Regional History

During the first half of the nineteenth century, the entire southern part of Minnesota was still inhabited by tribes of the Sioux Indians.   What is now Jackson County was the domain of the Lower Sisseton Sioux Tribe until 1851 when the territorial governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey, was commissioned by President Fillmore to negotiate a treaty with the Sioux Nation for the area. A treaty was signed at Traverse Des Sioux near St. Peter, Minnesota on July 23, 1851 which ceded 23,750,000 acres to the U.S. government at a price of $2,968,750. This treaty officially opened up the area to white settlement.

In 1856 the first Jackson County settlement was established by William, George and Charles Wood, merchants and Indian traders. They established a store and brought with them to the area about 40 settlers who built homes along the Des Moines River. This first settlement was named Springfield, later to be called Jackson. In March of the following year, a part of the Great Sioux Uprising under renegade Sioux Indian Inkpaduta attacked the small new community of Springfield. Six people were killed and three wounded. Some of the settlers fled, never to return again. On May 23, 1857, Springfield changed its name to Jackson and the legislature of the Minnesota Territory created the political division known as Jackson County and designated the town of Jackson as the seat of county government. Jackson County was named in honor of Henry Jackson, the first merchant in St. Paul. The first permanent rural settlement in Jackson County was made by Norwegian immigrants in 1857 in an area about seven miles northwest of Jackson along the Des Moines River in what is now Belmont Township. In June of 1862, this settlement was attacked by a band of Sioux Indians under the leadership of White Lodge who slaughtered thirteen men, women and children. This phase of the Great Sioux Uprising was known as the Belmont Massacre. The panic-stricken settlers who escaped joined with the settlers living along the river and those at Jackson, and they fled from Jackson County. Some went to the more populated areas of Iowa and Eastern Minnesota. Some went to make temporary homes in Estherville and Spirit Lake, Iowa. Those in charge of the county government at Jackson fled as well and most of the records were lost or destroyed. For two years following the Belmont Massacre, there were no white people living in Jackson County. In June of 1864, however, the people in Spirit Lake and Estherville who had fled took courage and gradually returned to their homes in Belmont and Jackson. Determined that they would never again be driven from their homes, the settlers at Belmont completed a plan they had made two years earlier. They built a stockade in Belmont Township. This stockade built as protection against possible Indian attack became known as Fort Belmont. By 1864 the Great Sioux Uprising in Minnesota had subsided and from that date on settlers began flowing into the area, taking up homesteads; building homes, churches and schools; working to develop the land; and engaging in business enterprises of all kinds. These first settlers were primarily of Norwegian, German, Slovak, Bohemian and later Swedish descent.