Review – Return to Shetek

Return to Shetek: The Courage of the Fool Soldiers
A video by Barbara Britain
Reviewed on December 24, 2007 

Items of interest

On August 20, 1862, hostile Dakota attacked the Lake Shetek settlement. The settlers took shelter in a cabin. Deceived by the Dakota, they left the cabin and started toward New Ulm. The Dakota overtook them and attacked again. Survivors fled into a nearby slough (Slaughter Slough). The Dakota took captives who were later rescued by friendly Lakota (Fool Soldiers). In all, some 13-14 white men, women and children were killed. One Dakota was reported killed. 

One of the themes in this video is reconciliation. This idea is not new. Minnesota and South Dakota governors declared 1987, the “Year of Reconciliation.” But reconciliation does not work because it means different things to different people. You can not reconcile what you did not have. Understanding is a better word. We should strive to understand all sides of the Dakota War of 1862 with accuracy, balance and respect. 

The author’s ancestors had different encounters with 2 different groups of Indians – those who killed and took hostages and those who rescued hostages and saved lives. 

I found the video to be very well done.  This is a good story and we need more stories like this to understand that there were friendly Indians as well as hostile Indians. 

General Comments

  • The Dakota War was not just a war between the Dakota and the whites. It was also a war of words between the hostile Dakota who wanted war and the friendly Dakota who opposed war.
  • The white settlers did nothing wrong. The hostile Dakota were not justified in killing more than 650 whites.

Most Objectionable Statements

As white settlers came, Dakota were being forced out. The Lake Shetek settlers came when this was Indian Country.
—Incorrect – The Dakota sold this land in the Treaties of 1851. This was no longer Dakota land when the Lake Shetek settlers arrived. 

Grandpa Charley persecuted the Indians.
—Those Dakota who attacked the Lake Shetek settlement should be persecuted.  Those Lakota who rescued the Lake Shetek white hostages should be praised.

The Dakota thought the Great Spirit created land for all people. How could whites fence and claim and prevent them from picking berries. The Indians did not believe in land ownership.
—Incorrect – Dakota villages and bands claimed land and defended it. The Dakota did not believe the individual could own land.

The Dakota’s main article of food was game they hunted.
—Incorrect – They also ate fish, fruits, grains and vegetables.

In August 1862, the Dakota waited for food.
—Incorrect – Many did but many didn’t.  Not all Dakota were starving.

On August 18, food was delivered to Lower Agency
—Is this correct? I believe the food was already there waiting for the gold to arrive.

Myrick told them to eat grass.
—Incorrect – This is an incomplete statement. Dakota wanted Myrick to pay for grass and wood he was using. Myrick learned that many planned to refuse to pay their debts when the annuity money arrived.

The first man killed was Indian Agent Andrew Myrick
—Incorrect – Myrick was not the Indian Agent. He was a fur trader.
—Incorrect – Myrick was not the first man killed.

The crooked Indian Agent started the war
—Disrespectful – Show proof that the Indian Agent was crooked and that he started the war.

The Lake Shetek settlers were attacked because the Dakota were hungry.
—Incorrect – If they were hungry, they could have demanded food and then left. They did not have to kill innocent people. This was a general war across the frontier. Some killed everyone.  Some killed only the men.  Some took captives – generally women and children.

The Dakota attacked because they wanted horses.
—Incorrect – If they wanted horses, they did not have to continue the attack after the settlers fled into the slough. They could have taken the horses and left.

The Dakota were friendly for a few years after the settlers arrived. By 1862, the Dakota had legitimate grievances. They were hungry. They were angry because of their treatment by the U.S. The Dakota went to war to protect their way of life. The settlers were invaders.
—Incorrect – Hunger was one of many primary causes of the Dakota War.
—Incorrect – The Dakota were not all hungry. They were not all angry.
—Incorrect – Not all “the Dakota” went to war.
—Incorrect – The settlers were not invaders. They settled on land purchased by the U.S. in the 1851 Treaties.
—Unbalanced – When the Dakota migrated into this area, they killed members of other tribes and took their land. They were invaders.

The descendants of the Lake Shetek victims had feelings of hostilities and anger.
—They should have feelings of hostilities and anger. Hostile Dakota killed some 13-14 settlers.

Indian deaths at Lake Shetek are not included on the Lake Shetek monument.
—These were murderers of innocent civilians. Their names should not be on the same monument as their victims. This would dishonor the victims.

White captives were taken in order to keep them alive. At first, captives were beaten by some of their abductors and then they were protected
—Incorrect – If they had wanted to keep them alive, they would not have attacked. They never would have beaten them.

This video promotes reconciliation.
—See my previous comments on reconciliation.
—Reconciliation with the Fool Soldiers’ descendants is not the right word.  Words like reunion and appreciation would be better words.
—Reconciliation with the Dakota descendants of those who attacked is not the right word. Understanding and forgiveness would be better words.  For this to work, the feeling has to be mutual on both sides.
—Reconciliation, understanding and forgiveness cannot occur as long as people in this video use such terms as “white invaders” and “cultural genocide.”

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