Review – Survival at Crow Creek

“Survival at Crow Creek, 1863-1866,”
By Colette A. Hyman
Minnesota History Magazine, winter 2008-09
Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press

Items of Interest

Crow Creek was a terrible place. Many Dakota men, women and children suffered, starved and died there.  Some of my Dakota ancestors were there.

General Comments

  • Incorrect – Minnesota Historical Society Press is another MHS department that produces products related to the Dakota War. As will be seen in this review and other reviews, MHS Press does not verify the accuracy of these products.
  • Unbalanced – Use of words such as ruthless policies, colonization, genocidal, ethnic cleansing, etc. set the tone of the article.  The true story was sad enough.  It does not need to be embellished with incorrect and half-correct statements.
  • Unbalanced – The author fails to state why Dakota were imprisoned, hanged and exiled. Hostile Dakota killed more than 650 whites; some in the worst way imaginable. 

Most objectionable Statements

A large vat was constructed…in connexion with the steam saw-mill, with a pipe leading from the boiler into the vat. Into this vat, reservation personnel threw the beef, entrails, some beans, flour, and pork…Indian women brought buckets to be filled…[The author writes,] this substance embodies both the brutal conditions of Dakota existence on that reservation and the ruthless polices of U.S. military and civilian officials that structured those conditions.
—Unbalanced – The author views this mixture from a modern perspective. I have sources that state the Dakota commonly ate the entrails of various animals.

The cottonwood soup story also raise questions about the meaning of survival under colonization. Genocidal attacks on the Dakota placed survivors in untenable situations where remaining alive meant more suffering and pain – for oneself and one’s family.
—Incorrect – If the U.S. practiced genocide, all of the Dakota at Camp Release would have been killed. 

It [exile to Crow Creek] left a large group of them to survive largely on their own, without the assistance of able-bodied men.
—Incorrect – There were some able-bodied men in this camp.

…the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors at Mankato, the imprisonment of the remaining adult men at Davenport, and the westward deportation of the women, children, and elders…
—Incorrect – Not all 38 were Dakota.
—Incorrect – Not all of the remaining adult men were imprisoned at Davenport.
—Incorrect – Not all of the women, children and elders were deported.
—Incorrect – Not all of those deported were women, children and elders.

 The legacies of the removal to Crow Creek remain very present for the Dakota people to this day.
—Incorrect – No one can say what Crow Creek means to “the Dakota people” today.

Dakota communities remain scattered across three states and two Canadian provinces.
—Incorrect – There are Dakota communities in at least 5 states.

Consequently, native speakers of the Dakota language constitute a very small and elderly group, and much of the traditional knowledge about physical and spiritual survival has been lost.
—What does “native speakers” mean?
—Incorrect – Many, not just elders, speak Dakota and more are learning.
—Is this correct that “much of the traditional knowledge about physical and spiritual survival has been lost?” What about the Dakota in Canada?

While almost all of these communities are scarred by exceptionally high rates of poverty, illness, substance abuse, and suicide, Crow Creek Reservation today holds the distinction of occupying the poorest county in the United States.
—Incorrect – What about the casino rich Dakota communities in Minnesota.
—Is this correct that Crow Creek occupies the poorest county in the U.S.?  What about Pine Ridge?

Because of the central place of the Crow Creek internment in Dakota history and its ongoing consequences, the years at Crow Creek warrant close and careful study.”
—What does this mean?  Can anyone say that Crow Creek occupies the central place?  What are its ongoing consequences?

In addition, this chapter of Dakota history also explains a great deal about how loss of land base, economic autonomy, and cultural self-determination affected Dakota women…
—What does “economic autonomy” and “cultural self-determination” mean?

Native women…have faced…the presence of whites using Christianity to erase tribal cultures.
—Incorrect – Dakota and Dakota mixed-bloods were also clergy.
—Incorrect – When Dakota chose to convert to Christianity, their culture was not erased.

Understanding Dakota women’s lives at Crow Creek also provides insight into what survival might mean for women whose nations have been subjected to genocidal policies and actions.
—What does this mean – genocidal policies and actions?
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota killed more than 650 whites during the Dakota War. Was this a “genocidal policy or action?”
—Incorrect – If the U.S. had a genocidal policy towards the Dakota Indians, the U.S. would have killed all of the Indians at Camp Release.

While conditions at Crow Creek might have been extreme, they suggest nonetheless more general conclusions about the experience of colonization for Native women in North America and about the implications and complexity of survival under colonization.
—Incorrect – Crow Creek was a result of the Dakota War of 1862, not colonization.

The lands along the southwest edge of the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi River valley are the birthplace and homeland of the Dakota people.
—Incorrect – The Dakota were in this area. But, no one knows where they came from.

“the Dakota subsisted during the summer from women’s gathering and small-scale horticulture and during the winter from men’s hunting…”
—Incorrect – The men hunted and fished year-round.

As game became scarcer and European American farmers more abundant in Dakota homelands, however, the Dakota’s semi-nomadic lifeways came under increasing threat. In 1851 these pressures, combined with continuing entreaties from the U.S. government, persuaded the Dakota to cede their lands in exchange for a reservation and annuity payments.
—Incorrect – They received much more than a reservation and annuity payments.
—Incorrect – The Sisseton and Wahpeton bands sold their land because they had over-hunted their fur-bearing animals and they were starving.

The growing presence of European American settlers establishing farms and pastures reduced the habitats of plants and animals that the Dakota required for survival and also reduced access to the forests and streams that had sustained them.
—Incorrect – This settlement was on land ceded to the U.S.

Meanwhile, on the reservation, conditions deteriorated. The farms established by Indian agents failed to produce enough to enough to support reservation populations, and annuity payments were frequently delayed and often seized by Indian traders claiming payment for credit extended to their Dakota customers.
—Incorrect – Conditions didn’t deteriorate.  They gradually improved.
—Incorrect – Two acts of Nature caused the food shortage in 1862: In 1861, cut-worms destroyed many reservation crops. The winter of 1861-62 was very severe. Winter hunts were poor.
—Is this correct that annuity payments were frequently late. Prove this.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – Name the traders and show proof that they seized annuity payments.

In the summer of 1862 a severe drought accentuated these conditions, as did the Civil War, which further delayed annuity payments and distribution of needed food supplies.
—Incorrect – There was not a severe drought in 1862.
—Incorrect – The Civil War may have been one of the reasons the payment was delayed.
—Incorrect – Food was issued to the upper Dakota.

In late August, driven by starvation conditions and anger at traders with warehouses full of grain, Dakota warriors went to war against the United States.
—Incorrect – Hunger was one of many primary causes of the Dakota War of 1862.
—Is this correct? Prove that the traders had warehouses and that they were full of grain.
—Disrespectful – The conflict between some Dakota and the traders needs more explanation.
—Incorrect – Hostile Dakota didn’t just go to war with the U.S.; they killed innocent civilians across the frontier.

Approximately 2,200 Dakota surrendered…
—Incorrect – Many in this camp were friendly; they did not surrender.

The warriors were disarmed and tried before a military commission…Three hundred and three…received the death sentence, after “trials” that lasted little more than a few minutes.
—Incorrect – Not all of the warriors were disarmed.
—Unbalanced – The author does not discuss the Dakota trial system – there wasn’t one.
—Incorrect – Not all trials lasted a little more than a few minutes.

The army moved the warriors to Mankato, where 38 were hanged on December 26, after President Lincoln reviewed and shortened the list of the condemned.
—Incorrect – Not all of the warriors were moved to Mankato.
—Incorrect – Lincoln had others review the list.

The remaining warriors were kept in chains at Mankato until May, when they were removed to Camp McClellan in Davenport, where they would remain imprisoned for three years.
—Incorrect – Not all at Mankato were removed to Davenport.
—Incorrect – Not all at Davenport were imprisoned for 3 years.

Before the hangings, in November 1862, the U.S. army forcibly marched the Dakota women, and children, and elders who had surrendered from the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton, to Fort Snelling on the Mississippi.
—Incorrect – They were not forcibly marched.
—Incorrect – These were the innocent Dakota. They did not surrender.
—Incorrect – There were able-bodied Dakota men in this group.

In the wind and cold, under the taunts and violence of white men and women in towns along the way, this group of Dakota walked the 150 miles to the fort.
—Is this correct that it was windy and cold?
—Incorrect – There was violence in Henderson but no mention of any other towns.
—Incorrect – Most if not all rode on horseback or in wagons.
—Incorrect – The distance was about 100 miles.

They remained imprisoned there in a disease-ridden enclosure throughout the winter, subsisting on rations of crackers, flour, and salt pork.
—Incorrect – They were given the same rations as the soldiers. See Monjeau-Marz, The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864.

While a December 2 military census counted 1,601 Dakota prisoners at Fort Snelling, only 1,318 remained alive in May 1863.
—Incorrect – See Monjeau-Marz, The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864.

Of the 1601 Dakota counted that December…122 were “half-breeds” without tribal affiliation. The remaining 1,051 were Mdewakantunwan.
—Incorrect – There were 112 half-breeds and 1,061 Mdewakanton.

On February 16, 1863, Congress enacted legislation that abrogated all treaties with the four bands of Dakota, dissolved their reservation, and terminated all other treaty rights. On March 3 Congress passed a law that, among other things, called on the president to establish a reservation for the Dakota beyond the limits of white settlement.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Unbalanced – I believe the March 3 legislation also established farms for friendly Dakota.

Little was in place to provide for the dispossessed Indians, who, after a winter in a crowded, disease-ridden enclosure with inadequate rations and medical care, had found themselves on a terrifying trip to an unknown destination… Of the 1,318 Dakota deported from the fort in May 1863, only 176 were adult men; 536 were women and 606 children.
—Incorrect – Prove there were inadequate rations. Prove there was adequate medical attention. See Monjeau-Marz, The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling
—Incorrect – Were these adult men or elderly men as stated above?

In a letter to his mother, he [John P. Williamson] wrote that the Indians were “chained two and two…crowded like slaves” on the Middle Passage between Africa and America.
—Incorrect – Williamson did not write anything about chains being used. The truth was sad enough; it does not need to be embellished.

[Photo] – “Little Crow’s wife and two children at the Fort Snelling prison compound”
—Incorrect – She was one of Little Crow’s wives.
—Incorrect – It was not a prison; it was an internment camp.

[At Crow Creek]There were no doctors, and the Indians did the best they could with their Indian medicine.
—Is this correct that there were no doctors at Crow Creek?

If women were still harvesting medicinal plants in the early decades of the twentieth century, it is most likely that their mothers and grandmothers had gathered them while in captivity at Crow Creek in the 1860s.
—Incorrect – This would be difficult to prove. Many Dakota women were not at Crow Creek.

[Footnote 3] – The Eastern Dakota, whose homelands ranged from the Great Lakes to the Missouri River, have received little scholarly attention…
—Incorrect – When this was published, I had at least 3 feet of books with information on the Eastern Sioux or Dakota Indians. I have more than this today.

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