Accuracy, Balance, Respect
Updated February 14, 2014
This is a short essay on some major issues today that need more attention. Many of my Dakota and white ancestors were involved on all sides of the war. I speak and write to honor ALL of them. These are the facts and they are indisputable:
1. There are several Dakota creation stories. A sign, in Kathio State Park, authored by Leonard Wabasha, Lower Sioux Community, states that Mille lacs Lake is our Dakota place of creation. See Dahlheimer, http://www.towahkon.org/Coldwater.html. In recent years, this history has been revised to claim that the mouth of the Minnesota River was the Dakota place of creation. If this were correct, the Dakota never would have sold this land in the Treaty of 1805. In 1820, when soldiers started work on Fort Snelling, the Dakota would have driven them away.
2. People have inhabited southwestern Minnesota for about 12,000 years. The Dakota were relatively recent arrivals, migrating here about the year 1700. They did not write treaties. They killed members of other Indian groups, including the Fox, Otoe, Iowa and Cheyenne and took their land.
3. The U.S. Government decided Indian policy, made the treaties and administered the treaties. The U.S. decided to hang 38 in Mankato. The U.S. decided to move the Dakota to the Fort Snelling internment camp. The U.S. decided to remove most of the Dakota from Minnesota. The State of Minnesota did not make these decisions.
4. The issue of fraudulent treaties was brought before the U.S. courts in the 1900s. The U.S. audited the Dakota treaties forward from the Treaty of 1805. The U.S. agreed to pay for land and annuities taken in 1863. In the 1970s, the U.S., in agreement with Dakota leaders, settled with the Dakota descendants. If anyone thinks they have a case against the U.S. they should initiate another court case.
5. In the 1851 Treaties, Dakota leaders agreed to move to reservations where their people would learn to become farmers. Many Dakota villages were already on the reservations. They received many treaty benefits other than money. Estimates of land sold varied from 24,000,000 to 35,000,000 acres. William Folwell wrote in 1921 that the number of acres had never been accurately computed.
6. In 1853, Henry Sibley wrote that the Dakota were, “the most powerful and warlike tribe on the continent…They…wage interminable war with almost every other band with whom they are brought in contact.” The War Department agreed and built Fort Ridgely.
7. By 1862, about 250 Dakota families were on farms. There were about 80 Christian Dakota members in the 4 missions on the reservations. Traditional Dakota harassed the farmers and Christians. But for this harassment, there would have been more farmers and Christians.
8. In 1862, 100-150 young Dakota men of a Lower Sioux soldiers’ lodge made the decision to go to war. Chief Little Crow said they were “full of the white man’s devil-water (rum)” when they made this decision. See Anderson and Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes, page 40. Little Crow and other leaders tried to talk them out of this decision. They would not listen. The majority of the Dakota leaders did not participate in this decision. The majority of the Dakota people opposed war. But, many were forced to fight against the whites. Going to war broke the terms of the Treaties of 1858.
9. I cannot find any primary sources that stated that “white invasion” was a cause of the Dakota War. If white invasion was a concern, why didn’t the Dakota go to war in 1851, when they gave up much of present-day Minnesota? The causes of the Dakota War were many and they were complicated.
10. Many Dakota warned their white and mixed-blood friends to flee before they could be killed by hostile Dakota. Friendly Dakota rescued and protected white and mixed-blood hostages held by the hostile Indians.
11. On the 2nd day of the war, Chief Little Crow, the leader of the war effort, warned his warriors not to make war on women and children. Many did not listen. In traditional Dakota warfare, it didn’t matter if the enemy was a man, woman or child. More than 650 innocent white men, women and children were killed in 1862. A few Dakota warriors committed the worst atrocities imaginable.
12. Susan Frenier, the mixed-blood wife of Joseph R. Brown, and her family were taken hostages by hostile Dakota and forced to go to Little Crow’s camp. Susan’s step-father, Akipa, a Wahpeton chief, and his head soldier went to Little Crow’s camp and demanded the release of Susan and her family. Akipa was taunted by Little Crow’s warriors for not joining the fight against the whites. Akipa said “there was no bravery in killing helpless men and women and little children, but that it was simply cowardice, and cowards would only boast of it.” See Through Dakota Eyes, page 134.
13. Hostile Dakota took some 285 white and mixed-blood hostages. Their plan was to use them as shields in the event that the U.S. Army attacked.
14. When Sibley’s army reached Fort Ridgely, Little Crow moved his camp to the Upper Agency. Little Paul, a Wahpeton leader and Christian farmer, spoke to Little Crow’s warriors, saying, “Mdewakantons, why have you made war on the white people? The Americans have given us money, food, clothing, ploughs, powder, tobacco, guns, knives, and all things by which we might live well; and they have nourished us even like a father his children. Why have you made war on them?” Little Paul demanded the release of the hostages but was refused. See Through Dakota Eyes, page 197.
15. The two Dakota men who killed a white farmer at Acton were shot by their own people. Good Star Woman said, “…an Indian came in and said, “You were the cause of all this suffering, making the women and children suffer so much,” and he shot him dead.” See Through Dakota Eyes, page 53.
16. Little Crow’s soldiers’ lodge offered bounties for the scalps of Henry Sibley, Joseph R. Brown, William Forbes, Louis Roberts and Nathan Myrick. See Through Dakota Eyes, page 222. The Dakota took scalps as evidence of their bravery and to honor the victims. See Pond, Dakota Life in the Upper Midwest for more information on Dakota scalp dances.
17. Little Crow moved his camp upriver. As they approached Sisseton Chief Red Iron’s village, Red Iron and his warriors ordered them to stop and proceed no further into the Sisseton country. Red Iron’s warriors almost clashed with Little Crow’s warriors. Red Iron said, “You commenced the outbreak, and must do the fighting in your country. We do not want you here to excite our young men and get us into trouble.” Little Crow went into camp at what later became known as Camp Release.
18. Dakota/White mixed-bloods were also involved in the Dakota War. At the start of the war, some joined the hostile Dakota, some joined the friendly Dakota and some joined the whites. During the Battle of Birch Coulee, the hostile Dakota sent a message to the besieged camp. If the mixed-bloods did not fight, they would not be harmed. Captain Grant asked the mixed-bloods for their decision. They replied, “…tell them the half-breeds are just like the white men, we all came here to fight; if they think they can whip us what makes them stay so far away”? See Robert Boyd’s 1925 speech.
19. Following the Battle of Birch Coulee, friendly Dakota began secret communications with Colonel Sibley. During the Battle of Wood Lake, friendly Dakota gathered the hostages and prepared to defend them with their lives. When Little Crow returned from Wood Lake, he prevented his warriors from attacking the friendly Dakota and the hostages.
20. The 285 hostages mentioned above were forced-marched to a camp at Little Crow’s village and then to a camp at Camp Release. After the war, the Dakota taken to the Mankato prison camp were forced-marched. The Dakota taken from the Lower Agency to the Fort Snelling internment camp via Fort Ridgely and Henderson were not forced-marched. The distance between the Lower Agency and Fort Snelling was about 100 miles. No Dakota were marched 150 miles in 1862. The group taken to Fort Snelling included some 40 or more young men.
21. The movement of the 1700 Dakota and mixed-blood men, women, elderly and children to Fort Snelling was a humanitarian effort. Most of their men had been taken to Mankato. The reservations had been shut down. The buildings, mills and farms had been destroyed. There was little food left in the fields. Angry whites were moving back. New Ulm residents drafted a petition that they would exterminate any Dakota who were returned to the reservations.
22. Some call the Fort Snelling camp a concentration camp to evoke images of the Nazi concentration camps. People were taken to Nazi concentration camps to be exterminated. The Dakota were taken to the Fort Snelling Camp to survive. For more on the marches and the camps see Monjeau-Marz and Osman, “What You May Not Know about the Fort Snelling Indian Camps” in Minnesota Heritage Magazine, number 7. See Bakeman and Richardson, Trails of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins. See Monjeau-Marz, Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862-1864.
23. The 38 men hanged at Mankato were implicated in the murders of at least 99 civilians. By today’s terms these were war crimes. Not all of these men were full-blooded Dakota.
24. Did anyone commit genocide in 1862? If the U.S. policy was genocide, the U.S. Army would have killed all of the Dakota at Camp Release. During the war, about 145 Dakota were killed compared to more than 650 whites. This mass-murder of white civilians by Indians was the largest in U. S. history. On August 18, hostile Dakota swept through the Milford area west of New Ulm, killing about 50 men, women and children. They took no hostages. Had the hostile Dakota broken through the barricades at New Ulm and Fort Ridgely, they may taken a few hostages, but they would have killed everyone else. Who committed genocide in 1862?
25. Hundreds of Dakota and whites died after the war. Dr. Asa Daniels attended to the white victims in St. Peter after the war. He wrote, “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. See St. Peter Herald, September 9, 1910.
26. Yes, the whites in Minnesota were angry after the war. Governor Ramsey represented the popular public opinion when he said the Dakota must either be exterminated or driven from the borders of the State. But, it was the U.S. that decided to remove most of the Dakota in 1863. Some Dakota families were taken to Faribault under care of Bishop Whipple and Alexander Faribault. Other Dakota families remained. Their men became scouts for the U.S. Army to help prevent hostile Dakota from returning to the State.
27. Bounties were offered on Dakota scalps after the war because hostile Dakota were returning and killing white civilians. In June 1863, the Dustin Family was attacked by Indians in Wright County. When found two days later, “the sight of their decomposed and mangled bodies was truly awful.” The father was shot by an arrow. He also had a deep wound in his breast. His left hand had been cut off and carried away. A six year old child was found, still alive, under his seat. The corpse of the grandmother of the child was found in the back of the wagon. The mother and a 12-year child were still alive, but were so badly wounded that they died later. See the St. Paul Daily Press, July 7, 1863. Including Little Crow, a total of 5 bounties were paid on Dakota scalps. As mentioned above, Dakota also offered bounties on white scalps.
28. Adolph Hitler is quoted as admiring the efficiency of America’s extermination of the American Indian. See Toland, Adolph Hitler, page 702. The quote is not footnoted. It is either an opinion or hearsay by the author.
29. Dakota commemorative marches started in 2002 to commemorate the Dakota groups taken to Fort Snelling and Mankato. The marches to Fort Snelling have been more than 95% off-course. See Bakeman and Richardson, Trails of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins for the correct route.
The Dakota War of 1862 was tragic for everyone involved. People are still healing from events of 1862. They need to hear the truth with balance and respect. Every day, many people are only starting to learn about this history. No one should censor anyone else’s history. All the victims must be remembered.
See Krohn, “Forgive everyone everything,” Mankato Free Press, December 26, 2012. Krohn wrote, “…when Mankato dedicated the new monument to the 38 hanged in Mankato, the Dakota behind the new memorial and the ride and run have used the mantra “forgive everyone everything,” to mark the 150th anniversary. Those words will be engraved in Kasota stone benches that will be placed around the new memorial next summer.” After 150 years, perhaps it is time to forgive everyone everything?