Review – MRVNSB Signs

 Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway Signs
Reviewed on April 7, 2013

 Minnesota State Scenic Byways

 Items of Interest

In 2010, the MRVNSB received $37,565 from Minnesota State Legacy Funds for 10 signs. See the following website for more information, including images of the signs.

General Comments

  • Incorrect, unbalanced and disrespectful – As evidenced by this review, future signs need more knowledgeable people involved in their wording.
  • Unbalanced – In 1862, many friendly Dakota rescued the hostages held by the hostile Dakota. Only one friendly Dakota is mentioned by name.
  • Unbalanced – Graphic details are given on a Dakota baby killed at Henderson but no details are given on the many white babies killed by hostile Dakota.
  • Unbalanced – More information on the Dakota after the war is provided than on the whites after the war.
  • Unbalanced – The white trial system is criticized, but nothing is said about the Dakota trial system.  There wasn’t one.
  • Unbalanced – Photos are shown of Dakota leaders while only one photo of a white leader is shown.
  • Incorrect – MRVNSB calls the Fort Snelling Dakota Camp a concentration camp to evoke images of Nazi concentration camps.
  • Incorrect and disrespectful – MRVNSB is changing Dakota names.

Most Objectionable Statements

Title: Maza sa Protected his Village
Location: Near Camp Release Monument

—Unbalanced – Mazasa was not the only one to rescue hostages. Others should be named.
—Disrespectful – Mazasa should be identified as a village chief.

In 1854 Maza sa led his band to a small reservation on the Minnesota River and established a village near this spot, where families planted corn and the children attended school.
—Incorrect – At 20 miles wide and about 100 miles long, this was hardly a small reservation.
—In this correct that his children attended school at or near his village?

Maza sa did more than protect his village.  He and other Dakota risked their own safety to protect from harm hundreds of captives taken during the war.
—Incorrect – If Mazasa was concerned for the safety of his village, he would not have opposed the hostile Indians.
—Incorrect -The friendly Dakota rescued and protected the hostages.

Dakota warriors who had not already left were arrested, tried and convicted.
—Incorrect – The friendly Dakota also were warriors. Not all warriors were arrested. Not all of those who were tried were convicted.

Mazasha’s Village – Map
—Incorrect – I doubt there is any source that can say for sure where these villages were.
—Incorrect – In the 1861 Annuity Census, there were 35 Dakota villages.  Who knows for sure how many there were in 1862?

Title: Captives Released
Location: Near Camp Release Monument

On September 26, 1862, the 270 men, women and children taken captive by the Dakota during the war were released to military commander Henry H. Sibley…
—Disrespectful – This should be General Henry H. Sibley.

Seventeen-year-old Sam Brown was one of many captives released from the camp near Mazasa’s village.  He and his siblings, along with their mother, a member of the Sisseton tribe, had been seized after their house was attacked and burned…
—Incorrect – The Brown Family was taken captive while fleeing to Fort Ridgely.
—Incorrect – The Sisseton were a band as defined in the 1858 treaties and on the MHS website.

Sarah Wakefield was captured along with her two young children as they fled toward Fort Ridgely; a man accompanying them was killed.
—Disrespectful – The name of the man who was killed should be given.

Title: Tried and Sentenced
Location: Near Camp Release Monument

—Unbalanced – At the bottom, are photos of Dakota hanged at Mankato.  Where are the photos of the innocent white civilians who were killed?

Just two days after the captives were turned over the brief military trials of the Dakota who had taken part in the fighting began…
—Incorrect – Not all of the trials were brief.

In little more than a month, 392 Dakota men and one Dakota woman were brought before a five-man commission appointed by commander Henry Sibley…
—Disrespectful – Should be General Sibley.
—Incorrect – One Winnebago man was tried. See Bachman Northern Slave Black Dakota.

The prisoners were to be tried for a variety of offenses against soldiers and civilians.  And they would be judged harshly for what, today, many would consider just causes for warfare – fighting to regain their land, protecting their way of life, and providing for their families. The trials moved quickly; as many as 42 were held in a single day, some lasting only five minutes.
—Unbalanced – The white trial system is discussed. The Dakota trial system is not discussed.
—Disrespectful and Unbalanced – Traditional Dakota warfare needs to be discussed so the visitor understands why there were trials.
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota killed more than 650 whites; some in the worst way imaginable. Was this just?

Each trial opened with the reading of charges based on interviews with the freed captives by Reverend Stephen R. Riggs.
—Incorrect – Riggs also interviewed Dakota.

It was the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
—Unbalanced – It was also the largest mass-murder of civilians by Indians in U.S. History.

Title: Only Two Survived
Location: Near Schwandt Monument

Mary Schwandt and her brother August were the only two of their extended family of nine who survived the terrible six week long war now usually named the United States – Dakota Conflict of 1862.  During Mary’s captivity with the Dakota, she developed a lifelong friendship with her Dakota protector, Snasna’win.
—Incorrect – It is called the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 on other signs.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – In every source that I can find, her name was Snana.

On August 18, 1862, Dakota Indians, frustrated over broken treaty promises and seeing their way of life threatened, decided to take back their treaty land.  The Schwandts and others not involved in the treaties between the government and the Dakota suffered the consequences of the attacks that followed.
—Incorrect – Causes were many and more complicated that this.
—Unbalanced – The majority of the Dakota opposed the war.

Mary wasn’t at home on August 18 when her family was attacked and killed by Indians…she and two other young woman were taken captive by the Dakota and taken to Little Crow’s village.  A Dakota woman Snasna’win (Tinkling) who had just lost her seven year old daughter traded a pony for Mary.  Snasna’win and her husband Wakin’yanwas’te’, (Andrew Good Thunder) had two other small children.
—Unbalanced – How about graphic details of their deaths?
—Incorrect – woman should be women.
—Incorrect – Good Thunder should be one word.

Spelling of the names were taken from “A Dakota-English Dictionary” by Stephen R. Riggs…
—Incorrect and disrespectful – The historical spelling of these names should not be changed unless permission was given by their descendants.

Title: The U. S. Dakota War of 1862
Location: Renville County Park 2
Location: North 5th Street park, Henderson

[Side panel text]
U.S. Dakota War of 1862
—Incorrect – Fails to mention all of the Dakota War battles.

August 18, 1862 – War begins at the Redwood (Lower Sioux) Agency led by Taoyateduta (Little Crow).
—Disrespectful – This should be Chief Little Crow.
—Incorrect – Taoyateduta does not translate to Little Crow.

August 19-25 – Sibley is appointed to command troops and scouts.
—Disrespectful – This should be Colonel Henry Sibley.
—Incorrect – The attack on the Upper Agency is not mentioned.

September 1-2 Battle of Birch Coulee
—Incorrect – The dates should be September 2-3.

October 24 – Sibley moves his camp, along with all Dakota prisoners from Camp Release to the Redwood Agency
—Incorrect – He also moved the innocent Dakota.
—What does this mean – Redwood Agency?

November 4 – Trials end; 303 Dakota are sentenced to death
—Incorrect – Not all of the 303 were Dakota.
—Incorrect – More Winnebago are tried at Mankato. More Dakota are tried at Fort Snelling.

November 9-10 – Sibley moves those sentenced to South Bend near Mankato
—Incorrect – They are moved to Camp Lincoln in Mankato.
—Incorrect – Sibley moved more than just those sentenced, to Mankato.

December 6 – Number of Dakota sentenced to be executed is reduced to 40 by authorization of President Lincoln.
—Incorrect – Lincoln reduced the number to 39.

[Main panel text]
The Minnesota River Valley was ripe for conflict in 1862.  Tensions between the Dakota people and the U.S. government had long been brewing over broken treaty promises and dramatic changes to Dakota traditional lifestyles. 
—Incorrect – Causes were many and more complicated that this.
—What does this mean – “dramatic changes to Dakota traditional lifestyles”?

By the 1860s, land that had once been home to the Dakota was filling up with farms and towns.  Cultural misunderstandings between the new neighbors added to the tensions.  When matters reached a boiling point in August of 1862, a council of Dakota leaders met to decide what to do.  The next morning, on August 18, some Dakota warriors attacked the Redwood (Lower Sioux) Agency, a remote government outpost along with the nearby trader’s stores, starting the war.
—What does this mean – “cultural misunderstandings”?
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in the decision to go to war.
—Incorrect – “trader’s” should be “traders’”
—Incorrect – They met because Dakota killed 5 white settlers.

The fighting soon encompassed all of southwestern Minnesota, with major battles at New Ulm, Fort Ridgely, Birch Coulee and Wood Lake.  Nothing was left untouched – not farms, remote settlements, small towns or Dakota villages.  By the time the Wood Lake battle was fought on September 23, more than 500 settlers, agency employees, traders, soldiers and others had lost their lives.  A smaller, unknown number of Dakota people also were killed during the fighting.
—Incorrect – The fighting encompassed more than just southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Major battles were also fought at other locations which are not given here.
—Unbalanced – Whites “lost their lives” while Dakota were “killed”
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed.
—Incorrect – There were farms and Dakota villages that were not touched.
—Unbalanced – Estimated Dakota losses should be provided.

Some of the Dakota surrendered and turned over their captives.  Others were captured by soldiers.  A military court, convened in the field, condemned over 300 Dakota men to death.  Eventually, 38 of them were hanged, and the remaining men were taken to a prison in Iowa.  Many did not survive the journey and their three-year sentences.
—Incorrect – Most of those at Camp Release did not surrender. They were not captured. They waited there for Sibley.
—Unbalanced – The white trial system is discussed. The Dakota trial system is not.
—Incorrect – Only those who had been sentenced but not hanged were taken to Iowa.
—How many died on the journey to the Iowa prison?
—Incorrect – The number that died in the Iowa prison is known.

 [A sketch] – “Life in the Minnesota River Valley in the 1860s.” This scene was near the Lower Sioux Agency.
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven where this camp was.
—Incorrect – If this was the Friendly Dakota camp, it was not typical Indian life.

[Map] – “Minnesota in 1862”
—Incorrect – These are not all of the Dakota villages.

Life changed forever for the Dakota living along the Minnesota River.  A small number who had assisted the government during the war were allowed to stay. But in the end, almost all Dakota were forced to leave their homeland. Those who had not engaged in battle – mostly women and children – were removed from their villages and taken to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling, where hundreds died during the winter of 1862-63.  Most of the survivors were forcibly moved to a reservation at Crow Creek in what is now South Dakota.  And the state government paid a bounty for any unauthorized Dakota person remaining in Minnesota.  Some of the exiled Dakota eventually returned to Minnesota.  But families were permanently broken apart, and many Dakota did not live to see their homeland again.
—Incorrect – Life changed forever for all Dakota not just for those living along the Minnesota River.
—Incorrect – There were Dakota who did not assist the government who stayed.
—Incorrect – Many Dakota fled. They were not taken to Mankato or Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – Those taken to Fort Snelling were not removed from their villages.  Most had already removed from their villages as a result of the war.
—Incorrect – The official U.S. Army count of deaths at Fort Snelling was 102.
—Incorrect – It was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – The state offered bounties for Dakota scalps because hostile Dakota were returning to the state, killing people and committing atrocities.
—Unbalanced – The Dakota also offered bounties for white scalps. See Samuel Brown’s statement in Through Dakota Eyes.
—Unbalanced – What happened to the white families after the war?  How many white families were broken apart or destroyed?

Of the immigrant settlers who had fled their homes during the fighting, some went back to their towns and homesteads.  Others never returned.
—Unbalanced – This text devoted to the whites is a pittance compared to the amount of text devoted to the Dakota.

A tragic event from all viewpoints, the U. S. – Dakota War of 1862 had repercussions far beyond Minnesota.  It led to other battles further west as the indigenous people fought to retain their homelands and way of life. 
—Incorrect – The Dakota War did not lead to other wars.  It was part of a series of Indian wars that started in the east.

Title: Taoyateduta Leads His People to War
Location: Renville County Park 2

The Minnesota River Valley has stories to tell about the indigenous people struggling to keep their land and their way of life, and about immigrant families who began new lives here.  Their stories came together with tragic consequences for all, in what has become known as the U.S-Dakota War of 1862 – a war that had repercussions for the whole country.
—Unbalanced – People have been in this valley for about 12,000 years.  Why doesn’t this history start with how the Dakota obtained this land? They killed members of other tribes and took their land.

On August 17, 1862, Dakota leaders held a series of councils to discuss going to war.  Earlier that day an incident in Acton Township had brought conditions to a crisis when young Dakota hunters killed five immigrants.  The council began at the Rice Creek village of Hoc’ okatduta (Red Middle Voice), then moved to the village of S’ akpedan (Little Six), where the Dakota leaders sent word to others…to meet at the house of Taoyateduta (Little Crow).  Throughout the night, they debated what to do.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota leaders were invited to this meeting. Only a few of the Dakota leaders made the decision to go to war.
—Is this correct that the five killed were immigrants? Weren’t they Americans?
—Incorrect – Taoyateduta does not translate to Little Crow.

[Photos of 6 Dakota leaders]
—Unbalanced – Where are the photos of white leaders?

But Taoyateduta had a duty to help his people.  Despite his reservations, they chose him to lead them.
—Incorrect – As stated above on this sign, he knew going to war would not help his people.

As daylight broke on August 18, a group of Dakota crept toward the Redwood Agency, its inhabitants unaware of imminent attack.
—Incorrect – They did not creep.  Their movements were obvious.
—Incorrect – There were residents of the Redwood Agency who were warned.

Little Crow’s words were written down by H. L. Gordon in 1891.  Gordon claimed to have heard them directly from Little Crow’s son, Wowinapa.
—What does this mean?  Does this invalidate what Little Crow said?
—Incorrect – History spells Little Crow’s son’s name, Wowinape.

Title: Surrounded at the Coulee
Location: Near Birch Coulee Monuments, Morton

—Wasteful – Why is text repeated here that can be found on more detailed signs on the Birch Coulee Battlefield a few miles away?
—There is wording in very small print at the bottom that cannot be read due to truncation.
—Incorrect – The Scenic Byways brochure says there is a sign on the Birch Coulee Battlefield.  I think the sign mentioned in the brochure, is this sign.

This monument was dedicated in 1894 as a testament to U.S. soldiers and civilians who fought and died in the Battle of Birch Coulee.  The U.S.–Dakota Conflict of 1862 started when Dakota Indians, frustrated over broken treaty promises and efforts to change their traditional way of living, made an attempt to drive out all the settlers of southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – It is called the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
—Incorrect – Causes were many and more complicated that this.
—Incorrect – A minority of the Dakota started this war

On Sunday, August 31, 1862, 170 U.S. soldiers and a few civilians, under command of Major Joseph R. Brown, moved upriver from Fort Ridgely…Their orders were to bury the dead, search for survivors and determine the whereabouts of the hostile Dakota.  They buried over 70 settlers, soldiers and traders over two days on both sides of the Minnesota River.  Seeing no signs of the Dakota, Grant set up camp at the head of Birch Coulee.  Brown re-crossed the river and joined Grant.
—Incorrect – They camped at the head of Birch Coulee on September 1st, their 2nd night out.
—Incorrect – The nearby Birch Coulee monument identifies Captain Grant as the commander of this detachment.  This sign disagrees with the monument.
—Something should be said of this monument, height, material, and why it was erected here.

[Photos of Wanmdi’ tan’ ka (Chief Big Eagle), Husasa (Chief Red Legs) and Mankato (Chief Blue Earth)]
—Unbalanced – There of photos of 3 Dakota leaders but only one photo of a white leader.
—Incorrect – His name was Chief Mankato.

Title: Solid Friendships
Location: Near Birch Coulee Monuments, Morton

—Incorrect – Dakota names on this monument are spelled differently than the same names on the monument.  No explanation is given for this.

Made of solid granite, the “Friendly Indian Monument” was dedicated in 1899 in honor of six Dakota Indians who befriended and protected government employees, immigrant settlers, missionaries, or aided soldiers during the United States – Dakota Conflict of 1862, most often at the risk of their own lives.
—Is there another kind of granite that is not solid?
—Incorrect – It should be the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

 [Photo of a hand-crafted circle with a turtle design]
—What does this mean?

[Photo of Snasna’win] – Snasna’win – Tinkling
Snasna’win purchased 14 year old Mary Schwandt for the price of a pony from a Dakota warrior and adopted her as her own during the United States – Dakota Conflict of 1862 to protect her from harm.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – The nearby monument gives her name as Snana. No explanation is given on the sign as to why her name is changed.

There are only 6 names on the “Friendly Indian Monument,” but many more aided those of white descent who are not listed here.
—Incorrect – Why are only 6 listed?

The two Morton monuments dedicated in the 1890’s portray the negative sentiments of many Minnesota citizens towards Dakota Indians after the United States – Dakota Conflict of 1862.  This is evidenced by the fact that the monuments were dedicated to the soldiers who fought at Birch Coulee and to those Dakota who aided the settlers, agency employees, or missionaries. There are no monuments here that commemorate those Dakota who strived to protect their families and homeland by participating in the Conflict.
—Incorrect – Dakota name translations are not consistent with other history books. See Anderson and Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.
—Unbalanced – There are no monuments for the hostile Dakota because they killed more than 650 innocent whites; some in the worst way imaginable.
—Incorrect – Was it a conflict or a war?

Title: Taken by Surprise
Location: Near Milford Monument

In the summer of 1862, after years of broken treaty promises and late payments that fueled growing tensions and conflict, some Dakota began an attempt to forcefully reclaim their homeland.  After attacking the Redwood (Lower Sioux) Agency on August 18…the Dakota moved toward New Ulm.  In their path stood a small settlement known as Milford.  There, unprepared for battle, 53 of Milford’s residents were killed in a single day…Following are some of their stories.
—Incorrect – Causes were many and more complicated that this.
—Is this correct? Exactly how many treaty payments were late?
—Incorrect – A small faction of the hostile Dakota began killing settlers between Fort Ridgely and New Ulm. 
—Unbalanced – No Milford residents were taken hostage. This needs to be mentioned.

[4 Milford family stories are told]

The Dakota, too, would pay a heavy price. An unknown number were killed during the six-week war, and hundreds more died later in prison camps or during their exile from the state.  There are few written accounts of those hardships.  Their stories remain to be told.
—Disrespectful – This sign should focus on what happened to these white families after the war not on what happened to the Dakota.

Title: Guardians of the Past
Location: Brown County Historical Society

[7 Dakota War era New Ulm buildings and their histories are given]
—Disrespectful – Buildings are being remembered.  Other signs give details on what happened to the Dakota during and after the war.  This would be the place to discuss the people of New Ulm, the battles, how the war affected these people during and after the war.

Title: The Evacuation of New Ulm
Location: Earthworks Landscape Supply parking lot, Highway 68, east of New Ulm

When the Second Battle of New Ulm ended on the morning of August 24, 1862…
—Incorrect – The 2nd Battle of New Ulm ended on August 23.

Drawing of the Evacuation Route
—What is the source of the evacuation route information?
—Incorrect – The symbols on the map are not used correctly according to the key.

Painting of Col. Charles Flandrau leading the New Ulm caravan…
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven that Gag, Heller and Schwendinger painted this.

Title: Exiled from their Homeland
Location: North 5th Street park, Henderson

In November of 1862, after the fighting of the U.S.-Dakota War had drawn to a close, those who had not engaged in battle – mostly women and children – were taken overland by U.S. soldiers from the Redwood (Lower Sioux) Agency to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling to await their fate.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.

Weeks earlier, in September, Dakota who could prove they had not joined in the war had already been moved from Camp Release to the Redwood Agency.  On November 7, they were forced to undertake another long, difficult journey to Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – Some who were innocent were in the group taken to Mankato.
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven they left the Lower Sioux Agency on November 7.
—Incorrect – They were not forced.
—Incorrect – This was not a long and difficult journey.

Escorted by three companies of armed U.S. soldiers, the group of 1,658 Dakota – women and children, along with a few, mostly elderly men – slowly made their way east.  For six days they labored on foot, by horseback and in wagons, subject to threats and attacks as they passed by angry and frightened residents. Some of the equally frightened Dakota captives were injured or killed along the way.
—Why would soldiers not be armed?
—Incorrect – There were also young men in this group.
—Incorrect – From Lower Sioux Agency, they went northeast to Fort Snelling.
—Disrespectful – They did not labor.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reported deaths.

Finally, on November 13, the survivors arrived at the fort and were confined in a fenced concentration camp along the river.  There they spent the harsh winter of 1862-63, enduring inadequate shelter, cold, hunger and disease.  More Dakota died that winter.
—Incorrect – “The survivors” suggests that many died – There is too much drama.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp. This wording is used to evoke memories of Nazi concentration camps.
—Incorrect – How harsh was the winter of 1862-63?
—Incorrect – Was the winter any colder at Fort Snelling than if they had been left at Camp Release? Were their tipis more inadequate for shelter at Fort Snelling?
—Incorrect – They were not starving.  They were furnished food, firewood, and medical attention.
—Unbalanced – How many whites died, starved and suffered that winter as a result of the Dakota War? How did the war affect residents of Henderson?

In the months and years that followed, most of the Dakota were exiled from their homeland along the Minnesota River to Crow Creek in what is now South Dakota.  Countless numbers died, families were broken apart, and the traditional way of life of the Dakota was largely destroyed.  The results of this forced, mass exile are still felt today.
—Incorrect – The sign must state why the Dakota were removed.
—Incorrect – They did not all live along the Minnesota River.
—Unbalanced – Hundreds of whites also died after the war.  Where is this discussed?
—Unbalanced – What about the white families that were broken apart?
—What does this mean – “are still felt today”?

Heartbreak at Henderson
Interpreter Samuel J. Brown rode with the wagon train to Fort Snelling.  In his journal he recorded this heart-rending scene. “I saw an enraged woman rush up to one of the wagons, snatch a nursing babe from its mother’s breast and dash it on the ground…[It] died a few hours later…”
—Unbalanced – Why was this white woman so angry that she did this?
—Unbalanced – Where are the graphic details on white babies that were killed?

Wicahpe wastewin (Good Star Woman) was eight years old in November 1862 when her family was moved to Fort Snelling.  Her father, on horseback, pulled a travois where his three daughters hidden under a buffalo skin.  Later, she recalled their fear passing through towns where “the people brought poles, pitchforks and axes and hit some of the women and children in the wagons.
—Unbalanced – Why were the whites so angry?
—Unbalanced – Where are the graphic details on how the whites were treated by the hostile Dakota?
—Note that her father rode a horse and the children rode on a travois. It has been suggested that the Dakota marched to Fort Snelling. Many rode.

[Early map of Henderson] – Dotted lines mark the route through town taken by the Dakota as they were moved from the Redwood Agency to the concentration camp at Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp
—Incorrect – The dotted lines show their entry to Henderson but not their exit.

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