later Alan was standing on my front porch in his long warm coat and woolen muffler with a very large binder in his arms. “This is from my house,” he told me. “It’s the same collection of my Dakota biographies that’s on my office shelf. Keep it as long as you need it. Photocopy what you want. Then return it sometime.”

I stammered my thanks and he was gone. Later, when my husband came home for lunch my oldest (at the time my only child) said, “Daddy! Daddy! Did you see them? Did you see them?! Those are Mr. Woolworth’s footprints in our snow!”

The binder was just the beginning of wonders loaned or gifted from his personal collection: material he’s collected at home over the years. Rolls of microfilm MHS does not own. Obscure old books. Boxes of research files like his captivity collection to peruse and copy at my leisure.

But more than simply share information, Alan trained into a generation of novice, impressionable scholars like me that what we do with history is share it. If we are blessed to find something, it may not be meant for us, but because tomorrow we will meet someone who needs that very thing we were given. Alan’s spirit of humility and generosity permeates our local research community. Outsiders like Zabelle often remark on how readily we share.  If we do, it is because Alan has taught us so well. Not by lecturing. But by modeling how it done. Alan, we are grateful!”



You must be having a marvelous time in that place where all unsolved earthly mysteries are now made perfectly clear, no trowels, photocopies, or binders necessary. I am smiling through my tears imagining all the people you are trading stories with –still wearing your favorite crusty red Nebraska cap, I think, as you wouldn’t leave home without it. You are loved and missed. My condolences to your family.



On Monday, August 18, 2014 Richard Chin wrote this biographical article, Alan Woolworth, who returned Little Crow’s remains, dies for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Alan’s obituary in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 27, 2014.

Posted in Alan Woolworth | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sinte’s Story

Today Sinte, a Dakota woman exiled from Minnesota in 1863, stepped out of a 150-year old-letter via the voice of her great-granddaughter, Loretta, who commented on an 1863 letter written by U.S. Army Lieutenant James Gorman.

Scroll down to the comments at the bottom that post and watch Sinte’s story unfold. First, J. R. Brown biographer, Nancy Goodman contributes the documentary sources on Sinte she found. Then, Loretta steps in and shares Sinte’s family’s story.

Since this is a lovely example, it bears repeating: Thank you to everyone who so generously contributes stories and information, publicly in comments, and privately via email. This corner of the research world is richer because you share.

Posted in James Gorman, Sinte | Leave a comment

Officers, Gentlemen, and Dakota Women

Theodore G. Carter, an officer in the 7th Minnesota, Company K, adds his recollection to the series on relationships between Army officers and Dakota women on the Minnesota frontier. (The five-part series started here.)

In his reminiscences, published in the St. Peter Herald in the spring of 1906, Carter made this observation about J.R. Brown, who was on Sibley’s campaign staff at Mankato in December 1862. The article was published on April 20, 1906.

Major Joseph R. Brown was with us and, I think, acted as interpreter…. Major Brown was a drummer boy at Fort Snelling in 1823, and afterward held official positions in Wisconsin Territory and later had been agent for the Sioux Indians.

I admired him for one thing. Like most of the early settlers who came to the country unmarried, he took a wife from the Sioux, but unlike nearly all others, he did not repudiate her when civilization came. He educated his children and was as highly respected as those who, similarly situated, deserted their dusky wives and married white “ladies.” But it must have made the white ladies feel queer to have the Indian wife come with her children and make an annual visit. I have it on good authority that such was the custom. And these people were high up in the political and social world.

In the context of Walt Bachman’s research on Henry Milord, I wish Carter had named names. Carter’s reminiscences show he generally respected Sibley as an officer; he did not repeat the rumors about Sibley’s Dakota children that Carter likely heard on the 1862 campaign.

Carter gives Brown an equally polished nod, alluding to Brown’s marriage to Susan Frenier Brown, while omitting the story of Brown’s arrest on November 11, 1862. The previous night, after curfew and against orders, Brown was found inside a tipi in the Dakota women’s camp at Mankato. (See link below.) While Brown’s self-defense was that he was sleeping there to protect his female relatives from male intruders, Stephen R. Riggs, also present, that same day wrote a letter naming Brown’s conduct, “a scandal.”

Carter’s observation underlines another real-life consequence of this pattern of officers and other ‘gentlemen’ visitors to the frontier temporarily taking a Dakota woman as a sexual partner. These pre-war relationships occurred in a cultural context that involved Dakota men, often the woman’s father, acting as a go-between. While traditional Dakota culture was functioning, kinship would have helped protect the rights of Dakota women.

But what happened among the Dakota prisoners after the war when the dictates of military tribunal resulted in the segregation of Dakota women from Dakota men? Vulnerable women, traumatized by war and by sudden, forced dislocations from loved-ones and place,  landed in the erstwhile protection of military men who had liberal pre-existing attitudes about the rights of white men in power to Indigenous women.

This means that the sexual abuse and harassment of Dakota women in the wake of the war did not occur in a vacuum. It’s all one story. The liberties taken by officers and gentlemen before the war paved the way.

Posted in Theo. G. Carter, Women's History | 1 Comment

Did Henry Sibley Execute His Son?

Love a good mystery? You’re in for a treat.

Early in his research for Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfreyhistorian Walt Bachman unearthed rumors that Henry Milord, one of the 38 Dakota men executed at Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862, was the son of General Henry H. Sibley. Sibley convened the military tribunal that condemned 303 men to death, and signed off on the execution orders, including Milord’s.

Sibleys eyes

Among other paternity allegations, Henry Milord is said to have had Henry Sibley’s eyes.

From the time of Milord’s October 1862 trial for participation in the U.S.-Dakota War and stretching into the 1920s, when the last people died who had known both men, many believed Sibley had executed his son. But interpretations of Sibley’s paternity differed. Some said Sibley had “raised” Milord, while others swore Sibley was Milord’s biological father.

In The Filicide Enigma Was Gen Henry Sibley’s Son Hanged in Mankato, Walt Bachman weighs the evidence. More than a great mystery, the article is an excellent example of how careful historians evaluate conflicting stories –the stuff of which history is made.

The story is also painful evidence of the effect of race on the 1862 military tribunal hearings. Milord’s French heritage (if Sibley was not his biological father), or Yankee heritage (if he was), resulted in a more thorough, better-documented trial than any full-Dakota man received.

Read the article, then cast your vote for Milord’s paternity. When you vote, the poll’s results will be visible to you.

Posted in 1862 Dakota War trials, Henry Milord, Walt Bachman | 1 Comment