- Ferdinand and Antonette Borgmann

My Grandparents in Minnesota

by Genevieve Lux
Sauk Centre Senior High School
Sauk Centre, Minnesota
[written about 1924, published in the Sauk Centre Herald.]

Ferdinand and Antonette Borgmann It was about the year 1853 that my great grandfather, Ferdinand Borgmann, discouraged by conditions of the Fatherland, Germany, came with his parents and other brothers and sisters to the country of Promise -- America. A few months later, a once wealthy land owner by the name of Von Schurman and his family also fared forth to find the much longed for Eldorado.

Both families settled in Kansas City, where two years later, Ferdinand Borgmann and Antoinette Von Schurman were united in marriage. They stayed there but a few months; and then hearing from a sister of Mrs. Borgmann's that conditions to prosper were good in Minnesota, the young couple broke home ties to build a new home in a new crude country. Their most necessary and wanted belongings were packed into a covered wagon which was drawn by oxen. Two cows, Mr. Borgmann's only personal property, were tied behind; and so with a few other families under similar conditions, started on their way to find prosperity.

After many hardships and attacks by the Indians on the way, they arrived in Minnesota, settling in Lake George about fifteen miles south the the city of Sauk Centre, where grandfather bought a claim. They began to make a clearing; and helped by willing neighbors, they soon had a one room log cabin for their dwelling place. It was here their first child was born -- the first white child born in the vicinity of Lake George. The closest church was at St. Cloud; so when the child was only a few weeks old, they took her to St. Cloud to be baptised. The journey was terrible. A river had to be forded, and the oxen were very stubborn and wanted to go down the river instead of across. They finally reached their destination, but there was always that constant worry of how they were going to get back.

In 1859, two early explorers were on their expedition; and being held back by a blinding snow storm, came to the log cabin of the Borgmann's. After a few days one of them left, but the other who had become snow blind stayed for almost a month before he could continue his journey. He wanted to pay Mrs. Borgmann for her kindness, but grandmother said her house was open to anyone who had misfortune of any kind.

About 18611, the Indian war broke out. Grandfather was told that he must help keep down the Indian massacres. He was very busy at the time; so he hired a man to go in his place, whom he had to pay seven hundred dollars. By the time this man was ready to go, the war was over.

Massacres had been taking place in all the townships around them, so one day the men of the community (there were six in all) met at a place about five miles from their homes. The women were all assembled at the Borgmann cabin, which was quite a ways from the road and almost completely hidden by brush. The women were very upset about the Indian outbreaks, so they took turns at watching the road to see if anyone was coming. Grandmother's turn came. As she arrived at the junction, she noticed someone advancing toward her. He was quite a distance away so she couldn't tell exactly what it was, but she thought it must be an Indian. She went back and told the women that an Indian was coming but that they shouldn't be alarmed. The man approached the house, but it proved to be a friendly half-breed instead of an Indian. He couldn't talk much English; but with the little he knew he made grandmother understand that nearly all the people had been killed in the massacre at Grove Lake. The women, upon hearing this, became distracted and ran for home, leaving grandmother alone. She asked the half-breed if he would help her hitch the oxen so she could get away. He said he would do anything, if she would only give him something to eat. He told her that the Indians had locked him in a hut which they intended to burn with him in it. He knew their plans, so by digging with his fingers he made a hole large enough to escape. He had been in the hut for three days without anything to eat or drink. She gave him plenty of everything to eat, and he helped her pack the things she needed.

In the meantime the women who had run away from the house came upon the meeting place of the men. Upon hearing that grandmother was left alone, grandfather began to worry and started home right away.

Grandmother was safe with the half-breed. They started out and went as far as Richmond. They remained there a few weeks and then went back to their old home. When they got back, they found everything untouched. Later he asked Chief Little Crow why he didn't destroy their dwellings and possessions. In reply the Chief said that the farmers around there had always treated the Indians white so they did not wish to molest their things.

About this time a very small church was built in New Munich. Grandmother hadn't been to church for such a long time, and she thought that walking would get her there faster than taking the oxen. She started out at sunrise without having a bite to eat and walked eighteen miles to New Munich. She started home later than she had planned, and it was quite dark before she was nearly home. Everything went along nicely until she met a monstrous timber wolf with three whelps. They began to come nearer to her, and she had nothing to protect herself. She began to run, and they finally stopped following her. Although she rid herself of the first pack easily, she was always afraid of meeting others. She arrived home later safely; but she was so very nervous that it took her a long time to get over her fright.

The Sioux and the Chippewa Indians, having their camps on opposite sides of the Sauk River, were at war at this time. The Sioux Indians, who were very much in need of food, came one day and asked grandfather for one of his fatted calves. He said he didn't like to give up his nicest fat calf, but he would sell one of the others. The Indians would not think of paying for one, so they went over toward the grindstone and began sharpening their knives. Grandmother, standing at the window watching them, thought their end had come; but they were not the Indians' prey. They went over to the herd of cattle and picked out his choicest calf. Before he could say anything they had killed it. The chief came over, took him by the arm, and led him over to where they had killed the calf; while he watched them, they cut it up and divided it among themselves. It was probably better grandfather didn't get a chance to say what he thought as he was surrounded by twenty Indians; he surely would not have lasted long.

At another time he went to Fort Abercrombie [on the North Dakota side of the Red River] to sell his produce, as he expected to get better prices there. By now he was the owner of two Indian ponies; but even that travel was slow because roads were so wretched -- mere cow paths. It was not lonely because new fields were opening out West, and every now and then covered wagons and their covered freight were to be seen along the way. Often he met with old acquaintences, and it was a treat to make camp with another family he had known in Kansas city -- old neighbors of theirs, who told him ever so much home news about his people. All too soon he must start back with provisions for the long winter months to come. The second evening out, his one horse lamed; and he unhitched and prepared to spend the night to allow the animal to rest. When he was eating supper, some Indians riding ponies came along. They were hungry and kept pointing to his wagon and then to their mouths. Finally they started to tamper with his packages and opened one that contained sugar; they put their fingers into it and licked them off. He became disgusted and offered them part of what he had, but even then they begged for other articles. One of them touched the powder horn and seemed to think it must be a rare delicacy because he guarded it so carefully. Having given them enough of everything so that they could have a meal, he became anxious for them to hove on, so he said, "if I touch a match to that it will blow you all to pieces." He motioned as if to do so. There surely was a wild scramble for their horses, and he was no longer molested.

His wife had become worried over his long stay and was very glad to see him return safely. During this time she did all the work that was to be done, although in her youth in Germany she had been a lady of high birth and unused to labor. People in those days adapted themselves to their environment better and more cheerfully than we do now.

One day, early in the winter, grandfather killed some hogs which he took to market. When he came home he brought one of the heads of the pigs to make sausages for themselves. An Indian squaw came in while he was out doing chores, and begged for it. Grandmother showed her that they had several small children and that they also must eat. She gave her a loaf of bread and some beans; but she kept pointing to the pig's head, so finally grandmother gave her a part of it. That was a winter of very deep snow and a winter very hard on the Indians, as there was a scarcity of game. Several days after this incident, the squaw came back and brought two pairs of moccassins for the smaller children that fit beautifully. This then was the reason that the squaw had examined their feet on her first visit, and her way of showing gratitude.

As time went on, the family again moved; and this time to a farm about one and one-half miles south of the city of Sauk Centre. Here the family prospered and was one of the most respected and beloved families of the community.

When ever we came to visit grandfather's home, it always delighted him to have someone ask for a story; and how he could tell them. Young and old would again live over with them, festivals and tradgedies of those dear by-gone days. During these reminiscences, tears would trickle down grandmother's faded cheeks, as some incident was being re-lived in her memory.

These good pioneers died in the spring of 1916 -- he at the age of Ninety-one and she, eighty-one -- only a few weeks apart. A fine old age but all too soon for the immediate family of seven grown children and their many friends.

There are several inaccuracies in the above chronicle, which is to be expected for a retelling of stories heard in childhood. Gen would have but seven years old when her great-grandparents passed away. Nevertheless there is undoubtedly some truth to the stories, so this account is worth preserving.


  1. The Sioux Uprising of 1862 began with the deaths of five white settlers near Acton, Minnesota, on August 17, 1862. Acton is a few miles south of Grove City, and about 45 miles southeast of Lake George. It is possible that Gen confused Grove City with Grove Lake, which is about 20 miles west of Lake George. The Sioux attacked New Ulm on August 18th.

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