Review – Reconciling Memory Essay

 “Reconciling Memory: Landscapes, Commemorations, and Enduring Conflicts of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” (2011).
History Dissertations. Paper 28.
By Julie A. Anderson
Updated November 24, 2014

 Items of Interest

 The white settlers did nothing wrong. They were innocent victims of the brutality of traditional Dakota warfare. 

I need to repeat this. The white settlers did nothing wrong. They were innocent victims of the brutality of traditional Dakota warfare.

General Comments

  • Unbalanced – The title suggests that this essay is balanced. It is not balanced, as shown below.
  • Incorrect – The “rift” between the Dakota and white communities is not as great as suggested in this essay. A few Dakota activists and some whites are benefiting from this supposed “rift.”
  • Incorrect – Reconciliation has different meanings to different people. For this reason, reconciliation is not possible unless all sides can agree on what it means. In almost all cases, it has been whites who have initiated reconciliation.
  • Incorrect – At the time of the internment camp at Fort Snelling, “Soldiers at the fort raped women and those who resisted were often killed…” This quote is credited to Monjeau-Marz, The Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-64. It cannot be found on the page cited by the author. This is incorrect.
  • Unbalanced – If it is said that the U.S. committed genocide against the Dakota, then it must be said that the Dakota committed genocide against the white settlers.
  • Unbalanced – How did the Dakota mark historic places before the whites came. Is marking historic places a “white thing”?
  • Unbalanced – The Dakota communities have land and money. Did they erect signs and monuments to remember the Dakota War? Have they had ceremonies to remember the Dakota War and if they did, did they invite whites to these ceremonies?
  • Unbalanced – The author does not mention the atrocities committed by the hostile Dakota during the war. Number killed is important but it is also important to discuss the brutality of traditional Dakota warfare.
  • Disrespectful – The “fur traders” are criticized a number of times. I ask the author to name those fur traders who cheated the Indians and show proof. 

Most Objectionable Statements

Each statement below corrects or adds balance to statements made in this essay. Many duplicates have been removed. These statements have been resorted into chronological sequence.

Early History
—The Dakota Indians killed members of other tribes and took their land. They did not write treaties.
—Prior to the arrival of the whites, Dakota in various areas had different “seasonal rounds.”

Fur Trade
—Dakota culture was drastically disrupted by the arrival of the fur traders.
—With the building of Fort Snelling, the U.S. generally controlled Minnesota. The Dakota were not heavily reliant on their fur traders for food resources at this time.

—In 1805, Dakota signed a treaty with the U.S. that provided land for Fort Snelling.
—The treaties provided much more than money and food.
—The Dakota did not have to sign treaties in order to remain in the state. They could have chosen not to sell their land.
—The 1851 Treaties at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota opened a vast tract of land to white settlers. These treaties created 2 reservations, 20 miles wide and combined 139 miles long. We cannot say how much was paid per acre, because this land cession was never surveyed.
—Starvation caused the Sisseton and Wahpeton to sign the 1851 Treaty at Traverse des Sioux.
—The Lower Sioux Agency and the Upper Sioux Agency were established to administer the 1851 Treaties.
—Two 1858 Dakota Treaties were signed in Washington D.C. In 1851, the Dakota were not given ownership of their reservations. In 1858, they were asked to vacate their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. They were paid a second time for this vacated land.
—The 1858 Treaties did not promise or provide distribution of food and money.

—The Dakota were not confined to these reservations. Their lives were not structured according to the will of the U.S.
—The Agencies did not house the missionaries and the traders. They furnished their own housing.
—In 1861, 35 Dakota villages were distributed along almost the entire length of these reservations. Each village had a village chief.
—By 1862, there were about 250 Dakota families on farms and more waiting in line.
—The atmosphere on the reservations was tense in the early summer months of 1862.
—There were various reasons for the payment delay in 1862. The Civil War may have been one of these reasons. Congress was not involved in what currency would be paid.
—Not all of the Dakota faced starvation in August 1862. It is not known how many were starving prior to August 1862.
—Many fur traders stopped giving credit in July because they learned that the Soldiers’ Lodge planned to drive up their debts and then refuse to pay. Some fur traders continued to give credits.
—Dakota were asking the fur traders for credit prior to August 1862.
—When Dakota stormed the warehouse at the Upper Agency, soldiers from Fort Ridgely were already there.
—Galbraith issued food to the Upper Dakota but not to the Lower Dakota.
—The Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith lived at the Upper Sioux Agency.
—Esther Wakeman did not live at the Agency.

—There are many versions of what happened in Acton Township on August 17, 1862. It is not possible to say which version is correct.
—It is not possible to say why 4 young Dakota men killed 3 men, 1 woman and a child in Acton Township.
—Acton was a location in Acton Township which consisted of the Baker and Jones’ farms.
—These Dakota men did not “happen” upon the Jones’ farm.
—Mrs. Baker, her 2 sons and Mrs. Webster fled to another homestead.
—The Jones’ grandson was later found alive in the Jones’ cabin.
—The Rice Creek Village was at least 15 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency.
—The leader of the Rice Creek Village was Red Middle Voice.

Causes of the War
—The causes of the Dakota War are many and complicated. If anyone is blamed for this war, show proof that this is correct.
—The author states that Big Eagle said the Dakota were upset with the continual cheating by the fur traders. In this same narrative, Big Eagle also said, “I do not say that the traders always cheated and lied about these accounts. I know many of them were honest men and kind and accommodating.”

Decision for War
—A Soldiers’ Lodge was meeting in the Rice Creek Village on August 17. It contained 100-150 members.
—This Soldiers’ Lodge decided on war and then went to Chief Shakopee or they went to Chief Shakopee and then decided on war. They then went to Chief Little Crow to ask him to be their leader.
—The Soldiers’ Lodge decided on war. They were not justified as the majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in this decision and the majority of the Dakota people did not want war.
—The Dakota Nation did not go to war. A faction of the Dakota Nation went to war.
—Little Crow and others tried to talk them out of war. Not all of the Dakota leaders were present at this meeting. Little Crow agreed to lead them.
—It cannot be said what the men and women who followed Little Crow understood.

—What should we call this war? It was a massacre of innocent white settlers by hostile Dakota soldiers. It was an uprising of a faction of the Dakota People. Most of their leaders were not involved in this decision. Conflict is too mild. It was a war.
—Dakota warned their friends among the whites to flee.
—Traditional Dakota warfare was savage. Hostile Dakota murdered innocent white settlers. See Micho, Dakota Dawn: The Decisive First Week of the Sioux Uprising, August 17-24, 1862.
—The attack on the Lower Sioux Agency was a massacre. The stone warehouse and a cabin owned by Francois LaBathe survived the attack.
—A recruiting party went out from New Ulm on August 18, the day before the Dakota attacked New Ulm.
—John Otherday led 62 people to safety from the Upper Sioux Agency. His people, the Wahpetons, mostly opposed war with the whites.
—Stephen Riggs and others left the Agency area on early Tuesday morning. Thomas Williamson and others did not leave until Wednesday.
—Joseph R. Brown was married to Susan Freniere, a Dakota/White woman. She was not related to Chief Little Crow. She fled with her family from their home, about 7 miles below the Upper Sioux Agency and attempted to reach Fort Ridgely.
—Little Crow, although appointed leader, did not have much to say about how the war was conducted.
—Dakota offered rewards for white scalps during the war.
—More than 650 white civilians and soldiers were killed in the Dakota War of 1862. Most of them were women and children. About 100 were soldiers or armed militia.
—Many of the bodies of the murdered settlers were buried in unmarked graves.
—About 150 Dakota were killed in this war. It is not known if any were women and children.

War – Fort Ridgely
—There were 2 stone buildings at Fort Ridgely. The other buildings were wood.
—Their water supply came from at least one well, maybe two wells.
—Captain Marsh and 47 men were ambushed at Redwood Ferry. Marsh and 23 men were killed.
—Lt. Gere was Marsh’s second in command.
—Lt. Sheehan was from Fort Ripley. Sheehan and his men were returning to Fort Ripley when the war started.
—After Marsh left for Redwood Ferry, most of the soldiers remaining at Fort Ridgely were not ill.
—The Renville Rangers were initially organized out of the Upper Sioux Agency.

War – Battle of Wood Lake
—Samuel Brown stated that there were 738 Dakota soldiers at or near the battle site. Not all were involved in the battle.
—Besides Chief Mankato being killed, Chief Mazomani would die later from wounds received in the battle.
—Regular army soldiers also participated in the battle.

Trials and hanging
—Had the U.S. conducted warfare in the same manner as the Dakota, the majority of the Dakota Indians would have been killed. There would have been no trials.
—Not all of the Dakota men were tried. 392 men were tried. 323 were convicted. This included at least one white and several Dakota/White mixed-bloods.
—Sarah Wakefield was the wife of the physician at the Upper Sioux Agency. To fully understand Sarah Wakefield and Chaska’s story, one must read Chaska’s trial transcript and later letters from Riggs and Sibley to Wakefield. Chaska was found guilty by the commission and sentenced to hang. He was given a reprieve by Lincoln. He was hanged by mistake because he answered when the name Chaska was called when selecting the men to be hanged. Another Chaska was the intended victim. Today, some are seeking a pardon for Chaska. They should be seeking an apology.
—Under U.S. law, President Lincoln was required to approve the hanging sentences.
—The 38 men hanged at Mankato were not all Dakota. They included at least one white and several Dakota/White mixed-bloods. They were implicated in the murders of at least 99 white civilians and the rapes of 2 women.
—This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.

Fort Snelling
—This was an internment camp. It was not a prison camp nor a concentration camp. Some call it a concentration camp to evoke images of the Nazi concentration camps.
—There were Dakota men, women, children and elderly men and women in the internment camp.
—The official report states that about 102 Dakota died here. They died mainly from measles and other illnesses.
—Members of the general public were also afflicted with measles and many died.
—Armed guards protected the Dakota from angry white citizens.
—There was little or no abuse to the Dakota in the Fort Snelling internment camp.
—Their exposure to harsh winter conditions was the same here as they would have experienced had they been left at Camp Release. Food, firewood and medical attention were furnished to them here.

—Most of the Dakota were expelled from the state.
—About 1300 Dakota of those at Fort Snelling in May were removed by steamboat to Crow Creek in Dakota Territory.
—Dakota men (and their families) who served as scouts for the U.S. Army remained behind. Another group was taken to Faribault and cared for by Bishop Whipple and Alexander Faribault.
—Minnesota offered rewards for Dakota scalps. Four to five rewards were paid. Hostile Dakota were returning to the state and murdering settlers.
—Some of the Dakota men held at Mankato were dropped off at Fort Snelling as the prisoners were taken by steamboat down to Davenport, Iowa.
—The Dakota held at Davenport, Iowa were released after 3 years.
—White families continued to suffer after the war.
—The Dakota People suffered, because a faction of their men decided to start a war of extermination that they could not win.

Later History
—Sibley pursued the hostile Dakota in 1863 but not in 1864.
—The Dakota were recognized as victims by several early authors including the missionaries who published numerous newspaper articles, essays and books.
—Besides Big Eagle’s narrative, there are other Dakota narratives explaining why they went to war.
—It cannot be proven that Anton Gag, Alexander Schwendinger and Christian Heller painted the Dakota War panorama discussed by the author.
—Hutchinson erected a statue of Chief Little Crow. About 7 miles to the north is a monument for Little Crow near the site of his murder.
—Gabriel Renville was never involved in a 4th of July celebration in New Ulm. He was involved in a 4th of July celebration in Brown’s Valley.
—Joseph R. Brown died in 1870, about 24 years before the Birch Coulee monument was erected. Brown was appointed by Colonel Sibley to lead the detachment which was attacked at Birch Coulee.
—A photo from the Minnesota Historical Society is identified as “Indian Monuments.” Only one of the monuments in the photo is an “Indian Monument.”
—By the 1880s, some Dakota had returned to the area across the Minnesota River from Morton.
—The whites also passed their histories down orally. Histories and oral histories by whites need to be made available to the public.
—In the 1980s, the U.S paid Dakota descendants for the annuities and land taken in 1863.
—The Dakota Commemorative March began in 2002 and was repeated every 2 years up to 2012. This march was promoted as retracing the original route in 1862 from Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling. However, even in 2012, more than 80% of this march was not on the original 1862 route. See Bakeman and Richardson, Trails of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins.
—The Dakota are allowed to publicly acknowledge their own heroes.
—I have never seen a white person who is still angry about what happened in 1862. I have seen a few Dakota people still angry about what happened in 1862.
—I have never seen a white person who has resented the implication that the Dakota were justified in starting the war.
—Most people do not know about the Dakota War and they do not care about history in general.

A map is shown throughout this essay with updates as the essay progresses. These are corrections:
—There were 2 reservations in 1862.
—Litchfield and Morton were not there in 1862.
—In relation to Acton: Litchfield, Monson Lake and Endresen Farm are plotted incorrectly.
—Birch Coulee is plotted too far upriver
—Dakota attacked settlers at Lake Shetek, Sacred Heart, Milford, Monson Lake, and Endresen Farm, Forest City and Hutchinson. These were not battles.
—New Ulm should be marked with a larger battle symbol. It was attacked during the same period as Fort Ridgely.

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