, 2022-08-07 11:53:00,
CROOKED CREEK TOWNSHIP, Minn. — On a hill in a rolling valley in Houston County, Minnesota, a cluster of headstones has stood for more than a century.
This is the resting place of some of the earliest pioneers in Crooked Creek Township, a tiny community about 30 miles south of La Crosse.
It is also where, this summer, UW-La Crosse archaeology students are gaining invaluable experience in the field, while helping descendants of those settlers reclaim a piece of their family’s history.
Led by associate professor of archaeology David Anderson, students are searching the little country cemetery for unmarked graves — a critical step toward the family’s goal of restoring the site and holding future burials there.
“It’s exciting because we get to work in a new location and use applied archaeology to solve a real-world problem,” says Arin Spierings, an undergraduate teaching assistant in UW-L’s Archaeological Field School.
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“Those settlers deserve to be recognized and remembered,” adds Cole Schoepp, a senior majoring in archaeology. “It’s cool being able to bring forward history that has been lost or forgotten.”
Preserving the past
Today, the Crooked Creek German Pioneer Cemetery consists of several headstones — some tall and ornate, some short and unassuming — on a small, fenced-in patch of wild grass.
Most of the stones belong to the family of George F. and Katharine (Weidman) Brenner, who left Germany in 1853 and settled in this picturesque corner of what was then the Minnesota Territory.
Over the next half-century, the Brenners became one of the more respected and recognizable families in Houston County — George even served as county commissioner. But after George’s death in 1902, the Brenners vanished from the valley, leaving behind only a few stray branches of the family tree.
The cemetery, like so many others from that time, might have wasted away if not for the efforts of one of those branches: the Fuchsel family.
James Fuchsel, a descendant living in La Crescent, remembers his mother talking about the old family cemetery. She even compiled a book about its history, which she…
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