The fates of two brothers in what is now North Dakota were dramatically different.

Joel Weiser arrived in Barnes County in 1877 and purchased land. The next year, he established a store in the town of Worthington and changed the name of the town to Valley City. Because of his excellent business ability, he became very wealthy and influential. Joel served as Valley City’s first mayor and was also a member of the legislatures in Dakota Territory and in North Dakota after statehood. He also played an active role in the North Dakota Constitutional Convention.

Joel’s brother, Dr. Josiah Weiser, was the chief surgeon of the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers, who were sent into northern Dakota Territory to pursue the Dakota Indians, who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of settlers in Minnesota. On July 24, 1863, the soldiers located a large encampment of Dakota Indians at a place called Big Mound, in Kidder County.

Weiser was acquainted with some of the Indians, and “as he approached Big Mound to greet several Indian friends,” he was shot through the heart by a renegade who was not a member of the group.” There have been a number of medical doctors from North Dakota and northern Dakota Territory killed on battlefields outside of the state, but Weiser is the only medical doctor killed inside the state’s present borders during a military conflict.

The grave of Dr. Josiah Weiser in Kidder County, N.D. Photo by Sandra Weippert / Find a Grave / Special to The Forum
The grave of Dr. Josiah Weiser in Kidder County, N.D. Photo by Sandra Weippert / Find a Grave / Special to The Forum

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Josiah Schroeder Weiser was born on Aug. 17, 1832, to Samuel and Mary (Schroeder) Weiser in Reading, Pa., and Samuel was a miller near the city. After completing his normal school education in Reading, Josiah attended the Fredonia Academy in Pomfret, N.Y., and then enrolled in the Jefferson Medical College (now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College) in Philadelphia.

He graduated in 1855 and decided to join his two brothers, William and Joel, and his mother, who were living in Shakopee, Minn. His father, Samuel, died in 1854 while traveling to Shakopee.

Shakopee, located across the Minnesota River southwest of Minneapolis, was a rapidly growing community for white settlers. It was the traditional home of many of the Mdewakanton Dakota Indians, where they fished, hunted game and gathered wild rice, nuts, berries and roots. That all changed on July 23, 1851, when Chief Shakopee II was pressured into signing the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, ceding large portions of land to the U.S. government.

Soon after the signing of the treaty, Thomas A. Holmes established a trading post west of the Native American settlements. In 1854, he platted Shakopee Village, which became an attractive location for many white settlers, including William and Joel Weiser and their mother, Mary. William began farming, and Joel found plentiful work as a mason and plasterer.

When Josiah joined them the following year, he became the first physician in Shakopee, treating both settlers and Indians, and he quickly learned the language of his Dakota patients. Everything appeared to be going well for Josiah as his practice continued to grow, and in 1858, he entered into a partnership with David How in owning a drugstore in Shakopee. In 1859, Josiah married Eliza Hunt, from Quebec, and they had their first child the following year.

In 1861, Chief Shakopee II died, and his son, Shakpedan, became chief. Shakpedan was determined to stop the flow of whites into the land that the Dakota Indians once controlled. He had many followers because of treaty violations by the U.S. and late or unfair annuity payments by Indian agents. When the Dakota Uprising of 1862 began in August by Indians along the Minnesota River, Shakpedan and his followers became active participants.

In his desire to put down this uprising, Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey enlisted the help of Henry Hastings Sibley, the former governor, to organize an army of U.S. soldiers. After putting down the uprising in Minnesota, Sibley was ordered to lead his army into Dakota Territory to capture the Native Americans who had taken part in the uprising and later fled west.

On Oct. 17, 1862, Josiah was inducted into Sibley’s army and assigned to the 1st Minnesota Mounted Rangers, which was under the command of Col. Samuel McPhail. On June 16, 1863, Sibley and his army of 3,320 men began their long journey into Dakota Territory.

Riding on horseback across the prairie in the summer heat was very taxing on the soldiers, and they were on constant lookout for a pleasant area where they could dismount and relax in comfort. One such place was 6 miles southeast of present-day Kathryn, in Barnes County, where they arrived on July 13. This site was later named Camp Weiser, in honor of Josiah, the company physician.

For over a month, Sibley’s soldiers pushed westward without seeing any warriors. They were informed about a place called Big Mound, 10 miles north of present-day Tappen, where there was an encampment of about 2,500 Native Americans. This was a peaceful group of mainly Sisseton Indians on a buffalo hunt, led by Standing Buffalo, who had nothing to do with the atrocities that occurred in Minnesota.

However, the group had been infiltrated by Inkpaduta and some of his followers. Inkpaduta was a war chief of the Wahpekute band of Santee Sioux that were involved in the war activities in Minnesota. On July 24, Sibley’s forces located Standing Buffalo’s gathering. As peace talks were about to begin, Josiah saw some of his Native American friends from Shakopee, and they all agreed to meet at the top of Big Mound. Josiah “began to shake hands with the men he recognized and ... a member of Inkpaduta’s band [Tall Crow] pulled a gun and shot Weiser in the back.”

Soon, both sides began shooting at each other, and a battle began. It has been speculated that “the Sioux seemed to have little stomach to fight Sibley. Standing Buffalo may have surrendered his followers en masse if not for the killing of Josiah Weiser.”

This precipitated the Battle of Big Mound, which led to the battles of Dead Buffalo Lake, Stony Lake and Whitestone Hill during 1863 and 1864. Members of Standing Buffalo’s hunting party included Gall and Sitting Bull, who had their first encounter with the U.S. Army.

This unanticipated battle may have embittered them more to resist any actions taken by the U.S. government, plus they were able to observe firsthand the strategy of Army officers and the combat techniques of their soldiers. History may have been far different if Josiah Weiser had not been assassinated.

We will continue with the story of Joel Weiser next week.

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"Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at

Curt Eriksmoen, Did You Know That? columnist
Curt Eriksmoen, Did You Know That? columnist