Review – MHS Online Classroom Website

 Minnesota Historical Society
Fort Snelling and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862
Reviewed February 22, 2015

 Items of Interest


General Comments

  • —Incorrect – While Fort Snelling is part of the title, little is said about Fort Snelling.
  • —Incorrect – Complicated subjects are dealt with too briefly.
  • —Disrespectful – This website vilifies “the traders.” In defense of the traders, Chief Big Eagle 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.”

Most Objectionable Statements

 An Introductory Online Classroom

 The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 is one of the most important events in Minnesota history, and Fort Snelling played an important role in that war.
—But little is said about Fort Snelling.

Dakota Soldiers

 On Aug. 17, 1862 four young Dakota men killed 5 people in Acton Township. As a result, a meeting of Dakota leaders and soldiers living on the Lower Reservation was called, and after intense debate some of those present decided to go to war with the U.S.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Lower Dakota leaders were present at this meeting. It cannot be proven that any of the Upper Dakota leaders were present at this meeting.
—Where is Acton Township?

After six weeks of fighting, leaving hundreds dead, the Dakota were defeated, and many Dakota soldiers fled Minnesota while others surrendered to U.S. military forces.
—Unbalanced – More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed.
—Many other Dakota also fled.

Wamditanka (Big Eagle)

 …the next year he joined the community of Mdewakanton farmers at the Lower reservation.
—Incorrect – He was the leader of his own village which was separate from the Farmers’ Band.

He was imprisoned after a conviction by the Military Commission, but his sentence was commuted to a prison term by President Lincoln.
—Incorrect – He was sentenced to hang by the military commission.

Taoyateduta (Little Crow)

 Taoyateduta, or His Scarlett Nation (Little Crow), is well-known as the primary military leader of the Dakota soldiers during the 1862 war.
—Incorrect – He was the primary leader of the hostile Dakota soldiers. Dakota men who opposed the war were also soldiers.

For many years some of his remains were put on display by the Minnesota Historical Society before being returned to his descendants for burial.
—Is this really necessary?
—Unbalanced – Scalps of whites were also put on display by the Dakota.

Statement to Agent Galbraith

“We have waited a long time…We have no food, but here are these stores, filled with food. We ask that you, the agent, make some arrangement by which we can get food from the stores, or else we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving.”
—Food was issued to the Upper Indians. Little Crow was speaking for the Lower Dakota.

Dakota “Peace Party”

 When the war broke out the majority of Minnesota’s Dakota population refused to participate.
—Incorrect – The majority of the Santee Dakota either did not participate or were forced to participate.

Between 102-300 people died within the [Fort Snelling] camp that winter.
—Incorrect – The official Army report stated that 102 died. It cannot be proven that as many as 300 died there.

Tiwakan (Gabriel Renville)

 After the end of the war he and his family were sent to the internment camp for civilians at Fort Snelling…
—Incorrect – Gabriel Renville and others in this camp were also soldiers.

…from1863-1866 Tiwakan served as a scout for the Punitive Expeditions into the Dakota Territory.
—What does this mean? – “punitive expeditions”
—Is this correct? – Were there punitive expeditions in 1865 and 1866?

Tiwakan later became a leader on the Sisseton Reservation…
—Disrespectful – He was elected Chief for life of the Sisseton and Wahpeton on the Lake Traverse Reservation.

Decides to help the prisoners

 As we were passing through the camp, I saw many white prisoners, old women, young woman, boys and girls…
—Incorrect – “woman” is misspelled.

Wabasha III

 Papers Relating to Talks and Councils Held with the Indians in Dakota and Montana Territories in the Years 1866-1869 (Washington, D.C.: Govrnment printing Office, 1910), 90-91.
—Incorrect – “Govrnment” is misspelled.

Comments on problems with U.S. government traders

 —Incorrect – There were no U. S. Government traders.

When I saw our Great Father…The traders were constantly following me…and opposing me bitterly…The Great Father told me…that the whites would endeavor to get this land from us, and that the traders were like rats; that they would use all their endeavors to steal our substance, and that if we were wise, we would never sign a paper for anyone…I was, consequently, afraid of the traders.
—Disrespectful – Why was Wabasha afraid? “The traders” should be identified. Was Wabasha afraid of the Dakota and mixed-blood traders?

Comments on divisions within the Dakota community

 In that council it was determined that they would not submit to having half of their annuity taken from them, and it was ordered that all Indians should draw their annuity in full from the disbursing officer, and refuse to pay the credits to the traders for that year.
—That the traders were taking half of their annuity was a false rumor.


 As the fighting spread, Dakota soldiers targeted farms and communities throughout southwestern Minnesota.
—Incorrect – They also targeted farms and communities in west and northwest Minnesota. 

During the war, 285 of these people were taken prisoner by Dakota soldiers.
—Incorrect – About 285 were taken hostage.


 After several weeks 285 prisoners were released to Col. Sibley and his army at Camp Release.
—Incorrect – 265 were released. Some of the prisoners were taken with the fleeing Dakota.


 Some of these missionaries also operated schools and taught many Dakota to read and write in their own language as well as in Dakota.
—Incorrect – Redundant

George A. S. Crooker to William H. Seward

… Superintendant Agent Trader or in any other way whatever.
—Incorrect – “Superintendant” is misspelled.

U.S. Military

…Indian hunters will be found who will emulate those of whome the early history of our country tells…
—Incorrect – “whome” is misspelled.

Lt. Thomas Van Etten describes the Battle of Birch Coulee

 Our company only numbered seventy men in the fight….”
—This should not be confused with the total men involved in the fight.

Memories of War

 In this section is a collection of objects which illustrate how the war has been remembered and commemorated by those who lived through it and their descendents.
—Incorrect – “descendants” is misspelled.

Oral Histories

 Oral histories provide valuable information to historians that they cannot get from written texts.
—However, the individual or organization that gathers and presents oral histories must assure these histories agree with proven facts.

As you listen to these audio clips of oral histories with descendents of Dakota and European Americans…
—Incorrect – “descendants” is misspelled.

We were fighting them in various places.
—What does this mean?

The treaties were of questionable equality.
—What does this mean?

All that is true and we were destroying their culture and we wanted to make white men out of them and all of that.
—Incorrect – The Dakota were offered a choice whether to stay with their culture ways or to adapting to white culture.

Had all of the Dakota banded together and all jumped in on the fray, this would be a whole different part of the world. The settlers would never have survived; we’d never have even been able to come back to this area.
—Incorrect – The settlers would have returned.

2 thoughts on “Review – MHS Online Classroom Website

  1. You state “More than 650 whites were killed. About 145 Dakota were killed”. Where did you come up with the totals for casualties on both sides? I have read many conflicting accounts with the white casualties, but they usually run in the ~500 range (based on Gov. Ramsey’s estimate – Carley 1976), and the ranges for Dakota casualties vary from the 20s to the hundreds.

    • We will never know how many Dakota and whites were killed during or as a direct result of the Dakota War in 1862.

      Regarding Dakota losses, Thomas Robertson in “Reminiscences of Thomas A. Robertson,” 1918, M582, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts, stated: “There were only four killed at the Fort, two at each one of the battles, and four at New Ulm, two at the ferry at Redwood Agency, two at the battle of Birch Coulee and two somewhere in the Big Woods, I think at St. Cloud, Glencoe, or near there. Sixteen were killed at the Battle of Wood Lake, and two at Fort Abercrombie; in all during 1862, thirty-two.”

      Other sources, which I cannot locate now, stated that up to 45 Dakota were killed.

      However, the “Narrative of the Fifth Regiment” by General L. F. Hubbard, in Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, Volume 1, page 254, states that regarding Dakota losses at Fort Ridgely: “Their loss in the two days could hardly have been less than 100, judging from the number found buried afterward in the immediate vicinity of the fort.”

      Adding up the individual accounts of Dakota being killed during the battles of Fort Ridgely, an estimate of 100 deaths is not far off.

      I am currently reviewing details on the Battles of New Ulm. More Dakota losses were reported by the defenders than 4 stated by Robertson above.

      At present, I would say that more than 150 Dakota were killed as a direct result of the 1862 Dakota War.

      Regarding white losses:

      Historian Curtis Dahlin has done meticulous work on this subject. In his book Why the Hatred published in 2013, he stated, “The Dakota’s killing of over 600 whites in 1862 (and another 50 later) greatly enraged the white survivors.” Curt continues to add to his list. His count is probably higher today.

      In 1910, Dr. Asa Daniels, who attended the sick and wounded in St. Peter after the Dakota War, wrote in the St. Peter Herald, Sep 9, 1910: “The loss of life that followed, directly and indirectly, as the result of the outbreak in the many settlements across the extensive frontier, has never been known, but must have been large. From a somewhat careful observation, and consultation with parties who had good means of judging, the writer is of the opinion that the loss from disease and battle, and that in frontier settlements, resulting from the outbreak, must have been as large as that suffered directly from the hands of the Indians.”

      I think it is safe to say that more than 650 whites (civilians and soldiers) were killed as a direct result of the 1862 Dakota War.

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