CURRIE, MINN. – There's an imposing stone obelisk punctuating the tallgrass prairie and shoreline cottonwood trees at Lake Shetek State Park, about 160 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The 25-foot-tall pillar marks the mass grave of 15 settlers killed in the attack on Lake Shetek during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Dedicated in 1925, the monument is carved with the victims' names and the ages of eight children, ranging from 2 to 10.

One name you won't see is that of Julia Wright. But her story is one of cruelest tendrils that grew from the bloody six-week war between Dakota tribal members trying to win back their land amid broken treaty promises and the U.S. Army-backed settlers trying to wrest control of the frontier.

Three days into the war, which was centered about 75 miles northeast of Currie along the Minnesota River, the conflict reached an outlying settlement near Lake Shetek of about 50 people from a dozen white families. Wright was among 11 settlers — three women and eight children — who were captured and forced to go west to Dakota Territory.

During her three months in captivity, Wright was raped. When released, she was pregnant. But her struggles didn't end when a band of nonviolent Lakota secured her group's freedom in a deal including horses, blankets and guns.

When Julia Wright gave birth in 1863, her husband, John Wright, abandoned her.

"After he saw the child was part Indian, he left her … saying he did not care to have a woman occupy his bed who would not die rather than submit to the treatment she did from the Indians," according to Harper Workman, a doctor in the late 1800s from Tracy, Minn., who extensively researched the Lake Shetek battle through interviews and letters with survivors.

Abducted, raped and then shunned, Julia Wright moved to Nebraska after her husband divorced her. All trace of her was lost, Workman wrote.

Of the dozens of volumes written on the 1862 war, the so-called Workman Papers — totaling 145 typed pages — offer perhaps the best glimpse of the Wrights. Add information from park signs and other sources, and you get a picture of a strong pioneer mother and a ne'er-do-well husband called "Big Liar" by the Dakota.

The Wrights staked a claim in 1859 on Lake Shetek's south shore and built the most well-to-do house in the settlement. They developed a strong relationship with the Dakota, some of whom camped on their land. But trouble started when John Wright started selling alcohol to the Indians despite warnings from neighbors, according to a 1908 publication, "The Heroines of Lake Shetek."

When violence erupted at Lake Shetek on Aug. 20, 1862, John Wright was helping with the harvest near Rochester. If he had been at Lake Shetek, said Roseann Schauer, Lake Shetek State Park's current assistant manager, "he would certainly have been one of the men killed." Two of the first men killed had poor relations with the Dakota, she said.

More than 30 settlers went to the Wrights' home to hunker down when word of the first deaths spread. With John Wright gone, "his fearless wife shouldered his rifle and with powder horn slung round her neck … marched boldly" out to talk to the Indians, according to the 1908 account.

Julia Wright helped broker a deal with Lean Bear, a Dakota leader, in which the settlers would be allowed to flee east toward New Ulm. But Lean Bear was killed during an altercation with the settlers and the Dakota attacked in retaliation.

A dozen settlers were killed in a nearby wetland that became known as Slaughter Slough. Julia and her children, George and Eldora, were taken hostage.

"From her neighbors' descriptions of her, she must have been quite a courageous and caring woman," Schauer said. Those same neighbors didn't have much nice to say about her husband.

"Mrs. Wright is spoken of very highly by all, was good and kind," Workman wrote. "All say he was disreputable."

Neil Currie, who founded and named the town closest to Lake Shetek after himself in 1872, joined Workman on much of his historical research. Currie reported that John Wright, after his divorce, remarried an Austin, Minn., woman, only to leave her as well before settling in Salt Lake City. When Currie found him there, Wright refused to talk.

Since she began working at the park, Schauer has become a bit of an expert of this sad chapter in state history. She can point out where the Wright cabin stood before it was used for firewood during the brutal winter of 1880. She has thought about John Wright's decision to leave his wife, taking into account the context of the times.

"In that day and age, the thinking might have been that a woman should do whatever possible to avoid the rape, including trying to take her own life," Schauer said. "She seems to have been a pretty strong woman, able to withstand a lot, and someone who cared a lot about other people, especially her children. I can't see her considering the suicide option, knowing that she had two children there who still needed to be taken care of."

Her daughter Eldora died in 1865 at age 11, and son George moved to Seattle. What became of Julia and the part-Dakota child remains unknown even now, 154 years later.

"I think we should remember her in a positive light," Schauer said. "She was one of many settlers who were just trying to make a better life for themselves but ended up being the innocent bystanders caught in between the government and the Dakota, who themselves were just trying to survive."

Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at A collection of his columns is available as the e-book "Frozen in History" at