1857-1866: William A. Clark Letters

These four letters were written by William A. Clark (1828-1916). From the letters we learn that William first came to Minnesota in late 1856, taking a claim in the southwest region of the State near the Iowa border. By 1861 he appears to have been residing in or near Mankato, Blue Earth county, and he joined the company raised there early in the Civil War which became Co. H, 2nd Minnesota Volunteers. He enlisted as a private but rose in rank to sergeant. He also received the Medal of Honor for “heroically defending” a wagon train with a detachment of 15 other men against 125 Rebel cavalrymen in Nolensville, Tennessee, on 15 February 1863.

After the war, William returned to Mankato and married Lorana Keene (1826-1908) in November 1866.



April 20, 1857

Dear Sir,

I now take my pen to inform you that I am well at present and hoping these few lines may find you enjoying the same. At the present time there is some excitement here about the Indian troubles. There is some of the settlers are leaving the country but I think they are more scared than hurt. There was a battle ¹ fought about 10 days ago in the Watonwan 6 miles northwest of my claim. I was living on my claim at the time and knew nothing of it until after it was over between a bad of Indians and a company of the settlers. The settlers said they killed 5 Indians but as near as I can learn, after they had fired a few rounds apiece, they both ran and nobody [was] hurt. The United States troops are after them now and the Indians are going westward.

I had been working on my claim a short time before the excitement broke out about the Indians. Since then, there has been nothing done but building forts and block houses but the settlers are now beginning to scatter out and going to work. I want to plant some corn and potatoes and then I am going to Indi[ana] and [see] if I can get my money. At the present time I have no money and I am $30 in debt. But I have $110 coming to me which I expect to get in June or July.

Nothing more at present, — W. A. Clark

[to] Matthew Clark

¹ The conflict that arose between the Sioux Indians and the pioneers in southwest Minnesota was centered in the settlements made close to the boundary line of Iowa and north and west of Spirit Lake. Some were in Iowa and some in Minnesota.



March 20, 1860

Dear Brother,

I now take my pen to inform you that I am well at present and hoping these few lines may find you enjoying the same. I received a letter from you last evening and as you wanted to know my whereabouts here I have not sold any of my land yet and [have] but little prospects if selling any at all. Times are very hard and land is very cheap and [there is] no money in the country except what is in the hands of a few land sharks. More than three-fourths of all the land in the country that is entered is under mortgage and but little of it can ever be redeemed. There is some folks going to Missouri in the Spring and quite a number would go [now] if they could get away. I have been thinking of going myself but the man that I have agreed to go with will not go before the last of May. I don’t see any use of me staying here any longer. If I cannot sell my land this Spring for more than the incumbrance, I will give it up for the debt will soon be as much as the land will sell for at the present low prices and there is no use in staying here to earn money by labor for labor will not bring money at any price.

I want to go someplace where I can make something and to go back to Indiana would only be to pay doctor bills. I think I will try Missouri or Kansas and keep near the frontiers and try it again. The money that I got of you I cannot get here unless I can get it out of the land before I leave. If not, you will have to wait till i can get it someplace else. I would not advise anyone to come here unless it be those who have money to invest in land for land is cheaper now, I think, than it ever will be again.

I am now living at James Miller’s most of my time and working at a little of everything and not much of anything. We have had a very pleasant winter. The winter broke up about the 21st of February. It has been warm and dry ever since. The farmers are sowing their wheat. the health of the country is good. There has been no sickness this winter in the country that I know of. Wheat is worth 70 cents per bushel but there is but little to sell. Corn is worth from 30 to 40 cents per bushel, oats 20 cents, and potatoes no sale.

Nothing more at present, — Wm. A. Clark

[to] M. S. Clark



Mankato [Minnesota]
July 3, 1861

Dear Sir,

I now take my pen to inform you that I am well at present and hoping these few lines may find you enjoying the same.

I have enlisted in the Blue Earth Volunteers Company. We are to start for Ft. Snelling tomorrow. We shall go by steamboat. Ft. Snelling is near St. Paul where we are to be armed and equipped. It is quite likely that we will not leave the state but will be sent up to some of the forts on the frontiers.

I have no money to send you at present but I have enough coming to me to pay you all that I am owing you if I could get it. I had the promise of about $50 last Spring but I have not got any yet. I have left it with James Miller to collect and send it to you as soon as he can get it. I saw John P. Crothers here a few days ago.

Nothing more at present. — William A. Clark

[to] L. W. Perkins, Lesener, Minn.


Mankato [Minnesota]
November 18, 1866

Dear Brother,

I now take my pen to inform you that I am well at present hoping these few lines may find you enjoying the same. I am still living in Mankato working at my trade. I think I will live here this winter.

I received your letter last evening dated September 20th. You stated that you wanted to know the price of land here. Unimproved prairie land one or two miles from timber is worth from 3 to 8 dollars per acre according to quality and location on the Blue Earth River. Timber land on the Blue Earth at Shelbyville is about 20 or 25 dollars per acre.

Improved land is just worth what the improvements is worth more than the unimproved [land]. School teaching is no better here than it is in Indiana. But for farming and health, I think Minnesota is an improvement on Indiana.

I was married about two weeks since to Miss Lorana Keene of Mankato. We are keeping a boarding house together with John Wrightson and his wife. My farm is rented this year for $80.00. The family is living in my house.

I would like to see you here and get a farm here but I will not advise you to come for fear of reflections but I would not live in Indiana for the best farm in the State. We have considerable rain here this fall but it is very pleasant today. Town property in Mankato is rising in value very fast and Mankato bids fair to be a large town. The Minnesota Valley Railroad is finished to Belle Plain—about 40 miles from Mankato—and the Winona Road is finished to Owatona. It is about the same distance from Mankato.

I was up to J[ames] Miller’s a short time since. There is a steam sawmill going up on his farm which will also be an advantage to me. We had a very wet and cold August here this season. The corn crop is not very good. Emigration is still coming into the State. Most of them is going to the frontiers and taking homesteads.

Well, I have nothing more in particular to write so I must come to a close. Write soon.

Yours truly, — Wm. A. Clark

Mr. Cyrus Clark
Dear Brother,

With pleasure I seat myself to write a few words to you in William’s letter. Although I never saw you, I thought you would like to hear from me seeing I have become relation to you. I would like to see you and all of my new brothers and sisters. Give my respects to them and ask them to write to us.

Give my love to your Father and Mother and tell them I would like very much to see them and hope some day that I will. Truly your sister, — Lorana Clark


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