That story was just a story until my aunt took the gun to have it repaired

Mayor Beussman talks about a family artifact that brought the events of 1862 close to home.

Audio Chapters

RB: About the only time that I remember anything about the Dakota War was a commemoration [about a] battle many years ago. I was very young; Mother had to stay home with me. My brother and sister came down to New Ulm for a parade. My mother stayed home because I had the flu and couldn’t even keep crackers down, just a little chicken soup. Mom and dad had built a garage, but it was a house. It was designed to be a two-stall garage on the farm. One day snoopy me had to go looking around, and in the bottom drawer of a kitchen cabinet was a muzzle-loader, a double barreled muzzle-loader that was broke in two or three different pieces. Dad said, “I don’t know where that came from; just leave it be there.” A day or two later my aunt from the Twin Cities came home. I had to ask her and she said, “Oh, that was your great grandfather’s weapon.” And I said, “Why is it broken?” And she said, “Oh, I don’t know. Someday maybe I’ll tell you the story that I heard.” Many years later she told me the story that it was broken during the beginning of the conflict.

DL: What was the occasion for your grandfather’s use of that gun?

RB: The story goes that they were on a farm in Milford, in Milford Township and one of the friendly natives came and said: there’s trouble, you gotta get out of here. So they started packing their stuff up and they headed off the farm yard, heading into New Ulm and from around the haystack, is the way the story goes that I was told, came a warrior in paint, and attacked with a tomahawk. My great-grandfather leveled his double-barrel, pulled both triggers, and nothing happened. He turned the weapon and used it as a club to defend himself. They took off, Great-Grandmother fell off the wagon, supposedly the wagon drove over her, they stopped long enough to throw her into the back of the wagon, and headed off to town. The story has it that Great-Grandfather helped defend the city.

DL: Yes; starting with his own homestead.

RB: Starting with his own homestead, yes. All of that story was just a story until my aunt took the gun to have it repaired; at least to put back into a semblance of a real weapon. It kept moving closer and closer to the back door of this gun repair shop. When it was leaning against the back door, kind of taped together, she said, “I think I’ll take it home with me.” She brought it here to New Ulm. There was a wood carver who said, “I can repair it, just enough that it will stay together and it will look like a real weapon. I’m not going to damage it by removing all the finish and everything.” He called one day and said, “It’s all ready to go.” So my wife and I drove down to pick it up and he came out of his workshop, white as a ghost. He said, “I thought I would check to see if there was anything; just run a cleaning rod through the barrel.” The cleaning rod got stuck. He re-broke the weapon because it was full of black powder.

That tells me that at least one part of the story is correct; that the gun didn’t fire. Just recently I took the weapon down to the Brown County Historical Society and somebody else, one of the gals that works there came to look at it. And he took the little pretend tamping rod and he ran it down one barrel and it went all the way to the bottom. He ran it down the next barrel and it stuck that far out of the barrel. There was still black powder in the other chamber. So that lends credence to the fact that both did not go off.

DL: Why was the woodcarver white as a ghost?

RB: Because when he got the cleaning rod stuck, when he pulled it out, out came black powder, which could be volatile, especially after it was laying in there for a long time in that gun. A spark could have set it off. And the gun probably would have exploded because it’s very, very old. Right now it’s still at the Historical Society. I guess I’d rather have it down there than in my house There’s just something about it now that scares me, because there’s still powder in that one chamber.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Robert Beussman Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. That story was just a story until my aunt took the gun to have it repaired June 26, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1000

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