The Dakota Conflict Trials – 1862
by Douglas O. Linder
Famous Trials Series
University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law
Reviewed on May 10, 2013
Items of Interest
The Dakota Conflict Trials is part of a larger website that contains information on other trials.
Much text is included from other sources about the Dakota trials and hangings. I do not include or comment on this text.
See Bachman, Northern Slave – Black Dakota for more information on Godfrey, the Dakota War, the trials, Lincoln’s decision and the hangings.
- Unbalanced – This website is called “Famous Trials Series.” While the white trial for the Dakota is discussed in depth, nothing is said about the Dakota trial system. More than 650 whites were killed by hostile Dakota. What sort of trials were these men, women and children given?
- Incorrect – There are many spelling errors.
Most Objectionable Statements
A framed sketch of the scene depicted on this site’s homepage, the execution of thirty-eight Sioux on December 26, 1862…the largest mass execution in American history.
—Incorrect – Sioux is offensive to many Dakota. This should be Dakota.
—Incorrect – Not all 38 were Dakota or Sioux.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
There were seven Sioux tribes, including three western tribes, collectively called the Lakota, and four eastern tribes living in Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas called the Dakota.
—Incorrect – In 1862, there were 7 bands in the Dakota or Sioux Nation.
—Incorrect – The 3 western bands were the Yankton, Yanktonai and the Teton. The term Lakota was not in use in 1862.
—Incorrect – Today, the 4 eastern bands are called the Dakota.
About 7,000 members of the four Dakota tribes lived on a reservation…in southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – 7,000 is too high.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
Tribes consisted of bands, each with a leader or chief… A large number of Sissetons and Wahpetons had been converted both to farming and Christianity…
—Incorrect – Bands consisted of villages.
—Incorrect – A small number had converted to farming and Christianity.
In 1851, however, the Dakota by treaty agreed to give up most of southern Minnesota. The land was ceded to the United States in return for two twenty-mile wide by seventy-mile long reservations…and annuity payments totaling $1.4 million dollars over a fifty-year period. Seven years later, in exchange for increased annuity payments, the Dakota ceded about half of their reservation land.
—Incorrect – There were 2 treaties in 1851.
—Incorrect – They agreed to give up all of southern Minnesota except for 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – The 2 reservations were not each 70 miles long.
—Incorrect – They received much more than annuity payments.
—Incorrect – The total purchase price was over $3,000,000.
—Incorrect – They were to receive interest payments only.
—Incorrect – In 1858, they gave up their claims to the northern half of their reservations for cash and probably funds added to their “Improvement or Civilization Fund.” Their annuity payments were not increased.
The treaties of 1851 and 1858 contributed to tensions by undermining the Dakota culture and the power of chieftains, concentrating malcontents, and leading to a corrupt system of Indian agents and traders.
—Incorrect – The tensions were caused by those who did not want to change. What was the responsibility of the U.S. to the Dakota? What should the U.S. have done? The traditional Dakota way of life was disappearing. They had to adapt or move west.
—What does this mean – “concentrating malcontents”?
—Disrespectful – Name the corrupt agents and traders and show proof.
Annuity payments reduced the once proud Dakota to the status of dependents. They reduced the power of chiefs because annuity payments were made directly to individuals rather than through tribal structures…traders sold goods to Indians at 100% to 400% profit and frequently took “claims” for money from individual Dakota paid out of tribal funds.
—Incorrect – Annuity payments enabled the Dakota to survive.
—Incorrect – The payments were made to individuals to make sure everyone got their fair share.
—Incorrect – Before making these claims about the traders, the author needs to do the research. Transportation costs were high. The Dakota were not forced to trade with the traders. They could leave the reservations and trade elsewhere.
…An August 4, 1862 confrontation between soldiers and braves at the Upper Agency at Yellow Medicine led to a decision to distribute provisions on credit to avoid violence.
—Incorrect – Provisions were issued but not on credit.
At the Lower Agency at Redwood…At an August 15, 1862 meeting…the traders resisted pleas to distribute provisions…to starving Dakota until the annuity payments finally arrived. Trader Andrew Myrick summarized his position in the bluntest possible manner: “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass.”
—Incorrect – It is not known for sure when or where Myrick made this statement.
—Disrespectful – Myrick said this because he learned that many Dakota planned to refuse to pay their debts when the payment arrived.
—Incorrect – Not all of the traders stopped giving credits.
[Chief Big Eagle’s account of the murders in Acton Township from Anderson, Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes]
—Incorrect – Big Eagle’s narrative is one of many narratives on what happened in Acton Township. Other accounts disagree with Big Eagle.
…On September 23, in the decisive Battle of Wood Lake, 700 to 1,200 Dakota warriors were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy casualties.
—Incorrect – Samuel Brown stated there were 738 Dakota. See Anderson, Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes.
During the Wood Lake Battle, friendlies (Dakota opposed to the war) were able to seize control of white captives…In late September the friendlies released 269 white prisoners to the control of Colonel Sibley.
—Incorrect – There were also mixed-blood hostages who were released.
—Incorrect – Current estimates place the number released at about 285.
Penned in to the north and south, facing severe food shortages and declining morale, many Dakota warriors chose to surrender…the ranks of Dakota prisoners soon swelled to 1,250. The six-week war…cost the lives of between 400 and 600 whites and hundreds…of Dakota. A decision had to be made soon what to do with the Dakota prionsers.
—Incorrect – They were not penned in to the north and south.
—Incorrect – Most of those at Camp Release were not prisoners.
—Incorrect – Their ranks soon swelled to about 2,000 men, women and children.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed and about 145 Dakota were killed.
The trials were quick affairs…In addition to raising concerns about the sufficiency of the evidence supporting convictions and the rapidity of trials, critics have charged commission members of harboring prejudice against the defendants…the commission was wrong to treat the defendants as common criminals rather than as the legitimate belligerents of a sovereign power…the trials should have been conducted in state courts using normal rules of criminal procedure rather than by military commission.
—Incorrect – Many of these crimes were war crimes.
The final decision on whether to go ahead with the planned mass execution of the 303 Dakota and mixed-bloods rested with President Lincoln.
—Incorrect – There was at least one white in this group.
Most Dakota, after suffering through a harsh Minnesota winter at a Fort Snelling encampment, moved to South Dakota. Prisoners previously held at Mankato were transported…down the Mississippi to Camp McClellan, near Davenport, Iowa.
—If the winter was harsh, it would have been harsh for the Dakota wherever they were.
—Incorrect – They did not move; they were moved.
—Incorrect – Not all of those at Mankato were taken to Camp McClellan.
On March 22, 1866, President Andrew Johnson ordered the release of the 177 surviving prisoners. They were moved to the Santee Reservation near Niobrara, Nebraska.
—Some of the prisoners at Camp McClellan had been released prior to this.
Recently, an effort has been launched to pardon one of the thirty-eight Dakota, a warrior who was wrongfully executed in Mankato in 1862.
—Incorrect – Pardon is not the right word; apology is the right word.
Chronology of the Dakota Conflict (Sioux Uprising) Trials
July 23, 1851 – In the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, Two bands of Dakota cede to the U.S. lands in southwestern portions of the Minnesota Territory (as well as portions of Iowa and South Dakota) for $1.665 million in cash and annuities.
August 5, 1851 – In the Treaty of Mendota, Two other band of Dakota cede to the U.S. lands in southeastern portions of the Minnesota Territory for $1.41 million in cash and annuities.
—Incorrect – Both treaties ceded all Dakota lands in Minnesota and Iowa. This land was not defined as southeast or southwest. The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux ceded part of Dakota Territory.
—Incorrect – They received much more than cash and annuities.
—Incorrect – They would not receive all of this cash; only interest payments on a portion of it.
Summer – 1851 – 7,000 Dakota are moved to 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 – The Dakota cede additional land on the north bank of the Minnesota River…
—Incorrect – They gave up their claims on their land on the north side of the river.
August – 1862 Annuity payments are late…Dakota plan to demand that future annuity payments be made directly to them, rather than through traders. Traders learning of plan, refuse to sell provisions on credit…
—Incorrect – The Lower Dakota soldiers’ lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts to the traders.
—Incorrect – Not all traders stopped giving credits.
August 17, 1862 – Four Dakota kill five settlers near Litchfield. Councils are held among the Dakota on whether to wage war. Despite deep divisions on the issue, war is the chosen course.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in this decision for war. The majority of the Dakota opposed war with the whites.
August 19, 1862 – Minnesota Governor Ramsey appoints Col. Henry Sibley to command American volunteer forces. Sixteen settlers are killed in Dakota attacks in and around New Ulm.
—Was Sibley also in command of the U.S. army at Fort Ridgely?
—Incorrect – Many more than 16 settlers were killed in this area.
August 20-21, 1862 – Dakota attack Fort Ridgely, but the Fort is successfully defended.
—Incorrect – Fort Ridgely was attacked on August 20 and 22.
September 23, 1862 – While the Wood Lake fighting is in progress, Dakota opposed to continuation of the war take control of 269 American captives…
—Incorrect – Current estimates say that about 285 white and mixed-blood captives were released.
September 26, 1862 – …Col. Sibley enters Dakota camp and takes 1200 Dakota men, women, and children into custody. Over the next weeks, an additional 800 Dakota will surrender…the Dakota Conflict has claimed the lives of over 500 Americans and about 60 Dakota.
—Incorrect – He did not take them into custody.
—Incorrect – Surrender is not the right word. Only the guilty surrendered.
—Incorrect – More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.
November 9, 1862 – The 303 condemned Dakota are moved from the Lower Agency to Camp Lincoln, near Mankato.
—Incorrect – Camp Lincoln was in Mankato.
—Incorrect – Other Dakota who were not condemned were also moved to Mankato.
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Sioux Uprising in 1962, the St. Paul Pioneer Press published “The Picture Story of the Sioux Uprising” by Jerry Fearing…
[See website for cartoons. Following text is from the cartoons.]
It was in the township of Acton on Sunday, Aug. 17, 1862, that four Indians returning from a fruitless hunt started arguing over a few hen’s eggs…taken from a nest located near the fence on the Robinson Jones farm.
—Incorrect – There are many variations on what happened in Acton Township. If eggs were involved, it isn’t known for sure where they were found.
At the council held in his [Little Crow] cabin that night he reminded the other chiefs that because women had been killed the white men would take a terrible revenge upon the people. It was decided then and there that they must drive out all the settlers with Little Crow as their leader.
—Incorrect – Little Crow had a house.
—Incorrect – Little Crow was asked to lead them. Little Crow argued against going to war. He reluctantly agreed to be their leader.
The first objective of the Sioux uprising was the Lower Redwood agency with its well-supplied stores and numerous shops and buildings. “Kill the traders, loot the stores and burn the buildings!” Little Crow ordered.
—Is this correct? Did Little Crow order this?
The most hated man at the agency, as far as the Indians were concerned, was Andrew Myrick. He had cheated them in the past…
—Disrespectful – Prove that Myrick cheated them. See my comments on Myrick above.
On Nov. 7, more than a thousand Indians, mostly women and children, were marched from the lower agency to Fort Snelling…Two days later, the 3030 Indians condemned to die were led, shackled, through New Ulm.
—Incorrect – It is not known for sure when the more than 1600 Dakota started from the Lower Agency to Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – 3030 should be 303. They went around New Ulm.
[Map] – Dakota Conflict Trials: Map and Explanations
Dakota Reservation in 1862 (shaded area)
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.