Review – Indian Wars in MN Essays

 “Indian Wars in Minnesota,” edited by Twin Cities Daily Planet and funded by the Community. 

Items of Interest

There are 3 essays listed in reverse order at this web address. I reviewed them in I, II, III order. 

General Comments

  • Unbalanced – Very little is said about the white side of the war.
  • Unbalanced – Very little is said about the friendly Dakota side of the war.

 Most Objectionable Statements 

Like the Forest City Stockade, other historical markers reinforce the narrative that white Americans have been telling themselves about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862:  that the Dakota attacked the innocent settlers, that the pioneers bravely fought to defend themselves, that the Dakota got what they deserved. As the 150th anniversary of the war approaches, Dakota people and allies are organizing around a different narrative – a story of a people driven to desperation by broken promises and starvation, and of genocide in Minnesota history.
—Unbalanced – The author’s bias is shown in this paragraph.
—Incorrect – “The Dakota” did not attack the settlers. A minority of the Dakota attacked the settlers.
—Unbalanced – The hostile Dakota killed more than 650 whites; some in the worst way imaginable.
—Incorrect – “The Dakota” were not driven to desperation. 100-150 young Dakota men made the decision to go to war. Other Dakota joined them while the majority did not.
—Incorrect – Causes of the Dakota War cannot be stated this simply. No cause can justify the mass murder of more than 650 innocent white men, women and children.
—Incorrect – Who committed genocide? If the whites did, then the Dakota did also.

Another example of Minnesota’s historical memory of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 is the site where Joseph Brown lived, near Sacred Heart, Minnesota.  In 1857, Brown was appointed by Governor Henry Sibley to serve as the United States Indian Agent, a federal appointment.
—Incorrect – Sibley did not take office until 1858.
—Incorrect – Sibley did not appoint Brown. 

In 1858, Brown was responsible for leading the Dakota to Washington D.C., where they signed the 1858 treaty and forfeited their reservation on the north side of the Minnesota River in exchange for the promise of payments. They never received those payments, and instead were left devastated and starving. 
—Incorrect – He did not lead them, he brought them.
—Incorrect – The 1862 payment was late, but other factors also contributed to their starving condition. Not all were starving.

During the war, the [Joseph R.] Brown House was burned to the ground.
—Incorrect – The walls were built of stone.

There are two plaques at the historical site.  The older plaque, erected in 1958, reads:
These Ruins are all that remain of a large stone house built in 1861 by Joseph R. Brown, Frontier Fur Trader.  The house known as Father and Gay Castle, was a center of hospitality and happy family life for the short time that Brown, his mixed-blood Sioux wife, and their twelve children lived in it.  On August 19, 1862, during the Sioux Uprising, the Browns were forced to flee their home which was looted and burned by the attacking Indians.
—Incorrect – According to the sign, Joseph R. Brown was also an “Indian agent, politician, journalist and inventor.”
—Incorrect – It was known as Farther and Gay Castle.
—Disrespectful – Use of the word “Sioux” is offensive. This should be “Dakota.”
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Currently, the politically correct term for “Sioux Uprising” is “U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.
—Incorrect – Joseph R. Brown was away on business. There were other than Browns in the house.

The plaque doesn’t talk about how the Dakota were literally starving to death, and that is why they attacked the white settlers. It makes no mention of the broken promises made by the federal government, which Brown represented to the Dakota.
—Incorrect – This plaque is about the Brown Family and the Brown House.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were starving to death. Not all Dakota attacked the white settlers.
—Unbalanced – Nor does it mention that Mrs. Brown, her children and others were taken captive and threatened by hostile Dakota. It does not mention that hostile Dakota killed more than 650 innocent whites during the Dakota War of 1862. It does not mention a lot of things because this was the site of the Brown House and the Brown Family.
—Disrespectful – Name the broken promises that Brown represented.

The newer plaque was installed by the Minnesota Historical Society. While the newer Minnesota Historical Society plaque has a less racist narrative, the 1958 plaque still stands prominently for all to read.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – I disagree with the author that the 1958 plaque contains racist text.
—Interestingly, the author does not mention that this sign also omits information about Dakota starving and broken promises.

Near the Brown house is another historical site, the Schwandt Memorial Monument in Renville County along CR 15.  It remembers the Schwandt family members killed by Dakota warriors. Near the monument, which was erected in 1915, another sign, created with funding by the Federal Highway Administration and Walmart…That same plaque, after telling the story of the Schwandt family’s murder, goes on to describe what happened to the Dakota:
After General Sibley recovered the white and mixed-blood captives at Camp Release, the Dakota were interned at Fort Snelling for the winter.  In this crowded space surrounded by a tall wooden fence, many became ill and died.

The plaque’s account of the Dakota internment at Fort Snelling doesn’t fully describe what many today call a concentration camp, where hundreds of Indian women, children and old men died that winter.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – Hundreds did not die there.
—Disrespectful – This is the Schwandt Family site. The sign should be about the Schwandt Family.

In this series, we have chosen to call it the U.S.-Dakota War, a name that reflects the reality that two nations were involved. This series both reports  the “war” about the accuracy of historical description, about the naming of events, and about the relation of peoples and history in Minnesota in the 21st century, and reviews the historical events of 1862.
—Incorrect – A minority faction of the Dakota went to war.
—The author is looking for accuracy but is only interested in the Dakota side.

Little Crow was killed after the war, while picking berries near Hutchinson. His body was mutilated, and various pieces of his body, including his scalp and skull, ended up at the Minnesota Historical Society.
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota also mutilated bodies of white victims.
—Incorrect – Parts of Chief Little Crow’s body were at the Minnesota Historical Society for a time, but they were buried in a grave in Flandrau, SD.

In Minnesota, as in other parts of the country, white settlers stole the Indian people’s land, under the cover of laws.
—Absolutely Incorrect and Disrespectful – White settlers did not steal Dakota land.

In Minnesota, an 1805 U.S. treaty with the Sioux allowed the United States to establish military posts on nine square miles of land at the mouth of the St. Croix River, including St. Anthony Falls and extending nine miles on each side of the river.
—Incorrect – The treaty also allowed the US to establish a military post at the mouth of the Minnesota River. St. Anthony Falls was part of the Fort Snelling reservation.

…the 1805 treaty only contained two Dakota signatures, and that the United States also provided 60 gallons of liquor to the men in attendance, a frequent tactic… used by the United States by “lubricating the dealmaking.”
—Is this correct? The author implies that the Dakota were drunk when they signed this treaty.
—If the Dakota Indians disagreed with this treaty, they could have prevented Fort Snelling from being constructed.

Another treaty with the Dakota was made in 1837 during Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian removal. This treaty ceded all Dakota land east of the Mississippi for $1 million.  However, instead of a lump sum, the treaty divided the money, so that while some cash was given out, much of it was to come in payments over time.
—Incorrect – This treaty was with the Mdewakanton only.

After the 1837 treaty was signed by the Mdewakanton leaders, one of the four Eastern Dakota bands, the promised goods and payments did not arrive on time…
—The first payment was late. Show that successive payments were also late.

One clause of the 1837 treaty provided that the government would invest $300,000 and pay the Mdewakanton “annually, forever, an income not less than five percent. . . a portion of said interest, not exceeding one third to be applied in such as the President may direct.”…all of the parties agreed that the clause meant that the government was to spend $5,000 per year for the benefit of the Dakota.  But instead of paying in cash, the government interpreted the clause to mean that money would pay for educational programs by missionaries.  The Dakota disagreed, and argued “that at the time of the treaty they were assured that the money be used for something other than education.”…because no compromise could be reached, by 1850 the unpaid amount due had accumulated to more than $50,000.
—Incorrect – Some of this money did go to the missionaries, but as the author states, more than $50,000 accumulated because it was not spent.
—Incorrect – Education was for the benefit of the Dakota.
—Incorrect – The Dakota believed the missionaries were getting all of this money which was incorrect. This money accumulated because the US did not provide schools.

In 1851, the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux  was signed with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands and the Treaty of Mendota was signed with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands. These two treaties transferred most of the Dakota land in Southern Minnesota to the U.S. government and called for the U.S. government to assist the Dakota in schools, trade, and farming, and to pay them yearly in food and gold…
—Incorrect – These treaties also ceded land in present day Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota.
—Incorrect – These treaties provided for much more than this.

The U.S. government was also to pay for the Dakota to move to reservations.  However, before the U.S. officials signed the treaty, the part that secured reservation lands for the Dakota was crossed out. 
—More correctly stated, the Dakota did move to reservations but they were not given ownership of their reservations.

The treaty also called for the U.S. government to give the Dakota money to pay for the debts the Dakota owed to traders. That money ended up going directly to the white traders, but the Dakota’s debt to the traders continued to grow, because prices were allowed to remain very high.  Food that was supposed to come to the Dakota frequently arrived rotten, causing widespread hunger. 
—Incorrect – The fur traders were not all white.
—Incorrect – Their debts grew because they kept asking for more credit.
—Incorrect – Prices were high because transportation costs were high. The Dakota did not have to buy from the traders; they could go to the nearby towns to trade.
—Incorrect – Food did arrive spoiled, but it cannot be said this occurred frequently. Spoiled food also arrived at Fort Ridgely.

In 1858, Minnesota became a state, and several Dakota bands, led by Little Crow, traveled to Washington, D.C., to sign the Treaty of 1858, which entailed losing the Northern half of the reservation along the Minnesota River and rights to the quarry at Pipestone, Minnesota. 
—Incorrect – Representatives of more than several bands went.
—Incorrect – They were not all led by Chief Little Crow.
—Incorrect – They did not own the reservation on the north side of the river, so how could they lose it?

Meanwhile, more and more settlers came to Minnesota, and game became scarce.  Promised goods owed to the Dakota never came.  The Dakota were starving.  They were angry.
—Incorrect – Game was becoming scarce in the 1830s. This is why the Dakota sold their land. The settlers were competing for the available game off the reservations. They were not permitted to hunt on the reservations.
—Incorrect – Which promised goods never came?
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were starving and angry.

On August 15, members of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute went to the Lower Sioux Agency to negotiate to obtain food, and were rejected without payment.  According to legend, trader Andrew Jackson Myrick said, “As far as I’m concerned, let them eat grass.”
—Incorrect – This August 15 event likely occurred at the Upper Agency.
—Incorrect – Myrick made this statement according to fact.

Two days later, violence erupted when several Dakota men attempted to steal food and ended up killing settlers near Acton, in Meeker County.  Soon, Little Crow agreed to lead an attack against the Lower Sioux Agency. 
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven that they attempted to steal food.
—Incorrect – The murders occurred in Acton Township, Meeker County.
—Incorrect – Little Crow agreed to become overall war chief.

The Dakota lost the Battle of Wood Lake and surrendered at Camp Release…
—Incorrect – Only hostile Dakota surrendered; friendly Dakota waited for Sibley to arrive.

On December 26, 1862, 38 were hanged in Mankato — the largest mass execution in this country’s history.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.

Other Dakota died in the aftermath of the war. Some 1600 Dakota women, old men, and children were sent to a concentration camp in Pike Island, Minnesota, at Fort Snelling.  Some 300 died there, according to Corrin Monjeau-Marz in Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864
—Unbalanced – Many whites also died after the war.
—Incorrect – There were also young Dakota men in the Fort Snelling camp.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – This cannot be proven that the camp was on Pike Island.
—Incorrect – 300 deaths is a statistical high-end estimate. Officially, 130 died.
—Incorrect – Her name is Corinne.

In 1863, the U.S. Congress…expelled the Dakota people from Minnesota. Bounties were set as rewards for killing any Indians who remained in the state. 
—Incorrect – Most of the Dakota were removed from Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Bounties were placed on Dakota scalps.
—Unbalanced – At least 2 times during the Dakota War, the Dakota also placed bounties on white scalps.

For Little Crow, the bounty on his scalp was set at $500.
—Incorrect – When Chief Little Crow was killed, there were no bounties being offered. The money paid was a reward.

The only Dakota who were allowed to stay in Minnesota were those from the Mdewakanton band, who didn’t fight in the war.  The Mdewakanton were given reservations at Lower Sioux, Prairie Island, and Shakopee. 
—Incorrect – There were Dakota living among the whites, Dakota at Faribault and Dakota scouts who remained.
—Incorrect – These reservations were set up later.

In 1987…Governor Rudy Perpich declared a Year of Reconciliation…the remains of the executed men were returned from museums to the Dakota for proper burial.
—Incorrect – The remains of all American Indians that were determined to have originated in Minnesota were returned.

Many historians and activists insist that Fort Snelling was, in fact, a concentration camp for the 1600 Dakotas interned there…Those interned in the camp were women, children and old men, not combatants. Hundreds died as a result of the cold and abuses, and those who lived were removed from Minnesota in the spring.
—Incorrect – I disagree that many historians call this a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – There were more than 1600.
—Incorrect – There were also younger Dakota men in this camp.
—Incorrect – Officially, 130 died there.
—Incorrect – What abuses did they suffer?
—Incorrect – Not all were removed from Minnesota.

The Minnesota Historical Society, which has a historical interpretive center at Fort Snelling, doesn’t call it a concentration camp and doesn’t mention the concentration camp on their website’s Brief History Page.
—MHS does not use the term because it was not a concentration camp.

Mankato State University’s Minnesota history website also describes Fort Snelling as a concentration camp:
The remaining Dakota surrendered. Sibley’s force rounded up 1700 Dakota women, children, and elders and began a forced march from the Lower Sioux Agency to a concentration camp at Fort Snelling. They walked 20 miles a day. Along the way they were subjected to physical and verbal violence by local white people. New Ulm residents poured hot, scalding water over their heads. Many were killed or died from hunger and sickness.
—Incorrect – Hostile Dakota surrendered; friendly Dakota did not.
—Incorrect – There were also young Dakota men in this group.
—Incorrect – They were not force marched.
—Incorrect – This was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – Some if not many rode in wagons.
—Incorrect – The group taken to Fort Snelling did not go through New Ulm.
—Incorrect – 2-3 died on the route to Fort Snelling.

 Soldiers held prisoners at Fort Snelling through the winter. The soldiers treated them brutally, violating the women and then killing them. Others committed suicide because of the horrors they saw there. Some days soldiers buried as many as 50 people in a mass grave.
—Incorrect – Prove that Dakota treated with brutality.
—Incorrect – Prove that Dakota women violated and killed.
—Incorrect – Prove that they committed suicide.
—Incorrect – Prove that 50 were buried in one day.

 The Lower Sioux Agency historical site, which is run by the Minnesota Historical Society, also does not use the term “concentration camp.” Instead, the term “prison camp” is used.
—Incorrect – It was not a concentration camp or a prison camp.

When I interviewed Burgess, he used the term “friendlies” to describe the Dakota farmers who did not fight.  While it is true that there were Dakota people who did not fight, the term further marginalizes the Dakota who fought.
—Incorrect – I use the term “friendlies” to include all Dakota who did not join the hostile Dakota against the whites. Regardless of the term used, there were Dakota who did not fight the U.S.

For many years, the U.S.-Dakota War was not called that, but rather the Sioux Uprising.  According to the Sioux Uprising narrative, which still persists, the Dakota people instigated the war and were responsible for it.
—I disagree. I think through the years, most historians have researched and documented the many causes of the Dakota War. Some fail to state that the Dakota were not united in this war.

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