Review – Assumption College Website

Dakota Conflict of 1862
Assumption College
Reviewed on May 7, 2013

Items of Interest

About half of this text is quoted from Isaac Heard’s History of the Sioux War. I did not include or comment on this text.

General Comments

  • Some paintings, drawings and photographs are not identified or credited.

Most Objectionable Statements

[Painting] – “Battle of Birch Coulee”
—Incorrect – Shows Indians on horseback riding pass the camp. This never happened at Birch Coulee.
—Incorrect – Show wagons and a tent on fire. This never happened at Birch Coulee.

…At the Battle of Birch Coulee Minnesota militia, led by Colonel Henry H. Sibley, suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Dakota Sioux led by Chief Little Crow…It was the Sioux’s greatest victory in a five week war which led to over five hundred deaths among the white settlers and militia and U.S. Army troops and about sixty among the Dakota. In the end…at the Battle of Wood Lake, the Dakota surrendered. Almost 400 were then tried for murder and rape by a military tribunal; over 300 were sentenced to death; and — after President Lincoln reviewed the sentences — thirty-eight were hanged…
—Incorrect – Civilians were also at Birch Coulee.
—Incorrect – While Sibley was the overall commander, he and his relief force did not arrive at Birch Coulee until the second day.
—Incorrect – “Sioux” is a derogatory word to many Dakota.
—Incorrect – While Chief Little Crow was the overall leader, he was not at Birch Coulee.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not surrender at Wood Lake. Some surrendered at Camp Release. Many more innocent Dakota waited at Camp Release for Sibley to arrive.
—Incorrect – They were also tried for other offenses.
—Incorrect – President Lincoln had others review the transcripts.

July 1851 – Treaty of Traverse des Sioux ceded to the U.S. lands in southwestern portions of the Minnesota Territory for $1.665 million in cash and annuities.
August 1851 – Treaty of Mendota ceded to the U.S. additional lands in southeastern portions of the Minnesota Territory for $1.41 million in cash and annuitities.
—Incorrect – Both treaties ceded all Dakota lands in Minnesota and Iowa. The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux ceded part of Dakota Territory. This land in Minnesota Territory was not separately defined as southeast or southwest.
—Incorrect – They received much more than cash and annuities.
—Incorrect – Annuities is misspelled.

August 1851 – 7,000 Dakota move into two reservations bordering the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute did not move until 1853. Many of the Sisseton and Wahpeton villages were already on their reservation. Some never did move unto the reservations.
—Is this correct? 7000 may be too high.

 1858 – Dakota cede additional land on the north bank of the Minnesota River.
—Incorrect – They gave up their claims. They did not own the land on the north bank.

August 1862 – Annuity payments are late; Dakota demand future annuity payments be made directly to them, rather than through traders.  Traders refuse to sell provisions on credit. Andrew Myrick, spokesman for the traders, says: “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass.”
—Incorrect – The Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts to the traders.
—Incorrect – Not all traders stopped giving credits.
—Disrespectful – Myrick was not spokesman for the traders. He said let them eat grass because the soldiers’ lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts when the treaty money arrived.

August 19 – Minnesota Governor Ramsey names Col. Henry Sibley to command American volunteer forces. Sixteen settlers are killed around New Ulm. Settlers crowd into a small barricaded area of New Ulm. 
—Was Sibley at this point also in command of the U.S. soldiers at Fort Ridgely?
—Incorrect – About 50 settlers were killed in Milford Township alone on August 18.

August 23 – About 650 Dakota attack New Ulm. Town is burned; 34 die and 60 are wounded, but the barricaded area holds out.
—Incorrect – New Ulm was attacked on August 19 and August 23. In all, about 35 defenders were killed and 60-80 wounded

December 26 – The thirty-eight are hanged in Mankato. It is the largest mass execution in American history.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. History.
—Unbalanced – The mass murder of more than 650 whites by Indians was the largest in U.S. history.

On Sunday, August 17, 1862 four young Dakota Sioux were out hunting. What happened next, according to Big Eagle, a Dakota chief…follows:
[Refer to Big Eagle’s narrative on the website or see Anderson, Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.
—Incorrect – Big Eagle’s narrative is one of many narratives. We cannot determine what preceded the murders in Acton Township.

The four went into the Baker house…killed the occupants, took a wagon and team of horses, and went back to their village where they told what they had done.
—Incorrect – They did not kill all of the occupants.
—Incorrect – They did not take a wagon and a team of horses.

The “payment” Little Crow referred to was that owed to the Dakota by the United States under the terms of the treaty, signed by Little Crow and other chief, which ceded most of southwestern Minnesota to the government. The Dakota, with their hunting range much diminished, were dependent upon the payment to trade for provisions. Most were deeply in debt to these traders. In preceeding years, the government had made the payment directly to the traders so that most did not receive any of the money themselves. This, along with bad harvests, had created deep discontent.
—Incorrect – I think the author intended to state “Little Crow and other chiefs”.
—Incorrect – The treaties ceded more than most of southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were dependent upon the payment.
—Incorrect – Preceeding is misspelled.
—Incorrect – In 1861, the Agent paid the Indians. It was up to the traders to collect their own debts. In some years the traders were paid first. The Indians were left with no money if their debt was too great.

The Dakota chiefs had declared that they would insist upon receiving the payment rather than allowing the traders to deduct the debts first. The traders, for their part, had made it clear that they would refuse to extend any further credit. One declared that if the Dakota were hungry, they could eat grass.
—Incorrect – The Dakota chiefs did not declare this. The Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts after they received their treaty money.
—Incorrect – Many fur traders did stop giving credits.
—Incorrect – Fur trader Andrew Myrick said they could eat grass because he learned that many planned to refuse to pay their debts when the treaty money arrived.

Once Little Crow and then others declared war, the Dakota attacked the Redwood Agency and then New Ulm and Fort Ridgely. The Fort was successfully defended but much of it burned. New Ulm experienced the same fate. Some 2000 refugees, mainly women and children, set off in wagons towards St. Paul and, it was hoped, safety. On September 2, Minnesota militia led by Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley lost the Battle of Birch Coulee with heavy casualties.
—Incorrect – The Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge made the decision to go to war.
—Incorrect – The fort proper was not burned; out-buildings were burned by the fort to reduce cover for the attackers.
—Incorrect – The refugees fled from New Ulm. Mankato was their first destination.
—Incorrect – While Sibley was the overall commander, he and his relief force did not arrive at Birch Coulee until the second day.

Four days later, President Lincoln appointed Major General John Pope…commander of the northwest territory. Pope defeated the Dakota at the Battle of Wood Lake on September 23. While the battle raged, Dakota opposed to continuing the war seized and then released several hundred white prisoners, most of them women and children…Col. Sibley took approximately 1200 prisoners. About 800 more surrendered…
—Incorrect – Pope was not at the Battle of Wood Lake.
—Incorrect – During the Battle of Wood Lake, Friendly Dakota took control of the some 285 white and mixed captives. They were released later when Sibley and his army arrived at what later would be called Camp Release.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota at Camp Release were prisoners.

[Photo] – Mission Party on the Prairie by Adrian Ebell
…the Conflict…claimed the lives of some 500 white settlers and U.S. soldiers…Pictured above are some of the “refugees” camping out on the prairie on their way to St. Paul. About sixty Dakota died in the fighting…On December 26 thirty-eight Dakota were hanged…
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.
—Incorrect – The refugees were stopping to rest. Their initial destination was Henderson. Some went to St. Peter.
—Incorrect – There was 1 white and some mixed-bloods who were hanged.

[The author includes Big Eagle’s narrative of August 17 and the decision for war. See Anderson, Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.]

[The author includes quotes on different Dakota War events from Heard, History of the Sioux War]

 [The author includes quotes on the trials from Isaac Heard, History of the Sioux War.]
—Unbalanced – If the U.S. trial system is discussed, the Dakota trial system should also be discussed. There wasn’t one.

Henry B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, brought the cases of the Dakota condemned to hanging to President Lincoln’s attention. He also wrote a pastoral letter to the white settlers in which he sought to explain why the Dakota had gone to war and in which he condemned any mob action or other form of retaliation.
—Is this correct that Whipple brought the cases to Lincoln’s attention?

[The author includes Dakota Trial 241 in its entirety.]

[The author includes Heard’s comments on Godfrey’s trial.]

[For more on the trials and Godfrey, see Bachman, Northern Slave, Black Dakota.]

In most cases, the [later Sioux] wars would break out as the first did. Sioux, aggrieved over treaties which took away their hunting lands, cheated by traders and agents for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, would attack individual whites. This would force the remaining Sioux to decide, as Little Crow had to, whether or not to join in the conflict. They knew, as Little Crow did, that whites would demand revenge.
—Incorrect and disrespectful – Traders and agents should not be criticized without showing proof.

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