Dakota War Stories: Mary Schwandt and Snana


My upcoming novel Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale tells the story of Sarah Wakefield, a woman who was taken captive with her two young children during the Dakota War of 1862, which took place in southern Minnesota.

Today, I want to tell you about another remarkable captivity narrative from this war: the story of Mary Schwandt and Snana, the woman who protected her.

Mary was a fourteen-year-old German immigrant who was working as a servant for the Joseph Reynolds family at the beginning of the war. Being at her employers’ home most likely saved her life that day. Back at her family’s place, six of her relatives were killed, and only her younger brother August managed to escape.

As the Reynolds family and their servants (including Mary) tried to flee to the town of New Ulm for safety along with several others, a party of about fifty Indians accosted them. Most of the settlers were killed in the attack, but Mary and two other girls (one of whom was mortally wounded) were carried away.

While she was in captivity, Mary was taken in by a 23-year-old Dakota woman named Snana (also known as Maggie Good Thunder or Maggie Brass). Snana had recently lost her own young daughter, and when she saw Mary, her maternal feelings caused her to take pity on the girl and care for her. She protected Mary for the duration of the war, even going so far as to hide her in a hole in the tepee floor covered over with buffalo robes and blankets.

Mary was among the more than 200 prisoners set free at Camp Release on September 26, 1862, at the end of the war. Four years later, she married a man named William Schmidt and had several children with him. Yet, she never ceased to be grateful to her adopted Dakota mother Snana, as the photograph above shows. It was taken in 1899, long after the conflict that brought these two women together.

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