Review – MHS LSA Exhibit

 Minnesota Historical Society (MHS)
Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site
Exhibit and Trail Signs
Reviewed October 29, 2001
Updated March 17, 2016

Items of Interest


This is probably the best exhibit in the State on the Dakota Indians. Lower Sioux Agency was attacked by Indians on August 18, 1862, the first day of the Dakota War. Trails lead down to the Redwood Ferry crossing where the Battle of Redwood Ferry also occurred on August 18. The stone warehouse, built in 1861, is the oldest building in Redwood County. There is a replica of a Dakota bark lodge inside the interpretive center.

To view the inside exhibit takes about 2 hours. To walk the trails and view all of the signs on top of the bluff takes an hour. To go down to the ferry crossing and back up takes an hour.

The interpretive center is opened in the summer. The trails are open year-round.

I will return in May to update this review. I am posting this now to show MHS’s attitude in 2001 regarding this history. I expect that this exhibit and signs have not changed much.

General Comments

  • Unbalanced – MHS is using this U.S. Government site to focus on the Dakota Indians.
  • There is very little discussion of the 1862 Dakota War and no discussion of traditional Dakota warfare. This is the most serious short-coming of the exhibit.
  • The U.S. Government is criticized repeatedly. Didn’t the U.S. do anything right?
  • The fur traders are criticized repeatedly. Didn’t the fur traders do anything right?
  • Incorrect – “The Dakota” are defined as Eastern (Santee), Middle (Nakota) and Western (Lakota). General statements made about “the Dakota” do not apply to all Dakota.
  • Incorrect – Later Indian authors from other Dakota bands are quoted. These quotes do not always apply to the Minnesota Dakota.
  • Incorrect – There is confusion as to who, when and where.
  • Incorrect – Opinions are stated as if they were facts.
  • Incorrect – Complex subjects are not given enough space.

Most Objectionable Statements

“Once we were happy in our country and we were seldom hungry, for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like relatives, and there was plenty for them and for us.”
—Incorrect – This was not a utopia before the whites arrived. Winters were severe. Hunts were not always successful. There were wars with other tribes.

“Sketches of Dakota Men and Women”
—Unbalanced – Where are sketches of white men and women?

“This exhibit was made possible through the assistance of Dakota advisors and the support of Minnesota’s four federally recognized Dakota communities.
—Unbalanced – Why were only Dakota advisors and communities involved?

Oceti Sakowin (The Seven Council Fires)
—For more information on the word Bdewakantunwan see “Definitions” on the top bar.
—Incorrect – The date of the map showing Dakota Band locations is not given.

“Dakota, meaning Allies or friends, is the name the Dakota people call themselves.”
—Incorrect – Dakota is the named they called themselves. Today, the Shakopee Dakota community calls themselves Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

“Yet no decisions were made without the agreement of the other men in the band.”
—Incorrect – Not all men in the band or village were permitted to vote in council.

“Women also had a powerful voice in the affairs of the village.”
—Incorrect – Women did not lead villages. They could not speak in councils.

Time-hallowed tales

“…But these tales do more than enlarge the mind and stimulate the imagination. They furnish the best of memory training, as the child is required to remember and repeat them one by one.”
—Incorrect – Maybe at one time Indian oral history was very accurate. But, today Indian oral history must be treated as any oral or written history.

Seasonal Cycles

—Incorrect – There is confusion as to who, when and where. These cycles did not apply to all Dakota.

“For centuries Dakota were here”
—This can be more precise. How many centuries? Where did they live?

A System Based on Credit

“Money would now be made in many ways besides trafficking in furs, and traders began looking for ways to profit from these changing times.”
—Mixed-blood and full-blood Dakota were also involved in the fur trade.

Articles of a Treaty

“Many Dakota leaders realized that the coming of the whites was inevitable and feared that they would simply take the land if the Dakota were unwilling to sell.”
—Unbalanced – The Dakota Indians used warfare to take this land from other Indians.

“The treaties presented a façade of fairness – despite the likelihood that the Indians didn’t fully grasp the obscure and poorly translated language – for a series of bargains in which one side held all the power.”
—Disrespectful – Rather than just taking their land, the U.S. offered money, food, services and other benefits for their land.
—Incorrect – Many Indians did understand the treaties.

Map of Dakota and Ojibwe land cessions
—Incorrect – The 1851 Sisseton-Wahpeton cession is not shown.

Regarding the 1851 Treaties:
“Funds under provisions 3 and 5 were often wasted or misused for the benefit of others, and the goods and provisions bought for the Dakota were often damaged or spoiled. No funds were expended for education until 1857…”
—Disrespectful and incorrect – It is wrong to make these accusations without proof.

“The cash payments made directly to the Dakota were often late, and substantial sums were never paid.”
—Incorrect – Which payments were late and how late were they?
—Incorrect – Which sums were never paid?

“Pressured by Traders, alternately flattered and then threatened by the government, the Dakota relinquished all their land in Minnesota in 1851…the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands sold 21 million acres…the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands sold about 14 million acres…”
—Incorrect – Historians disagree on how many acres were sold. William Folwell wrote that an accurate survey was never done on the lands sold.

Regarding the Treaties of 1858:

“The Treaty never included a price for the land, said to be worth $5 an acre. Two years later, the U.S. Senate assigned a price of only 30 cents an acre.”
—Incorrect – In 1851, the Santee were not given title to their reservations. In 1858, the U.S. paid the Santee for this land a 2nd time.
—In 1858, the Santee were given title to reservations on the south side of the Minnesota river.

The Mission of the Agency

“By replacing traditional means of farming and hunting with white American-style agriculture, the government hoped to tie the Dakota to individual plots of land and to break down the communal bonds that held them together as a people. In short, the Dakota were to be made culturally indistinguishable from whites by erasing the culture that had sustained them for centuries.”
—By signing the treaties, Dakota leaders agreed their people would move to the reservations and learn how to farm.
—Incorrect – The Dakota chose to become farmers. They did not erase their Culture. They maintained their communal bonds. They still hunted and gathered.

A doubtful tenure

“When the U.S. Senate ratified the…treaties in 1853, it struck out the clauses that provided for the reservations, thus leaving the Dakota with no place to live.”
—Incorrect – “the Dakota” should be “the Santee.”
—In 1858, the Santee were given ownership of the reservations on the south side of the river.

The Move to the Reservation

—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – Many Sisseton and Wahpeton villages were already on the reservation.

Reservation Life

“Traders saw opportunities to profit by skimming off the government annuities intended for the Dakota.”
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – The assault on the traders continues. If any traders cheated the Indians, name them and show proof.

“Missionaries, eager to save new souls for Christ, simply moved their base of operations to keep close by.”
—Incorrect – Riggs and Williamson were the only missionaries that moved.

“But the façade of small-town life scarcely concealed the dramatic social changes thrust upon the Dakota and the tensions they created.”
—Incorrect – The tensions were caused by Dakota opposed to Christianity and farming.

Practically a prisoner

“The Indian…came into reservation life reluctantly…One morning he awoke to the fact that he must give up his freedom and resign his vast possessions…For the first time his rovings were checked by well-defined boundaries, and he could not hunt or visit neighboring tribes without a passport. He was practically a prisoner…”      -Charles Eastman, 1915
—Incorrect – Who, when and where is missing.
—Incorrect – The Dakota Indians freely moved off and on the Minnesota reservations.

“…there was strong resistance…against government programs. Men whose self-respect came from hunting did not want to stay on the reservation and learn farming – traditionally, the work of women. Dakota leaders felt that the programs diminished their power – as they were intended to do – and threatened tribal unity. The government was trying to put an end to their feasts, to their dances, and even to the clothes they wore. Where once the Dakota had believed that the whites they dealt with were kinsmen…now they trafficked with hard-nosed traders”
—Incorrect – The farmer Indians continued to hunt and gather. They maintained their community ties. Except for the Christian farmers, they maintained their traditional religion. The U.S. wanted the Indians to become self-sufficient by farming.
—Incorrect – I know of no cases on the Minnesota Dakota Reservations where the U.S. prohibited traditional feasts and dances.
—Incorrect – The Dakota chose to become farmers; they were not forced by the Government.
—Disrespectful – What is a “hard-nosed” trader?

The ball has rolled slowly, but steadily forward

“The Government programs…were a jumble of good intentions, sloppy management, callousness and dishonesty…cash annuities were often delayed and sometimes withheld indefinitely. When they did arrive, much of the money went to satisfy marked-up debts on the traders’ books. Shipments of pork rotted in warehouses, and the flour, according to one army officer, “was as hard as a similar lump of dried mortar.”
—Incorrect – Prove these charges against the U.S.
—Incorrect – Exactly how many annuities were late?
—Incorrect – Which annuities were withheld indefinitely?
—Disrespectful – Name the traders who marked-up their debts and prove this.
—The “hard flour” was chopped down. This flour was offered for sale in nearby towns.

The Bible and the Plow

“The first missionaries, good men imbued with the narrowness of their age, branded us as pagans and devil-worshippers, and demanded of us that we abjure our false gods before bowing the knee at their sacred altar.”
—Incorrect – The first missionaries did not force Dakota Indians to become Christians. While in Minnesota, the Dakota always had freedom of religion.

“Preaching seems like pouring water upon a rock.”   
—Incorrect – This statement comes from a letter written at an earlier time at another location.

“What seemed savage and superstitious to non-Indians were age-old traditions and values…By the late 1840s, however, they had recognized that the Indians would not open themselves to conversion until they became more like white people…American style farming was the best means of breaking down the communal tribal culture.”
—Incorrect – Describe some “savage and superstitious” traditions and let the visitor decide.
—What does this mean? – They would not open themselves to conversion until they became more like white people?
—Incorrect – The farmer Indians chose to become farmers. Being farmers did not break down the communal tribal culture.

The Hazelwood Republic

“In 1856, a number of Dakota…formed a separate farming community…called it the Hazelwood Republic…Sixteen men…asserted their willingness to be educated and to farm…Riggs even went so far as to petition the new State of Minnesota for citizenship right for the men. But he was turned down…”
—Incorrect – One Dakota man, Lorenzo Lawrence qualified for citizenship.

The correctness and facility with which we spoke their language
—The missionaries created the written Dakota language and the Dakota dictionary. The missionaries saved the Dakota language.

Hard Choices

“When the U. S. Government moved them to reservations, the Dakota faced two paths, each fraught with threats to their survival…Those who chose to go along with the government policies could expect preferential treatment but would have to sacrifice their way of life in return. Those who chose to resist could expect nothing but pressure from the authorities and a steady decline in the natural resources necessary to live in traditional ways.”
—Incorrect – Those who chose to become Christians and farmers did not sacrifice their way of life. They were harassed by their own people who opposed this.
—Incorrect – There was a 3rd path. They could move off the reservations to the west.

“The necessity of choosing one path over the other would divide the Dakota as they had never been divided before. Yet despite these differences, they were committed as a people to finding a way to ensure the survival of the generations that would follow them.”
—Incorrect – The division was caused by those who opposed farming and Christianity.
—Incorrect – They were not committed as a people. The Christians were denied their freedom of religion by traditional Indians. The farmers were denied their freedom to be farmers.

Keeping Traditions

“Those Dakota who wished to live in the traditional ways moved freely off the reservation…In 1861, the government tried to end this practice by withholding payments from anyone who left the Reservation without permission. These traditionalists kept their sacred rituals and beliefs and shunned the preaching of the missionaries. To them it was shameful to yield their entire way of life…they scorned those who did. Survival meant nothing to them if they could not retain their pride as Dakota people, and that meant preserving their way at any cost.”
—Incorrect – They continued to move freely off the reservations in 1861 and 1862.
—Incorrect – The farmers and Christians did not yield their “entire way of life” nor did they give up their “pride as Dakota people.”

Accepting Change

“The Dakota who chose to adapt to the new system also had their eyes on the future. They reasoned that going along with the new policies might provide them and their descendants with the chance of carving out a life in which they could face the white world on better terms.”
—Incorrect – I doubt they were concerned about facing the white world on better terms. Farming provided a better chance of surviving than hunting alone.

Caught in the Middle

“In the tumultuous years of the reservation period, many of the Dakota and their mixed-blood relatives were caught in the middle…Mixed-blood people, those with a foot in each world, were forced to take sides. More often than not they chose the white way while still struggling to maintain their family ties.”
—Incorrect – Name some who were forced to take sides. Name some who were struggling to maintain family ties.

Division among the Dakota

“Brown’s success, due in part to using annuity payments to reward Dakota who took up farming, caused great anger among those Indians who were unwilling to give up the old ways. When they saw a man leave his village, become a farmer, and begin to hoard food, they saw a man who had turned his back on being a Dakota. As a result, the farmer Indians soon suffered ridicule, harassment, and even violence at the hands of the traditional so-called “blanket” Indians.”
—Incorrect – Brown used the civilization fund to reward those who chose to farm.
—Incorrect – The farmer Indians did not hoard food.
—Incorrect – “Ridicule, harassment and violence” towards the farmers started prior to the reservation days.

Wamditanka or Holcombe

This panel discusses Big Eagle’s statement given to Return Holcombe
“…no doubt, polished by Holcombe into a neatly phased statement.”
—If Holcombe modified Big Eagle’s statement, show proof.

The City of New Ulm

“…the new settlers gave little thought to the treatment of the Dakota as they celebrated what they saw as the glorious march of progress.”
—Disrespectful – What does this mean? They were not responsible for the Indians.


“On Sunday, the 17th instant, five persons were murdered in Acton, Meeker County. This probably was one of those accidental outrages at any time to be anticipated on the remote frontier…” -Ignatius Donnelly
—Incorrect – Why downplay what happened in Acton? These were not accidental murders.

“Angry, hungry and desperate, the Dakota watched as an endless tide of white settlers staked out the open lands that once had been their hunting grounds.”
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were angry, hungry and desperate. This is drama.

Conflicting Loyalties

—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota people opposed war with the whites.
—Incorrect – If any traders were corrupt, name them and show proof.
—Incorrect – Traders stopped giving credits because they learned the Indians planned to refuse to pay their debts. It was the responsibility of the U.S. to feed the Indians.

“…they wanted to stand with their people but had conflicting loyalties because of their friendships or blood ties with white people.”
—Incorrect – Many Dakota who opposed the war had no friendships or blood ties with white people.

War on the Prairie

—Unbalanced – MHS allots only 1 panel and one photo to this very important event. This is the poorest part of this exhibit!
—Incorrect – The causes of the War were more complicated than what is given here.
—Disrespectful – Omitting the Dakota War is an insult to the more than 650 innocent white men, women and children who were killed by Indians.
—Disrespectful – Omitting the Dakota War is an insult to the brave people who defended their homes and towns against a superior and better armed Indian army.
—Disrespectful – Omitting the Dakota War is an insult to those Dakota Indians who remained loyal to the U.S. and risked their lives to save innocent whites.
—Incorrect – This exhibit fails to discuss traditional Dakota warfare. Indians killed more than 650 innocent whites. The visitor does not understand why the whites were so angry.

“On Oct. 15, 1862, Sibley arrived at Lower Sioux Agency with nearly 200 prisoners.”
—Incorrect – There were more than 200.

Extermination, swift, sure and terrible

—Unbalanced – Nothing is said about friendly Indians rescuing the hostages.
—Unbalanced – The trials of the Indians are discussed. But the Dakota trial system is not discussed – There wasn’t one.

“…the greatest object of their lives seems to be to acquire possessions – to be rich. They desire to possess the whole world. For thirty years they were trying to entice us to sell them our land. Finally the outbreak gave them all and we have been driven away from our beautiful country.” -Charles Eastman
—Incorrect – Not all were driven away. Some stayed.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed by Indians during the Dakota War. This is why they were driven from their “beautiful country.”

Prison Camp at Fort Snelling

—Incorrect – This was not a prison camp.
—Because of the actions of those who went to war, all Dakota suffered.

New Reservations

“Only a few had specific prison terms. Most were confined indefinitely”
—Incorrect – No one was confined indefinitely.

“We were always here, and we are still here”
—Incorrect – This depends upon the meaning of the word “here.”

Dakota Scouts

“The scouts were Christianized farmers…and had, at the Government’s insistence, broken off their tribal affiliation in order to remain in Minnesota.”
—Incorrect – They were not all Christianized farmers.
—Incorrect – They did not break off their tribal affiliation.
—Incorrect – Gabriel Renville went to Sibley and suggested using Indians as scouts.

It wasn’t good to be an Indian

—Incorrect – Explaining Dakota warfare during the Dakota War would help explain why it was best for the Indians who returned to stay out of sight.
—Incorrect – The U.S. did help those who stayed and those who returned.

Through generations of poor land

—Incorrect – Reservation land here was not poor.
—Exactly where was the Dakota “Homeland?
—Incorrect – Not all Indians who returned needed U.S. assistance.

Making a Living

—Incorrect – Was making a living on the frontier in the late 1800s easy for anybody?

Indian Schools

—Incorrect – Indian children were not taken out of good homes unless the parents agreed.
—The Indian schools also helped families who were unable to take care of their children.

Taking the Government to Court

In 1885, the U.S. paid $10,000 for land in Minnesota. This was the first payment to the Indians since 1861. In 1895-1899, $5,000 annually was allotted. No more was given until 1930s
—The exhibit fails to state that in the 1970s, Dakota descendants were paid for annuities and land taken in 1863.

Most Objectionable Statements on the Trail Signs

Making the Dakota into Farmers – An Unsuccessful Experiment

—Incorrect – Why does MHS think this was an experiment that failed? There were many successful Dakota farmers.

“Farming here was plagued with problems. Grasshoppers and blackbirds destroyed crops; seed was old…But government officials persisted in believing that agriculture would provide a better life for the Dakota than traditional hunting and gathering. Farming was also seen as the only way to keep people on the Reservation. Settled agricultural communities, it was believed, provide fertile ground for education, religious conversion, and other efforts to remake the Dakota.”
—Incorrect – Grasshoppers, blackbirds and seed problems plagued all farmers.  
—Of course farming would provide a better life. Given the large number of Indians on farms and waiting for farms, Indians also thought it was a better life.
—Incorrect – The farmers still left the reservation to hunt and gather.
—Incorrect – The biggest problem to the farmers was the harassment by the traditional Indians.

The Land Changes Hands

“Exempted from the sale was land that became the reservation – extending ten miles either side of the Minnesota River for 120 miles. In 1858 another treaty reduced the reservation by half.”
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations
—Incorrect – The length of these reservations combined was 150 miles.

A Permanent and Safe Place

“Like a bank, the warehouse was a place for storing valuables. But treaties provided that at the “bank” most customers would only make withdrawals once a year. If the Dakota ran out of supplies they still had to wait for the next payment date. Imagine only being able to withdraw your assets when the bank says you can – not when you need them.”
—Comparing the warehouse to a bank is stupid for lack of a better word.

Witness to the Past

“Sometimes a building is more than just a building. To many Dakota people this stone warehouse is that kind of place. Completed in 1861, it is a tangible reminder of a sad time in their history, a time that began with the loss of their homelands and ended scarcely a decade later when they were hunted down and run out of the state. Most of all it speaks of the broken promises of the government and its insistence that the Dakota give up their way of life.
—How many Dakota people feel this way?
—Incorrect – They were hunted down and run out of the state because they killed more than 650 innocent whites.
—Incorrect – The U.S. wanted the Indians to become farmers and stop going to war with other tribes. This doesn’t mean giving up their way of life.

“…Indian Agent Galbraith refused to break a Government rule that money and supplies had to be distributed at the same time. Many Dakota said it was Galbraith’s callousness that caused them to attack the Lower Sioux Agency later that month.”
—Where is this government rule stated?
—Incorrect – What is the source that many Dakota said this?


“The name Minnesota is derived from the Dakota word for cloudy water.”
—Incorrect – A recent Dakota spelling for Minnesota is Mni Sota Makoce which means “the land where the waters are so clear they reflect the clouds.” What is the Dakota standard for the spelling and definition of the Dakota word for Minnesota?

Traders and Treaties

“The traders’ wide contacts and control of credit gave them, at times, more influence than government officials.”
—Incorrect – They did not have more influence than all government officials.

“Many traders had long-standing relationships with the Dakota and married into Dakota families.”
—If traders benefited from treaties or annuity payments, their Dakota families also benefited.

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