CSPAN – American History TV
Hosted by Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia and the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, Washington DC
Lincoln and the Dakota War of 1862
November 15, 2012
Updated March 17, 2016
Items of Interest
Text of the three speeches is provided, however, the text for the first two speeches has many gaps and incorrect words.
- Disrespectful – People, especially Henry Sibley, are criticized unjustly, without showing proof. Sibley should be praised for his actions during and after the Dakota War of 1862.
- Unbalanced – The trials of the Dakota Indians following the Dakota War of 1862 are criticized. Nothing is said about the charges against the 38 who were hanged. Nothing is said about the atrocities committed by hostile Dakota. Little is said about what to do with the hostile Dakota who violated the laws of warfare. Nothing is said about the Dakota trial system.
- The legality of the Dakota trials is questioned. President Lincoln reviewed these trials and did not call them illegal. Nothing is said about this.
Most Objectionable Statements
The Conflict claimed the lives of some 500 white settlers and U.S. soldiers. About sixty Dakota died in the fighting. Almost 400 were put on trial for murder and rape.
—Incorrect – More than 650 white civilians and soldiers were killed.
—Incorrect – About 145 Dakota were killed.
—Incorrect – They were also put on trial for reasons other than murder and rape.
…38 Dakota were hanged, the largest mass execution in American history.
—Incorrect – At least one white and several mixed-bloods were among the 38.
—Incorrect – This was the largest simultaneous mass-execution in U.S. history.
—Unbalanced – This was also the largest mass murder of white civilians by hostile Indians in U.S. history.
There are many causes to the Dakota War: Treaty negotiations, broken treaty promises, trader fraud and assimilation.
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – The speaker does not provide enough facts to support these opinions.
Pike only negotiated with one branch of the Dakota, the Mdewakanton. Traditionally, it is the Bdewakantonwan. He only negotiated with a small number of chiefs. Two of them signed it.
—For more information on the word Bdewakantunwan see “Definitions on the top bar.
—Those who did not sign the treaty stated that their word should be good enough.
There is a clause in the  treaty that says the Dakota retain the right to pass and repass and hunt or make other uses of the land that they had done before. If that was translated, it’s likely they didn’t really realize they were ceding land. Instead they were probably thinking just that they were allowing the United States to build a fort. To make matters worse, the $2,000 did not make its way out to the Mdewakanton Dakota until 1819. So by that point, if you’re the Mdewakanton, you don’t think there’s a treaty and you don’t really know what’s going on when you’re being offered $2,000 worth of goods.
—Incorrect – It is impossible to say what the Dakota thought.
—If they were not satisfied, the Dakota would have prevented the construction of Fort Snelling.
—Incorrect – The speaker fails to mention that the Dakota received an additional $4,000 in 1838 for the land ceded in 1805.
This [1805 treaty cession] includes all the land in the city of Minneapolis…
—Incorrect – Not all of present day Minneapolis was included.
The next treaty, the 1837 treaty is a little different in terms of its purpose. Game has been depleted because the population has continued to grow.
—Incorrect – Which population has continued to grow?
—Incorrect – Game was declining because the Dakota were over-hunting.
—Incorrect – Game was declining because neighboring Indian tribes were competing with the Dakota for available game.
So the  treaty journal showed that the tribes asked for some specific things, like the ability to hunt and fish on this ceded land…It seemed from the negotiations that the United States agreed to that, but it was never put into the treaty.
—Incorrect – It does not matter if this was not put into the treaty. The Dakota continued to hunt and fish on ceded land.
—Disrespectful – What does this mean? Is the speaker saying that because the Dakota asked for this, it should have been put into the treaty?
…the goods that eventually made their way out to the Dakota; a lot of them were useless.
—Can the speaker prove that “a lot of them were useless”?
—Unbalanced – What about the benefits of this treaty to the Dakota? How many Dakota would have starved if not for this treaty?
So in 1851, at this point all of the Dakota tribes are involved…They negotiate the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and the Treaty of Mendota…we’re talking about ceding 24 million acres of land for less than 13 cents per acre.
—Incorrect – These were bands not tribes.
—Incorrect – This cession was never surveyed. We don’t know how many acres were ceded and therefore cannot determine the price paid per acre.
…most of the money that the tribe was supposed to get from the treaty went directly to pay trader debts that may not have even been real debts.
—Incorrect – Most of the money did not go to pay trader debts.
—Disrespectful – If the speaker can prove that any of the trader debts were fraudulent, name the fraudulent debts and the fraudulent traders.
They were supposed to get a reservation under this treaty…the Senate strikes the provision for their reservation and basically tells them that you’ve got five years to live on this land…
—Incorrect – There were two treaties in 1851.
—Incorrect – The President, not the Senate, allowed them five years.
They later renegotiated in 1858 to give up the northern portion of the reservation and retain the southern portion.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
—Incorrect – There were 2 treaties in 1858.
—Incorrect – The Dakota did not own this land. 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 these lands. They were given ownership of their reservation lands on the south side of the river.
So the United States wanted to convert Dakota citizens into United States citizens by having them give up their language…
—Incorrect – Giving up their language was not a request by the United States.
—Incorrect – The U.S. had no expectations that they would become citizens.
Annuity payments were paid out generally to the Dakota that were more assimilated, to the Dakota that were willing to farm.
—Incorrect – Annuity Dakota received annuities at least once a year. Those who chose to become farmers received help in getting started and additional food and supplies.
In particular, in the summer of 1862 what people talk about in terms of a spark for the U.S.-Dakota conflict is the fact that, like in many previous years the annuity payments didn’t arrive on time.
—Incorrect – In how many previous years were the annuities late?
…the Dakota have no land and there’s no game, they’re relying to survive on the annuity payments. That’s how they feed themselves.
—Incorrect – They owned their reservation lands on the south side of the Minnesota River.
—Incorrect – There was no game on the reservations. This is why they continued to leave their reservations to hunt.
—Absolutely Incorrect – The annuities were not the only source of food on the reservations.
So the payments were supposed to arrive in June, and they weren’t there. In mid July, July 14th, they find out that food and the other provisions have made their way to the Lower and Upper Agencies, but the money is not there yet.
—The annuity payment was supposed to be made by June 30.
—Incorrect – They knew prior to July 14 that the food was there.
—Is this correct? – Did they make their way to the Lower Agency?
They show up there [Lower Agency] and Galbraith basically says we’re not going to feed you. He apparently turns to this trader, Andrew Myrick and asks for his opinion. He said as far as I’m concerned, if they’re hungry, let hem eat grass or let them eat their own dung. There’s a moment of silence and the Dakota leave the Lower Agency…
—Incorrect – It is not certain where this event occurred.
…on August 17, 1862…Four young Dakota men…come upon…the Robinson Jones homestead. They see some hens there. They get into a little bit of boasting and bragging with each other and there’s a dare that’s laid down. At the end of it five settlers are killed.
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven that an incident over hens cause these settlers to be killed.
The Dakota head back to their camp which is on the Rice Creek Village…The tribe is trying to consider what should they do at this point.
—Incorrect – They head back to their village which is on Rice Creek.
—Incorrect – The village was trying to decide what to do.
…Eventually they decide to head to Little Crow’s village… So the Dakota Nation declares war on the United States, not in an official way, the way the United States would, but through its own traditional process in these series of meetings.
—Absolutely Incorrect – The decision to go to war was not a tribal decision. A large majority of the Dakota leaders were not present at this meeting.
Lieutenant Gere is put in charge of Fort Ridgley and luckily for him Fort Ridgley is able to defend against the Dakota attacks…
—Incorrect – Lt. Gere was in command of Fort Ridgely for one day.
The final real significant battle in the war is the Battle of Wood Lake on September 23, when Dakota are defeated…At this point…the friendly Dakota…approach the United States about releasing prisoners…
—Incorrect – Friendly Dakota leaders contacted Sibley prior to the Battle of Wood Lake.
Obviously, there were some Dakota involved in things that could be considered abuses or violations of the laws of war.
—What were these abuses and violations?
—What should Sibley have done with those who abused and violated the laws of war?
…[Fort Snelling] internment camp…where they stay for the entire winter, and hundreds probably freeze to death or starve in this internment camp…
—Incorrect – According to Army records, 102 died there.
—Incorrect – There were no reports of anyone freezing to death or starving to death.
—Unbalanced – What happened to the white survivors of the Dakota War?
And their final decision is to remove the Dakota from the state of Minnesota.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were removed from Minnesota.
Any agreements to pay annuity payment were abrogated by the United States…
—Incorrect – The U.S. would later pay the Dakota and their descendants for annuities and land taken in 1863. See my essay, “Stolen Land?”
There were a handful of murders of white settlers in the spring  and that prompted the state to take this action by implementing a bounty system, which was by all standards, illegal.
—Unbalanced – The hostile Dakota also offered bounties for whites.
—At least four, maybe as many as six bounties were paid.
52 years old that summer in 1862, Henry Hastings Sibley was a man who had once enjoyed a great deal of power and had seen it all disappear…He had compiled a reasonable fortune on ideals and corruption, and getting there before others; stocks, lands and railroads helping himself to the trader debts. His governorship ended in controversy. Ramsey visited Sibley with an offer to prosecute a war of his very own.
—Disrespectful – Show proof that Sibley became rich on corruption.
—Disrespectful – The speaker suggests that Sibley accepted Ramsey’s offer to regain respect and recognition. Show proof this is correct.
Ramsey had been involved in the corruption.
—Disrespectful – Show proof.
Government corruption, fraudulent treaties, unkept treaty promises, fraudulent debt collection by traders who acted with impunity from the law and the tides of immigration carefully orchestrated to land right at the homeland of the Dakota.
—Disrespectful – Show proof for these opinions.
—Disrespectful – If any of the fur traders cheated the Dakota, name them and show proof.
—What does this mean? – “immigration carefully orchestrated to land right at the homeland of the Dakota”?
Sibley left no indication he was considering anything other than a war of extermination
—Disrespectful – Hostile Dakota were killing innocent men, women and children. How should Sibley react?
Two days after climbing aboard a boat that would take him down the Minnesota River before they started out for the fort…
—Incorrect – They went upriver.
Planning a war of extermination was one thing, executing it was another
—Incorrect and Disrespectful – Whatever his thoughts, his later actions showed his intentions were not extermination.
…and to make matters worse when the men got to the fort [Ridgley] and looked up at the 4 wooden buildings with the roofs off, half said we’re going home.
—Incorrect – There were no roofs off the buildings. No one left because of this.
Sibley sent out a small detachment of men. Sibley watched the men as they rode out of camp that morning following the usual road…down the river to where the Lower Agency was.
—Incorrect – They followed a road upriver to the Lower Agency.
[At Birch Coulee] they endeavored to try to build trenches…but all they had were their pocket knives.
—Incorrect – They used other objects for digging besides pocket knives.
They opened box after box and found that the bullets were the wrong size. Indeed by the end of the siege, 23 men were killed and 45 wounded; half of the detachment that Sibley had sent out. All but one of the 120 horses were dead.
—They used their pocket knives to whittle down the bullets.
—Incorrect – There were a total of about 170 men.
—Incorrect – All the horses were killed.
Out in the field, Sibley for the 3rd time adjusts his military strategy. Realizing he can’t send off detachments anymore, he begins to calibrate the scale of war to fit his accommodating military resources. He begins with negotiations, negotiations that will then lead to military commissions.
—Incorrect – Sibley waits for supplies while he continues to train his men.
—Incorrect – The speaker suggests that Sibley starts negotiation as his only option.
—What does this mean? Is the speaker saying that Sibley is already considering military commissions? Prove this.
—Sibley continues to gather information on how many Dakota are hostile.
The negotiations began shortly after the ambush of the scouting department…
—Incorrect – I think the speaker means the scouting detachment.
Unable to advance and unable to return, he [Sibley] waited and waited.
—Incorrect – Sibley could advance, he could return and he could wait.
After being ambushed, an ambush that lasted for two hours…
—Incorrect – The Battle of Wood Lake was not an ambush.
…at Red Iron’s village, hundreds were waiting for him [Sibley] to arrive…Now finally…Sibley had a chance to practice his law of retaliation. He knew that they weren’t going anywhere, they didn’t have the horses. He could sweep down and attack them…or he could round them up and execute them all at once.
—Incorrect – They were at Camp Release near Red Iron’s village.
—Incorrect – The speaker is misinterpreting Sibley plan as retaliation.
—Incorrect – They did have horses and could have left before Sibley arrived.
Perhaps he [Sibley] should have simply gone home – taken the prisoners and gone home to St. Paul.
—What does this mean? Who were “the prisoners”?
So, unable to advance after the enemy had left, and unable to return, Sibley returned to a handy new invention, one that had been created to decide precisely such a dilemma – the military commission.
—Incorrect – Sibley could advance. Sibley could return. He had cavalry, which he sent out to bring in more Dakota. He was waiting for more Dakota to come in or to be brought in.
—Incorrect – Not all of the hostile Dakota had left.
…by November 15th, 1862…Sibley accomplished a feat that would have been too costly on the battlefield. The military commission had sent 303 prisoners to death. A number that was roughly equivalent to the number of civilians who had been killed. Perhaps then Sibley truly believed and was operating under the 19th century law of retaliation.
—Absolutely Incorrect – These were mainly the innocent Dakota. The purpose of the trials was to separate the guilty from the innocent.
—Absolutely Incorrect – There were more than 650 whites killed by hostile Dakota.
—Absolutely Incorrect – If Sibley was operating under the 19th century law of retaliation, all who were tried would have been sentenced to hang. If he really wanted retaliation, after disarming the Dakota, he would have ordered his soldiers to kill all of the Dakota at Camp Release and the Upper Agency.
The calls for extermination did not cease when the soldiers packed up their bags to go home… The sheer terror and fear had only just begun…In the coming years the federal government would separate families and imprison hundreds without charges and abrogated treaties and forcibly remove all but a handful of the Dakota people from their homelands.
—Unbalanced – What happened to the white survivors of the Dakota War?
…Pope and Sibley look to the day of destroying the Indians. The language they use is often the language of genocide. They talk about obliterating, destroying, killing all of the Sioux.
—Incorrect – Hostile Dakota had just killed more than 650 white men, women and children. If Pope and Sibley had wanted to destroy the Dakota, they would have killed them all at Camp Release.
When there is a civilian attack on the captured Indians, Pope repulses it, captures all the civilians and forces them to march to Mankato with the Indians and releases them.
—Incorrect – Pope was not present where this attack occurred.
Whipple complains that the Indian Agents are drinkers, they are abusing Indian woman, they are taking advantage of people, they are all on the take, there is massive corruption.
—Disrespectful – While Bishop Whipple may have complained of this, Whipple never furnished any proof other than rumors or hearsay.
[Whipple] later gets into kind of a letter-writing dispute with Sibley about the legitimacy of the trials. And basically Whipple tells Sibley that these trials were all illegitimate, and Sibley says well, you really can’t expect us to have real trials. So the generals ultimately admit what they are doing out there is not anything that resembles justice but rather it is kind of a rough response to what has happened.
—Incorrect – This brief exchange is not enough to draw this conclusion. Was Whipple an expert on military trials?
But at no point before the executions have I found any evidence that that Bishop Whipple is actually arguing for pardons.
The term of genocide is not yet in the English language.
—What does this mean? Is the speaker applying this statement to what the whites did, what the hostile Dakota did or both?
…Lincoln doesn’t pardon the remaining Dakota. He simply does nothing with them…it means they cannot be executed because under the militia act, they can only be executed when the president authorizes their execution…these poor ultimately 265 Dakota soldiers are stuck in either Mankato or in Fort Snelling…
—Incorrect – All of these men are at Mankato.
—When Lincoln gave the 303 trial transcripts to his aides, he also gave them instructions on how to select the guilty. The speaker does not discuss these instructions.
…the 265 men who are effectively pardoned is the largest mass pardon of people who are under sentence of death in American history.
The problem, of course, is there’s very little correlation between the people hanged and the people who might have killed the people who died because there is no sort of individualized justice which, again, makes these commissions so outrageous.
—Incorrect – The speaker should read the trial transcripts of those who were hanged.
The Dakota at this time and today…are a sovereign nation…they went through their normal dispute resolution process to determine that they were, as a community, going to go to war…
—Absolutely Incorrect – The Dakota were and are as sovereign as the U.S. permits them to be.
—Absolutely Incorrect – The majority of the Dakota leaders were not involved in the decision to go to war. This was not their normal dispute resolution.
I don’t think this can be termed as a rebellion or revolution or anything of the sort because the Dakota were not U.S. citizens. Indians were not made U.S. citizens until 1924.
—Incorrect – What to call the war depends upon your perspective.
At this point, you know, with a complete surrender basically of the Dakota Nation with Little Crow and only a small party moving west, the commission process and the ultimate execution seem to me more to be about vengeance than about this sort of measured retaliation.
—Incorrect – In 1862, the Dakota Nation was synonymous with the Sioux Nation.
—Incorrect – If this was vengeance, all who were tried, would have been sentenced to hang.
—Incorrect – If this was vengeance, Sibley would not have questioned his authority to execute them.