The Death of Frederika Fick Witt – August 18, 1862
My maternal grandmother, Bertha B Witt Born, was the seventh of eight children of Joseph and Elizabeth Fischenich Witt. She told wonderful stories and I spent many hours listening to her memories over and over again. She never wavered in her accounts, always providing the same information and I never grew tired of listening to her. She did not put this story into writing, but to my knowledge it is as accurate to her story as I can remember. I have added documented facts where appropriate.
Her father was Joseph Witt born 12 Mar 1861 In Minnesota. Joseph’s mother, Frederika Fick Witt, was the second wife of Carl Witt. Carl’s first wife Louisa, was Frederika’s sister. Louisa died in Wisconsin soon after the family immigrated in 1857 from Wangerine, Prussia. Carl then married Frederika who had accompanied them to the United States.
Carl and Louisa had four children – all born in Wangerine:
William Frank - 01 Aug 1848
Maria Augusta - 30 Jul 1849
Johanna Louise - 12 Jun 1852
Herman Charles or H Carl - Dec 1854
Carl married Frederika when she was 18 at Prairie DuSac, Salk, Wisconsin at the Church of the Congregation of Otter and Honey Creek, 05 Jun 1858. Their first child, a daughter named Mary, was born 04 Dec 1858 when they were still living at Prairie DuSac.
The family had settled in Renville County at The Birch Coulee sometime shortly after the 1860 census which placed them in Milford, Brown County, Minnesota. Other settlers living near them In Milford, also homesteaded in the Birch Coulee area. They had friends among the local Indians, and Frederika often shared the family’s food with them. Also, when she put bread or a pie in the window to cool, it would disappear, sometimes replaced by wild game. The Witt children often played with the local Native American children.
On the morning of 18 Aug 1862, Carl and William – age 14 - were cutting hay in a distant field, 12 year old Maria Augusta was working in New Ulm and the other children were playing near or in the cabin. William had brought home a load of hay and was unloading the wagon, and Frederika was stacking it in the yard. A group of Indians appeared and Frederika went to tie up the family dog that "always went after the Indians". One of the Indians shot her in the chest as she was doing this and she died immediately. She was only age 22. William was able to hide behind the wagon and run into the trees. H Carl, who was 8, was shot in the hip and head. He fell down and pretended to be dead. He carried the bullets as a reminder of this day for the rest of his life. The other children hid in the house, Mary (almost 4) and Joseph ( 17 months) were under the bed and Johanna (age 10) was behind the door. One Indian came into the cabin to raid the family’s possessions. He looked under the bed and made a hand motion to the two children to be quiet. He did not harm them. My Grandmother always believed this Indian was one of their friendly Indians and saved the childrens' lives. He was a hunter and she felt he had to know the two little ones were under the bed and Johanna was behind the door when he entered the cabin. He chose to protect them and because of him, there are hundreds of Witt descendents alive today.
William ran to Carl and told him what had happened. Carl came back to the yard, buried Frederika where she fell, packed up the children and made his way to Fort Ridgely for safety. He stopped on the way to bury a neighbor named Piguar.
Grandma never talked about what the family experienced at Fort Ridgely but they had to have been there through the worst of the fighting. They then went to New Ulm and St Peter looking for Maria Augusta. I don't know where Carl finally found her, but they were eventually reunited.
They finally ended up in the Belle Plaine, the Union Hill area, where Carl Witt married his third wife, Anna “Helena” Hoffman Giesen, a widow with two children. Helena and Carl had four more children together, quite a blended family.
I will never forget the way my Grandmother told this story, especially when the children were hiding under the bed. As she imitated the hand gesture of the Indian, she made a motion with her hand open, all fingers up and tightly together, quickly tapping her lips. They understood they needed to be quiet. We do not know what happened to our friendly Indian.
Mary Lou Erickson
Great-Great-Granddaughter of Frederika Fick Witt
Written 09 Aug 2010, submitted to MNHS 13 Jun 2013