Ridgely Refugees Sources

Source Notes on the Ridgely Refugees List

The list published here was generated from a database set up in 1998 to capture all references to civilians present during the siege of Fort Ridgely during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.[1] The majority of the refugees who fled their homes for the nearest place of safety arrived at Fort Ridgely between Monday, August 18, and Friday, August 29, 1862, when civilians were evacuated. The database parameters include all civilians known to have been present between these dates.[2] The database contains 358 entries, representing about 340 civilian refugees.[3]

Core Sources

The core records (82% of the total) were extracted from three sources. Combined, the following lists represent 299 refugees:

  • The “List of Persons who sought refuge at Fort Ridgely on the outbreak of the Indian War as reported by 1st Lt. Norman K. Culver, ASCQ at Fort Ridgely” in the Dakota Conflict Manuscript Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society (M582). The Culver list enumerates 238 men, women and children.
  • The “Armed Citizens” list in Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, vol.2, (1890-1893, p.193b) [MCIW2]. MCIW2 lists 70 people, 41 of whom do not appear on the Culver list.
  • The “List of Names of Citizens who took part in the defense of Fort Ridgely” in the records of the Adjutant General (Compiled Rosters of Minnesota Civil War Regiments, Citizen Soldiers) in the State Archives at the Minnesota Historical Society. This roster lists 67 men. 17 appear on the Culver list, 30 more are in MCIW2. The remaining 20 appear nowhere else.

On the refugees list, the “C” [Culver] “M” [MCIW2] and “A” [Adjutant General] in the “Lists” field designate the list(s) on which each name appears. Individuals for whom this field is blank were gleaned from narrative sources.

 About the Core Sources

 Culver (1862)/Executive Documents (1863)/Adjutant General (1915)/Satterlee (1923)

The Culver list is the most comprehensive of the core sources. A letter confirms that the list probably was Culver’s as the title, added later, suggests. On September 3, 1862, Culver wrote to Governor Ramsey from Fort Ridgely: “I have the honor to state that owing to the haste with which the Citizens at this post during the time of siege were sent away I was unable to ascertain their number exactly the list having been sent to you before it was footed. You will greatly oblige me by having the number of said citizens forwarded to me as I need it in making my returns.”[4]


The holograph of Culver’s list is now missing, but likely was the source for the list reproduced in Minnesota Executive Documents for 1862. The typed version of the Culver list currently in the manuscript collections at MHS was not acquired until 1936. The high degree of correspondence (and the difference in errors) between the Executive Documents list, printed in 1863, and the MHS manuscript, typed later, suggests both were produced from the holograph, independent of each other. Marion P. Satterlee, apparently unaware of the Culver connection, cited Adjutant General records when he reproduced the list with some altered spellings in 1923.[5]

The final page of the Adjutant General’s “Compiled Rosters of Minnesota Civil War Regiments, Citizen Soldiers” in the State Archives at MHS reproduces the first half-page of names on the Culver list, bearing the same title as the typed manuscript. At this point it is impossible to know if the compiler began copying from Culver’s holograph, decided a typed list would be more useful, and produced the manuscript now at MHS, or if he was copying from the typed manuscript. Since this list is so obviously a partial copy of Culver’s, it is not coded separately in the database.

A more detailed discussion of Culver’s list appears in the “Ridgely Refugees Report” also published to the web in 2012.

MCIW2 (1890-93)/Wall (1909)

The Board of Commissioners charged with collecting material for Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars published a list of 70 “Armed Citizens” with the rosters of Companies B and C of the 5th Minnesota and the Renville Rangers in the second volume of the series. The Commissioners’ concern was to represent the military aspects of the siege of Fort Ridgely, not list civilians present. Therefore, even if Culver’s holograph was extant and known to the Commissioners in the early 1890’s, it is not surprising that they did not cite it. Further research in Commission records may identify the source(s) of the MCIW2 list.

Oscar Wall, who had been present during the siege of Fort Ridgely as a member of the 5th Minnesota Co. B, re-published the MCIW2 list in his Recollections of the Sioux Massacre in 1909. Wall re-alphabetized the names, omitting one. Wall was unaware of the more comprehensive Culver list and introduced his own list with: “It is regrettable as a matter of history that the names of all who sought the protection of Fort Ridgely during the Sioux Massacre were not preserved.”[6]

Adjutant General (1915)

Around1915, a clerk in the office of the Adjutant General undertook the mammoth task of compiling into rough alphabetical order the names of about 3,500 Minnesota civilian volunteers who had served in the state militia during the U.S. Dakota Conflict. This effort produced two relevant lists: the partial Culver copy discussed above, and the “List of Names of Citizens who took part in the defense of Fort Ridgely,” copied at the back of the compiled roster in the same hand. No women appear on the latter list. The original source of this list is obscure; the Commissioners who compiled Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars apparently missed it in the 1890’s, although it was available to the clerk in 1915. The compilation’s association with pension records for Civil War civilian soldiers suggests it may have been created as an index for pension inquiries.[7]

In summary, three major sources have been collated to form the core of the list of refugees extracted here. Comparison demonstrates that all subsequently published lists were based on the Culver [C] and MCIW2 [M] lists. The Adjutant General list [A] appears to be a previously unknown source.

Other Sources

18% of the individuals recorded on the Ridgely Refugees List have been gleaned from narrative primary sources. In many cases these refugees are not yet corroborated by other sources. Still, these names are included as a starting point for future research.


The spelling of names is an educated guess given the multiple spellings in the sources. The spelling used here is the individual’s own spelling where that is known, or the most often cited spelling weighted by ethnicity.

Population of Fort Ridgely, August 18-29, 1862

 The current tally of people present during the siege of the Fort is about 513 [8]:

  • 350      Civilians
  • 62      5th MN Co. B[9]
  • 52      5th MN Co. C
  • 1      3rd MN Light Artillery
  • 48      Renville Rangers[10]

[1] “Civilian” refers to people who were not enlisted at the time of the Conflict. This definition for inclusion attempts to account for every person known to have been present at Ridgely during the siege. Enlisted military personnel appear on military rosters, as do the men unofficially enlisted in the Renville Rangers. The database attempts to capture all others not appearing on one of these lists.

[2] Hence, some refugees may seem to be missing, such as Jannette DeCamp and her children, who arrived September 14.

[3] The discrepancy between entries and individuals represents 11 “see . . .” entries which cross-reference a significantly different spelling of the same individual’s name.

[4] N. K. Culver to Alexander Ramsey, September 3, 1862 Minnesota State Archives, Ramsey Gubernatorial Papers, Letters Received, 5th Regiment. Minnesota Historical Society.

[5] “The Refugees at Fort Ridgely” in A Detailed Account of the Massacre by the Dakota Indians of Minnesota in 1862 1925, p. 97-102. Satterlee’s source must have been the State Executive Documents for 1862, in the Adjutant General’s portion of that report, since the Adjutant General Compiled Rosters list does not correspond to his.

[6] Wall, p.119-120.

[7] Pension applications filed are noted in the “References” column of the database, not extracted in this web report. Yet another list of civilian Defenders of Fort Ridgely must have been composed when these medals were awarded. It may have been based on the MCIW2 list, the only original containing women; or it may be a missing source.

[8] Figure open to revision. For example, several sources make general references to babies born at the Fort during the siege.

[9] 87 less 25 killed at Redwood Ferry, Aug. 18, 1862

[10] This figure is an average of several lists, ranging from 45 to 51 names each, cumulatively naming 59 different people. For research purposes, all 59 are listed on the complied roster published here.

2 Responses to Ridgely Refugees Sources

  1. Is there an actual list of births that took place at the fort? If so how could one find one? I’m doing ancestry research and on the birth certificate it says she was born at Fort Ridgley.

    • Carrie Zeman says:


      The most comprehensive records on the Fort were those created by the Army and as births, during the whole period of the fort’s active history including during the 1862 war, were a considered a civilian activity (the women the children were born to were not enlisted even if their husbands were), births do not show up in any records created by the Army. However, the site staff who manages the Fort as a historic site has for years has maintained a list of births at Fort Ridgely as reported by descendants as that information often survives inside families. Finding it recorded on a birth certificate is fascinating! I’ve never seen that and I think they’d love a copy if you can share one. Nancy Zemple was still maintaining the list last summer if she has not yet retired. This is the contact info for Fort Ridgley: 507-508-2848
      ftridgely@mnhs.org Alternately, you could try reaching them through the Nicollet County Historical Society http://nchsmn.org/ Try to reach the Fort before Labor Day if you can as the Fort will be mostly closed from then through next Memorial Day. Good luck!

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