1862 Dakota Conflict
The U.S.-Dakota Conflict
The article that follows was obtained at the Minnesota State Historical Museum. The website is listed followed the article.
The 1862 U.S.-Dakota Conflict was a result of repeated breaches of treaty agreement by the U.S. government. When the War of 1812 began, the indigenous tribes of Minnesota sided with the British whom they believed represented their interests better than the agents of the United States. A series of treaties between the United States government and the Dakota and Ojibwa peoples were signed in Minnesota over the course of the next forty years. Native Americans were forced to negotiate due to the pressures placed upon them due to land requirements of the ever expanding American frontier. The Native American way of life in Minnesota had entered a downward spiral. The subsistence lifestyle of Native American tribes in Minnesota was irrevocably altered by the emergence of a European free market economy. Animal and plant resources that sustained Indians for so long became commodities in an increasingly crowded region. Native peoples of Minnesota quickly became a minority in their homeland with an ever-increasing debt to white traders. The Treaty of Traverse de Sioux on July 23, 1851 between the United States government and indigenous representatives saw the Dakota give up their rights to most of southern Minnesota in return for a reservation; assistance with schools, trade, and farming; and yearly payments in food & gold. Additionally, the government agreed to pay $500,000 to move Indian villages and pay for debts the Dakota owed to traders. The United States Senate eliminated the passage granting the Dakota a reservation before ratifying the treaty. Governor Ramsey had to gain presidential permission to allow the Dakota to live on the reservation for five years before moving. Dakota resistance was understandable. To entice the Dakota to sign the treaty, traders in Minnesota took advantage of their extensive family connections in Dakota villages since many of them had married Dakota women. Somehow the treaty received enough Dakota signatures to be ratified. Very little of the $500,000 saw it's way into Dakota hands. It went directly to traders instead to pay Dakota debts.
A massive influx of immigrants began to encroach on the Dakota reservation established by the Traverse Des Sioux of 1851. The government redrew the boundaries of the reservation which severely crowded the Dakota yet allowed most settlers to stay. Traders continued to hold the Dakota beholden to their services and the debts of the Dakota rose again. Prices were high, government payments were often late, and food subsidies were all too frequently rotten. On March 13, 1858, twenty-six Dakota chiefs were taken to Washington to meet with President James Buchanan. They were held in Washington for four months before being told they had to move off another portion of the reservation. According to Indian accounts, most of that money went to the traders as well. A blight severely damaged Dakota crops in the spring and early summer of 1862. Food shortages coupled by late annuity payments from the government caused widespread hunger since most traders ended Dakota credit. Frustration and hunger led to foraging. One Indian foraging party attacked a family of settlers near Acton, MN on August 17th, 1862. With three men and two women dead, the Dakota gathered. Tribal members somehow managed to convince the Dakota leader Little Crow (Taoyateduta) that the time to go to war against the settlers was at hand. Thus began the Dakota Conflict. On August 18th, 1862, a Dakota force struck the Lower Sioux Agency killing the inhabitants and taking control. They then surprised a forty man relief party of United States Army troops from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, killing nearly all the troops. Attacks on Fort Ridgely and New Ulm took place over the course of the next week. Stiff resistance from settlers and soldiers prevented complete Dakota victory but New Ulm was so badly burned the inhabitants abandoned it and fled for safety. The Dakota fought in their traditional manner; only women or children were taken as prisoners. News of atrocities spread quickly and settlers throughout the Minnesota River valley fled their homes only to find refuge in houses abandoned by other fleeing settlers. Governor Ramsey commissioned Henry Sibley as a Brigadier General to lead a relief party 1400 strong. This motley crew of poorly equipped raw recruits proceeded at an agonizingly slow pace from Fort Snelling, gathering provisions, munitions, and even draft horses wherever they could. Upon arriving at Fort Ridgely, Sibley sent out a burial party that was promptly ambushed by Dakota led by their leader Mankato near Birch Coulee. Sibley continued to move up the Minnesota River valley, requesting Little Crow surrender. Little Crow refused to yield without a guarantee of amnesty for his people. The fighting ended at Wood Lake on September 23 in a clumsy standoff with neither side sustaining major casualties.
Exaggerated figures abounded immediately after the conflict but the true count of war dead was 77 soldiers, 413 white civilians, and 71 Indians (38 of which were those executed in Mankato). Both sides suffered greatly. Unfortunately the suffering would only continue as the frontier of the United States pushed farther and farther west without any significant improvements in United States Indian policy or Indian - settler relations. A memorial to the memory of the dead, both white and Indian, now stands in downtown Mankato at Reconciliation Park.
In Their Own Words: Excerpts from Speeches & Letters Concerning the Dakota Conflict
Speech Of Hdainyanka In Favor Of Continuing War
(Heard, History of Sioux War, 151-52)
Letter From General Pope Declaring His Goal Of Exterminating Sioux
(Letter to Sibley, Sept. 28,1862)
Letter From Bishop Whipple Concerning Degrees Of Guilt
Address To Condemned Prisoners Before Their Executions
Say to them now that they have so sinned against their fellow men, that there is no hope for clemency except in the mercy of God, through the merits of the blessed Redeemer and that I earnestly exhort them to apply to that, as their only remaining source of comfort and consolation. (Rev. Riggs, reading address prepared by Col. Miller)
[T]ell our friends that we are being removed from this world over the same path they must shortly travel. We go first, but many of our friends may follow us in a very short time. I expect to go direct to the abode of the Great Spirit, and to be happy when I get there; but we are told that the road is long and the distance great; therefore, as I am slow in my movements, it will probably take me a long time to reach the end of the journey, and I should not be surprised if some of the young, active men we will leave behind us will pass me on the road before I reach the place of my destination. (Dec. 24, 1862)
Letter Of Hdainyanka Written Shortly Before His Execution
You have deceived me. You told me that if we followed the advice of General Sibley, and gave ourselves up to the whites, all would be well; no innocent man would be injured. I have not killed, wounded or injured a white man, or any white persons. I have not participated in the plunder of their property; and yet to-day I am set apart for execution, and must die in a few days, while men who are guilty will remain in prison. My wife is your daughter, my children are your grandchildren. I leave them all in your care and under your protection. Do not let them suffer; and when my children are grown up, let them know that their father died because he followed the advice of his chief, and without having the blood of a white man to answer for to the Great Spirit. (Letter to Chief Wabasha)
Letter From Rev. Thomas Williamson To Rev. Stephen Riggs
[I] am satisfied in my own mind from the slight evidence on which these are condemned that there are many others in that prison house who ought not to be there, and that the honor of our Government and the welfare of the people of Minnesota as well as that of the Indians requires a new trial before unprejudiced judges. I doubt whether the whole state of Minnesota can furnish 12 men competent to sit as jurors in their trial. . . . From our Governor down to the lowest rabble there is a general belief that all the prisoners are guilty, and demand that whether guilty or not they be put to death as a sacrifice to the souls of our murdered fellow citizens. (Letter to Rev. Riggs, Nov. 24, 1862)
[I]t should be borne in mind that the Military Commission appointed by me were instructed only to satisfy themselves of the voluntary participation of the individual on trial, in the murders or massacres committed, either by voluntary participation of the individual on trial, in the murders or massacres committed, either by his voluntary concession or by other evidence and then to proceed no further. The degree of guilt was not one of the objects to be attained, and indeed it would have been impossible to devote as much time in eliciting details in each of so many hundred cases, as would have been required while the expedition was in the field. Every man who was condemned was sufficiently proven to be a voluntary participant, and no doubt exists in my mind that at least seven-eighths of those sentenced to be hung have been guilty of the most flagrant outrages and many of them concerned in the violation of white women and the murder of children. (Letter to Asst. Sec. of Interior, Dec. 19, 1862)
I have a very high regard for all the gentlemen who composed the military commission. I count them individually among my personal friends. But they were trying Indians; and my sense of right would lead me to give Indians as fair and full a trial as white men. This was the difference between us. (Letter to St. Paul Pioneer)
I have to review all the proceedings, and decide the fate of each individual. This power of life, and death, is an awful thing to exercise, and when I think of more than three hundred human beings are subject to that power, lodged in my hands, it makes me shudder. Still duty must be performed, and judgment visited upon the guilty. (Oct. 17, 1862)
The excitement of the Indians knew no bounds when they realized they were in the power of the soldiers and the scene was terrifying to behold, fear and despair completely carried them away and the impression gained an everlasting hold on his [my] youthful mind. It was repeatedly told us we were all to be executed and the insults of the soldiers who spoke the Indian tongue seemed a convincing fact that all were to be put to death immediately. This cruel order was constantly in our minds until the verdict of our trial was given us through an interpreter, some months later.
After the surrender the Indians were loaded into old Red River carts and started for the Lower Agency and Manatee. The carts were small, drawn by an ox, and it was with difficulty for any more than four persons to occupy the box. In the cart I was forced to occupy were two Indiana men and my sixteen year old brother. We were bound securely and on our journey resembled a load of animals on their way to market. We traveled slow meeting now and then a white person who never failed to give us a look of revenge as we jolted along in our cramped condition.
As we came near New Ulm my brother told me the driver was . . . afraid to go through New Ulm, my heart leaped into my mouth and I crouched down beside my brother completely overcome with fear. In a short time we reached the outskirts of the town and the long looked for verdict--- death, seemed at hand. Women were running about, men waving their arms and shouting at the top of their voices, convinced the driver the citizens of that village were wild for the thirst of blood, so he turned the vehicle in an effort to escape the angry mob but not until too late, they were upon us. We were pounded to a jelly, my arms, feet, and head resembled raw beef steak. How I escaped alive has always been a mystery to me. My brother was killed and when I realized he was dead I felt the only person in the world to look after me was gone and I wished at the time they had killed me.
We reached Mankato late that evening and the trial conviction and sentences are merely a matter of history. I can truthfully say the experienced photographed on my youthful mind can never be defaced by time. (Morton Enterprise, Jan. 29, 1909)
Call Of Jacob Nix, Commandant Of New Ulm, For Dakota Blood
Source: http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/dakota/dakota.html. This site offers an extensive array of original and secondary documentation, images, and bibliography.
A documentary, The Dakota Conflict: 1862 Sioux Uprising was produced in 1993 and shown on public television. Commentary is provided by Garrison Keillor and Floyd Red Crow Westerman.