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Evacuation of Georgetown, 1862

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Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County
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Bird's-eye view of Georgetown

A bird’s-eye view of Georgetown, ca. 1907. From Box 1 of the Randolph Probstfield papers (1858–2003), Northwest Minnesota Historical Center, Moorhead. Used with the permission of the Northwest Minnesota Historical Center.

The evacuation of Georgetown took place during the US-Dakota War of 1862 when the town’s residents fled to safety on August 22—five days after the war’s start. Only the families of Randolph M. Probstfield and E. R. Hutchinson chose to return afterwards.

In 1862, Georgetown was the northwestern-most community of settler-colonists in Minnesota. Built at the confluence of the Buffalo and Red Rivers, about fifty miles north of Fort Abercrombie, it was a company town for the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), and thus a busy trade port. The steamboat International regularly docked there loaded with Canadian goods that were transferred onto Red River carts bound for St. Cloud.

On the night of August 22, a messenger arrived in Georgetown from Fort Abercrombie with news of fighting along the Minnesota River, about 220 miles distant—the beginning of what is now known as the US–Dakota War of 1862. He urged soldiers and civilians seeking protection to return with him to the fort. Some area residents decided to stay, gathering in Georgetown to fortify the buildings.

The Hudson's Bay Company’s cart brigade arrived the next day, bringing with it 110 carts full of goods and people to defend the town. Under the instructions of town leaders, HBC cart brigade commander Norman Kittson and Georgetown HBC agent Alexander Hunter Murray gathered the remaining townspeople, the Red River Cart brigade, and the crew of the International. A total of forty-four people—including women and children—made up the party.

A guardhouse was built, and sentries kept watch day and night. After two weeks, E. R. Hutchinson reported seeing hundreds of Dakota warriors on their way to attack Fort Abercrombie while he was on guard duty. At this point, the townspeople decided to flee.

The party chose the route north to Pembina as the safest way out of the area. Under the cover of darkness, some of them boarded the International with their cargo and headed north, planning to head up river under the command of Kittson. The rest would have to go by Red River cart.

Tension rose as the residents traveling by cart waited to cross the river ferry into Dakota Territory. The last to leave—the Probstfield family and the sickly Alexander Murray— persuaded the ferry operator to return for them amidst an atmosphere of panic. After crossing, the group camped out of firing range of the tree line.

The next day, they crossed the Elm River west of modern-day Hendrum and set up a new camp. Pierre Bottineau soon arrived on horseback, bearing news that he had escaped the siege of Fort Abercrombie and Dakota warriors were close behind him. The group continued north, with Bottineau speeding ahead to Pembina for help.

Later, as the evacuees crossed the Goose River, Bottineau returned with a group of twelve armed men. They were led by Joseph Rolette, a fur trader and politician. The group soon discovered the International, which had got stuck near present-day Perley.

A team was dispatched to rescue the steamboat’s passengers and cargo. Joseph Adams, Robert Scambler, and Robert’s wife, Elizabeth, volunteered to stay behind and guard the steamboat; E. R. Hutchinson volunteered to transport the cargo on a flatboat down the river to Pembina.

On about September 12, a dispute arose between a few of the Georgetown party and the Pembina party over the posting of guards. None had been posted since the Pembina men had joined the party. Unsatisfied with the relaxed security, a few families, among them the Probstfields, chose to return to Georgetown. Hutchinson’s wife, Isabelle, and the couple’s children left with them. They boarded E. R. Hutchinson’s flatboat after spotting him on the river. They then floated to Fort Garry, where they were reunited with Isabelle’s family. The party led by Kittson and Bottineau were briefly detained by Ojibwe at modern-day Grand Forks before making it to safety in Pembina.

When the Probstfields’ group finally returned to Georgetown, they found it undamaged. No further disturbances came to the town for the rest of the six-week war. The after-effects, however, went on for much longer; Henry Sibley ordered Georgetown’s few inhabitants to Fort Abercrombie the following spring for safety. Afterward, only the Probstfield and Hutchinson families returned to Georgetown.

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“The Holiday Supplement: R. M. Randolph.” Moorhead Independent, December 1900.

Krueger, Markus. “Georgetown and the Dakota War.” Manuscripts Collection, Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, Moorhead.

Robinson, Norm. “Voices from the Past.” Moorhead—Our Town. Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, Moorhead.

Related Images

Bird's-eye view of Georgetown
Bird's-eye view of Georgetown
The steamboat International
The steamboat International
A Red River port near Georgetown
A Red River port near Georgetown

Turning Point

On August 22, 1862, a messenger arrives in Georgetown, alerting citizens to the US–Dakota War and urging them to flee to Fort Abercrombie.

Chronology

August 17, 1862

The US–Dakota War begins.

August 22

A messenger arrives in Georgetown and urges citizens to flee to Fort Abercrombie.

early September

The settler-colonists remaining in Georgetown decide to evacuate.

August 30–September 23

A group of Dakota besieges Fort Abercrombie.

about September 12

The Probstfield party splits from the rest of the evacuees and returns to Georgetown.

December 26

The US–Dakota War ends.