Review – MHS FS Website

Minnesota Historical Society (MHS)
Fort Snelling Website
Reviewed January 9, 2015

 Items of Interest

Only the text related to the fur trade, Dakota War and Dakota Indians is reviewed.

 General Comments

  • Unbalanced – No mention is made of traditional Dakota warfare during the Dakota War of 1862. Hostile Dakota tortured, scalped, decapitated, dismembered, brained, poked out eyes, etc. The visitor cannot understand why Dakota were hanged and exiled. Traditional Dakota warfare was brutal.
  • Unbalanced – What happened to the Dakota after the war is discussed. What happened to the whites after the war is not discussed.
  • It is not possible to cover such complicated subjects with so little interpretation.

Most Objectionable Statements

 History – Timeline

Dakota Meet Europeans – Jul 1655

Exploring the West for furs, French explorers Radisson and Groseilliers canoe along the south shore of Lake Superior. They meet the Dakota, whom they call “Buffalo People,” and are probably the first Europeans to reach Minnesota.
—Incorrect – The first meeting between Radisson and Groseilliers with the Dakota, took place during the winter of 1659-1660 or in 1660. See Westerman and White, Mni Sota Makoce and Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Volume I.

The four bands of the Eastern Dakota, the Isanti (also known as the Santee), live along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in sourthern and western Minnesota.
—Incorrect – sourthern should be southern.
—Incorrect – Given the heading states 1655 as the year of this interpretation, this is incorrect or cannot be proven. Many Santee were still in northern Minnesota in 1655. See Anderson, Kinsmen of Another Kind.

Pike’s Treaty – Sep 23, 1805 12:00 PM

Pike makes a deal with two Dakota leaders for roughly 100,000 acres of land; enough for the U.S. government to build a trading post and fort…The “treaty” was ratified by Congress in 1808, but since Pike didn’t have the authority of the U.S. Senate or the President, it was not an official government act. According to an 1856 Senate committee report, “There is no evidence that this agreement, to which there was not even a witness…was ever considered binding upon the Indians, or that they ever yielded up the possession of their lands under it.”
—Incorrect – There were 7 Dakota leaders involved in the negotiation. Five did not sign because, “…they thought their word should be good enough.” See “Pike Explorations in Minnesota 1805-06” in MHS Collections, Volume I.
—Incorrect – In this treaty, 9 miles square was also purchased at the mouth of the St. Croix River.
—Incorrect – When U.S. soldiers arrived in 1819 to build the fort, the Dakota did not protest. They considered the treaty binding.
—Unbalanced – The money and goods given to the Dakota for this land should be mentioned.
—Unbalanced – In his first years at Fort Snelling, Taliaferro, the Indian Agent, also distributed goods to the Dakota. This should be mentioned.

1837 Treaties

The United States negotiates treaties with the Ojibwe and the Dakota for the wedge of land between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers…The Dakota do not reserve their hunting or fishing rights, but their annuities are to be perpetual. Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro boasts that he made the better bargain for the Dakota.
—Incorrect – The Treaty of 1837 with the Dakota was made with the Mdewakanton Band only.
—Incorrect – According to Article 1st, “The chiefs and braves…cede to the United States all their land, east of the Mississippi river, and all their islands in the said river. See Kappler, Indian Treaties – 1778-1883.
—Incorrect – The Dakota received much more than perpetual annuities.

Treaty of Traverse des Sioux – Jul 23, 1851

Facing mounting debts to fur traders and the pressure of new settlers pouring into the newly established Minnesota Territory, the Dakota leaders reluctantly sign treaties, hoping that government promises of reservations and annuities will provide a secure future for their people. Powerful and influential fur traders coerce the Dakota into giving up their land in exchange for promises of cash, goods, annuities and education.
—This has nothing to do with Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – The primary reason, the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota bands signed this treaty was that many of them were starving.
—Incorrect – Settlers were not “pouring” into the Dakota lands.
—Incorrect – It was the U.S. that promised cash, goods, annuities and education not the fur traders.
—Incorrect – Name the powerful and influential fur traders who “coerced” the Dakota and show proof.

After several weeks of discussions and threats, the Upper Bands relinquish their claims to all Minnesota lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for an immediate cash payment of $305,000 and annuity payments in goods, food, education and gold. The treaty also provides for a reservation along the upper Minnesota River.
—Who was threatening?
—Incorrect – The Upper Bands (Sisseton and Wahpeton) still held claims to land in Dakota Territory.
—Incorrect – They received much more than cash, annuity payments and a reservation.

Thinking they are endorsing a third copy of the treaty, the Dakota leaders sign “Traders’ Papers,” illegal documents drafted by the traders themselves. The documents promise much of the $305,000 cash payment to the traders to fulfill “just obligations.”
—Incorrect – Some of the Dakota leaders knew what they were signing.
—Incorrect – Later court decisions did not find these papers to be illegal.

In August, 1851, the commissioners begin negotiations with the Lower Bands at Mendota. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute are pressured into agreeing to terms similar to those forced on the Upper Bands, including $220,000 in upfront cash to the fur traders. Both treaties promise the Dakota new reservations along the Minnesota River “in perpetuity,” a pledge that will not be kept.
—Incorrect – This paragraph is almost a duplicate of the paragraph under Treaty of Mendota.

Treaty of Mendota – Aug 5, 1851

In August the commissioners begin negotiations with the Lower Bands at Mendota…Both treaties promise the Dakota new reservations along the Minnesota River “in perpetuity,” a pledge that will not be kept.
—This has nothing to do with Fort Snelling.
—What does this mean? – “a pledge that will not be kept”?

Treaties Ratified by Senate without Land Guarantee – Jun 23, 1852

The treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota go to the U.S. Senate to be ratified, but become entangled in the battle over the balance of power between the slave and free states. Southern senators hope the Dakota will refuse because of a key change in wording: in reference to reservation lands, the Senate replaces “in perpetuity” with “at the discretion of the President.”
—Why does it matter that there was a battle between the slave and free states?

…The Dakota are left with little choice and begin moving to the new lands along the Minnesota River in 1853.
—Incorrect – Some Dakota villages were already on the Upper Reservation. Some Dakota never moved to the new reservations.

—Where are the Treaties of 1858?

U.S.-Dakota War Begins – Aug 18, 1862

“See the white men are like locusts when they fly so thick that the whole sky is a snow storm. . . . Count your fingers all day long and white men will come faster than you can count.”
Taoyateduta (Little Crow)
—What does this mean?

By the summer of 1862, life on the Upper and Lower Sioux reservations is unpleasant and getting worse. Assimilation policies mandated by the U.S. government use the withholding of food and other supplies as a means of forcing the Dakota to conform to white ideals.
—Incorrect – 1862 promised a bumper crop. There would soon be plenty of food. The annuity money arrived at Fort Ridgely on August 18. In a few days, the Dakota would receive their money annuities and the Lower Dakota would receive the annuity supplies and food.
—Incorrect – Show proof for the second sentence.
—Incorrect – The Dakota reservations era in Minnesota should not be dealt with this simply. Many Dakota chose to adapt to ways of the whites.

“The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their life and live like white men,” said Dakota leader Wamditanka (Big Eagle). “The Indians wanted to live as they did before. . . . If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Indians.”
—This was one of many causes of the Dakota War of 1862.

…By the summer of 1862 tensions on the reservation are unbearable. Annuity payments are late again, and the traders refuse to extend further credit. The Dakota “Soldiers’ Lodge” advocates the use of force to acquire food for the Dakota people.
—Is this correct? – When were the annuity payments late prior to 1862? How late were they?
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Not all of the fur traders refused to give credit. Many stopped giving credits when they learned of a plan by a Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge to refuse to pay their debts when the annuity money arrived.
—Is this correct? Which Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge advocated the use of force? When did they do this?

The situation falls apart in mid-August, when four young Dakota men kill five settlers near Acton. The Soldiers’ Lodge gains power…
—Incorrect – Acton was a location in Acton Township, Meeker County. The settlers were killed at Acton.
—Incorrect – A Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge takes control. The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in the decision for war.

Dakota warriors attack the Lower Sioux Agency in the early morning of August 18, killing traders and government employees. The Dakota then attack settlements along the Minnesota River valley, killing hundreds of white settlers in the first few days.
—Incorrect – They also attacked settlers outside the Minnesota River Valley.

Removal of Dakota Survivors of U.S.-Dakota War to Fort Snelling – Nov 7 to Nov 13, 1862

[Drawing] – The attack at New Ulm
—Incorrect – Those taken to Fort Snelling did not pass through New Ulm

Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey declares that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” Dakota women, children, and older men are marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – The U.S. decided to remove these Dakota to Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – This group also included young men.

Along the route they are attacked by mobs of angry settlers. Witness Samuel Brown recalled that the streets of Henderson, Minnesota, were “crowded with an angry and excited populace, cursing, shouting, and crying. Men, women, and children armed with guns, knives, clubs, and stones rushed upon the Indians.”
—Unbalanced – Where are the graphic details of traditional Dakota warfare?

Dakota Internment at Fort Snelling – Nov 1862 to Apr 1863

After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, approximately 1,600 Dakota women, children and elderly men were removed from their homes and force-marched to an internment camp within a wooden stockade below Fort Snelling. This place, sometimes referred to as a concentration camp, was located below the bluff from Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – This group also included young men.
—Incorrect – The Dakota War had already caused many of them to be removed from their homes. They were mostly removed from Camp Release.
—Incorrect – They were not force-marched.
—Incorrect – Some call this a concentration camp to evoke images of the Nazi concentration camps. Show proof that Fort Snelling was a concentration camp.

The Dakota people in the camp suffered malnutrition and outbreaks of disease, and between 130 and 300 died within its walls in 1862 and 1863. The prisoners also endured assaults and violence at the hands of soldiers and local civilians.
—Incorrect – Show proof that any suffered from malnutrition except by their refusal to eat.
—Incorrect – Army records state that about 102 died. Show proof that more than this died.
—Incorrect – Show proof that any endured assaults and violence at the hands of soldiers and civilians.

Executions at Fort Snelling – Jul 1, 1864

…hanging of 38 Dakota men on Dec. 26, 1862, in Mankato. A military court had convicted 303 Dakota who were accused of killing civilians. It remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
—This has nothing to do with Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – The 38 included at least one white and several mixed-bloods.
—Incorrect – It remains the largest simultaneous mass execution in U.S. history.
—Unbalanced – On August 18, hostile Dakota murdered more than 50 innocent white men, women and children in Milford Township, Brown County. Wasn’t this a larger mass execution? Where on this website is this mentioned?

Home – History – American Indians – The Dakota People

 Historically, the Santee Dakota moved their villages and varied their work according to the seasons…
—Incorrect – Time period, group and place are missing from this description of the Santee Dakota seasonal cycle. I believe that regardless of time period, group and place that they maintained a base village.

Newcomers could be welcomed into Dakota communities through ritualized ceremonies where the obligations of kinship were bestowed upon the individuals involved.
—Is this correct? History from that period does not mention that newcomers were welcomed through ritualized ceremonies.

Community governance was accomplished through consensus with all concerned parties being able to speak and be heard.
—Incorrect – Women were not allowed to participate in council meetings.

Home – History – American Indians – The U.S. Indian Agency

Agents at the St. Peters Agency encouraged Dakota people to give up hunting as a primary method of subsistence, educate their children according to European-American standards, give up their traditional religion to become practicing Christians and adopt European-American agricultural methods…The U.S. government’s policy of assimilation would effectively destroy the traditional cultural identities of American Indian nations.
—Absolutely Incorrect – The culture of Dakota Christian farmers was not destroyed by changing religion and occupation.

Home – History – The Fur Trade

 —Dakota were also employed in the fur trade by the fur trade companies.

By the 1840s the fur trade had declined dramatically in the Minnesota region…
—While the fur trade did decline, it did continue for a number of years after the Dakota War of 1862.

Home – History – Military History – The Expansionist Era (1805-1858)

 —No comment

Home – History – Military History – U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

When you visit Historic Fort Snelling, look for the following opportunities to learn more about the war:
—MHS sites, other than Fort Snelling, also interpret the Dakota War. They should be mentioned here.

Between 1805 and 1858, treaties made between the U.S. government and the Dakota nation reduced Dakota lands and significantly altered Minnesota’s physical, cultural, and political landscape…many historians agree that major factors in the lead-up to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 lie in those treaties.
—Incorrect – These treaties were made with the Santee Dakota not the Dakota Nation.
—Administration of these treaties were one of the many causes of the Dakota War.

Provisions in the treaties stated that portions of the money paid to the Dakota would go…to pay off debts claimed by traders. Many Dakota claimed these debts had been inflated or were falsified, and were opposed to the traders being paid directly by the U.S. government. As a result resentment grew within many Dakota communities towards the traders and U.S. government.
—Disrespectful and Unbalanced – Chief Big Eagle said, “I know many of them [traders] were honest men and kind and accommodating” and, “Of course the traders often were of great service to the Indians in letting them have goods on credit…” See Anderson and Woolworth, “Big Eagle’s Account,” Through Dakota Eyes. Name the dishonest fur traders and show proof.

Dakota individuals who cut their hair and adopted European American agricultural methods received supplies, tools and housing at the expense of the U.S. government.
—Incorrect – They received extra food, supplies, tools, housing, livestock, etc.

By the summer of 1862 the situation for many Dakota families was desperate; annuity payments were late…some traders and officials at the Indian Agencies refused to extend credit for food and supplies until the Dakota had cash to pay their debts; and crop failures and poor hunting had left many Dakota families hungry.
—Incorrect – Thomas Galbraith, the Indian Agent, had the sole authority to issue government food. He issued food to the Sisseton and Wahpeton and then refused to issue food to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute. The government did not issue credits.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Many of the fur traders stopped giving credit when they learned that a Lower Sioux Soldiers’ Lodge planned to refuse to pay their debts when the annuity money came. It was not the responsibility of the traders to feed the Indians. We do not know how much food they had.
—Incorrect – Many crops had failed in 1861. There would be a bumper crop in 1862.

Over the next several weeks, groups of Dakota soldiers attacked European American communities throughout the Minnesota River Valley…
—Incorrect – They also attacked others outside of the Minnesota River Valley.

The war lasted nearly six weeks, during which more than 600 civilians and U.S. soldiers, as well as an unknown number of Dakota, lost their lives.
—More than 650 civilians and soldiers were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.

The war fractured Minnesota’s Dakota community. It was fought primarily by a relatively small group of Dakota and there was not universal support for the war within the Dakota community at large.
—The decision for war was made by 100-150 Lower Dakota men. Others joined them and others were forced, by threat of death, to join them. The majority did not go to war.

The remaining 38 men were hanged simultaneously in Mankato on Dec. 26 in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
—Incorrect – There was at least one white and several mixed-bloods included in this group.

The rest of the approximately 1,600 Dakota and “mixed-bloods”…were removed to Fort Snelling where they spent the winter of 1862-63 in a civilian internment camp, sometimes referred to as a concentration camp…
—Incorrect – Some call this a concentration camp to evoke images of the Nazi concentration camps. Show proof that Fort Snelling was a concentration camp.

According to reports in local newspapers and Dakota oral histories some of the prisoners endured assaults and violence at the hands of soldiers and local civilians.
—Incorrect – Show proof that soldiers and civilians assaulted them.
—Unbalanced – Then discuss how the prisoners of the Dakota were treated.

Many detainees sold personal possessions in order to purchase food to supplement the military-issue rations they were given. Some of the “mixed-blood” families owned land vouchers (called scrip) that had been granted them in treaties with the U.S. government.
—This information on scrip probably comes from Millikan, “The Great Treasure of the Fort Snelling Prison Camp”, Minnesota History Magazine, Spring 2010. See my review of this essay published previously on this blog.

A definitive number is unknown, but it is estimated that somewhere between 130 and 300 people died within the camp, mostly due to disease (a measles outbreak swept the region that winter).
—Incorrect – According to U.S. Army records, 102 died.

During the summer of 1863, newly-promoted Brig. Gen. Sibley, along with Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully, mounted a joint military operation, called the “Punitive Expedition,” against those Dakota who had left Minnesota and headed west.
—Incorrect – They were seeking the hostile Dakota.

Intermittent fighting continued between the U.S. military and the Dakota nation in the western territories throughout the late 1800s, culminating at Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890.
—Incorrect – Other Indian nations were also involved.

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