They came over from Luxembourg

Mr. Sveine talks about his family's immigrant experience leading up to the U.S.-Dakota War.

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My great-great-grandpa lived with his brother, Jacob Nicholas Schmitz, when they came over from Luxembourg. Then their father came the next year and he lived with the two sons on a farm that was on the reservation. Well, you know, we all want to make our ancestors noble, and I think I’m taking good strides to not do that, but in our mind we want them to be noble; we don’t want them to be reservation squatters, that’s not very noble. So I have to believe they didn’t do things out of maliciousness; not because I think my people are great or people who would just come over with the family and break the law. Breaking the law like that doesn’t fit an immigrant’s typical pattern or way of doing things.

John Schmitz, in April of 1860, two years before the war, is having a meal with his family in his cabin. The story goes two different ways; one says a single Indian man came- the other says a group of them came to the cabin asking for food and alcohol. And John Schmitz denies the individual or the group that. In fact, in the court report is says he physically grabbed someone by the collar and the belt or the waist, and threw him out of the cabin.

They hear nothing about it again. John and his family go visit their brother, Peter Schmitz and such. They come back home and their farm is burned down. Their cabin and a barn of sorts- burned down. They kind of think it’s the guy that he threw out, and that’s not an unreasonable thing to think. But, all right, John, tough immigrant guy, goes back and is redigging the foundation to build a new pace, and on April 27, 1860, is shot in the back and killed. They end up finding an Indian, the English name of Charles has been used; I actually have his Dakota name somewhere. He goes on trial in New Ulm, and I love the old archaic way of saying things: “On a necessary break.” In other words he had to go to the bathroom, or said he did. He got his chains or such, unbound or loosened to a degree and he runs away and is never found again. So I’m wondering if my people, my immediate ancestors, Peter, if there is a built-in animosity towards the Indians- seeing their brother killed. In their mind: hey, he’s on my property, he’s bugging me and my family while we’re eating and I throw him out – that’s the right thing to do. He comes back and burns my farm down and turns around and kills. I can see that there might have been [animosity], but that’s me trying to be a psychological historian and I don’t know if I have a leg to stand on. But I have to think to some degree that had to affect their views toward the Dakota. I don’t know that and I can’t prove it; I’ve never seen a thing. Sadly, my family’s got no diaries from those folks, so I don’t know. But you almost think there might have been something in that.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Terry Sveine Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. They came over from Luxembourg July 23, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1124

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.