A Wild-Goose Chase
Minnesota history is full of great stories, many of which are in our home towns. Sometimes it requires looking around a little bit and being curious about the history of our own place.
My work with the Minnesota Historical Society takes me to towns and cities around the state. One place that I visited last fall was Browns Valley, in far western Minnesota (at the tip of the bump that sticks out). Northern Lights (2013) mentions Browns Valley in the timeline for chapter 2, and in the Ancient Life in Minnesota chart on p.16 (in print) / 2.06 (in the Interactive eBook). I figured that Browns Valley was probably named after someone with the last name Brown. I was right, learning that it was named after Major James Brown, who established the village in 1866.
After visiting Browns Valley Schools to share our resources, I drove down to the the Samuel J. Brown State Monument. Sam Brown is the son of Major Brown. Sam is famous locally for his “...epic ride the night of April 19, 1866 (which he later called ‘a wild-goose chase’), when he rode on horseback from Fort Wadsworth 55 miles west to Elm River to warn other scouts and settlers of what was thought to be an impending Indian attack.”
Upon arriving at Elm River, he learned that there was no attack coming. He mounted a fresh horse and rode back to Fort Wadsworth to try to stop a letter that he had written to St. Paul asking for reinforcements. A spring blizzard came up, he got lost, but kept riding, eventually making it back to the fort. Unfortunately, his feet had frozen and had to be amputated, thus leaving him wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Despite his disability, he continued to work in the community, eventually settling in Browns Valley, working as the postmaster for many years.
While writing this blog post, I searched for Samuel J. Brown online and found some other resources, learning more about him in the process.
- A finding aid on the Minnesota Historical Society’s web-site gave me a nice overview of some of his activities during later years of his life.
- A page on usdakotawar.org told me that he was an interpreter during treaty negotiations of 1858 and participated in events at Camp Release during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
Is there local history that you, or your students, could learn more about? An old building downtown? The history of a nearby state park? Dig deeper on something you learned in Northern Lights? The options are limitless!