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A love for history, heritage & helping out

By Patricia Buschette


For Jerry Weldy of Franklin, Minn., history is not a philosophical study of the past, but a matter of heritage.


Jerry Weldy has become a trusted source of historical knowledge in the area. Photo by Patricia Buschette

“I went to a little rural school down the hill from Fort Ridgely Park near Fairfax,” Jerry explained. “In the fall and spring, we would sometimes walk right through Fort Ridgely. I was eight or nine years old and if I didn’t have anything to do on Saturday or Sunday the staff would have me pick up bottles.”


“There were crowds on weekends,” he explained as he told of families coming to the fort to tour and have a picnic. “I knew many of the families, many who would share their lunch with me. Some days I would go home with a buck and a half from picking up bottles.”


Jerry grew up in a family deeply entrenched in agriculture. “I grew up knowing that farming was what I wanted to do.” At graduation there wasn’t a place in the farming operation for him so he went to the University of Minnesota with the goal of being an agriculture teacher.


“Before the end of my freshman year I transferred to dairy husbandry, earning a Bachelor of Science. Still, there was no opportunity for me to farm, so I applied for an assistantship in the graduate department. It came down between me and another guy. The other guy got the job, so I took graduate courses.”


An opportunity came in the form of an offer of a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at Beltsville, Maryland. Although he really wanted to farm, he accepted the position, and earned his Master’s Degree.


Three years later he received a letter from his mother, telling him that there would be a place in the farming operation for him. “I didn’t write back – I called,” he said. “The answer was ‘definitely!’” He returned in 1963 and finished off the year working for his dad and making plans.”


Jerry lives on a farmstead that has been in the family for many years. “I knew this would be the farm,” he said as he told of the development of his operation. Because of the buildings in existence, a proposed dairy farm became a hog operation. “Not one building that was here when I started farming exists,” he explained.


“I was always interested in the ruins at Fort Ridgely,” he said. “I don’t know that I really understood a great deal of family history.”


“It was about the time I came back from the east coast that I got interested in history,” he explained. “My mother wanted to find her mother’s grave site and explored many cemeteries until she was successful.”


Jerry didn’t get greatly involved until 12 years ago. “I had collected items of historic interest. They were put on display in New Ulm in 2012. They learned that I was a direct descendant of Joseph LaFromboise, of mixed heritage, the son of Joseph LaFromboise, Sr., a well-known trader. 


“I have done bus tours of Fort Ridgely and Birch Coulee for them. I have also done cemetery tours including the pioneer section of the Brown County Cemetery.”


“Most people don’t understand what Birch Coulee was all about,” he said. Native Americans had two plans; one group to go to Hutchinson and another group to the south side of the river and sack New Ulm. The two groups would then meet in the Sibley County area and cut off supplies to Sibley and the troops.


The group on the south side of the river spotted dust and forgot about New Ulm. “They were more interested in horses and wagons. They attacked at Birch Coulee, a battle that began in the pre-dawn darkness of Sept. 2, 1862, the siege lasting 36 hours. In addition to the loss of human life, 90 horses were killed on the battlefield. When I give my presentation on Birch Coulee, I sometimes subtitle it as ‘The battle that saved New Ulm.’ Had they entered into New Ulm, they would have burned the town and taken anything they wanted,” he said. The thought of such a tragic consequence was clear in the solemnity of his account.


Jerry Weldy of Franklin holds a framed photo of his great grandparents, William R. and Harriet LaFramboise. Weldy has always been interested in history, and he has volunteered for various historical organizations including the Nicollet County Historical Society, the Renville County Historical Society, the Brown County Historical Society, Minnesota Depot Museum, and the Fairfax Cardinals Museum. Photo by Patricia Buschette

Two of Joseph’s sons were scouts for Sibley. “My grandfather, William Robert LaFramboise, was a boy 15 years at time of battle. He was injured in New Ulm when a stairway broke, requiring him to wear a brace for the rest of his life.”


Unfortunately, the $71,000 in gold and silver that was intended to fulfill the treaties, but now late, arrived the next morning. Weldy said a stagecoach arrived with $71,000 in gold and silver annuity payments that were stored in a lower part of the large stone barracks.

Ultimately the funds, intended for Native Americans were used to pay deprecation claims, of which there were hundreds. These claims were made by settlers and merchants for lost supplies, or horses and wagons sold to troops.


The siege of Fort Ridgely and battles for New Ulm became the turning point of the war. After those battles, the Dakota suffered several defeats and many were either killed or captured.

There are many issues of timing and judgment that could have made an enormous impact on the tragic outcome. Because of the close interpersonal connection with the Native Americans, it is believed that the tragedy could have been alleviated.


When Joseph was 12 years of age, his mother took him to Montreal to be educated. He, in turn arranged for the education of his children at Traverse de Sioux at St. Peter. When letters went back and forth between Sibley and Little Crow, Julia (daughter of Joseph) translated both letters. Later, when Sibley came to Camp Release where captives were held, he asked who did the translations. When told it was Julia, he said, “I should have known it was her,” because Joseph was so well educated. “While Joseph wrote primarily in French, he spoke English, Ojibwe. Dakota and French,” Jerry said.


Julia died at age 29 from tuberculosis.


The LaFramboise family was deeply involved with the combatants on both sides of the war. Joseph LaFramboise, who died in 1856 was instrumental in negotiating treaties, and Chief Sleepy Eye, also respected and not afraid to speak his mind, died in 1857. The 1858 treaty was a regrettable decision in which Dakota elders gave up the northern half of their lands. If both leaders were alive at the time the treaty of 1858 was signed, the result may well have been more productive.


Jerry’s contribution to the knowledge of Minnesota history is considerable as he volunteers at the Nicollet County Historical Society in St. Peter, The Renville County Historical Society in Morton, the Brown County Historical Society in New Ulm, the Fairfax, Minnesota Depot Museum, and the Fairfax Cardinals Museum located on the grounds of Memorial Park in Fairfax.


Renville County Historical Society’s Executive Director, Nicole Elzenga, referred to him as a “fount of knowledge.” “If he doesn’t know something he will find out,” she said. “Every time I talk with him I learn something – I wish I could download his knowledge.” Not only a generous benefactor, he has provided programming including presentations and tours to Birch Coulee and Fort Ridgely.


Some of the people Jerry Weldy (middle) has helped over the years include Darla Gebhard (left), Research Librarian, Brown County Historical Society; and Nicole Elzenga (right), Executive Director, Renville County Historical Society. Photo courtesy of the Renville County Historical Society and Museum.

Darla Gebhard, Research Historian at Brown County Historical Society is effusive in her praise for the knowledge and many contributions Jerry makes to the understanding of history. “He works in the archives when needed, does walking tours, is on a rotation schedule of the archives, is a docent on the third floor of the museum, participates in a series called ‘Lunch and a Bite of History’ where he has spoken on several topics, and does historical bus tours.”


As Research Historian, Gebhard went on to express her appreciation for the impact of the LaFramboise family.


“During the fur trade of the 1830-1850, settlers were trying to determine where to site a settlement,” she said. “Joseph advised them to choose a site where the Cottonwood River flows into the Minnesota River. That is why New Ulm is located where it is,” she said acknowledging the many ways in which the LaFramboise family shaped the early days of Minnesota and their assistance during the Dakota war.


Jerry’s concern for the preservation of history has become focused. “Collecting artifacts is important, but the written word is far more important. It is important to learn from both sides of the issue. Some of the best things I have seen are what Native American or mixed blood people wrote after the war.”


Fort Ridgely remains an important part of Jerry’s family and of his lifetime experience. His great grandfather was the treasurer on the Board of Directors of the privately owned cemetery. He follows the tradition, and is now the treasurer. And the Fort Ridgely Cemetery will be his final resting place.

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