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Zierke, Carl “Dutch Charley” (1828–1865)

Contributor: 
Cottonwood County Historical Society
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Color image of a commemorative sign erected in 1949 to mark the site of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 2010. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.

Commemorative sign erected in 1949 to mark the site of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 2010. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.

Carl Zierke, born in Schwerin Mecklenburg, Germany, arrived in the Cottonwood County area with his wife (Christine) and two stepchildren (John and Henry) in 1857 or 1858. Dakota people living in the area nicknamed him “Dutch Charley,” partly because of his accent (they called white men like Zierke who spoke halting English “Dutch”) and partly to connect him with Brown County Germans instead of the French.

Carl built the first log cabin in Cottonwood County along the east bank of a creek in the southeast portion of Ann Township. That creek bears his Minnesota name, Dutch Charley, today. Christine Zierke gave birth to Eliza (ca. 1857) and Mary (ca. 1859), the first white children born in the county.

The state’s 1858 census does not list Carl Zierke. The federal census of 1860, however, records his name and the names of his family members. The 1860 agricultural schedule of the U.S. census (non-population) states that in that year he owned twenty acres of unimproved land, four oxen, four milk cows, seven other cattle, and four hogs. He sold eggs, cheese, and butter in nearby New Ulm, and his livestock had a value of $250.00.

A military road joining Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and New Ulm passed close to Carl’s property. This proximity to the road proved to be important for Carl and his family in August 1862 during the U.S.–Dakota War. After fighting began on August 21, two white farmers from the Lake Shetek area, sixteen miles west of the Zierke cabin, fled their home and reached Dutch Charley’s property on foot, via the road. When they arrived, they told Carl about the fighting occurring to the west.

Conflicting stories tell of the Zierke family’s fate. According to one story, Carl became separated from his wife and children while they fled to New Ulm with the two men from Lake Shetek. In this account, after traveling apart for several days, he and the rest of the family separately reached Mankato, where they were reunited. In a 1930 reminiscence, Charles and Christine’s grandson John does not mention a separation but recounts that “soldiers or state militia” prevented a group of Dakota from taking Christine hostage.

The Zierkes moved to New Ulm later in 1862. A baby son arrived in April 1863, but Eliza and Mary died the same year. Carl died of untreated jaundice in 1864 or 1865, according to his stepson. The city clerk’s office didn’t keep detailed records of burials prior to 1870. It is believed that Zierke family members were buried in a section of the New Ulm cemetery reserved for “pioneers.”

More than 100 years later, area residents may not recognize Carl Zierke’s given name, but they know his nickname. In 1968, a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Outdoor Recreation provided funding for the purchase of twenty-five acres of land northeast of Westbrook for South Dutch Charley Park. A creek running through the park also carries Zierke’s name.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Agricultural Schedule, U.S. census non-population, 1860. Schedule 4, page 19.

Brown, John A., ed. History of Cottonwood and Watonwan Counties: Their People, Industries, and Institutions. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1916.

Cottonwood County Centennial Committee. Cottonwood County History: 1870–1970. Windom, MN: N.p., 1970.

“Report by Minnie Bigelow, Burlington, Wisconsin.” Oral history questionnaire completed by John C. Schumacher, October 1931. Manuscript Collection, Cottonwood County Historical Society, Windom.

United States Census of Population, 1860.

Zierke family files
Manuscript Collection, Cottonwood County Historical Society, Windom
Description: Paper records documenting the history of the Zierke family.

Related Images

Color image of a commemorative sign erected in 1949 to mark the site of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 2010. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.
Color image of a commemorative sign erected in 1949 to mark the site of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 2010. Photograph by Dave Van Loh.
Black and white photograph of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 1900.
Black and white photograph of the Zierke family cabin, ca. 1900.

Turning Point

Around 1858, Carl Zierke moves to Cottonwood County from Germany and builds a log cabin for himself and his family in Ann Township.

Chronology

1828

Carl Zierke is born in Schwerin Mecklenburg, Germany.

ca. 1858

Zierke and his family arrive in Cottonwood County.

1862

The family flee their log cabin during the U.S.–Dakota War; they move to New Ulm after the war.

ca. 1864

Carl Zierke dies from yellow jaundice in New Ulm.

1968

Cottonwood County purchases land for South Dutch Charley County Park along Dutch Charley Creek. The park is located a few miles southwest of Carl Zierke’s log cabin.