MANKATO — In Blue Earth County, when someone thinks of historical places, places like the Hubbard House, the Lincoln Park area, and the Dakota memorial may come to mind. Many of us see them every day.
However, there's another site that some of us may see regularly may not come to mind. It’s right in Sibley Park: the George Ott Cabin.
The cabin was built in 1857 by George Ott Sr., one of the earliest settlers of Mankato. He, along with his wife and children, came to Minnesota territory from Indiana in May of that year after Ott — who was said to have a "climate disease" — heard Minnesota’s weather may be better for his health than Indiana’s.
The cabin was originally built on the “St. Clair Road,” which most likely is today’s County Road 83.
Ott built the cabin and several other buildings with help from his children, as well as neighbors. He secured the help by organizing log-rolling bees.
The boards for the floor and roof were finished in a local sawmill run by Moses O. Bennett. The nails were made by Joshua Ady, a blacksmith who'd been sent to the area by the government to aid the Winnebago Indians at their nearby reservation.
As soon as he was able, he cleared five acres of land and planted corn. This especially helped the family. To the east of his land, Ott came upon a meadow, which he used to make hay to feed his livestock. However, even this was a dangerous task, and he risked his life in doing it. Rattlesnakes were especially plentiful back then, especially in meadows.
Neighbors were known to stop by Ott’s cabin often, discussing their prospects in this new state of Minnesota. Times were very hard; Ott often went to gather ginseng with his wife, but even that sold for very little. Luckily, he was an expert marksman — this skill helped keep the family from starvation during the winters.
During the U.S.-Dakota War, the family temporarily abandoned the cabin, seeking refuge in “Ackerman’s town,” which was between Madison Lake and Elysian. The family had not yet returned by May 1863, when the Winnebago Indians who lived in the area were being moved to South Dakota.
The government officials who were relocating the Winnebago came upon the unoccupied cabin. They drew water from Ott’s well and ate dinner on a nearby knoll. After dinner, the Winnebago gathered for a large dance. Their journey resumed on a steamboat, which traveled down the Minnesota River.
The Otts returned to their cabin after the war's end. They lived out their lives at the farm.
George Sr. died there in 1902, survived by his wife and four children. His wife, Mary (nee Ringer), died there in 1907. Her obituary notes she was at that time a grandmother of 20 and a great-grandmother to 23.
The family’s land was divided between the children. Daughter Barbara Schostag became owner of the part of land with the cabin on it. After Scholstag's death, the land went to her daughter, a Mrs. John Strobel.
In early February 1917, the Blue Earth County Historical Society wrote in the Mankato Ledger that the organization was looking for someone to sell them a log house to put on the grounds of Sibley Park “with other relics of the early days in this city and county.”
Quite a few years after this announcement — around 1930 — a delegation from the Old Settlers Association came forward, headed up by a Mr. Clement Nachbar. They had a goal of preserving and restoring the Ott Cabin. This goal began to be realized when the Strobel family donated the cabin to them. The association then persuaded the Historical Society to undertake the project of moving the cabin to Sibley Park and restoring it.
By February 1932, repairs had been completed and the cabin was in place at its existing location, on the site of a former fur trading post run by Gen. Henry Sibley.
The cabin soon opened to visitors who were invited to come, look and learn, while glimpsing both inside the cabin and outside. Several articles of historical value were placed in the cabin, including an ox shoe and wolf trap made by Joshua Ady, a saw used by George Ott and a shell likely fired by government troops at nearby Indians. A historical marker also was placed, which simply states, "Built in 1857 in Mankato Township and was moved to this site, which was once the site of the fur trading post of Henry H. Sibley, by the Blue Earth County Historical Society in 1931.”
Today the cabin is no longer open for visitors to see inside, so some may find it less interesting than it was when first placed in Sibley. However, the history of the cabin leaves no doubt of its significance.
George Ott himself may not have done anything especially incredible, but his tiny cabin still stands as a testament and reminder of the hardships endured by the pioneers of Blue Earth County. Years ago, they came and began laying the foundations for the county we know today.
For more information about historical topics, call BECHS at 345-5566, visit the History Center at 424 Warren St., Mankato, or visit www.BlueEarthCountyHistory.com.