Review – GAC Exhibit – Revisited

Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter
“Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota -U.S. War of 1862”
First Reviewed on March 9, 2012
Revisited on June 16, 2016
Updated on May 27, 2017

Items of Interest

Gustavus Adolphus students, with help from instructors and advisors, completed this exhibit in 2012. It has been on display at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington D.C., Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York, National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D. C. and other locations. As of the date of this review, it is on display at Historic Fort Ridgely. This exhibit won the National Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History in May of 2013.

Do these honors make it good exhibit? Read on and judge for yourself

General Comments

  • Incorrect – There are a high number of incorrect statements.
  • Unbalanced – The exhibit does not discuss the heroic efforts of the Friendly Dakota who rescued the hostages held by the hostile Dakota and brought an early end to the war. The visitor is led to think that all Dakota Indians went to war when in fact the majority of the Dakota Indians opposed war with the whites.
  • Unbalanced – The exhibit discusses what happened to the Dakota after the war. It does discuss what happened to the whites.
  • Incorrect – Allegations and opinions are treated as facts without showing proof.
  • Incorrect – General statements are made that did not apply to all Dakota Indians.
  • Incorrect – Complicated subjects need more space else they should not be discussed.
  • Unbalanced – There is no discussion on how the Dakota Indians obtained this land. They were not always here. They took it through warfare. They did not write treaties.


Most Objectionable Statements

[Panel] – Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota-U.S. War of 1862

  • Incorrect – The correct title of this war is U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

We encourage each of you to do your own research, visit historic sites, and talk to Dakota Elders.

  • Unbalanced – People should also talk to white elders.

We would also like to acknowledge special help from our guest lecturers and Elders from the Lower Sioux Community.

  • Unbalanced – Apparently there were no white elders involved.

[Panel] – Terms & Chronology

It was Taoyateduta and the Dakota who declared war…

  • Incorrect – Taoyateduta did not declare war. A Lower Dakota Soldiers Lodge declared war. Taoyateduta reluctantly joined them.

Internment Camp – Camp Lincoln in Mankato and Fort Snelling in St. Paul both held Dakota people after the war. We acknowledge that some people call these places concentration camps.

  • Incorrect – Camp Lincoln in Mankato was a prison camp. Fort Snelling was an internment camp. Dakota activists call them concentration camps to evoke images of Nazi concentration camps.
  • Unbalanced – If these camps were concentration camps, then the camps where hostile Dakota held white and mixed-blood hostages were also concentration camps.

Assimilation – In the context of American Indians, it meant the complete exchange of the traditional way of life and world view in favor of a Christian Euro-American one.

  • Incorrect – Assimilation was more complicated than this. If complete assimilation ever occurred, it took many years.

August 18 – Groups of Dakota kill 43 soldiers and their interpreter in attacks on the Redwood Agency and on federal troops advancing to the Agency.

  • Incorrect – Hostile Dakota killed civilians at the Redwood Agency. They killed 23 soldiers and their interpreter at Redwood Ferry.

August 19 – Sixteen civilians are killed in Dakota attacks in and around New Ulm.

  • Incorrect – On August 18-19, hostile Dakota killed many more than 16 civilians in and around New Ulm. On August 18, in the Milford Township area alone, hostile Dakota killed about 53 men, women and children.

August 20-21 – Dakota akicita launch two separate attacks on Fort Ridgely.

  • Incorrect – Hostile Dakota attacked Fort Ridgely on August 20 and 22.

August 23 – A second attack on New Ulm leaves 34 newcomers dead and 60 wounded…

  • Incorrect – These statistics are the total for both battles of New Ulm.

September 26 – 1,200 Dakota who did not participate in the war surrender to Colonel Sibley along with captive newcomers. Over the next weeks, an additional 800 Dakota surrender to U.S. forces.

  • Incorrect – Many Dakota in these groups did participate in the war.
  • Incorrect – The majority did not surrender; they waited for Sibley to arrive.
  • Incorrect – The hostile Dakota also held captive mix-bloods who were released at this time.

November 7–9 – The 1,700 Dakota prisoners not sentenced to death are moved to Fort Snelling on November 7. The 303 condemned Dakota are moved from the Lower Agency to Camp Lincoln, near Mankato, on November 9.

  • Incorrect – Those moved to Fort Snelling were not prisoners.
  • Estimates of the number moved to Fort Snelling varied from 1601 to 1658.
  • Incorrect – It is not known which day they departed from the Lower Agency for Fort Snelling.
  • Also among those taken to Mankato were men sentenced to prison terms, men who were not sentenced, men and women to care for the prisoners.

December 26, 1862 – 38 Dakota men are hanged in Mankato

  • Incorrect – There was at least one white and several Dakota/White mixed-bloods among those hanged.

[Panel] – The Dakota Way of Being

  • This subject is too complicated to be dealt with so briefly.

Minnesota has been home to the Dakota people for thousands of years.

  • Incorrect – This cannot be proven.

The Dakota Way of Being, known as Odakota, governed Dakota society.

  • Incorrect – Odakota is defined by Ella Deloria in her book, Speaking of Indians. She wrote about the Lakota Indians.

Relationships were based on the principle of reciprocity, or the exchange of items with others for mutual benefit…Those who received gifts intended to return the favor at a later time, though there was no concept of debt in the traditional Dakota world view.

  • Incorrect – The Dakota traded with other tribes before the whites arrived. This was not gift-giving. They traded equal value for value. There was a concept of debt because as stated, “Those who received gifts intended to return the favor at a later time.” True gift-giving does not expect a gift in return. Trade with the fur traders was an equal exchange of furs for fur trade items.

[The exhibit lists statements about modern day Dakota and Lakota spiritually.]

  • This subject is too complicated to be dealt with so briefly.

The Oceti Sakowin Oyate, or Dakota Nation, is made up of seven council fires.

  • Incorrect – Today, the Dakota are the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton.
  • Disrespectful – Today, there are Lakota people who are offended by being called Dakota.

The Eastern or Santee Dakota, now known as the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Wahpekute…

  • Incorrect – Since creation of the Santee Reservation in Nebraska, the people from this reservation have become known exclusively as the Santee.

[Panel] – From Kinship to Capitalism

Fur traders provided gifts of factory goods, such as metal pots, blankets, and guns in the fall. The Dakota reciprocated with gifts of animal pelts…in the spring.

  • Absolutely Incorrect – Trade with the fur traders was much like trade with other Indian groups. The Dakota knew about trading equal value for value long before the whites came.

By the 1830s, furs were scarce and had less value, even as Dakota dependence on trade goods increased after generations of interaction. Soon there were not enough furs to reciprocate trade goods given as gifts.

  • Incorrect – Fur bearing animals were declining but were not scarce. Even by 1862, the better hunters were still bringing in impressive quantities of furs.
  • Absolutely Incorrect – The fur trade was an exchange of equal value for value. It was not an exchange of gifts.
  • The Dakota chose to kill off their supply of fur-bearing animals to obtain furs to trade for fur trade goods.

Land became more valuable than fur. In late September, 1837, the Mdewakantons signed a treaty that ceded their lands east of the Mississippi River—and forever altered their way of life.

  • What does this mean – “Land became more valuable than fur”?
  • Every treaty forever altered their way of life.

In 1834, Henry Hastings Sibley took a job with the American Fur Company in what is now called Minnesota. Over the next thirty years, Sibley’s fortunes were tied up in the successes and failures of the Dakota fur trade system. As that trade declined, Sibley moved into the treaty business, personally claiming over $100,000 from those at Traverse des Sioux and Mendota.”

  • Incorrect – Sibley had left the fur trade by 1855.
  • Sibley biographer, Rhoda Gilman said Sibley at best broke even in the fur trade.
  • What does this mean – “Sibley moved into the treaty business”?
  • Incorrect – His claims were for his business and his employees.
  • Disrespectful – This description of Sibley is disrespectful to him.

Upon the outbreak of the Dakota-U.S. War in 1862, Sibley was appointed colonel of the state militia.

  • Incorrect – He was appointed colonel in the state militia.

[Panel] – Broken Promises

Unable to pay debts claimed by fur traders, and in perilous economic condition, the Wahpeton and Sisseton Dakota signed a treaty at Traverse des Sioux on July 23, 1851.

  • Incorrect – They signed the treaty because they were starving.
  • What does this mean – “perilous economic condition”?

…Dakota leaders were deceived into signing…“traders’ papers. These illegal papers redirected the money they were promised for their land to traders. The 1851 treaties were ratified by the U.S. Senate without a guarantee of the reservation in perpetuity. Such deceit and broken promises increased tensions among the Dakota, traders, and U.S. government.

  • Incorrect – There were Dakota leaders who knew what they were signing.
  • Incorrect – Show proof that these papers were illegal.
  • Incorrect – These papers did not redirect all of the money that was promised.
  • Incorrect and Disrespectful – The exhibit should state that these “papers” represented debts owed to the traders.
  • Disrespectful – Show proof that the traders and U.S. Government were deceitful.

The 1851 Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota promised that the Dakota would receive annuity payment of gold, food, and other provisions.

  • Incorrect – The treaties provided much more than this.

[Panel] – Neglected Payments

The Commission of Indian Affairs was the federal agency in charge of all facets of the government’s relationship with American Indians across the country. Bureaucratic and susceptible to corruption, the Commission’s inefficient handling of annuity payments led to Congressional investigation by 1861.

  • Disrespectful – Show proof that these allegations were correct.

…George E. H. Day wrote to President Abraham Lincoln… “The whole system is defective & must be revised or…that just vengeance of heaven [will] continue to be poured out & visited upon this nation.”

  • Disrespectful – Show proof that Day’s allegations were correct.

Annuities were often late and much of the food was already rancid. The Dakota relied on traders to provide goods on credit between payments. By the time gold did arrive, much of it went directly to the traders to satisfy debts. Many Dakota never received any money.

  • Incorrect – Show proof that annuities were “often late.”
  • Incorrect – How much of the food was rancid? Food shipped to soldiers at Fort Ridgely was sometimes spoiled.
  • Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota incurred debts to the traders.
  • Incorrect – The Dakota were paid and the traders collected their debts from the Dakota.

Annuities for the summer of 1862 were supposed to arrive in late June at the Lower Sioux Agency and two weeks later at Upper Sioux, but government shortages in gold delayed the payments. The gold, $71,000 worth, finally arrived at Fort Ridgely on August 18, the same day the Dakota Nation declared war on the U.S. and attacked the Lower Sioux Agency.”

  • Incorrect – Above, it states that annuities were due July 1.
  • Incorrect – More research is needed to say exactly why the annuities were late.
  • Incorrect – A Lower Dakota Soldiers Lodge made the decision to go to war.
  • Incorrect – A faction of hostile Dakota Indians not the Dakota Nation attacked the Lower Agency.

After the war, annuity payments to the Dakota were stopped. Funds were instead used to reimburse white victims of the Dakota-U.S. War…An additional $50,000 was allocated to expel all Dakota and Winnebago people from the state.

  • Incorrect – All Dakota people were not expelled from the state.
  • Incorrect – In the 1970s, Dakota descendants were reimbursed for land and annuities taken after the war.

Abuse and manipulation of the Dakota’s money was so consistent that some Dakota were known to swallow their coins in an effort to prevent the white men from stealing it. Sarah Wakefield noted…that she “saw a poor fellow one day swallow his money…”

  • Incorrect – Because one man swallowed his coins is not proof of “abuse and manipulation.”
  • Incorrect – It cannot be said that “some” Dakota swallowed coins because one man did this.

[Panel] – Cultural Confrontation

After the treaties were signed in 1851 the Dakota Indians were expected to move to reservations…they were also told to conform to Christianity and become farmers. Some Dakota indeed decided to farm on land allotments. As for these few hundred Dakota who did adhere to white society, they were given better goods and more money by the government.

  • Incorrect – The Dakota agreed in the treaties to move to reservations.
  • Incorrect – The Dakota were not told to conform to Christianity; they had a choice.
  • Incorrect – The Dakota were not told to become farmers; they had a choice.
  • Incorrect – The farmers were given extra food and supplies. The goods were not better. They were not given more money.
  • Disrespectful – Dakota who became farmers and Christians were harassed by traditional Dakota. They did not have freedom of occupation and religion. The exhibit does not discuss this.

The many Dakota who did not submit to the attempted extermination of their culture were left to survive by their own means. After being asked to completely give up their way of life and live like the newcomers, the Dakota society was perpetually shattered. By 1862, the annuity system, assimilation, and reservation life left the Dakota starving, economically desperate, fractured, and angry.

  • Absolutely Incorrect – Becoming Christians and farmers was not extermination of their culture.
  • Incorrect – They were not left to survive by their own means. They continued to receive treaty benefits.
  • Incorrect – They were not asked to completely give up their way of life and live like whites.
  • Incorrect – Dakota society was not perpetually shattered.
  • Incorrect – Not all Dakota were starving in the spring of 1862. Dakota were starving because: Crops failed in 1861. The hard winter of 61-62 prevented hunters from going out. Indian Agent Galbraith refused to issue food to the Lower Dakota until the annuities came. Galbraith did issue food to the Upper Dakota.
  • There are too many incorrect statements in this paragraph, too many exaggerations and too many complicated issues to be treated this way.

If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with the Indians.” – Wamdi-tanka

  • Incorrect – This is taken out of context. Wamdi-tanka was Chief Big Eagle.

[Panel] – The Dakota Declare War

  • Incorrect – “The Dakota” did not declare war. A Lower Dakota Soldiers Lodge declared war.

Starving, desperate, and quickly losing their traditional way of life, the Mdewakanton Dakota soldiers’ lodges led by reluctant Chief Taoyateduta declared war on the United States…

  • Incorrect – One Lower Dakota Soldiers’ Lodge declared war.
  • Incorrect – The primary causes of the Dakota War of 1862 were many and complicated. More needs to be said.

Dakota akicitas…attacked…scattered newcomer settlements through western Minnesota.

  • Incorrect – They also attacked settlers in southern and northwestern Minnesota.

[At Wood Lake] Taoyateduta’s battle plan was…foiled

  • Is this correct? – Show proof that this was Taoyateduta’s battle plan.

At Camp Release, captives held by the Dakota were freed, and a mixture of Dakota akicitas and non-combatants surrendered to Colonel Sibley.

  • Disrespectful and Unbalanced – Friendly Indians worked together to free the hostages. No mention of them is made in this exhibit.
  • Incorrect – Most of them did not surrender; they waited for Sibley to arrive.

Taoyateduta, also known as Little Crow…signed the Treaty at Mendota as a way to preserve the rights and customs of the Dakota Nation.

  • Incorrect – Do we know why Little Crow signed the treaty? The treaty would certainly NOT preserve their rights and customs.

[Panel] – Press and Panic on the Frontier

Jane Swisshelm wrote, “Exterminate the wild beasts, and make peace with the devil and all his hosts sooner than these red-jawed tigers, whose fangs are dripping with the blood of the innocents! Get ready, and as soon as these convicted murderers are turned loose, shoot them and be sure they are shot dead, dead, DEAD, DEAD!…”

  • Disrespectful – Hostile Dakota Indians had just killed more than 650 whites. Some committed the worst atrocities. Swisshelm represented the general public opinion.

Mr. Huggins exercised nothing but kindness toward the Indians…yet he was one of the first victims of the outbreak, shot down like a dog by the very Indians whom he had so long and so well served. -Agent Thomas Galbraith

  • Incorrect – To show Galbraith saying Huggins was shot by the Indians he was aiding is wrong. Huggins was murdered by an Indian from another village.

[Panel] – A Bitter End

  • Unbalanced – The exhibit fails to discuss what happened to the whites after the war. Many died from diseases and wounds received during the war.

Photo – Prison Camp at Fort Snelling in November 1862, photo by Benjamin F. Upton

  • Incorrect – This was an internment camp.

There were as many as 42 trials per day—many taking as few as ten minutes. Virtually no evidence was presented and basic judicial procedures were not followed.

  • Unbalanced – Had the U.S. Army practiced traditional Dakota warfare, there would have been no trials.
  • This trial process was too complicated to be treated with so lightly here. For an excellent discussion of this trial process, see Bachman, Northern Slave – Black Dakota.

Lincoln issued orders to execute these Dakota on December 6, 1862.

  • Incorrect – Lincoln’s orders were issued on December 6 to execute them on December 19.

Meanwhile, 1,700 Dakota people, mainly women and children, were forced to walk from the Lower Sioux Agency in Redwood Falls to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, departing on November 7.

  • Incorrect – Estimates of those moved to Fort Snelling varied from 1601 to 1658.
  • Incorrect – They were not forced
  • Incorrect – Many rode in wagons or on horses
  • Incorrect – The Lower Sioux Agency was not in Redwood Falls.
  • Incorrect – Fort Snelling was not in St. Paul.
  • Incorrect – We don’t know for sure which day they departed.

Prisoners were not told of the executions until December 16. On December 24, the 38 Dakota who were sentenced to be hanged were allowed to meet with their families for the last time.

  • Incorrect – Most of their families probably were at Fort Snelling

Though never charged with any crimes, those at Fort Snelling were held as prisoners from the winter of 1862 to the spring of 1863. Horrid conditions caused hundreds of deaths from disease and malnutrition.

  • Incorrect – The Indians at Fort Snelling were not prisoners
  • Incorrect – Should say winter of 1862-63
  • Absolutely Incorrect – “hundreds of deaths” is an exaggeration. 102 is the official count.
  • Incorrect – Prove that anyone died from malnutrition.

Statement of Ptan-doo-tah (one of the 38 Dakota hung) at the time of his execution.

  • Incorrect – There was at least one white and several mixed-bloods among the 38.
  • Unbalanced – Where are the statements about whites who died after the war?

Names of the “38 Dakota Akicita Hanged at Mankato”

  • Incorrect – There was at least one white and several mixed-bloods among the 38.
  • Unbalanced – Where are the names of the whites who died after the war?
  • Disrespectful – These 38 were implicated in the murders of at least 99 men, women and children. Where is the list of these victims?

[Panel] – Exile of the Dakota People

  • Unbalanced – What happened to the whites after the war?
  • Unbalanced – What happened to the Dakota who remained in Minnesota?
  • Unbalanced – No mention is made of the many Dakota men who became scouts for the U.S. Army during and after the Dakota War.

Many Upper Sioux Dakota, not involved in the war, fled… Sibley’s military force followed to pursue and kill both Eastern and Western Dakota people.

  • Incorrect – Many Upper and Lower Dakota fled including those involved in the war
  • Incorrect – Sibley was seeking those Dakota who had committed atrocities.

The majority of the remaining Dakota were women, children, and elders. They were forced into an internment camp at Fort Snelling where hundreds died.

  • Incorrect – They were not forced.
  • Absolutely Incorrect – To say that hundreds died is a gross exaggeration. The army record stated that 102 died.
  • Unbalanced – How many whites died at this same time from epidemics that swept the crowded refugee towns?

The men were kept at a similar camp in Mankato.

  • Incorrect – The camp in Mankato was a prison camp.

Over 1,300 Dakota were loaded onto two barges and taken to Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota. After one month of arduous travel, they arrived to a land unsuitable for living and immediately buried 300 Dakota who had not survived the journey. For four years, a drought persisted, hunting was poor, and government provisions of food supplies either didn’t reach them or were spoiled upon arrival. Another 500 Dakota people perished during that time.

  • Incorrect – They were loaded onto steamboats.
  • Incorrect – Crow Creek was in Dakota Territory.
  • Incorrect – Very few died on the journey to Crow Creek.
  • Incorrect – The total number of 800 Dakota deaths is grossly over-stated. Show proof that this is correct.
  • Unbalanced – What happened to the whites after the war?

The Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation in South Dakota (1866) and the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota (1867) were created for the Dakota who had escaped to the western plains when the war ended.

  • Incorrect – These reservations were created for all Sisseton and Wahpeton regardless of where they were.

[Panel] – Commemorating the Dakota-U.S. War

Only recently have other views, those of Dakota people, begun to be acknowledged. At Mankato…a memorial marker was erected in 1978 and a statue of the “Winter Warrior” in 1987. These were the first memorials to include a Dakota perspective…many members of the Dakota community take part in living memorials each year. One memorial, the Dakota Commemorative March, traces the footsteps of the Dakota force-marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to the internment camp at Fort Snelling.

  • Incorrect – There is a “Friendly Indian” monument in Morton erected about 1900.
  • Incorrect – The Commemorative March is done once every 2 years.
  • Incorrect – Most of the Commemorative March does not follow the original route.

The process of healing for the Dakota community has just begun. When asked what could be done to commemorate the 38 on the 150th anniversary a Dakota Elder responded: “How does one right the atrocity of a hanging? Acknowledge the terrible wrong that was committed through a public apology…”

  • Unbalanced – Not all Dakota people are in the process of healing.
  • Unbalanced – Where is the settler descendant who talks about the healing process?
  • Unbalanced – Who apologizes for the more than 650 whites killed as a result of this war?

2 thoughts on “Review – GAC Exhibit – Revisited

  1. How could the Gustavus students (and their instructors) make so many mistakes? What makes this display worthy of an award?

    • Lowell:

      They made so many mistakes because:
      This history is complicated. There is a lot of wrong information out there. The instructors and advisors influenced the students by the materials they presented. The project likely was rushed. Simple mistakes like the dates of the Battles of Fort Ridgely should not have been made.

      This exhibit is worthy of an award because:
      The judges did not know this history. They likely agreed with themes in the exhibit. For example, the whites cheated the Indians. The judges liked the layout, the artwork, text, photos and drawings. It would be interesting to see the selection criteria for these honors and how many exhibits were competing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s