“The Great Treasure of the Fort Snelling Prison Camp”
By William Millikan
Minnesota History Magazine, Spring 2010
Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press
Items of Interest
The “great treasure” is the script that was owned by Dakota half-breed men, women and children in the Fort Snelling internment camp following the Dakota War of 1862.
This is an interesting essay on the “half-breed strip” created in the 1830 Treaty, conversion of this land to “script” and how this scrip was purchased by white investors and used to purchase land investments.
- The theme is the Dakota half-breeds had something of value – script – and ended up with nothing, while the whites capitalized on their script and became rich.
- The author draws conclusions that cannot be proven. We don’t know how much was paid for this script. We don’t know how this money was used by the half-breeds. We don’t know how many in the Fort Snelling camp sold script. We don’t know how many used their script and did not go through brokers. We don’t know how much if any profit was made by those buying script.
- In 1862, half-breed Gabriel Renville had a farm on the north side of the Minnesota River near the Upper Sioux Agency. He likely used script to buy this land. Joseph R. Brown married half-breed Susan Frenier. Brown probably used scrip owned by Susan and their children to buy land east of Gabriel Renville. How many others used their scrip to buy land?
- What if no one bought script? Obviously buying script was a needed service.
Most Objectionable Statements
Minnesota’s beleaguered population on edge since the U.S.-Dakota War broke out on August 17 could now hope that the Dakota would be driven from the state.
—Incorrect – The war started on August 18.
[Photo] – “Fort Snelling prison camp…”
—Incorrect – Fort Snelling was not a prison camp; it was an internment camp.
The next move was Ramsey’s. On November 6 he admitted that more than 1,000 Dakota implicated in the “outrages are now at large and 30,000 disaffected Indians are waiting for a long sought opportunity to strike a blow at the settlements.”
—Incorrect – Both numbers are exaggerations.
…the largest mass execution in U.S. history…
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
—Unbalanced – This was also the largest mass-murder of civilians by Indians in U.S. history.
A separate procession of more than 1,600 women, children, elders, and “friendly” Dakota men walked slowly toward Steele’s fort [Fort Snelling].
—Incorrect – There were many horses and wagons in this procession. If they walked, it was because they chose to walk. They had oxen whose top-speed was about 2 miles an hour.
The deadly march had brought an unlikely treasure to the fort…
—Incorrect – It is not known how many died on this march. Without this information, it can not be called a “deadly march.”
[Article 10 of the Treaty of 1830 gave 640 acres to Dakota half-breeds. This land was set aside in a 15 by 32 mile “half-breed strip” west of Lake Pepin. This strip contained a little over 320,000 acres. Few settled on this land. About 1854, the U.S. issued “script” to half-breed men, women and children in place of this land. The half-breeds could use this script to purchase land elsewhere or they could sell their script.]
For a negligible sum, the owner would sell his or her script…
—Incorrect – If we don’t know what was paid, how can we say it was “negligible”?
Even the solace of their religion had been stripped away. As Presbyterian missionary John P. Williamson observed, “The leading medicine men have either fled or been convicted, the women and children and remnant of the men are left without a priest and without a god.” The defeated Dakota, their way of life shattered, were now ripe for conversion to Christianity.
—Included is a lengthy discussion about Christianity and the Dakota Indians. What does this have to do with scrip?
—Incorrect – The author implies these Dakota were so weak that without their religious leaders, they converted to Christianity. They converted to Christianity because they believed they lost the war because the God of the whites was more powerful than their own gods.
[The inventory for the half breeds in the Fort Snelling camp showed 112 half breeds in 30 families owned 11 horses, 16 oxen, and 14 wagons.]
—This suggests that many may have ridden from Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling rather than walking as indicated above.
Now with the Hazelwood mixed-blood community imprisoned below his fort, Steele bypassed Riggs and began purchasing the scrip.
—Incorrect – Members of the former Hazelwood community were here.
By May 1863, all prisoners were removed from Minnesota…
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were prisoners. Not all were removed from the state.
Gabriel Renville, desperately seeking a way out of prison, suggested to Sibley “that some mixed bloods be picked out as scouts and sent to the Redwood Agency.”
—Incorrect – I disagree that this was a desperate move.
—Incorrect – This was not a prison.
On February 26, 1863, Gabriel Renville and 36 other men rode away from Fort Snelling…
—Incorrect – Their families were also with them.
On June 16, 1863, however, Gen. Sibley left Camp Pope on his summer campaign to punish the Dakota that had fled onto the plains.
—Incorrect – He left to punish the hostile Dakota who had fled.
For the next two years, the scouts searched for the remnants of Little Crow’s forces in the territory.
—Incorrect – For much of this time, they guarded against incursions of hostile Dakota into Minnesota.
Joining the ranks of Sibley’s scouts offered a livelihood plus the safety of the U. S. Army.
—Is this correct that they joined Sibley’s scouts for the safety of the U.S. Army?
Many of these men, never associated with the Christian missionaries were willing to sell their scrip to anyone who offered cash.
—Is this correct that many never associated with the missionaries?
…the fort’s inmates had yielded more that 8,000 acres of it…
—Is this correct? See my later comments why this cannot be proven.
Sibley’s contention that Renville left the prison camp destitute suggests that he was paid little or nothing. [for his script]
—Incorrect – Based on Sibley’s statement, it cannot be proven what Renville was paid for his script.
Did the Renvilles trade their scrip for their freedom? There is no direct evidence to establish what really happened.
—Incorrect – If there is no evidence, why suggest this?
By 1867 Thomas Renville, who had earned $1 a day as a scout during the war years, had retired to the Lake Traverse reservation in Dakota Territory. He owned one horse.
—What does this mean?
[In California] High above the river, 640 acres of the finest redwoods were located with Elizabeth LaBathe’s complete set of script, obtained by Steele at the Fort Snelling prison camp.
—Incorrect – Elizabeth was a daughter of my great-great-grandfather, Francois LaBathe. She was never in the Fort Snelling camp. She, her siblings and other half-breeds lived among the whites. If the author included their script in the 15,000 acres of script obtained from the Fort Snelling camp, this is incorrect.
The legacy of the Fort Snelling prison camp and its treasure also left a permanent mark on Dakota Territory.
—What does this mean?
On February 19, 1867, Gabriel Renville, now chief of the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota, signed a treaty establishing a new reservation…article five dictated the apportionment of the reservation into tracts of 160 acres for agricultural subsistence. The treaty assured the demise of tribal culture.
—What does this mean that this treaty assured the demise of tribal culture?
Jared W. Daniels wrote Bishop Henry Whipple that he “had know them for thirteen years…and never, at any time, was there so much suffering and utter destitution. The majority of them were without food or clothing and were living on roots”…The financial benefits of the half breed script had flowed almost entirely to white Minnesota businessmen, just as the 1854 legislation that created it had intended.
—What does this mean? Does the author think that the half-breed script should have saved them from starving? Maybe it already had saved them from starving?
—Incorrect – These were not all half-breeds on this reservation.
—Why were they living without food or clothing?
—Is this correct – No one on this reservation had script remaining.
—Incorrect – The intent of the 1854 legislation was to allow the half-breeds to purchase land for farms wherever they chose. If not for the Dakota War of 1862, many more may have used their script for this purpose.