Dakota War Programs
By Minnesota Public Radio (MPR)
January 30, 2012 to February 25, 2013
Reviewed on March 20, 2013
- As typical with almost all oral interviews, whatever the interviewee says is published. Little or no attempt is made to validate or balance what is said.
- In oral interviews about the Dakota War, when mistakes are made, they usually favor the Dakota or oppose the whites. This history is tragic enough; it does not need to be revised or embellished.
- In this series of reviews, the same incorrect statement is made a number of times. I try to comment only on the first occurrence of the incorrect statement.
Most Objectionable Statements
You can get through the Minnesota school system and never hear about the Dakota conflict
—Incorrect – I doubt this is true for all school districts in the state.
The “really painful” chapter in Minnesota history began with two treaties drawn up in 1851 between the government and the Dakota, in what the Dakota erroneously assumed to be good faith land-for-money swaps.
—Unbalanced – This narrative should start with how the Dakota obtained the land. They did not write treaties, they killed members of other tribes and took their land.
Those treaties in 1851 were really a disaster, from so many points of view. One outrage of those treaties was that, at the conclusion of the signing of those treaties, the Indians were led from one signing table to another signing table. And at that table, where many of them thought were just another set of treaty papers, were in fact what have come to be called the traitor papers, in which they were pretty effectively swindled out of much of the money they had agreed to receive. To make matters worse, the Indians thought they had signed treaties that entitled them to government payments in perpetuity. But Congress, unbeknownst to the Indians, cut the payments back to just 20 years.
—What does this mean that the treaties were really a disaster from so many points of view?
—Incorrect – They were called the traders’ paper.
—Incorrect – The traders’ paper permitted the fur traders to collect debts owed. I would not say they were swindled.
—Incorrect – The signed treaties state that payments would be made for 50 years.
—Incorrect – The final treaties state that payments would be made for 50 years.
By 1858, as Minnesota celebrated statehood, Dakota people were moving onto reservations…
—Incorrect – Many of the Upper Dakota people did not have to move. Their villages were already on their reservation.
—Incorrect – Almost all who had to move were on the reservations by 1853.
—Incorrect – Some never did move onto the reservations.
At one point, hundreds of Dakota began carrying off food from a settler storehouse.
—Incorrect – It was a government warehouse.
Sibley thought of Dakota people as his friends, but when he becomes governor, his position shifts.
—What does this mean?
His successor, Gov. Alexander Ramsey, taps Sibley to lead an effort to quell the Indian uprising, and Sibley marches troops down to the New Ulm area.
—Incorrect – He marched troops down to Fort Ridgely.
Sibley is paralyzed. He doesn’t know how to march troops onto people, many of whom he cares about.
—Disrespectful – What does this mean that Sibley is paralyzed?
Hostilities come to an end with the mass execution of captured Dakota on Dec. 26. Congress revoked all the Dakota treaties, all Dakota land was confiscated, and the Dakota were expelled from Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Hostilities continued into 1863. Hostile Dakota were returning to the state.
—Incorrect – In the 1970s, Dakota descendants were paid for land and annuities taken.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were expelled from Minnesota.
The treaty payment was late in 1861.
—Incorrect – The payment to the Lower Dakota was on time. The payment to the Upper Dakota was less than 2 weeks late.
It was clear that some of the annuities that were delivered in food and goods were being siphoned off.
—What does this mean? Who was doing this? Where is the proof?
Causes of the Dakota War may have started with a smallpox epidemic in 1837.
—Incorrect – No primary source says this was a cause of the Dakota War.
By 1862 negotiation and accommodation can’t work because the rage boils over.
—Incorrect – The Indian agent accommodated the Upper Dakota by giving them food. To my knowledge, the agent did not try negotiation with the Lower Dakota. He refused to give them food. Rage boiled over for 100 to 150 Dakota men who make the decision to go to war.
As the 150th anniversary of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War approaches, the Mankato City Council has agreed to support a new memorial commemorating the single most remembered event of the conflict: the execution of 38 Dakota warriors on Dec. 26, 1862. The Mankato Free Press reported that the memorial will list the names of the 38 Dakota hanged that day.
—Unbalanced – About 50 innocent white men, women and children were killed by Indians in Milford Township on August 18, 1862. Is this hanging more significant than these Milford murders?
—Incorrect – 2 men who were hanged are not listed on the monument and 2 men listed on the monument were not hanged.
See Carrie Zeman, 10 Observations on the 1862 Dakota War Trials
—Focus is turned away from the Dakota Indians to generalities about what is happening to other indigenous people in other places. The implication is that this is also happening to the Dakota people. Focus needs to be on what has happened to the Dakota people and what is happening today to the Dakota people.
I write this on stolen Dakota land.
—Disrespectful – It could also be said that he writes this on stolen Iowa Indian land because the Iowa were here before the Dakota.
This year marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War. The war, fought in southwestern Minnesota in the late summer of 1862, ended with hundreds of people dead, the Dakota people exiled from their homeland and the largest mass execution in U.S. history: the hangings of 38 Dakota men in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862.
—Incorrect – This war was also fought in western Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were exiled from the state.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution.
—Unbalanced – This was the largest mass murder of white civilians by Indians in U.S. history.
The Minnesota Historical Society has recorded dozens of oral histories from descendants of those touched by the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
—Unbalanced – As of the date of this review, there are 39 interviews of “Dakota people” and only 13 interviews of “white people.”
Discontent brewed by those treaties set the foundation for the Dakota War of 1862…During that conflict, hundreds of settlers were murdered.
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were many and much more complicated than this.
—Unbalanced – Hundreds of Dakota people also died as a result of this war.
—Unbalanced – Hundreds of settlers died after the war as a result of the war.
He [Ramsey] helped swindle the Indians out of many of the proceeds that they just have negotiated for in these treaties. After the Indians signed the official treaties they were directed over to a third place where they were led to sign another set of documents that in fact gave back to the traders much of what they had just negotiated to gain. They did not know what they were signing, they were tricked into signing. And I think that Ramsey couldn’t have been happier to do the tricking, because that tricking was going to pay off in huge benefits, not only to Ramsey, but to a lot of Ramsey’s friends.
—Disrespectful – Show proof of these charges against Ramsey.
—Incorrect – Some did know what they were signing to pay debts owed to the traders.
—Disrespectful – Why is this last sentence necessary?
Historians often put blame for the conflict solely on the Dakota.
—Incorrect – I believe that historians have generally placed the blame on the U.S. government.
The conflict was a land grab by state leaders, who wanted the remaining Dakota lands.
—What does this mean? The federal government made the treaties.
New Ulm was where a lynch mob killed another of this speaker’s relatives who was being transported to the gallows in Mankato.
—Incorrect – If he is referring to George Crooks’ brother being killed, he was not killed. See “George Crooks Not the Man”, Redwood Gazette, February 24, 1909.
A descendant of settlers says, “We were as guilty as they were.”
—Why does this descendant think the settlers were guilty?
The settlers of New Ulm have no idea they are settling on land that is not legally theirs.
—Incorrect – The settlers of New Ulm filed on this land in the U.S. land office. How was this not legal?
—Unbalanced – Where are the exhibits by other ethnic groups on this subject?
Hundreds of settlers and soldiers were killed along with an unknown number of Dakota during six weeks of fighting that broke out in August 1862.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed and about 145 Dakota were killed.
Galbraith refused to give food to the Indians who were starving. Galbraith said they could eat grass. This starvation situation led to an incident on August 17 where 5 settlers got killed. Little Crow launched a preventive war because he knew that there would be a war over the settlers being killed.
—Incorrect – Galbraith did issue food to the Upper Dakota, but did not to the Lower Dakota.
—Incorrect – It was Andrew Myrick who said they could eat grass.
—Incorrect – We do not know what led to the murders of the 5 settlers.
—Incorrect – It was not Little Crow’s decision to go to war. This decision was made by a Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge.
The seeds of the unrest had been simmering for some time among the Dakota Indians.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota Indians opposed war with the whites in 1862.
The Indians were starving and tensions boiled over near Acton Township in western Minnesota on Aug. 17. Five settlers were killed.
—Incorrect – Primary sources do not say the Indians wanted food in Acton Township.
—Incorrect – We do not know for sure why 5 settlers were killed in Acton Township.
—Incorrect – The settlers were killed in Acton Township.
—I think this is the best interview in this series.
We have a group of people that just focus on the atrocities committed against the Dakota people. Because of a few, all were punished, and they don’t think that was ever fair. And, in fact, they don’t even agree that most of those who were hung should have been hung. Most of them were defending their homeland and defending their people. Some did some horrible acts. That was done on both sides, but no one was punished on the other side.
—This is a good statement.
Yeah, I think if they would have explained to them more about the gold, and the late payments and you’re selling the land and here’s the benefit of it. I think we would have ended up on that south 10-mile strip from Big Stone down to New Ulm. And that would have been it.
—This is an interesting statement. Did the U.S. explain this properly?
Part of it is that we’re conquered people. And we do have limited sovereignty. What I tell our people is, this Congress by a stroke of a pen can say, ‘You’re no longer a Dakota, you’re now a citizen of Shakopee. Have at it like everybody else.’ I always said, that’s probably coming.
—This is another good statement.
—Incorrect, unbalanced and disrespectful – Governor Dayton was ill-advised in the wording of this statement. The Governor should not criticize people without proof.
August 17, 1862 marked a terrible period in Minnesota’s history. The first victims of the “U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” lost their lives on that day, 150 years ago. The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people. Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.
—Disrespectful – Governor Dayton should not call anyone conniving unless he can provide names and show proof.
—What does this mean that those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes? If this means that the whites were angry about the hundreds of whites who were killed during the war and the hundreds of whites who died after the war, can they be blamed?
The displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs. They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly. Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.
—Incorrect – Not all were denied their treaty payment of food. Their payments of money were late, but not denied.
—Incorrect – Show that “many” of their children and elderly were starving.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – Name the officials and traders who were dishonest and prove they cheated the Dakota.
The Dakota community was not unanimous in the decision to go to war; some of them helped the settlers.
—Incorrect – Many of the Dakota helped the settlers.
Atrocities were committed by combatants on both sides against combatants and noncombatants alike. Hundreds of people were killed. Many more Indian and immigrant lives were ruined. And the lives of Minnesotans were altered for the next 150 years.
—Incorrect – Prove that atrocities were committed by the whites.
—Unbalanced – Saying that hundreds of people were killed does not reflect the imbalance of the deaths. More than 650 whites were killed and about 145 Dakota were killed.
—Incorrect and unbalanced – The lives of some Minnesotans and some Dakota were altered forever.
The war ended, but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued.
—What does this mean that Indian children, women and elderly were attacked after the war?
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota continued to return to the state and committed atrocities.
On September 9, 1862, Alexander Ramsey proclaimed: “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State…They must be regarded and treated as outlaws. If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return.” A Minnesota newspaper chimed in, “We have plenty of young men who would like no better fun than a good Indian hunt.”
I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.
—Disrespectful – More than 650 whites had just been killed by hostile Dakota; some in the worst way imaginable. Hundreds more died as a result of the war. How should their friends and families feel? Governor Ramsey was reflecting public opinion. I think Governor Dayton would have reacted in the same manner.
Yet hostile feelings do still exist between some Native Americans and their neighbors. Detestable acts are still perpetrated by members of one group against the other. Present grievances, added to past offenses, make it difficult to commemorate the past, yet not continue it.
—What does this mean that detestable acts are still being perpetrated?
—Unbalanced – Much is said about the Dakota after the war. Little is said about the whites after the war.
After a quarrel, 4 Dakota Indians killed several settlers near the tiny town of Acton.
—Incorrect – We do not know for sure why 3 men, a woman and a 14-year girl were killed by Indians.
—Incorrect – The murders occurred in Acton Township. There was not a town of Acton.
Acton was the result of years of growing resentment between the Dakota and white settlers.
—Incorrect – We do not know for sure why these people were killed.
The Dakota leaders decided that rather than give up the 4 boys who committed the Acton murders that they would protect them and go to war.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in this decision.
—Incorrect – Accounts say these were young men not boys.
Myrick told the Dakota they could eat grass
—Incorrect – It needs to be stated why Myrick made this statement. He learned that the soldiers’ lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts when the treaty money arrived.
The traders got most of the annuity money. The traders took their money off the top of the treaty money. Some years the traders took all of their money.
—Disrespectful – The traders claimed what was owed. If traders filed false claims name the traders and prove their claims were false.
—Incorrect – All approved claims for depredations were paid “off the top.” The traders had to collect their own debts.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – Name these years when the traders took all of their money.
Government agents took kick-backs to overlook the dishonesty.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – Name the agents and show the proof
Special Agent Day’s report
—There needs to be more study done on Day’s inspection and his report. Who did he talk to? Who did he report to? Was his report accurate?
The Dakota decided to leave the system in 1862.
—Incorrect – Some Dakota decided to go to war.
Payments and food were 2 months over due
—Incorrect – By the terms of the 1851 Treaties, annuities were due on July 1. By August 18, the payments were about 7 weeks late.
The Dakota leaders felt they were under siege by the whites
—Incorrect – How do we know how all Dakota leaders felt?
When people are pushed, they eventually push back.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota Indians opposed war with the whites.
For some Dakota, the anger remains. They staged a historic return to Minnesota in Pipestone.
—Incorrect – This “return to Minnesota” was not done out of anger.
After the war, it was easier for the settlers to survive.
—Incorrect – Recovery was difficult for all the victims.
In the summer of 1862, the Dakota were hungry.
—Incorrect – Not all were hungry.
In 1862, there were no innocent white settlers in MN. Settlers were part of a plan by the U.S.
—Absolutely incorrect – The settlers did nothing wrong.
—What does this mean that the U.S. had a plan? Show proof.
White civilization split the Dakota into factions.
—Incorrect – The Dakota themselves split into factions – those who wanted war and those who did not want war.
Shipments of food were late in 1862.
—Incorrect – The food was in the government warehouses.
Dakota Conflict video
—See my review of this video under Audio/Video
—Perhaps the most significant part of this interview is that he states that “The Indians Revenge, or Days of Horror…” written by Alexander Berghold, in 1891 noted the swindles, starvation and ill treatment of the Dakota. The first history to include an interview with a Dakota fighter was written by newspaper reporter Return Holcombe in 1908.
—This dispels the statements made today that there has been no history telling the Dakota side of the war for 150 years.
What the Indians did was justified.
—Incorrect – Does he really believe murdering and torturing innocent people was justified?
We’re lost in time. I mean, they took away our religion and our culture.
—Incorrect – By 1862, about 80 Dakota chose to become Christians and about 250 Dakota families chose to become farmers.
Many Dakota also died in the conflict’s aftermath, as they were held in an internment camp or hunted for bounty.
—Unbalanced – The Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge also offered bounties for white scalps during the war.
—This is a partial repeat of a program above. See “MPR Special Report: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.”
She faults the federal government for failing to meet terms of its treaties with the Dakota.
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were many and complicated.
The Dakota people didn’t cause the war. Yes, starving Dakota attacked white settlers and the result was hundreds of Dakota and white settlers killed in the war.
—Incorrect – A Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge made the decision to go to war. The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in this decision.
Then hundreds more Dakota perished as they were banished from Minnesota to barren reservations in Dakota territory.
—Unbalanced – Hundreds more whites died after the war as a result of the war.
The Indian system caused the war.
—Incorrect – The causes of the war were many and complicated.
The Indian system was based on the view that the conquering European newcomers had sovereignty over the native people.
—Unbalanced – The Dakota also conquered other tribes and drove them off their land.
Blame for the war lies at the feet of what came to be called the “Indian system,” which encouraged crooked white traders to sell the Dakota people goods on credit at inflated prices. The traders cashed in when the Dakota received government payments.
—Incorrect – The Dakota knew the credit system. They chose to accept these goods on credit. Not all of the Dakota needed to buy goods on credit.
—Disrespectful and incorrect – Add in shipping costs and prove that prices were inflated. The Dakota were not forced to deal with the traders. They were free to go to other traders on and off the reservations.
—Disrespectful – What does this mean that the traders cashed in?
The History Center exhibit explains the swindle, but more needs to be explained. Some historians point to poverty and starvation as reasons why Dakota attacked white settlers in the fall of 1862, but the “Indian system” started long before then.
—Incorrect – If the Indian system started long before then, why did some Dakota wait until 1862 to go to war? What was happening in 1862 that caused the war?
The exhibit contains an example of a little known Supreme Court ruling that laid the groundwork for the federal government’s strategy to move Indians off their land. That ruling said that the Indian people are only entitled to be of occupancy on their land, they do not own the land.”
—What does this mean? The 1858 Treaties gave ownership of the reservations to the Dakota.
Some of them [Dakota] would be tried by a military commission for war crimes. Others would be sent to a concentration camp near Fort Snelling to await exile from Minnesota. Hundreds died there, hundreds more perished when they reached the Nebraska and Dakota territory.
—Incorrect – The Fort Snelling camp was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – The official count of deaths in the Fort Snelling camp was 102.
—Unbalanced – What about the hundreds of whites who died after the war as a result of the war?
The September 23, 1862 Wood Lake battle ended the war, a conflict started by Dakota desperation as they starved while the food promised them remained locked in warehouses.
—Incorrect – The causes of the war were many and complicated.
—Incorrect – The agent issued food to the Upper Dakota but not to the Lower Dakota.
A longer lens shows the conflict was also caused by the “Indian system.” This was the strategy devised at the highest levels of the federal government to craft deceitful treaties with American Indians. The Indian system led to massive fraud and corruption in trade with the Indians that enriched mostly white people at every level.
—Disrespectful – More study needs to be done on this. Who was cheating the Indians?
Carrying prayer staffs, dozens of participants of the Dakota Commemorative Walk cross the Mendota Bridge Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.
—Incorrect – In 1862, the original march crossed the Minnesota River once either at Lower Sioux Agency or Fort Ridgely.
The walk retraces the footsteps of the 1,700 Dakota women and children who were forced to march nearly 125 miles to Fort Snelling after the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.
—Incorrect – This commemorative march to Fort Snelling was more than 95% off the route of the original march.
—Incorrect – They were not forced to march.
—Incorrect – There were also men and elderly in this group in 1862.
—Incorrect – The distance between the Lower Sioux Agency via Fort Snelling and Henderson was about 100 miles.
About 50 people walked the entire way from Morton in southwest Minnesota to Fort Snelling, with dozens more joining in along the route.
—Incorrect – At several check-points, the counts of walkers were less than 20.
Members of a Minnesota Historical Society panel discuss the Dakota War and how this history is taught.
Graphic detail of Dakota baby killed in Henderson.
—Unbalanced – No graphic details are given of white babies being killed.
You are always at war with the genocide
—Unbalanced – Who committed genocide in 1862?
Would you have left 2,000 women and children out at Camp Release with winter coming?
—Incorrect – There were about 1700 men, women, children and elders at Camp Release.
There was so much corruption that was so deep-seated in the Indian system that this war would have happened. It would take the abolition of the Indian system for the war to be avoided.
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War were many and they were complicated.
“What do you want to see done in the future?”
—Unbalanced – No one mentioned anything about the whites.
“What was not discussed enough in 2012?”
—Unbalanced – No one mentioned anything about the whites.
“What happens beyond 2012?”
—Unbalanced – Much is mentioned about the Dakota. Little is mentioned about the whites.
In 1862, those 38 were hung as criminals. They died because they were protecting the children, the women, our way of life.
—Incorrect – They died because they waged a traditional Dakota war against innocent whites.
—General statements are made about fur traders and Indian agents that do not apply to the Minnesota Dakota traders and Indian agents.
Treaty money was provided because we moved Indians to places with poor farm lands.
—Incorrect – The Dakota reservations in Minnesota had excellent farm lands.
Traders were often relatives of the Indian agent.
—Incorrect – I know of no Dakota fur traders who were related to Dakota Indian agents.
Sibley put in a claim for “over-payment” to the 1851 treaties and got it.
—Disrespectful – Is this correct?
Trial records lasted 10-15 minutes.
-Unbalanced – Compare this to the Dakota trial system.
Lincoln struck a bargain with the MN reps. He agreed to continue the incarceration of the Dakota Indians.
—Is this correct?
Lincoln had 1600 women and children in custody.
—Incorrect – There were also men and elders in this group.