NEW ULM - German-Bohemian Heritage Society members learned about a pioneer priest who served as a Dakota Indian missionary and about a 14-day, guided June trip to Germany and the Czech Republic Saturday.
Members watched a video made in September at Hermann Heights Park of Ken Ziegler, historian at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, Mankato, who described the travels of Fr. Valentine Sommereisen.
Ziegler said Sommereisen went all the way to Germany about 150 years ago to borrow money from his brother to build the Mankato church only to be jailed in Germany due to the Franco-Prussian War. The church was originally built with bricks made of Minnesota River bank mud, according to Ziegler.
He added that Sommereisen rode a horse-drawn buggy across South Dakota, considered a hostile place to travel at the time, without a gun.
Ziegler said Sommereisen wasn't afraid of the Indians because they knew who he was and referred to him as "The Santee Godfather," after he baptized 38 Dakota before they were hung in Mankato in late 1862.
Sommereisen asked for and was granted permission to retire early from the priesthood. He began farming, tending a vineyard and apple orchard in Kansas, despite being told being told his fruit wouldn't flourish there.
Ziegler said Sommereisen was credited with the idea of creating what looked like a canon by putting together two stovepipe sections on a wagon and making a small fire, during the Dakota attacks on New Ulm in August, 1862.
"It looked like a cannon from a distance, which some historians say - although there is no way to be sure - that it was convincing enough to prevent the Dakota from attacking New Ulm a third time," Ziegler said.
Years later, a number of Mankato parishioners followed Sommereisen all the way to Kansas.
Ziegler said history buffs interested in studying obituary details at the Mankato church library can visit by appointment. He said there is usually someone in the church library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays.
Tour leader Wade Olsen of Eagan, who led a German - Bohemian tour last October, said he'll lead a 14-day June tour that arrives in Munich, with escorted tours of Ulm, Regensburg, Marianske Lazny and Prague in the Czech Republic. Ancestral villages in Bavaria and the Czech Republic will be visited.
"Some people couldn't make the trip last fall because they were busy farming, so we're going again," Olsen said. "We'll visit some old churches, learn history and meet with some mayors of small towns. We'll have a translator if they don't speak English.
Partial tour payments are due Feb. 21, 2013. Final balance is due May 15, 2013. E-mail Wade@wadesconnections.com
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com