By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Several descendants of the Dustin family reunited at The Dustin Massacre historic marker on US Highway 12 near Howard Lake June 29 to remember and learn more about what happened to their ancestors 150 years ago.
The Dustin Massacre monument is the only historic marker in Wright County relating to the US-Dakota War of 1862, and was erected in its present location 50 years ago.
Before the monument was set in place, a rock engraved by settlers marked the site where four members of three generations of the Dustin family were killed by the Dakota about one-third mile northwest of the present marker.
The family in attendance June 29 were all great, great-great, and great-great-great grandchildren of 6-year-old survivor Alma (Dustin) Perkins. Her 2-year-old brother Albert also survived, but had no children.
Dustin family descendents in attendance were:
• great-grandson, Bill Carr of Saratoga County, NY, and his children, Diana of Astoria Queens, NY, and Dustin of Brooklyn, NY.
• great-granddaughter Jacque Carr Glas of Brainerd, formerly of Hutchinson.
• great-grandson Jim Carr and his wife, Jan, of Golden Valley. Jim and Jacqueline are siblings, Bill is a cousin.
• great-great grandson Paul Carr and his children, Tom and Lily, of Minneapolis. Paul is Jim’s son.
• great-great granddaughter Julie Havemeier, her husband, Michael, and their daughter, Lauren, of Zimmerman. Julie is Jim’s daughter.
Joining the family on their journey through history were:
• Ed and Sue Claessan, who have done a lot of research about the Dustin family and the history of the area;
• Everrett Smith, who has worked his entire life on the land where the attack on the Dustin family occurred;
• and George Bonniwell, whose family owned the land near Waverly where the Dustin family was buried.
The family members in attendance do not remember talking about the Dakota attacks on their family when the were children and young adults. Bill’s dad, Russel, mentioned something about it in the 1950s, but did not relay any information about it, Jim said.
Jacque was present when The Dustin Massacre monument was dedicated in 1963, along with her father, Gordon; grandmother, Alice; and several great aunts, Fay Perkins, Mrs. Louis Meister, and Mabel Perkins.
However, it was not until much later that Jim, Bill, and Jacque’s generation learned more information about what happened to their ancestors in the Big Woods surrounding Howard and Smith lakes in 1863.
In fact, although Bonniwell and Jim have been friends and known each other since they were boys, it was only about 10 years ago that they discovered the connection between their families.
Everrett Smith grew up knowing about the massacre, working in the field where the etched rock marked the site of the attack.
He recalls a split rail fence being constructed around the rock to signify its importance.
When he was growing up in school, the area where the original marker sat was a building site with a number of trees.
Today, the trees and buildings are all gone, leaving a plowed field in their wake, and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location, Smith said.
Phil Monson now owns the land where the attack took place.
The Dustin family moves to Minnesota
In the spring of 1857, Jeanette Dustin and her family came to Minnesota from New York to stake a claim in present-day Marysville Township, according to “History of the Upper Mississippi Valley” by Charles S. Bryant.
Jeanette was the widow of Moses Dustin, who passed away three years earlier, and she brought her children Amos, Nathan, Timothy, Dallas, and Arabella with her.
Her eldest daughter was married to A.D. Kingsley, who built a mill in Marysville Township.
As the Dustin family worked to improve their land in 1858 and 1859, Medicine Bottle’s band of Dakota camped near the Dustin farm on the north fork of the Crow River, according to D.R. Farnham’s “1880 Wright County History.”
According to Farnham’s account, the Dustin family and the Dakota traded with each other.
In the spring of 1863, the Dustin family decided to move to Mooers Prairie, present-day Stockholm Township, near Collinwood.
By this time, Amos Dustin had married Kate Miller, and they had three children, Alma, 6; Robert, 4; and Albert, 2. Kate and the children had stayed behind with Jeanette while the rest of the family built a house on the new claim.
Finally, the new homestead was ready for the rest of the family, and Amos returned to Marysville to move his mother, wife, and children to their new home.
Dustin family murdered on way to new home
The family began its journey the morning of June 29, 1863, with all their household goods and chattels packed into a lumber wagon pulled by a yoke of oxen.
The family traveled north of Little Waverly Lake, according to Claessan, and then continued toward Howard Lake, stopping at the home of A.E. Cochran around noon for a short time before continuing on their way along the Mooers Prairie road.
A.E. Cochran lived northeast of Howard Lake near the present day Terning Trails development, and the Mooers Prairie Road ran south of Smith Lake.
When the family was near the east side of Smith Lake, about two-and-one-half miles west of Howard Lake, it was besieged by a group of Dakota.
By all accounts, three members of the Dustin family Amos, Robert, and Jeanette were brutally murdered by the Dakota. Kate was shot through with an arrow and badly beaten, and Alma and Albert were left unharmed.
It is thought the Dakota did not see Alma, who hid beneath the wagon seat where her father and brother were sitting. The youngest child was left to fend for himself in the Big Woods.
Following the attack, Kate was able to muster strength to begin walking with her young children to find help. Alma was covered in her father’s blood from hiding beneath the wagon seat.
During the attack, the oxen had broken loose from the wagon and ran back to A.E. Cochran’s home. According to reports, Cochran was not immediately alarmed.
However, when nobody claimed the missing oxen by the next morning, Cochran became worried and informed Kingsley and Henry Lammers (ancestor to former Howard Lake mayor Rick Lammers) of the incident.
The three men went out in search of the Dustins, and discovered Kate and her children in a meadow about a mile west of Howard Lake.
Kate was near death’s door, without the strength to move, and could only mutter, “They are all killed in the wagon by the Indians,” according to Farnham.
Kingsley retrieved his wagon and oxen to transport Kate and the children back to Cochran’s home.
Aftermath of the attack
A messenger was sent to Rockford to sound the alarm and fetch a doctor for Kate, and another to Watertown. Cochran and A.G. Sexton went to Mooers Prairie through Cokato Mills to warn the other settlers about the attack.
The messenger to Rockford arrived at about midnight, and by morning a large group of men started for Smith Lake to recover the bodies of the deceased, meeting up with people from Watertown at Waverly.
The settlers on Mooers Prairie gathered their household goods and cattle to take refuge at Rockford. Rockford was the only place with a bridge over the Crow River for miles.
Residents of Rockford opened their homes and barns to the refugees, and a stockade was erected.
A Dakota camp was found about three-quarters of a mile south of the attack, , according to Farnham.
Kate died from her wounds July 3 the same day Little Crow was killed near Hutchinson.
Although word of Little Crow’s death eased settlers’ fears, only about one-third returned to their homesteads.
The Dustin Massacre marker states that it is believed Little Crow was a part of the group that killed the Dustin family. However, this has yet to be proven and probably never will be.
The account of the story in the “History of the Upper Mississippi Valley” claims that Kate identified Little Crow, his son, and three others as the attacking party.
Yet, how was Kate to have known what Little Crow looked like, and properly identify him, in the chaos that accompanied the attack?
The Delano newspaper at the time published a graphic account of the attack, and a letter to the editor printed in a later publication declared Dakota leader Medicine Bottle as being part of the group, according to “Minnesota’s Heritage.”
The Dustin family members killed in the attack were buried with the rest of the family at Waverly Mills on the edge of 12-mile Creek.
The mill was bought by George Bonniwell’s ancestors, who preserved the grave site of the Dustin family.
The remains would eventually be moved to Mission Center Cemetery, just a short distance south on Wright County Road 8.
Alma was adopted by the Parker family in Minneapolis, and married Albert Perkins in 1874. They had nine children, eight of whom made it to adulthood.
Their daughter, Alice Perkins Carr, is the grandmother of Jim and Bill.
Albert (Perkins) died in 1898, and Alma lived until Oct. 25, 1943. Jim remembers going to see her as a boy of about 4 years old.
Albert (Dustin) was also adopted by a family in Minneapolis, and was a clerk in a store at the time of Farnham’s writings.
During the 1930s, Alma is quoted in newspaper articles as saying the gangsters of that time in Minnesota were worse than the Dakota, according to great-grandson Bill.