“Minnesota Bounties on Dakota Men During the U.S. – Dakota War”
By Colette Routel
Wm Mitchell College of Law, Legal Studies Research Paper Series, Paper No. 201
Reviewed November 29, 2014
Items of Interest
This is a good read for anyone interested in the bounty system in Minnesota after the Dakota War of 1862: Why it was put in place – The opposition to paying bounties – Details on when and where the scalps were taken – Legality of the bounty system – The Lieber Code.
The author discusses: What to call this war – The decision for war – Who participated in this decision – Their sovereignty – When did the war end.
The author dispels the often made statement that Little Crow was killed for a bounty. Little Crow was killed before it was known that the public could receive bounties for Dakota scalps.
- Incorrect – The author believes the 1862 Dakota War continued into 1863. Thus the bounties paid in 1863 were paid during the war as the title suggests.
- Unbalanced – While focusing on the Minnesota bounty system, the author ignores bounties offered by the hostile Dakota during the Dakota War of 1862.
- Unbalanced – The author focuses on U.S. military laws of warfare. What were the hostile Dakota laws of warfare?
- Unbalanced – There are many versions of the sequence of events following the murders at Acton on August 17, 1862. More information is needed.
- More information is needed on the traditional Dakota decision-making process.
Most Objectionable Statements
The author refers to the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Wahpekute as tribes.
—Incorrect – These were and still are bands.
…thirty-eight Dakota men had been hanged in the largest mass execution in United States history.
—Incorrect – Among those hanged were at least 1 white and several mixed-bloods.
—Incorrect – It was the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
Focusing attention on the Minnesota bounty system is necessary to provide a balanced perspective of the atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict.
—Unbalanced – Atrocities of the hostile Dakota during the Dakota War are not discussed.
—Unbalanced – Hostile Dakota also offered bounties during the Dakota War.
In fact, they [bounty programs] could be viewed as part of a much broader extermination program that was at the heart of federal Indian policy during this time period.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Prove that the U.S. had an Indian extermination policy.
This program should not be whitewashed from the history of federal Indian policy.
—Disrespectful – Is “whitewashed” the correct word? Who is whitewashing it?
For the Dakota, the war was the inevitable result of festering animosity surrounding the negotiation and implementation of treaties with the United States. In a series of treaties executed between 1837 and 1858, the Dakota ceded nearly all of their land in the State of Minnesota. These treaties were negotiated using intimidation, trickery, and outright fraud by the United States.
—Incorrect – “The Dakota” did not go to war. A faction of them did.
—Incorrect – The causes of the Dakota War are much more complicated than this.
—Incorrect – The Dakota also ceded land outside of Minnesota.
—Disrespectful – Prove that trickery and fraud were used when negotiating these treaties.
…Congress investigated Alexander Ramsey for his role in 1851 treaty negotiations that led to the mishandling of $450,000 in Dakota money…
—Disrespectful – Ramsey was found innocent by a Senate subcommittee
On this small strip of land the Dakota were unable to sustain themselves through their traditional means of hunting, fishing and gathering. Some turned to farming, which was part of the assimilation program advanced by the United States.
—Incorrect – In 1862 this “strip” was 10 miles wide and combined 139 miles long. This was hardly a strip.
—Incorrect – By 1862, about 250 Dakota families were on farms.
—Disrespectful – When Dakota leaders signed the 1851 and 1858 treaties, they agreed that their people would learn to live as the whites.
—Incorrect – The author implies the Dakota were confined to their reservations. They continuously left their reservations for various reasons.
But many resisted these and other assimilation efforts, and their lives now depended on the annuities of cash and goods promised to them in the treaties.
—Incorrect – They were given much more than cash and goods.
These annuities were always late in arriving, and when they did, traders took the bulk of the money claiming that it was owed to them for goods purchased on credit. Federal Indian agents did little to reduce these frauds, as they were often complicit in them.
—Incorrect – Prove that the annuities were “always late in arriving.”
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Prove the traders took the bulk of the money.
—Disrespectful – Name those traders who committed fraud and show proof.
—Disrespectful – Use of the word “claiming” implies the traders were lying.
—Disrespectful – Name the Indian agents who were complicit with the fur traders and show proof.
Instead, the agents exacerbated the rifts growing within the Dakota community by making resources available only to those who were willing to participate in the United States’ assimilation programs.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – The rifts were caused by the traditional Dakota who did not want to be farmers.
—Incorrect – Agents continued to issue resources to all Dakota. Agents issued additional resources to the farmers.
Meanwhile, white settlers continued flooding the area, encroaching on what little Dakota land remained.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Prove that any whites knowingly encroached on Dakota land.
While the causes of the U.S.-Dakota War are numerous, scholars agree that starvation, trader fraud, conflicts with white settlers, corruption in Indian affairs, and the federal government’s misguided assimilation program, were all contributing factors.
—Any explanation of causes must consider why 100-150 young men of a Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge wanted war.
—Yes, starvation was a primary immediate cause of the Dakota War. But not all were starving.
—Disrespectful – If any traders committed fraud, name them and show proof.
—Incorrect – Show proof of these “conflicts” with white settlers.
—Disrespectful – If any person in Indian affairs was corrupt, name them and show proof.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Prove that the government’s program was “misguided.”
—Unbalanced – The author does not mention comments from those Dakota who were satisfied with the U.S. programs.
…the Dakota were in “an extremely destitute condition,” yet the traders would not allow them to buy goods on credit.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – A fuller explanation is needed as to why most of the traders stopped giving credits. And, it was not their responsibility to feed the Indians.
The winter of 1861-62 was a harsh one, and the 1862 annuity payment that was supposed to have been paid in June did not arrive.
—Incorrect – The annuity payment arrived on August 18, the first day of the war.
On July 14th, food and other provisions arrived at the agency, but Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith refused to distribute it, believing that he should wait until the money annuities had arrived.
—Disrespectful – While this statement is correct, more needs to be said about feeding the Dakota. Folwell states, “The agent was obliged to buy on credit flour and pork to eke out the living of all. He fed a thousand and more women and children and old and infirm men of the Sisseton from the middle of December, 1861, until nearly the following April. But for this assistance they would have perished.” See Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. II, p. 228.
In early August, a group of Dakota men tried to break into an Yellow Medicine Agency’s warehouse holding food and other goods. This was an act of sheer desperation, as the warehouse was surrounded by troops and artillery.
—Is this correct – Was the warehouse surrounded by troops and artillery or were they in a separate camp near the warehouse.
Galbraith turned to the traders and asked them for their opinion. Trader Andrew Myrick said: “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung…”
—Disrespectful – More needs to be said on why Myrick made this statement.
…on the morning of August 17, 1862, four young Dakota men went out hunting in an area known as the Big Woods, approximately 30 miles east of the Redwood Agency.
—Incorrect – Acton is about 40 miles northeast of the Redwood Agency.
They came upon Robinson Jones’ homestead in Acton Township…and before the morning was over, they had killed Jones, his wife and teenage daughter, and two other men.
—Incorrect – They didn’t come upon Jones’ homestead.
—Incorrect – They killed Jones, his wife and 2 other men at the Baker homestead. Then they killed Jones’ step-granddaughter at the Jones’ homestead.
According to the account of Chief Big Eagle, the men found a hen’s nest with some eggs in it…
—Incorrect – Big Eagle’s account is only one of many. It is not possible to know which account is correct.
From there [Lower Agency], the Dakota travelled down the Minnesota River valley, attacking settlements in their path and in many instances, killing civilians.
—Incorrect – They went out in several directions not just downriver.
Sibley took the remaining 1,200 – 1,800 Dakota into custody at Camp Release.
—Incorrect – Anderson in Kinsman of Another Kind, states there were 1,658 Dakota.
—Incorrect – Sibley did not take the known friendly Dakota into custody.
The commission decided 30 to 40 cases in a single day and some were heard in as little as five minutes. None of the Dakota were provided attorneys, hearsay evidence was used against them, and many were prevented from testifying in their own defense.
—Unbalanced – Compare this to the Dakota trial system. Consider what would have happened to these Dakota had the U.S. waged a traditional Dakota war.
—Incorrect – The U.S. was not required to supply attorneys.
—Unbalanced – Too much text is devoted to the trials in general. The focus should be on the trials of those who were hanged.
—See Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota for the best discussion on these trials.
…a single blow from an ax cut the rope that held the platform causing the prisoners to fall to their deaths. This was the largest mass execution in American history.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass execution in American history.
—Unbalanced – Compare this to the more than 50 innocent white men, women and children killed in Milford Township on August 18, 1862. We might call Milford a larger mass execution.
…at least 200 Dakota had died while at the Fort Snelling internment camp due to the harsh winter, lack of food, and disease.
—Incorrect – The official army record states that about 102 Dakota died at Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – Prove that any died due to the harsh winter and lack of food.
For the rest of the Dakota, he [Lincoln] approved their removal to the site of a new reservation on the Missouri River…
—Incorrect – Not all Dakota were removed.
…nearly half of the Dakota died at the Fort Snelling internment camp.
—Absolutely Incorrect – Take a second look at the source cited.
Over the next month, as they travelled to the Crow Creek Reservation, they left a trail of makeshift graves along the riverbank, dug for passengers who had fallen ill and perished along the trip. Three hundred more died on this trip…
—Absolutely Incorrect – None of the sources cited by the author state that 300 died on this trip. Ten died on this trip – See Bachman, Northern Slave Black Dakota.
The Dakota never forgot these [Minnesota state bounty] orders, however, and continue to mention them to this day.
—Incorrect – We cannot say what “the Dakota” never forgot and how many still talk about this.
In the summer of 1863, General Sully and General Sibley were placed in charge of the expedition to annihilate the remaining Dakota who had fled west following the Battle of Wood Lake.
—Incorrect – They were seeking hostile Dakota who had committed crimes. Not all of those who fled were hostile.
None of the Dakota killed under this [Minnesota] bounty system instigated the conflict that ultimately led to their death; these men were shot simply because they were Dakota.
—Unbalanced – None of the more than 550 white civilians did anything to instigate the conflict. They were murdered simply because they were white.
[In 1831] Chief Justice John Marshall described Indian tribes as “domestic dependent nations,” and said that the United States had recognized them “as a people capable of maintaining the relations of peace and war.”
—Marshall also said, “…their relations to the U.S. resemble that of a ward to his guardian.” The Dakota were about as sovereign as the U.S. permitted them to be.
Thus, the Dakota were more properly thought of as a confederacy…This is evident in the very name of the tribe – Dakota – which means “Allied People.
—Using the meaning of their name to define the political structure of their group is a stretch.
At a minimum, the United States recognized the independent sovereignty of the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton, and Wahpeton bands. The clearest example of this can be found in the treaties between the United States and the Dakota. Those treaties sometimes included only the Mdewakanton bands, only the Lower Dakota bands (Mdewakanton and Wahpekute), or only the Upper Dakota bands (Sisseton and Wahpeton).
—Incorrect – If the author is correct, then we should call this the U.S.-Mdewakanton War.
—Incorrect – Look at the treaties of 1851: The U.S. treated with the Sisseton and Wahpeton in one treaty and with the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute in the second treaty. Each treaty had different terms and set up different reservations. In both treaties, the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton are identified as bands of Dakota or Sioux Indians. Leaders of each village were involved and signed their respective treaties.
—The author needs to seek out why the Treaty Commissioners decided to treat as they did.
—The Dakota land cession in the 1851 Treaties could not be subdivided between the Mdewakanton/Wahpekute and the Sisseton/Wahpeton. They held this land in common. The transaction could not be completed unless a majority of the Sisseton/Wahpeton AND a majority of the Mdewakanton/Wahpekute agreed.
[In Dakota government], decisions were made democratically, by consensus or at least majority vote, in large councils.
—But, these councils included only men who had proven themselves in warfare.
—Incorrect – Councils were also held at the village level.
The United States’ assimilation programs had created deep divides between those “farmer Indians” who had adopted western attire, Christianity and farming, and the traditionalists or “blanket Indians,” who had refused to do so.
—Incorrect – The Dakota who opposed the U.S. programs caused the divides.
—Incorrect – Not all farmers were Christians.
Some scholars have argued that the Council system was used and a decision was made to go to war…Alternatively, Gary Clayton Anderson, a noted authority on the Dakota during this time period, claimed that the decision to go to war was made by “a minority of warriors from the Mdewakanton soldiers’ lodges: a tribal or band council never even met to consider the prospect of war.”
—Anderson also wrote, “They had abandoned traditional patterns of consensus politics designed to prevent hasty decisions. They refused even to consult with the major civil chiefs. A decision so crucial, so important to the welfare of the tribe, should have been reached by consensus in a formal tribal council. Only about a hundred men came to Little Crow’s house to argue for war, and they came predominantly from young Shakopee’s and Red Middle Voice’s villages, where the soldiers’ lodge had been the strongest.” See Anderson, Little Crow…, p. 133.
When the Union formed a company of mixed-blood Dakotas (the Renville Rangers) in Minnesota to assist in the Civil War, many Dakota saw this as a sign of weakness.
—Incorrect – Indian Agent Galbraith formed the company of Renville Rangers under his own initiative.
The Rice Creek Village…consisted largely of young warriors who, dissatisfied with life on the Reservation, had deliberately moved north of the mouth of the Redwood River, into an area that had been ceded to the United States in the 1858 treaty.
—Incorrect – The Rice Creek Village was near the mouth of Rice Creek on the south side of the Minnesota River.
—Incorrect – This land on the north side of the Minnesota River was ceded to the U.S. in the 1851 Treaties.
Runners were sent to the heads of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands.
—While runners may have been sent, it is a fact that all leaders of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute were not present at this council. And it cannot be proven that any of the Sisseton/Wahpeton leaders were present.
Sources indicate that leaders from many of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands were present on the evening of August 17, 1862, along with at least 100 members of the soldiers’ lodge.
—Incorrect – There was only one Wahpekute village on the reservation. Red Legs its leader was not included in this meeting at Little Crow’s house.
—Incorrect – Gary Clayton Anderson wrote, “The leaders immediately recognized the necessity of bringing into the conspiracy men from other Mdewakanton villages who sympathized with their cause. But they also saw the need to proceed cautiously, since revealing their plans in each village would have resulted in the calling of village councils that were controlled by farmer Indians.” See Anderson, Little Crow…, p. 131
Modern authors have claimed that other Mdewakanton chiefs, including Traveling Hail, the recently elected speaker of the Dakota, and Chief Mankato, were present on this night for deliberations. Big Eagle’s account seems to settle this scholarly debate by stating that “[a] council was held and war was declared.”
—Incorrect – “a council” does not mean a tribal council of all the leaders.
[Carley wrote] “…riders were sent to summon such leaders as Mankato, Wabasha, Traveling Hail, and Big Eagle to the war council at Little Crow’s house,” and that Wabasha advocated against the war during the council…”
—Carley does not provide his specific source that Wabasha was present. It is likely he used Big Eagle’s Account for this information.
Big Eagle was present, and in his account he stated that Wabasha, the head Mdewakanton chief, and Wacouta (also spelled Wakute), another Mdewakanton chief were also there…Wabasha claimed that he only found out about the war when the attack was occurring on August 18th, and that he immediately sent word to chiefs Wacouta [Wakute] and Red Legs, “who had not yet heard of the outbreak.”
—Incorrect – Wabasha’s account was given in 1868. Wabasha’s account trumps all other accounts that say he was present. Big Eagle’s account was given in 1894, 32 years later. Wabasha was considered a principal chief. Traditionally, a decision for war could not be made without Wabasha, Wakute, Red Legs and their headmen being present.
Regardless of who was present on that night, most of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute chiefs led their warriors into battle during the course of the fall of 1862, thereby seemingly ratifying the decision that had been made at that first council.
—Incorrect – We do not know who and how many Dakota were forced into battle by threats of death.
Furthermore, throughout the hostilities, numerous additional council meetings were held where representatives of nearly all of the bands were present. Faced with these facts, it is hard to conclude that a formal war was not commenced by the Lower Dakota bands.
—Incorrect – We cannot speculate what may have happened had all the village leaders been present when the decision for war was discussed.
The conclusion that a formal war was declared against the United States, at least by the Lower Dakota bands, is also supported by contemporaneous statements and actions of federal and state officials. Throughout the fighting in August and September 1862, those officials described the conflict between the Dakota and the United States as a “war.”
—Incorrect – To be in a state of war does not mean that the war was legally declared. And regardless of how they described it, it was not a war between the U.S. and “the Dakota.”
During the fighting, General Sibley also took specific actions demonstrating that he believed the conflict to be a war between lawful belligerants. For example, on several occasions Sibley communicated with Dakota forces under a flag of truce and he informed his superiors, including General Pope, of this fact. This is important, because flags of truce could only be exchanged with enemy belligerents in a war, not with guerrillas or common criminals.
—Incorrect – Flags of truce could be used between any warring factions who recognized their meaning.
Whipple later confronted Sibley in correspondence: “The civilized world cannot justify the trial by a military commission of men who voluntarily came in under a flag of truce.”
—Incorrect – Prove that anyone came in under a flag of truce. The guilty surrendered. The innocent waited for Sibley to arrive.
The tougher question, however, is whether a state of war could be said to still exist in 1863, when the Minnesota Adjutant General issued his order. Most of the fighting concluded in September 1862, and by the beginning of October, General Pope had announced that “[t]he Sioux war may be considered at an end.”…But Taoyateduta had not been captured, and he fled westward, along with at least 150 persons. It appears that General Halleck had it right when he wrote that “[t]he Indian war in [Minnesota] is deemed to be ended for the season.”
—Incorrect – The author uses weak arguments to prove that the Dakota War of 1862 extended beyond 1862.
Federal, state, and local governments all had a hand in creating the bounty system that provided monetary rewards for the killing of Dakota men beginning in 1863. This system was illegal from its inception, because the Dakota were engaged in a war with the United States and were entitled to the status of lawful belligerents under both the international laws of war, and the domestically created Lieber Code.
—Incorrect – As shown above, a faction of the Dakota went to war with the U.S. This war ended in 1862. In 1863, hostile Dakota continued to return to Minnesota to kill people and livestock. These hostile Dakota were small groups acting independently of each other.
While many scholars today refer to this time period as the “Reservation Era,” it could also be viewed as the “Extermination Era,” an ugly bit of our collective history where elected officials advocated for the mass murder of Indian people. The story of the U.S.-Dakota War is incomplete without this history.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – The author states an opinion. More facts on a national level are needed to prove this was an “Extermination Era.”