Review – BCHS Exhibit

Brown County Historical Society, New Ulm
“Never Shall I Forget: Brown County and the Dakota War”
Revised on January 10, 2013

 Items of Interest

 There are many artifacts: flute owned by Chief Little Crow; a display case with pull out drawers containing period weapons; a 12-pounder mountain howitzer; a horse-drawn period wagon; and a birch-bark canoe found in the river after the Dakota attacks on New Ulm; and stone and bone tools and other items related to the Indians on the 2nd floor

 There are many period photos and paintings by various photographers and painters; a touch-screen computer with accumulating photos and biographies of Brown County and New Ulm persons involved in the Dakota War; and more paintings on the 2nd floor.

 One of the best displays is a re-creation of the Erd basement where women and children stayed during the 2nd Battle of New Ulm. They were prepared to light a keg of dynamite if the Indians had broken through the barricades. There is a miniature Indian tipi and period furniture from a settler’s home.

 General Comments

  • Unbalanced – The exhibit does not represent all ethnic and religious groups that settled Brown County and New Ulm.
  • The majority of the Dakota Indians opposed war with the whites. How was this decision made? Who made this decision?
  • More needs to be said about traditional Dakota Warfare. Why were the white so angry?
  • While a map of the Milford settlement is given, it would helpful to see a map of the town of New Ulm as it was during the battles.
  • Podcasts are used throughout the exhibit. These are audio-visual devices that are activated by touching a screen. However, when several are playing at the same time, they cannot be heard. Some of the sound is low quality which adds to the problem.
  • Causes of the Dakota War are weak. They were much more complicated than given here.
  • The Dakota War in Brown County was only part of a larger picture. A timeline or summary of Dakota War events outside of Brown County is needed.
  • Casualties of the war, both during and after should be given for all sides.
  • The tipi display fails. It is not a full-sized tipi. Items inside the tipi are not interpreted. The podcast should discuss tipi design and etiquette.
  • The comparison of Dakota concept of “land” and “home” to the German concept does not work as the German concept is not explained.
  • An assumption is made that if another author makes a statement, the statement is correct and it is repeated here without checking out the statement.

 Most Objectionable Statements

 Map – Brown County in 1862

 —Incorrect – This is a present day map of Brown County with 1862 features.
—Incorrect – Little Rock Creek should be Little Rock River.
—Incorrect – The eastern boundary of the Little Sioux Reservation should pass through the mouth of the Little Rock River.
—Incorrect – The farms of Franz Massopust, Sr. and Jr. are reversed on another map in this exhibit.

Reference is made to one 1851 Treaty and one reservation
—Incorrect – There were 2 treaties and 2 reservations

Panel – The Reservation

 Map showing Indian villages
—Incorrect – The villages of Wabasha and Lean Bear are located incorrectly. The villages of Red Legs, Wakute and Traveling Hail are missing.

Big Eagle’s quote
—Disrespectful – The statement, “I do not say that the traders always cheated and lied about these accounts. I know many of them were honest men and kind and accommodating” has been omitted from Big Eagle’s quote. Why does BCHS want the visitor to think that all of the fur traders were cheating the Indians?

 “Most of those payments [treaty money] were never delivered.”
—Incorrect

 “This attitude allowed Brown County citizens to benefit from government policies that took land and opened it for settlement, while assigning responsibility for those actions to those in power in St. Paul and Washington.”
—Incorrect – The U.S. had sole responsibility.

“Throughout the middle years of the nineteenth century, United States government policy forced Indians out of their traditional lands in the upper Midwest.”
—Unbalanced -The Dakota Indians took this land by force from other Indian tribes. 

Panel – Brown County in 1862

 To keep the Indians away, the early Milford settlers told the Indians some in their party had smallpox.
—Disrespectful -This is incorrect and makes the whites look devious.

The exhibit describes a dispute between the early New Ulm settlers and the Indians. “The government eventually sided with the settlers.”

—Disrespectful – This site selected for New Ulm was clearly on the ceded land and the Indians were not aware of this.

Panel – The War’s Impact at Home

 The exhibit quotes a petition from New Ulm settlers saying that Superintendent Clark Thompson was speculating with Indian money.
—Disrespectful – No proof is provided that this was true. 

Panel – The War Begins

  “…there were reports of malnutrition on the reservation.”
—What does this mean? Was this local or wide-spread? Where is the proof?

Myrick told the Indian leaders, “Go and eat grass or their own dung.”
—Disrespectful – To say that Myrick said this without saying why is disrespectful to Myrick

“Worried about payment, traders refused to sell provisions on credit.”
—Incorrect – Not all of the fur traders stopped giving credit.

“The Soldiers’ Lodge…gained the upper hand…”
—Incorrect – They did not gain the upper hand. They made the decision to go to war.

“So Minnesota’s civil war began”
—This was a civil war between the Indians not between the Indians and the whites

“…probably fewer than 1,000 out of a population of an estimated 6,300 took up arms.”
—Incorrect – 500 is closer to the number who took up arms out of a total of 1500 capable of bearing arms. Many were forced to join.

“He [Little Crow] was killed on July 3, 1863, by a settler who wished to collect the bounty on the Dakota in Minnesota.”
—Incorrect – At the time Little Crow was killed, bounties were not being offered. 

Panel – Reaction to the War

 “…the Dakota arranged a surrender at Camp Release…”
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not arrange a surrender. Friendly Indians secured the hostages and waited for the white soldiers to arrive.

Perhaps the most offensive statement in the exhibit:
“Out in Minnesota some infidels built a town…The settlers threatened that any preachers who should dare to come there to disturb them with the Gospel, should be hanged or thrown into the river…On one Sabbath, a few weeks ago, they made an effigy of Jesus Christ, and burned it on the public street. This sink of iniquity, where infidelity had thus thoroughly gone to seed, was called New Ulm. Before another Sabbath sun had dawned upon this graceless village, the wild Indians assaulted it. The people fled from their dwellings in the greatest consternation, and stout men hid themselves in cellars, wells, stables, and wherever they fancied they could find protection. A few braver than their comrades, attempted some defense; and even women, it is said, tried to shame the majority of cowards into some degree of strength and courage…”
If this wasn’t bad enough, the exhibit quotes a second article which repeats some of the above.
—Disrespectful – The exhibit makes no comment that these statements are false. The visitor is left to believe that these are true statements.

Panel – The Execution in Mankato

 “On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota were hung in Mankato in the largest mass execution in American history.”
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. History 

Panel – Retribution

 “Approximately 2,200 Dakota and “mixed-bloods” surrendered at Camp Release…”
—Incorrect – This number is too high. They did not all surrender; they waited here for Sibley.

“Women, children, and the elderly were removed to Fort Snelling…”
—Incorrect – There were at least 40 young men in this group.

“It is estimated that somewhere between 130 and 300 people died there, due mostly to disease resulting from the conditions inside the camp.”
—Incorrect – It can be proven that 102 died here. They died mostly from diseases but not as a result of conditions in the camp.

“In May 1863 those held in Fort Snelling were loaded onto steamboats and taken down the Mississippi…”
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were removed.

“The U.S. abrogated all of its treaties with the Dakota and seized the remaining ten-mile wide strip of the Sioux Reservation.”
—Incorrect – In the 1900s, the Dakota People were paid for annuities and land taken in the 1800s. 

Panel – Recovery

 “By 1867, according to one count, there were only about fifty Dakota left in Minnesota.”
—In 1866, there were 374 Dakota in Minnesota. And in 1883, according to another count there were 237 in Minnesota. The exhibit picks the low point. 

Panel – Remembering the War, 1865-1908

 “As a result, the government began to enroll the Mdewakanton Dakota in Minnesota, a process that led to the re-establishment of a Dakota community at Lower Sioux in 1934.”
—Incorrect – As stated above, there was a Lower Dakota Community in 1885.

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