Review – MHS FR – Video

Minnesota Historical Society
Fort Ridgely Historic Site
Introduction Video
Reviewed on September 21, 2015
Updated on May 28, 2017

Items of Interest

This video was produced circa 1984.
It is viewable only at Fort Ridgely Historic Site.

General Comments


Most Objectionable Statements

Big Eagle: The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their life and live like white men – go to farming, work hard and do as they did – and the Indians did not know how to do that, and did not want to anyway.

  • Incorrect – By 1862, there were about 250 Dakota farms on the reservations. Chief Big Eagle was speaking only of those Dakota who did not want to become farmers.

The Dakota Indians living in what is now Minnesota first encountered white men in the seventeenth century when French explorers met them at their woodland villages around Lake Mille Lacs.

  • Incorrect – We cannot say for sure exactly where they first encountered white men.

For the next 200 years the Dakota (also called the Sioux) and white traders…carried on a business…Throughout these two centuries Dakota life changed but little…

  • Incorrect – Introduction of fur trade items, white culture, intermarriages and treaties changed Dakota life tremendously during these 200 years.

The Dakota came to Fort Snelling for medicine and relief.

  • What does “relief” mean?

But in the 1840s, the frontier of white settlement reached Minnesota Territory. Under the unbroken prairies where the Dakota camped and hunted lay the deep, black soil of a farmer’s dream – and that dream included no place for Indians.

  • Incorrect – As mentioned above, by 1862, there were about 250 Dakota families on farms. There would soon be no place for the traditional Dakota culture of hunting and gathering as a primary means of support.

In treaties signed in 1851 the Dakota were pressured into selling 24 million acres of their land in southern and western Minnesota, retaining only a small reservation along the upper Minnesota River.

  • Incorrect – On the MHS Fort Ridgely website, MHS states this was 35 million acres. Neither number is correct. This ceded land was never surveyed. It is not known how many acres it contained.
  • Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.

Two government agencies were established on the reservation – the Upper Sioux Agency near the Yellow Medicine River and the Lower Sioux Agency near the Redwood River some 30 miles downstream. There government agents, teachers, and missionaries, all convinced that their own way of life was ordained by God and superior to all others, set about turning the proud Dakota into “civilized” Christian farmers.

  • Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
  • Incorrect – According to a steamboat mileage chart, the distance between the Upper Agency and Lower Agency by river was 80 miles.
  • Disrespectful – There is a sarcastic tone in the speaker’s voice. When they became Christian farmers, they did not lose their sense of pride as Dakota people.

Henry Sibley knew that changing the Dakota way of life would be difficult. He had traded with them for many years at Mendota, and knew that Fort Snelling was now too distant from the reservation to enforce U.S. authority…he recommended that a new fort be built…With ravines on two sides, and neither walls nor well, the fort was poorly designed for defense, but its men were expected to act only as police along the frontier.

  • Incorrect – The reason given here for building Fort Ridgely is different than the reasons given on the Fort Ridgely sign and on the MHS Fort Ridgely website.
  • Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
  • Incorrect – Here it states that there were ravines on two sides. Elsewhere at this site, it states that there were ravines on three sides. Which is correct?
  • What does this mean? “…its men were expected to act only as police along the frontier?”

The Dakota had long been friendly with the U.S., and many Dakota leaders had been to Washington for treaty negotiations and knew the power of the nation the fort represented. If they did not, they were again shown that power in 1858, when they were pressured into signing yet another treaty, giving up half of their reservation for an amount to be filled in later by the Senate, who saw fit to give only pennies an acre.

  • Incorrect – There were 2 treaties in 1858.
  • Incorrect – They were not given ownership of their reservations in the Treaties of 1851. In the 1858 Treaties, they were asked to vacate their reservation lands on the north side of the Minnesota River. They were paid a 2nd time for these lands. In the 1858 Treaties, they were given ownership of their remaining reservations on the south side of the river.
  • Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
  • Disrespectful – The U.S. already paid for this land in 1851. They did not have to pay anything for it in 1858. Shouldn’t the U.S. be complimented rather than criticized?

Control of the Dakota agencies was given as a political appointment to the incompetent and insensitive Thomas Galbraith.

  • Disrespectful – No one should be criticized without showing proof.

Big Eagle said, “The Indians thought the whites must be pretty hard up for men to fight the South…”

  • Incorrect – The actual quote is, “The Indians now thought the whites must be pretty hard up for men to fight the South, or they would not come so far out on the frontier and take half-breeds or anything to help them.” Apparently, “the Indians” thought the half-breeds were inferior.

Payment of the treaty annuities was due in June 1862, and as the time drew near a secret soldiers’ lodge formed in the Dakota villages.

  • The payment due date was late in June.

Fort Ridgely’s soldiers, it was rumored, were coming to the payment only to help the fur traders collect their claim of Indian debts. The lodge determined to prevent both troops and traders from attending.

  • Incorrect – Members of the Soldiers’ Lodge went to Fort Ridgely and were assured by Captain Marsh that the soldiers would not help the traders collect their debts.

…on August 4th, 500 Indians…broke into the [Upper Agency] warehouse holding their food. Order was restored only when Sheehan aimed a cannon at the warehouse door. Captain John S. Marsh… arrived and helped talk agent Galbraith into issuing provisions. In return, the Dakota agreed to return to their villages and await the gold.

  • The author fails to state that Galbraith promised Chief Little Crow that he would also issue food at the Lower Agency. Galbraith broke his promise.

Trader Andrew Myrick rubbed salt into the Indians’ wounded pride by answering a request for food on credit with the remark: “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.”

  • Disrespectful – While Myrick should not have said this, he was angry. He learned of a plan by the Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge to drive up their debts to the traders and then refuse to pay when the gold arrived. However, it was the government’s responsibility to feed the Indians.

But the same day [Aug 17], near Acton, four young Dakota men, to prove their courage to one another, killed five settlers. The hot-headed Chief Shakopee rushed the killers to the frame house of the eminent leader Taoyateduta, Little Crow, near the Lower Agency to hear their pleas for a general uprising. Other leaders soon assembled for an all-night council. Although many argued for peace, the feeling for war was strong, and the war party begged Little Crow to lead them. He refused at first, but when his courage also was questioned, he replied: “You are like dogs in the Hot Moon when they run mad and snap at their own shadows. We are only little herds of buffalo left scattered; the great herds that once covered the prairies are no more…”

  • Incorrect – It cannot be proven why four Dakota men killed five settlers in Acton Township, Meeker County, Minnesota.
  • Disrespectful – How do we know that Chief Shakopee was hot-headed?
  • What does “eminent leader” mean?
  • Incorrect – The large majority of the Dakota leaders were not present when the decision for war was made.
  • Incorrect – Little Crow’s quote in the video does not include, “You are full of the white man’s devil-water (rum)” which precedes the quote given above. Isn’t it important for the visitor to know this?

Small groups of Dakota scattered over the countryside to attack settlers, who fled in terror to Fort Ridgely. As the first refugees arrived with news of the attacks, Capt. Marsh sent orders for Lt. Sheehan to return to the fort at once. Then Marsh and 46 troops set off to relive the agency. They were attacked at Redwood Ferry, and Marsh and 24 of his men were killed.

  • Terrified settlers also fled elsewhere, including New Ulm.
  • Captain Marsh also sent for Galbraith to return with the Renville Rangers.
  • Interpreter Peter Quinn also accompanied Captain Marsh.
  • Incorrect – Captain Marsh, Peter Quinn and 22 of Marsh’s men were killed.

Lt. Timothy P. Gere…was left in command of Fort Ridgely’s remaining 29 soldiers.

  • Lt. Gere had 22 able-bodied soldiers.

With the arrival of the Renville Rangers that afternoon and volunteers from among the 250 refugees, the fighting force of the post had grown from fewer than fifty to about 180 men by nightfall.

  • Incorrect – The Fort Ridgely Site Sign outside the commissary and the MHS Fort Ridgely website state there were 280 men.

That evening the Dakota force was nearly doubled by the arrival of 400 warriors from the area near the Upper Agency, and in the morning, 800 men…began their second assault on the fort.

  • Incorrect – The Fort Ridgely Site Sign and the MHS Fort Ridgely website state that there were at most 400 warriors.

With prairie grass stuck in their headbands, the Dakota crept silently out of the ravines, but three shots fired by some young warriors at the mail carrier coming along the road from New Ulm set off the attack prematurely.

  • Incorrect – This cannot be proven that they shot at a mail carrier. Why would a mail carrier be approaching Fort Ridgely after New Ulm had been attacked on Tuesday?
  • Other narratives give different versions on how both battles began.

The four cannons, once again, were the key to the fort’s defense.

  • Incorrect – 3 cannons were used in the 1st battle and 5 cannons were used in the 2nd battle.

White losses in the two battles were three killed and 13 wounded, but the fort had held.

  • Incorrect – There were also civilian losses.

Over the next six weeks Sibley’s men advanced slowly up the Minnesota Valley, defeating the Dakota in several fights before the final decisive battle of Wood Lake on September 22.

  • Incorrect – The only fight Sibley fought was Wood Lake.

Thirty-seven [dubbed to 38] Indians were hanged.

  • Incorrect – There was at least 1 white and several mixed-bloods among those who were hanged.

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