Dakota War of 1862
By Bingham Hall
Reviewed on May 6, 2013
Items of Interest
Bingham Hall is a Bed and Breakfast in New Ulm.
This is one of few Dakota War products that includes atrocities committed by Hostile Dakota and aftermath of the war for whites.
- Complicated subjects are not given enough text.
Most Objectionable Statements
The Dakota War of 1862 was an armed conflict between the United States and several eastern bands of the Dakota people (also called the Santee Sioux) which began on August 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota.
—Incorrect – In 1862, the Dakota or Sioux had 7 bands. The 4 eastern bands were the Santee.
—Incorrect – The war began on August 18.
—Incorrect – The August 17 murders in Acton Township were not along the Minnesota River.
Skirmishes in the following weeks claimed hundreds of lives. The number of Native American dead is unknown, while estimates of settlers who died range between 300 and 800—one of the largest tolls on American civilians to ever occur. The conflict also resulted in the largest mass execution in U.S. history, when 38 Dakota men, convicted of murder and rape, were hanged…This was the first major armed engagement between the U.S. and Dakota…
—About 145 Dakota were killed and more than 650 whites were killed.
—Incorrect – This was the largest mass-murder of white civilians by Indians in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – Dakota joined the British against the U.S. in the War of 1812.
In 1851, the U.S. and Dakota leaders negotiated the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Treaty of Mendota, ceding vast amounts of land in Minnesota Territory. In exchange for money and goods, the Dakota agreed to live on a twenty mile…wide reservation on a 150 mile stretch of the upper Minnesota River…the United States Senate deleted Article 3 of each treaty…Much of the promised compensation never arrived, was lost or was effectively stolen due to corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and wrongful conduct by traders.
—Incorrect – They received much more than money and goods.
—Incorrect – The 2 reservations combined were 20 wide and about 150 miles long.
—Article 3 gave them ownership of these reservations.
—Incorrect – Prove that promised compensation never arrived, was lost or stolen.
Disrespectful – Prove there was corruption in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Disrespectful – Prove there was wrongful conduct by the traders.
…in 1858, representatives of several Dakota bands led by Chief Taoyateduta (commonly known as Chief Little Crow) traveled to Washington D.C., to make further negotiations…The northern half of the reservation…was lost…This was a major blow to the standing of Little Crow in the Dakota community.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not own the reservations on the north side of the river. In 1858, they were given ownership to the reservations on the south side of the river.
—Incorrect – Little Crow lost favor because almost all of the Lower Sioux treaty money went to pay debts owed to the fur traders.
…the ceded land was quickly being divided up into townships and individual plots for settlement…wild game like bison, elk, whitetail deer, and bear had been hunted so intensively that populations were tiny compared to the populations before Euro-American settlement. The Dakota people of southern and western Minnesota relied on the sale of valuable furs to American traders to earn cash needed to buy necessities.
—Incorrect – Not all of the ceded land was quickly divided.
—Incorrect – Henry Sibley noted by the mid-1830s, there was a noticeable decline in the fur bearing animals. This was due to over-hunting by the Dakota and other Indians, not the whites.
—Incorrect – If the last sentence is referring to the Dakota Minnesota reservations era, some of the better hunters were bringing in good quantities of furs. If hunts were unsuccessful, they relied on farming, treaty benefits or credits from the fur traders.
Payments guaranteed by the treaties were not made, due to Federal preoccupation with the American Civil War. Most land in the river valley was not arable, and hunting could no longer support the Dakota community. Losing land to new white settlers, non-payment, past broken treaties, plus food shortages and famine following crop failure led to great discontent among the Dakota people.
—Incorrect – The treaty payments in 1861 were a few days late. The treaty payments in 1862 were late. The Civil War may have been the cause.
—Incorrect – Today, there are many farms on the former Dakota reservations. I would not call this land arable.
—Hunting on the reservations never could support all of the Dakota. This is why many left the reservations to hunt.
—Incorrect – They did not lose their land; they sold their land.
On August 4, representatives of the northern Sisseton and Wahpeton bands met at the Upper Sioux Agency…They successfully negotiated to obtain food. However, when the southern Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Dakota turned to the Lower Sioux Agency for supplies…they were rejected. Indian Agent (and Minnesota State Senator) Thomas Galbraith…would not distribute food without payment. At a meeting…the Dakota asked lead trader Andrew Myrick to support their cause. His response was blunt. “So far as I’m concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung.”
—Incorrect – Galbraith was not a senator.
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not ask Andrew Myrick to support their cause. The agent asked the fur traders if they would issue food on credit.
—Disrespectful – Myrick was angry. He learned that Dakota planned to refuse to pay their debts when the treaty money came. Any additional credit he extended, he would lose.
…The delayed money for the tribes arrived in St. Paul…on August 16, arriving at Fort Ridgely the next day…
—Incorrect – The money arrived at Fort Ridgely on August 18.
Most accounts trace the beginning of the Dakota Conflict to the killing of five whites by four young Dakota men on Sunday, August 17, 1862. The Dakotas had been hunting, but ended up stealing food from the settlement of Acton in Meeker County…Soon, they had killed several of the settlers, including women. This event caused an uproar among the Santee Sioux…
—Incorrect – Acton was not the beginning of the war; it was one of the causes.
—Incorrect – We don’t know if they stole food.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were in an uproar. Many did not know this had happened.
—Incorrect – The word Sioux is derogatory to many Dakota.
On August 18, Chief Little Crow led a group that attacked numerous white settlers at the Lower Sioux Agency…several buildings at the site were torched…An initial Minnesota militia force that was sent to suppress the uprising only resulted in a defeat of Minnesota troops in the Battle of Redwood Ferry. At least 44 deaths occurred that day.
—Incorrect – All of the buildings were torched. Walls of 2 buildings survived.
—Incorrect – This was U.S. army not Minnesota militia.
—Incorrect – About 37 whites were killed at the Agency and Redwood Ferry. 7 were killed while fleeing. Many more were killed on that day across the frontier.
…the Sioux would continue on to attack…New Ulm on August 19. Dakota warriors decided not to attack the heavily-defended Fort Ridgely along the river, instead turning toward the town and killing many white settlers along the way…
—Incorrect – On the morning of August 19, Fort Ridgely was not heavily defended. The Dakota, not knowing this, moved on to attack New Ulm.
—Incorrect – Settlers between Fort Ridgely and New Ulm had either fled or had been killed on August 18.
The military compound Fort Ridgely was later attacked in the Battle of Fort Ridgely on August 22. White settlers sustained fairly heavy casualties in both cases.
—Incorrect – Fort Ridgely was attacked on August 20 and on August 22.
In the meantime, there were also raids on farms and small settlements throughout the south central part of Minnesota and eastern Dakota Territory. Initial counter-attacks by Minnesota troops resulted in another defeat of white soldiers at Battle of Birch Coulee on September 2.
—Incorrect – Dakota attacks were mainly in southwestern and western Minnesota.
—Incorrect – The group ambushed at Birch Coulee was not part of a counter-attack.
The Battle of Birch Coulee began when a large group of Dakota attacked a detachment of 150 U.S. soldiers at Birch Coulee…The detachment had been sent out to find survivors, bury the dead, and report on the location of Dakota fighters. A three-hour firefight began with an early morning assault. Thirteen United States soldiers were killed and 47 were wounded, while two Sioux were killed. A column of 240 soldiers from Fort Ridgely relieved the detachment at Birch Coulee that afternoon. Fort Ridgely was defended by Companies “B” & “C” of the 5th Minnesota Infantry August 20–22, 1862.
—Incorrect – There were also civilians in the group attacked at Birch Coulee.
—Incorrect – Heaviest firing lasted about an hour. Firing became irregular, an occasional volley, then scattering shots, and then for a time it would stop altogether; then heavy firing, from new direction. This continued for about 31 hours.
—Incorrect – The camp was relieved by many more than 240 soldiers from Fort Ridgely.
—Incorrect – The last sentence is in the wrong place and it is incorrect.
…President Abraham Lincoln appointed General John Pope…to quell the violence. Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey also instructed Colonel Henry Sibley…to aid in the effort.
—Incorrect – Sibley and his army men arrived at Fort Ridgely prior to the Battle of Birch Coulee and prior to Pope being placed in command.
…The final large-scale fighting took place in the Battle of Wood Lake on Sept 23, 1862. According to the official report of Lt. Col. William R. Marshall…The 7th [Regiment] lost 1 man killed; 3 wounded or injured while Indian casualties amounted to 7 killed.
—Incorrect – Total white deaths amounted to more than this in the battle.
Records conclusively show that more than 500 soldiers and settlers died in the conflict, though many more may have died in small raids or after being captured. Estimates for U.S. losses range up to 800, though there is no accurate accounting of deaths on either side of the conflict.
—More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.
Six weeks later, 303 Sioux prisoners were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunals and sentenced to death. Some trials lasted less than 5 minutes, and the Dakotas had no one to explain the proceedings to them or to represent them. President Lincoln reviewed the trial records and distinguished between those who had engaged in warfare against the United States and those who had committed the crimes of rape or murder of civilians. He approved of the execution of 39 of the latter, and commuted the death sentences of the others. The 38, for whom the evidence seemed strongest, were executed by hanging in a single day on December 26, 1862, in Mankato.
—Incorrect – Most of the 303 were convicted of participating in battles.
—Incorrect – In these type of trials, it was not required that the defendants be provided counsel.
—Incorrect – President Lincoln had others review trial transcripts.
—Incorrect – Not all of the 38 raped and murdered civilians.
—Incorrect – One of the 39 was saved from hanging.
—See Bachman, Northern Slave – Black Dakota for more on the trials.
The mass execution was…the largest execution in the history of the United States.
—Incorrect – It is the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. History.
The remaining convicted Indians stayed in prison that winter. The following spring, they were transferred to Rock Island, Illinois…where they were held in a prison for almost four years. By the time of their release, one third of the Indians had died of disease. The survivors were sent with their families to Nebraska.
—Incorrect – Not all of those at Mankato were transferred to Rock Island.
—Incorrect – After about 3 years, all were released. Some had been released earlier.
—Incorrect – I believe they died from disease and other causes.
—Incorrect – They joined their families in Nebraska.
As a result of the war, the U.S. government abolished the reservation, declared all previous treaties with the Dakota null and void, and undertook proceedings to expel the Dakota people entirely from Minnesota. To this end, a bounty of $25 per scalp was placed on virtually any Dakota found free within the boundaries of the state. The only exceptions to this were 208 Mdewakanton “friendlies” who sat out and even helped to protect a few white settlers in the conflict.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were expelled from Minnesota.
—Unbalanced – The Dakota also offered bounties for white scalps.
—Incorrect – These “friendlies” were not all Mdewakanton.
1,300 to 1,700 Dakota people were rounded up and held through the winter of 1862–1863 in a compound described as a “log jail” by contemporary observers, and as a “concentration camp” by modern historians. This compound was located on Pike Island below Fort Snelling. In the spring, the camp was moved…prior to the mass removal of these people to Nebraska and South Dakota…More than 130 Dakota died in the camp and subsequent removal.
—Incorrect – The actual number was between 1600 and 1700.
—Incorrect – This was not a log jail or a concentration camp. Not all modern historians call this a concentration camp.
—Is this correct that it was located on Pike Island?
—Incorrect – Not all were removed.
—Incorrect – None of these people were removed to Nebraska.
—Incorrect – Hundreds died in the camp and subsequent removal. The exact number cannot be determined.
[Photo] – “Alexander Goodthunder and his wife Snana”
—Incorrect – His name was Andrew Goodthunder.
Taoyateduta was forced to flee from the fighting about a month after the conflict began…He was killed on July 3, 1863…while gathering raspberries with his teenage son. The pair had wandered onto the land of white settler Nathan Lamson, who shot at them hoping to collect the bounties.
—Incorrect – Little Crow fled after the Battle of Wood Lake.
—Incorrect – This was not Nathan Lamson’s land.
—Incorrect – Bounties were not being offered when Little Crow was killed.
…Taoyateduta’s son (who was captured in the incident) was at one time condemned to die, but later had that sentence commuted to a prison term.
—Incorrect – His son was not captured at this time.
—Is this correct that he had been at one time condemned to die?
By the 1880s, a number of Dakota had trickled back to the Minnesota River valley…They were joined by several families from the Wahpekute Dakota who had been living under the protection of Bishop Whipple and the trader Alexander Faribault. The small Lower Sioux Indian Reservation was reestablished at the site of the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton…
—Is this correct that they were joined by Wahpekute Dakota who had been living under the protection of Bishop Whipple?
—Incorrect – The Lower Sioux Reservation was reestablished to the west of the Lower Sioux Agency which was across the river from present-day Morton.
[Refer to website for “Aftermath (Euro-American)”]
This genre of eyewitness description now requires a preface that explains the extreme prejudice and racist points of view of the victims (see, e.g., the introduction to the Tolzmann reprint of Mary Schwandt’s eyewitness account of her family’s killing, published in 2002), and is now considered over-done and unreliable. More modern commentators generally omit such viscerally compelling personal recollections of white victims while emphasizing the abuses and neglect perpetrated by the governmental reservation and trading system. These later accounts sometimes fail to convey sufficiently the widespread panic that resulted from attacks suffered by isolated frontier families during the uprising.