Minnesota’s Uncivil War
Minnesota Public Radio, September 2002
Items of Interest
When I am interviewed, I speak from my own research, perspectives and experiences. I do not represent my family, my community or my ethnic groups. Neither do others. Families, communities and ethnic groups do not all think the same.
These narratives include a rare discussion on what happened to whites after the war.
Most Objectionable Statements
A war fought in the Minnesota River valley back in 1862 still leaves scars today. On one side were the Dakota Indians. On the other, settlers and the U.S. government. Hundreds of people died on both sides of the five-week long war.
—Incorrect – This war reached beyond the Minnesota River valley.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota did not go to war.
—Incorrect – More than 650 white men, women and children and about 145 Dakota were killed during the war.
Photo – Scene of the Acton Murders, Aug. 18, 1862
The Dakota conflict began on the Baker farm in Acton, Minn., when Dakota warriors killed five settlers.
—Incorrect – The murders were committed in Acton Township.
—Incorrect – This was not the start of the war; this started the war.
Photo – Redwood Ferry site
This is the location of the first attack by the Dakota on government troops. Capt. John Marsh, commander at Fort Ridgely, led his troops to this ferry site…They were ambushed there by the Dakota. Marsh and more than half his men were killed.
—Incorrect – “government troops” should be identified as “5th Minnesota volunteers.”
—Incorrect – Twenty-four of the forty-eight total men were killed.
Photo – Wood Lake
Indians who fled to Canada after the Dakota uprising were defeated at Wood Lake, and held in this prison.
—Incorrect – If they had fled to Canada, they could not have been in this prison.
Photo – Execution of Dakota Indians, Mankato, Minnesota
U.S. soldiers executed 38 Dakota by hanging in Mankato, Minn. on Dec. 26, 1862. It’s the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Most historians now believe that many of those executed were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass hanging in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – It cannot be said what most historians now believe. Yes, for some, the punishment exceeded the crime.
Photo – Indian jail
After the war, the government arrested any male Dakota they could. Many were convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. Most historians now believe the trials were a travesty of justice – they lasted only a few minutes and the Dakota were not allowed a legal defense.
—Incorrect – This building was where trials were held at the Lower Sioux Agency.
—Incorrect – This photo should precede the execution photo
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota men were arrested.
—Incorrect – It cannot be said what most historians believe.
—Incorrect – Not all trials lasted only a few minutes.
—Incorrect – It was not required by law that they be provided counsel.
—Unbalanced – No mention is made of the Dakota trial system – there wasn’t one.
Photo – Captured Dakota at Fort Snelling
After the war, most of the remaining Dakota in Minnesota were rounded up and held in a makeshift prison camp at Fort Snelling. Most later were expelled from the state to new reservations in South Dakota, Nebraska and other areas.
—Incorrect – These were not the captured Dakota. They were the innocent Dakota.
—Incorrect – This was not a prison camp. It was an internment camp.
—Incorrect – Most of these Dakota were removed from the state to the Crow Creek Reservation in Dakota Territory.
Photo – Little Crow’s family
Little Crow, one of the leaders of the uprising, was not captured after the war, but his wife and two children were – and they were held at Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – This was one of Chief Crow’s wives.
Photo – Acton state monument
The state monument in Acton, on the site of the Baker farm, the site of one of the first attacks in the uprising.
—Incorrect – This attack was not the start of the war. It started the war.
—“Uprising” is not politically correct today.
Photo – Monuments at Birch Coulee
Two monuments stand at Birch Coulee. One honors the settlers who were killed there, and the other honors six Dakota who saved white men from the attack.
—Incorrect – The 1st monument honors those killed in the Battle of Birch Coulee.
—Incorrect – The 2nd honors 6 Dakota who saved white lives during the war.
Photo – Monument at Milford
This monument is located in Milford, in Brown County.
—Incorrect – It is located in Milford Township, Brown County.
[In 1862] the crops were not doing well. The agents had failed to provide what they had committed to provide to the people…
—Incorrect – In 1862, the crops were doing very well.
—Incorrect – There was one agent.
—Incorrect – The agent provided food to the Sisseton and Wahpeton, but not to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute.
…Dakota people have yet to recover from the events of 1862. We’ve never really come out of that grief and mourning.
—Incorrect – This person does not represent all Dakota people.
After the war, it was easier for the settlers to recover. They had the public and the government on their side. The enduring heartache of 1862 is with the Dakota.
—Incorrect – More than 650 white men, women and children were killed. The war was tragic for both sides.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota feel this way.
The Dakota reservation was a place of unhappiness and unrest. The Indians lived along the Minnesota River – the reservation went from New Ulm to the South Dakota border. In the summer of 1862, the Dakota were hungry…their crops had failed the previous fall.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – The reservations were not places of unhappiness and unrest for all Dakota.
—Incorrect – The lower reservation started about 7 miles west of New Ulm. The upper reservation extended into Dakota Territory.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were hungry in the summer of 1862.
—Incorrect – Not all of their crops failed the previous fall.
This stone warehouse is the only building that survived the 1862 attacks at Lower Sioux Agency. Indian agents refused to distribute food stored in the warehouse when the Dakota Indians were starving, because government payments for the food were late.
—Incorrect – A cabin owned by Francois LaBathe also survived.
—Incorrect – There was one Indian Agent.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were starving.
Indian agent Thomas Galbraith was a stickler for policy. The food and the money were always distributed together. He held to that in 1862 – with disastrous results.
—Incorrect – Galbraith issued food to the Sisseton and Wahpeton, but refused to issue food to the Mdewakanton and Wahpeton. We did know why he refused food to the Lower Dakota.
[One Indian says] “this is our reservation, and yet you go out and you cut our grass for your animals. You cut down our trees for your building and your fire. You shoot our game, which we have very little of anyway. It’s ours, you leave it alone.” Andrew Myrick says, “Well then, if you want it then you eat your grass. And we won’t trade with you.”
—Incorrect – We don’t know if this conversation took place.
The war lasted five weeks. U.S. troops finally broke the Dakota offense.
—Unbalanced – Friendly Dakota allied with the U.S. Army to rescue the hostages and bring an early end to the war.
But the Indians lost faith in the government after it reneged on promises.
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota lost faith in the government. The majority of the Dakota did not go to war.
“That there are many bad men connected with the service cannot be denied. The records are abundant to show that gents have pocketed the funds appropriated by the government, and driven the Indians to starvation. It cannot be doubted that Indian wars have originated from this cause. The Sioux War in Minnesota is supposed to have been produced in this way,” the commission report said.
—I will restate, the majority of Dakota did not go to war. We must examine why 100-150 Lower Dakota men made the decision to go to war. The causes were many and complicated.
But in Minnesota, after the war there was no sympathetic ear for the Indians. There was no acknowledgement of the role that broken treaties and corrupt bureaucrats played in the war.
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota killed more than 650 innocent white men, women, and children.
—Incorrect – There were some, including the missionaries, who were sympathetic to those Indians who did not go to war.
His great-grandmother was marched, along with thousands of Dakota, to Ft. Snelling after the attacks.
—Incorrect – About 1650 Dakota men, women and children were taken to Fort Snelling.
The German settlement of New Ulm was the center of resistance against the Dakota in 1862.
—Incorrect – New Ulm was one of the centers.
The question of whether the settlers were the victims – or the cause – of the war is still debated.
—Incorrect – In the primary sources on causes of the Dakota War, no one says the settlers caused the war. They were innocent victims.
In 1862, there really were no innocent white settlers in Minnesota…whether they knew it or not, settlers were part of a government policy to drive Indians from their traditional lands.
—See my previous comment.
—Is this correct? Show that the U.S. had a policy to use settlers to drive Dakota from their land.
When whites came to Minnesota they came either knowing, believing, or hoping that the Dakota would be exterminated or forcibly removed,
—Incorrect – We cannot say this is true for all whites who came to Minnesota.
Most of the settlers were killed on the first day of the war, Aug. 18.
—Incorrect – Most of the settler were not killed on the first day of the war.
For all the talk that the cause of the outbreak could not be determined is nothing but rot, pure and simple. For had the Indians been treated as agreed, honest and upright, this bloody day in Minnesota’s history would have been avoided. But as it was, the Indians never had a square deal.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota did not go to war. There were many causes to this war. We cannot say it would have been avoided but for this cause.
Spurred on by public anger over the settler killings, the government hanged 38 Indians in late December. Most historians now believe the executions were based on flimsy evidence. They say innocent people were hanged.
—Incorrect – It is not possible to say what most historians believe.
—Unbalanced – Yes, there probably were some innocent men hanged but most of those hanged were guilty.
In 1863, Congress threw out all treaties with the Dakota. Money promised the Indians instead paid the war claims of the settlers. All Dakota land was confiscated. And in the crowning blow, the Dakota were expelled from Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were expelled.
—In the 1900s, the U.S. paid Dakota descendants for land and annuities taken in the 1860s.
The events of 1862 are very real to us as Dakota people today…The problems that we have in our contemporary communities are a direct consequence of losing our homeland, having attempts at cultural eradication perpetrated against us – and it needs to be addressed.
—Not all Dakota people feel this way.
Little Crow lead warriors into battle, but chiefs like Wabasha, Wacouta and Traveling Hail opposed war. Many of the chiefs said killing settlers was wrong, but…they were ignored.
—Little Crow also warned his warriors not to make war on the white women and children.
…the scouts set up a screen of camps across North and South Dakota. Their job was to shoot any Indian returning to Minnesota. As many as 300 were killed…any scout disobeying the shoot-to-kill order was subject to military execution.
—Incorrect – The U.S. Army set up the scout camps.
—Is this correct that as many as 300 were killed?
—Incorrect – These Dakota and mixed-bloods chose to become scouts and abide by the U.S. Army regulations.
One of the chief scouts here tells … of encountering his own nephew. When he saw his nephew coming, he said, I had tears in my eyes, but yet I had the orders of the United States Army to fulfill. And so before my own eyes, I shot him until he died…
—This nephew was a member of a raiding party that killed the Jewett Family near Mankato.
As one tribal Web site puts it, “The Indians were moved from state to state like a piece of unwanted baggage.” First to Fort Snelling, then down the Mississippi River to Davenport, Iowa.
—Incorrect – Most of the Dakota at Fort Snelling were moved to Crow Creek in Dakota Territory. Most of the Dakota at Mankato were moved to Davenport.
In Redwood Falls, which is adjacent to the Lower Sioux community, there’s a Ramsey Muncipal Park. Can you imagine being a resident or member of the Lower Sioux community, and every day being reminded that Minnesota celebrates the man who called for the extermination of our people?
—Disrespectful – Hostile Dakota had just killed more than 650 white men, women and children. Ramsey was voicing the popular public opinion at that time.
We can’t forget what happened in the past. We’ve got to learn from history, but we’ve got to move on. We have to move away from this … and learn how to get along together…
After the 1862 Dakota conflict, Minnesota’s Dakota Indians were expelled from the state.
—Incorrect – Not all of Minnesota’s Dakota Indians were expelled from the state.
Our people were brought from Fort Snelling in barges.
—Incorrect – They were brought on steamboats.
But most Dakota did not fight, and even opposed the war. They knew they were innocent and had no reason to leave Minnesota. But when the fighting ended…all the Dakota were rounded up and shipped west.
—Incorrect – Not all were shipped west.
Of the 1,300 people that was on those barges, 300 died…
—Incorrect – They were removed on steamboats.
—Incorrect – Very few died on the steamboats.
The Minnesota Dakota waited until the uproar over the 1862 war had subsided. Then they walked hundreds of miles back to the state.
—Incorrect – Not all walked.
…after the 1862 war, every Indian was treated the same…even those who helped white settlers escape the fighting were shipped out.
—Incorrect – All Dakota were not treated the same.
—Incorrect – On February 9, 1865, Congress awarded a total of $7,500 to 36 friendly Dakota and mixed-bloods for aiding whites during the Dakota War of 1862.
They must have planned it that way too – this uprising. The government did. They don’t feed them, so they can go to war. They have an excuse to move them out of there.
—Incorrect – There is no evidence that the U.S. starved Dakota to provoke a war.