The following is my Senior Graduating Thesis From the University of Minnesota at Morris, a 25-year ordeal, which I finally completed this week...
After commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Dakota War of 1862 this past year, we also commemorate the concept of “manifest destiny” and how it gripped the United States in the 19th century with the quest to “overspread the continent” and how it impacted us in Minnesota. “Manifest destiny” is the premise that the United States was destined to expand across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. John L. O’Sullivan who coined the term, based the claim on the divine right of spreading republican democracy. This concept justified the continuous removal of Dakota Indians in Minnesota, among many others, to smaller tracts of land, treaty by treaty. Starting with the earliest treaty between the Dakota in 1805 known as “Pike’s Purchase”; the Treaty of 1837, known as “Dakota Treaty of 1837” which opened land west of the Mississippi to settlement; the two Treaties of 1851, the “Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux” and “Treaty of Mendota” which crowded four separate bands of Dakota Indians onto approximately 180,000 acres of land upon two adjoining agencies along the Minnesota River; and finally culminating in, the Treaty of 1858, where the Dakota gave up half of the lands they received in the 1851 treaties, receiving 30 cents per acre for lands that were worth 20 times that amount. When the monies were finally paid nearly two years late, traders received most of the $266,880 promised to Dakota by the Treaty. This was a continuation of treaty violations from the first treaty between the US government and their sanctioned traders with the Dakota people which was not forgotten. Nearly all modern historians agree the United States was in violation of provisions of the 1851 and 1858 Treaties. This may have been by design, as some historians hypothesized, as early as 1857 when Special Agent Kintzing Prichette, later Governor of Oregon Territory, discussed the desire of the whites to use an Indian war as a pretext for seizing lands. Roy W. Meyer wonders how much this motive influenced several Minnesota newspapers to call for the utter removal and extermination of the Dakota. As Diedrich discusses, it may have also been compounded by the actions of uncaring and self-serving politicians put into responsible roles overseeing the dependent nations of Dakota crammed onto lands along the Minnesota River. Twelve years earlier in 1850, the Dakota enjoyed over twenty-four million acres of vast hunting ground in contrast to their new confinement. Some “progressive” Dakota adapted successfully to farming. Other more traditional or “blanket” Dakota depended upon the hunt and government annuities and provisions for their subsistence but, with the shrinking reservation, this dependence caused desperation and starvation. This reliance led to the Dakota War and exile of the Dakota from Minnesota. The actions of the “progressive” Dakota helped avert a massacre of epic proportions and possible extinction which allowed the Dakota to continue life on new reservations in the Dakota Territory and Nebraska.
To understand the events of the Dakota War requires an understanding of the significant players and how their lives intersected on the prairies and valleys of 1862 Minnesota: the missionaries; the white Indian traders; the federally-appointed Government Agents and their employees, often previously traders; and the 7,000 members of the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies comprised of four bands of Dakota on these reservations.
This is the story of a tumultuous six-week timeframe and the aftermath that changed the landscape of white-Indian relations in Minnesota and across America after the largest Native American uprising and largest mass execution in the history of the United States which forever tarnished the legacy of President Lincoln in Indian Country.
A hard winter with deep snow in 1861 along with the late annuities and provisions meant less food for the hungry Dakota on the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies. This fueled hostility from the starving, traditional “blanket” Indians that culminated in senseless violence and a cacophony of murder and mayhem aimed at people whom the Dakota felt wronged them, along with innocent settlers whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, namely on lands that the Dakota once roamed and hunted freely.
Life for the Dakota people living on the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies along the Minnesota River in the summer of 1862 was especially difficult. The yearly annuities and provisions promised to the Dakota by the Treaty of 1858 were months late. These annuities derived from the cession of Dakota lands located ten-miles from and north of the Minnesota River when the Dakota took up living on a ten-mile strip south of the river on the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies, halving their reservation from the Treaties of 1851. In addition to payments being late, the Dakota hard feelings toward the Indian Agent for paying the traders for goods already sold to the Dakota on credit, based on unverified claims which were probably padded. This practice violated law and policy as Robert Meyer suggested. While it has been surmised that the annuity payments were late because of the preoccupation with and the financial stresses of the Civil War on the United States Treasury, another reason could be the actions of an incompetent political appointee, Clark W. Thompson, the Minnesota Territory Indian Affairs Superintendent, whose charge included arranging the delivery of annuities for the annual June distribution, which he did not do in a timely manner. Another political appointee, Major Thomas J. Galbraith, the Indian Agent in charge of both the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies reported to Thompson, made problems worse. Major Galbraith was not a Major of anything. That “major” was a title conferred by the U.S. government upon Indian agents to give them an air of authority over the Indians.
On August 8th and 9th, Galbraith distributed food to the Upper Sioux Agency on upon the recommendation of Lieutenant Timothy J. Sheehan of the Fifth Minnesota Regiment stationed at Fort Ridgely. In Galbriath’s limited experience, provisions were distributed along with annuities and he did not want to “lose control over the Sioux” by having two separate distributions. A week later, Galbraith refused to distribute food from the full warehouses to the Lower Sioux Agency, despite the distribution to the Upper Sioux witnessed by Little Crow and he knew that Galbraith had capitulated in feeding the Upper Sioux. This hard-headed and inflexible action to not distribute food to Lower Sioux contributed to a series of events that led to a chain reaction of epic proportion which forever changed the life for the Dakota in Minnesota and their neighbors.
The 1851 Traverse Des Sioux Treaty established the Yellow Medicine or Pezihutazi (Dakota for Yellow Medicine) Agency also known as the Upper Sioux Agency located near present day Granite Falls, Minnesota. It comprised the Sisseton “People of the Fish Village” and Wahpeton “People dwelling among the Leaves” Dakota. These two tribes traditionally hunted the same area north of the Minnesota River and the valleys south of the river and wintered together near Devil’s Lake in present day North Dakota. The Upper Sioux Agency included approximately 90,000 acres on lands 10-miles by 70-miles that stretched from the Minnesota River to 10-miles south, running southeast to northwest from a few miles north of the Lower Agency near Wood Lake all the way to Big Stone Lake and northeast in the Dakota Territory near present day Sisseton, South Dakota and present day Browns Valley, Minnesota. This land allowed the Sisseton and Wahpeton to hunt and gather on lands they had hunted for generations. Progressive Upper Sioux farmed hundreds of acres near Granite Falls, Minnesota, where they began to cultivate the land in the mid 1850’s and became, as the white man hoped them to be, “gentlemen farmers.” This progressive movement took a large leap forward to individual land ownership with the formation of the Hazelwood Republic in 1856, a self-governing organization which was a “voluntary association whose members agreed to abandon their native manners and dress and begin farming on individual allotments of land.” This voluntary association was formed under the tutelage of Missionary Stephen Riggs and his wife Mary, the Hazelwood Republic formed in 1856, was a unique and voluntary coalition of Christian Dakota. The members formed a government and wrote their own constitution whose three main tenets included: Christian worship, education, and private property (individual ownership). These members agreed to the symbolic cutting of hair and each were given two suits of clothing, a cow, a yoke of oxen and a house equipped with a stove. This was the first real attempt to move Dakota from their previous lifestyle of hunter/gatherers to become civilized farmers, and it was the first attempt at individual land ownership. Lorenzo Lawrence, a member of the Hazelwood Republic, was the first Dakota Indian to receive Minnesota citizenship in 1861 for his knowledge of English, wearing white man’s clothing, and being a Christian. Sisseton and Wahpeton peoples on the Upper Sioux Agency numbered around 4,000, but only 2,000 of those stayed near the Agency headquarters near Granite Falls.
The 1851 Treaty of Mendota established the Redwood or Cansayapi (Dakota for Redwood) Agency, also known as the Lower Sioux Agency, located thirty miles south and downstream from the Upper Sioux Agency location near present day Redwood Falls, Minnesota. It consisted of nine (9) bands of Mdewakanton “Spirit Lake People” and one (1) band of Wahpekute “Shooters Among the Leaves” Dakota. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute hailed from the same areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa and were paired together on the Redwood Agency after jointly negotiating the Treaty of Mendota even though the Lower Sioux Agency was many miles from their traditional hunting and gathering areas on prairie lands which were different from their favored woodlands. Their reservation resembled the Upper Sioux’s, approximately 90,000 acres or 10-miles by 70-miles, stretching from the Minnesota River running south 10-miles, running southeast to northwest from the middle of Brown County in south central Minnesota all the way up to the Wood Lake area, stretching approximately 70-miles. At that point their lands adjoined the Upper Sioux Agency. The Lower Sioux Agency totaled approximately 5,000 Mdewakanton and Wahpekute. Between the two treaties of 1851, the four tribes of Dakota ceded over twenty-four million acres for 7.5 cents per acre for lands worth more than 20 times that price. Taking this approach cost the Indians over $30 million dollars, if they were paid what the land was worth. This made breaking treaties with Indian tribes a profitable venture for the United States government.
There is a common misunderstanding when it came to the Dakota Indians, although the four tribes of Dakota typically worked together on large buffalo hunts and in protecting their lands from incursion from their traditional enemies, the four tribes did not live together. The Sisseton and Wahpeton are more closely associated to each other by geography and some weak familial ties, just as the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute are similar to each other. All Dakota followed their own Itancan or Chief, who was their elected spokesman and leader. Both agencies had their share of mixed bloods, “cut hairs” or Christian Indians, and farmer Indians, but the Upper Sioux Agency had a greater concentration of successful farmer Indians who had adapted well and, according to Indian Agent Galbraith, were enjoying a bumper crop in 1862 after a difficult winter and previous year where their crops failed. Anderson tells that by “late July the ripening crops of corn and vegetables promised a rich harvest.”
Throughout the summer, tensions remained high and, contrary to his later testimony and recollection, Major Galbraith wrote days before the outbreak the he had visited Little Crow, Taoyateduta, a Mdewakanton hereditary chief from a long line of Itancans, and said that Little Crow was “well pleased and satisfied.” Yet Galbraith later reneged on a deal to give the Lower Sioux Agency a portion of their food provisions to feed them until the gold coins arrived so he could distribute the annuities along with provisions. As previously mentioned, the food distribution to the Upper Sioux had been recommended by the more experienced Lieutenant Sheehan along with Sisseton and Wahpeton leaders who convinced Galbraith to distribute food provisions to keep the Upper Sioux Agency fed until the full distribution could be made together. Sheehan understood the situation and felt it wise to work with the hungry Dakota. Little Crow was present during the Upper Sioux distribution, and he requested food provisions for the Lower Sioux Agency as well. With missionary John P. Williamson translating, he told Galbraith and others:
“We have waited a long time [for the past due annuity payment]. The money is ours, but we cannot get it. We have no food, but here are these stores [government warehouses and traders 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. When men are hungry they help themselves.
Little did anyone know that the annuity payment was only one day away; it arrived in St. Paul on August 16 in time for an August 18 delivery to Fort Ridgely. Had it arrived a day earlier, it may have prevented the deaths of more than 450 whites and mixed bloods, as well as the deaths of over 300 Dakota in the Conflict and hundreds, perhaps thousands, while in captivity and relocation. These events also resulted in the eventual exile of the Dakota from Minnesota along with the termination of the Treaties of 1851 and 1858.
According to historian Mark Diedrich, “hunger” set the kindling ablaze. Diedrich cites compelling testimony from many witnesses to the events of the summer of 1862, including Indian Superintendent Thompson, who warned that, “If the payment is not made very soon, there is but little hope of preventing an outbreak, and there is no knowing when it will end.” In addition, one of the strongest supporters of the Dakota, Episcopalian Bishop Henry Whipple, stated, “It was not enough to take the price of their lands; a considerable part of their annuities was (also) taken. The Dakota had come together for payment in June, at the time the treaty provided, they waited two months; and were starving.” Diedrich portrays an emaciated people eating anything they could to survive. He also demonstrates through his use of other sources the culpability of Major Galbraith, an unscrupulous man with strong relationships and friendships with Indian traders. In the late 1850s, Galbraith had been a leading Republican “wheel horse” in the Minnesota Territorial Legislature who secured the office of Indian Agent because of his efforts for the Republican Party, after their sweeping victory in 1860. Galbraith had borrowed money from Indian Trader Nathan Myrick (brother of the infamous Andrew Myrick of the Lower Sioux Agency) to put up his bond money in Washington, DC, for his new position. Diedrich discusses how previous officials had made themselves and friends rich despite low paying jobs in Indian Affairs, notably former Superintendent William J. Cullen and Agent Joseph R. Brown who amassed fortunes, and Diedrich claims Galbraith was “cut from the same cloth”. Galbraith’s relationship with Myrick demonstrates his ties to Indian traders who profited from annuities paid to the Dakota. These traders profited with monopolies on the business with Indians on reservations, setting prices 3 to 10 times higher than prices for non-Indians. Diedrich views Galbraith as the person most responsible for the Dakota War. Galbraith reneged on the deal with Little Crow to grant the provisions after asking trader Andrew Myrick if he would advance the Lower Sioux provisions from his full warehouse. Myrick publicly replied, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Myrick was one of the first men to feel the fury of the scorned Lower Sioux. When his tortured body was found, his mouth was stuffed with grass.
On Sunday, August 17, the Dakota War ignited with a spark and the Dakota-white relations were forever changed when four young Dakota men, members of Red Middle Voice’s Rice Creek Band of Mdewakanton, killed four innocent settlers in the Acton Township in Meeker County, over a cache of eggs that the starving Dakota stole. A council of Chiefs quickly convened by Mdewakanton and Wahpekute leaders of the Lower Sioux, or Redwood Agency, at Little Crow’s house near Redwood Falls decided that there would be strong retribution against all Dakota from the great White Father for the killing of women and children. The Lower Sioux decided that they had no choice but to attempt to take control of Fort Ridgely and the western Minnesota frontier and force a new treaty. They felt that the Indian Agent would take retribution on all Dakota, not just the guilty parties, as had happened before in 1858. They felt backed into a corner of having to fight for what they believed were violations of the Treaty of Mendota and the 1858 Treaty and the transgressions of the traders with them.
The next day, Monday, August 18, the Dakota Conflict began in earnest after a party of Dakota warriors attacked the Lower Sioux Agency in Redwood Falls killing thirteen in the attack and another seven fleeing the agency. They fled to Fort Ridgely 15 miles southwest of the agency. Captain John S. Marsh, Fort Ridgely, started out to the Redwood Agency to quell the uprising despite warnings that his forty-six member force plus an interpreter would be outnumbered. He was attacked and killed at the Redwood Ferry Crossing along with twenty-three other soldiers. The remaining force retreated with difficulty back to Fort Ridgely.
Six days later on August 23, Minnesota Territory Governor Alexander Ramsey appointed former Governor and former fur trader, Henry H. Sibley, to command troops to help stop the fighting. Sibley amassed his forces and made his way to the Lower Sioux Agency. Meanwhile, organized and disorganized raids and battles occurred between Lower Sioux leaders and individual warriors attacking settlements on the frontier of Southwest Minnesota.
On September 10, President Abraham Lincoln sent Union General John Pope, fresh from a huge defeat at the second Battle of Bull Run, to help suppress the “uprising.” Pope wanted to prove himself again worthy of a Civil War command. He planned on using the fight against the Indians as his stepping stone back, as Abraham Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald wrote in his section detailing Lincoln’s handling of the Dakota conflict.
During the Conflict, “progressive” Dakota from the Upper Sioux Agency protected the innocent and saved the lives of settlers, government workers, and mixed-bloods. These Dakota, including John Otherday, a Wahpeton Dakota and founding member of the Hazelwood Republic, led sixty-two (62) whites from the Upper Sioux Agency to safety. They would be recognized for their actions and some of the Upper Sioux would be rewarded.
The differences that divided the Dakota were not limited to tribe or band affiliation. It was also the difference between the “blanket” and the “progressive” Indians who adapted to Christianity and farming within the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies, a major factor in acculturation and the ability to take to the white man’s ways. Many of the Upper Sioux opposed the war and nearly fought the Lower Sioux on this issue as well as the care or mistreatment of the prisoners. In addition to these Upper Sioux, there were many Christians and farmers within the Lower Sioux Agency who opposed the war, namely Chiefs Wabasha and Taopi, two full blood Mdewakanton who cooperated with the Upper Sioux and set their camps separate from those Lower Sioux involved in the war. Chief Red Iron, a Wahpeton, adamantly refused to let Little Crow camp on Upper Sioux lands after war began. A “wrenching divisiveness” developed among the Dakota over the issues of war, captives, and plunder. While many Lower Sioux wanted to kill the whites and the cut hairs who “do not join with us in battle,” which was the “blanket” way of thinking, the Peace Party desired to negotiate peace with Colonel Sibley and gain control of the captives.
In addition to the rift between the Dakota of the Upper Agency and the Dakota of the Lower Agency, the traditionalist or “blanket” Indian and the more “progressive” farmer Indian or “cut-hair” also differed. The farmer Indians, the Christian, and mixed-blood Indians tended to adapt more easily to the white man’s way of living. As Duane Schultz points out, not all the Dakota were starving. Those who took on the white man’s way were doing quite well, which made the “blanket” Indians nawizi (jealous).
Gabriel Renville, a Sisseton mixed-blood, farmer Indian from the Upper Agency, worried about the activities of the Lower Sioux. A Peace Party, “started by Sissetons and Wahpetons, emerged and rapidly attracted the support of many disgruntled Mdewakantons, most of whom had been farmers.” Soon a soldier’s lodge formed on the Upper Sioux Agency to counter the Lower Sioux. Peace Party leaders included among others, Paul Mazakutemani or “Little Paul”, a full-blood Wahpeton; Christian “cut hair,” who was chief spokesman for the Peace Party; Red Iron, a Wahpeton; Taopi, a Mdewakanton; Victor Renville, a Sisseton mixed-blood and son to Gabriel; and Joseph LaFromboise, a mixed-blood. Gabriel Renville told the other Peace Party members:
The Mdewakantons have many white prisoners. Can it be possible that it is their object to make the Wahpetons and Sissetons their captives too? Call together those who are Wahpetons and Sissetons and we will prepare to defend ourselves.
Red Iron feared that the Lower Sioux would incite the Upper Sioux into war and “excite our young men and get us into trouble.” Red Iron and many of the Upper Sioux leaders knew that action taken against the whites would not go unpunished, and they did not want to lose what they had. Little did they know it would not matter. “Several full-bloods who surrendered later showed the bitterness that developed when they realized that they would be imprisoned for participating in the war,” even though they did not actively participate. All Indians were guilty until proven innocent or, as Meyer wrote, “the revered Anglo-Saxon principle of law that a person is considered innocent until proved guilty was reversed.”
Little Crow blamed the War’s failure on the Sisseton and Wahpeton of the Upper Agency who did not participate. Some warriors joined his war but a majority of Upper Sioux were against the action and refrained. In fact, the Upper Sioux demanded that the white and mixed blood prisoners be turned over to them so that they could guarantee the safety of the captives and “make a separate peace with the whites.”
It was this division between Upper and Lower Sioux that characterized the war and the opposition to what the “progressive” Dakota thought was neither moral nor just and they did not want to participate.
Several years before the Dakota War, there was a “growing hostility between those Indians who wished to adopt the manners of the whites and those who violently opposed any such move towards civilization.” According to Roy Meyer, there was a “traditional” method of ostracizing that the “blanket” Indians utilized against the “progressive” farmer Indians to ridicule and harass them into abandoning their efforts at acculturation. In the winter of 1860, two years before the war, Duane Schultz discusses how the farmer Indians experienced harassment when fires were set to hay and stables and livestock was killed. In fact “progressive” Indian lives were threatened by “blanket” Indians who proclaimed that anyone wearing white man’s clothing would be killed.
Lower Sioux, Mdewakanton Chief Big Eagle felt it was too soon to become like the white man when he said:
(T)he 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 anyways. It seemed too sudden to make such a change. If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Indians.
Big Eagle said this despite the existence of successful farmer Indians and Christian Indians who adapted to the white man’s way and succeeded despite the jealousy, vandalism, and destructive actions of “blanket” Indians who threatened them. They wanted all Dakota to stay in the traditional ways of hunting, gathering and roaming their old lands.
Indian Agent Galbraith recognized these same problems with the Indians and their transition from the “blanket” to becoming civilized:
(T)o be clear, the habits and customs of white men are at war with the habits and customs of the Indians. The former are civilization, industry, thrift, economy; the latter, idleness, superstition, and barbarism”.
These differences between “blanket” Indians and the more progressive Indians, who more readily accepted the white ways, were profound with the “blanket” Indian more apt to participate in the uprising as a “final stand” and statement about retaining the traditional ways of the past versus accepting the white man’s ways.
The young, undisciplined braves who started the war with their actions also differed with the traditional Dakota leaders such as Little Crow, Big Eagle, Mankato, Red Middle Voice, and Medicine Bottle. The young, akicita, (warriors) sought revenge and “the prospects of plunder in the poorly defended town(s).” Many of these young who were not killed in battle or not hanged were later killed by the Indian Scouts as Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota historian Ed Red Owl recalled.
The traditional itancan and akicita saw more honor in fighting the soldiers and, although many of these men initially faced a death sentenced for participation in the war, they were later relegated to prison when the U.S. government decided that participating in a battle did not constitute grounds for the death penalty.
On September 23, upon the defeat at Wood Lake, hundreds if not thousands of Dakota from both the Lower and Upper Agency fled the Minnesota River Valley, some with captives, others with just their extended families. This exodus of leaders included Lower Sioux Agency leaders Chiefs Shakopee, Red Middle voice, Medicine Bottle, and others who “hastily gathered their families and belongings and headed for the open prairie beyond easy reach of the soldiers.” In addition to Dakota who actively participated in the uprising, many of the Sisseton and Wahpeton who were not involved in the uprising left for fear of being condemned with the participants.
On September 25, after the success at Wood Lake, Colonel Sibley amassed his forces and sent a message to the Upper Sioux that he would be there the next day to accept their surrender and release of the prisoners. They were to fly a white flag so his troops would not fire on them. Sibley held a dress parade and created a large spectacle before marching and set up Camp Release, located near present day Granite Falls where the Upper Sioux had camped, he wanted “to impress upon any undecided Indians the need for surrender.”
Many members who had fought in the uprising set their camp up within Camp Release next to the Upper Sioux who had not participated in the War, which confused those who had to define guilt and identify the guilty. This confusion led to the hanging of innocent men who shared the name of men condemned to death, such as Chaska, first born son, confused with Chaskadon, small first born son, who had killed a pregnant woman. Another fatal error led to the hanging of Wasichun, which means white man, a 16-year old white boy who was raised by the Dakota. These misidentifications haunted many of the people involved in the trials and hangings for years to come.
When Colonel Sibley did a count at Camp Release they found 2,188 people, 1,918 Dakota of both the Upper and Lower Agency, 108 captive whites (with all but 4 being women and children), and 162 mixed blood captives. Sibley immediately took charge of the camp and organized the Indians and set them to dig potatoes and gather corn to feed all the people at Camp Release and the additional Dakota who straggled in hungry. Sibley did not have the forces to pursue the Dakota who fled Minnesota, nor did he want to, writing that a strictly military commander would be needed for “exterminating the Sioux that escaped.” Sibley wrote General Pope asking to be relieved of his command because his two objectives had been met, defeating the Indians and winning the release of the prisoners. His resignation was not accepted and the next phase of the Dakota War soon commenced. On September 29, Sibley was promoted to Brigadier General on President Lincoln’s recommendation and given the responsibility along with General Sully to pursue the Dakota who had ventured into the Dakota Territory and elsewhere.
T[i]he mass trials began on September 28 at Camp Release when Sibley convened a five-man military tribunal which later moved to the Lower Sioux Agency to continue the trials on October 25. An initial group of 269 Dakota men had been separated from their weapons by the ruse of lining them up for their annuities, dividing them from their families, and then leading them off through a door to shackles and military tribunals. The tribunals moved with lightening speed with as many as forty men tried in one day without legal representation for the Dakota and only missionary Stephen R. Riggs acting as interpreter for the accused and “grand jury.” All adult men were charged and had to prove their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, declared “guilty until proven innocent.” Despite his obvious guilt, Joseph Godfrey, a mulatto who had married a Lower Sioux woman, used his fluent English to help convict many who spoke only Dakota. Godfrey saved his own life by having his death sentence commuted to prison after providing fantastic, unsubstantiated testimony, yet many Dakota were convicted because of it. Godfrey became known by the Dakota prisoners as Otakle which means “kills many” or “one who kills many kills” for the fact that so many men were sentenced to death by his testimony. When Riggs and the elder Reverend Williamson suggested that “even Indians perhaps deserved a fair trial,” they were roundly condemned by the military leaders in Mankato.
Overall the military commission tried 392 prisoners, sentenced 303 Dakota to death and16 to prison terms, an amazing conviction rate by any measure. Of the 303, 268 were Lower Sioux, 17 were Upper Sioux and 18 were mixed bloods from the Lower Sioux Agency.
Bishop Whipple took advantage of his relationship to President Lincoln’s Army Chief of Staff, General Henry Halleck, a cousin. Halleck arranged a meeting for Whipple with Lincoln, who detailed the story of the Indians and their treatment. Lincoln said afterward that he “felt it down to his boots,” and many other souls advocated for the Indians often dividing regionally with easterners “urging leniency, mercy, and compassion” while westerners called for immediately executing the entire 303. These efforts helped change the tone for the dealings with the Dakota, as Lincoln became convinced of that the story had two sides. Specifically, he learned that the Dakota did not cause mayhem without provocation.
President Lincoln’s staff attorneys reduced the number to 39 Dakota to be hanged in Mankato which was reduced to 38 after a last minute reprieve. Of the 38 hanged, 36 were Lower Sioux and 2 were Upper Sioux.
Prior to the executions, the Dakota were moved from Camp Release in a four-mile long wagon train to Mankato and eventually Fort Snelling, with many Dakota walking, overseen by many of the “progressive” Dakota along with the military under Colonel Sibley. Most of these were women, children and men who did not participate in the uprising, yet white settlers and townspeople along their route did not differentiate between good or bad. They treated these Dakota as if they were the ones who rampaged through the Minnesota River Valley.
The Minnesota State legislature met and voted to strip the Dakota of their lands, although they lacked the authority to do so. They too did not differentiate between “loyal” or “wicked.” They also placed a bounty on Dakota scalps, $25, which later went up to $200 per scalp if satisfactory proof of it being a Sioux warrior. This caused issues with other Indian people who may have been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. This bounty showed the inhumanity of the time and how Indians were treated and considered as bad as coyotes or other vermin who the government wanted to get rid of. It was a Minnesota settler, Nathan Lampson and his son Chauncey, in Hutchinson shot Little Crow when he was picking raspberries in a field. Lampson did not know if he shot a Sioux warrior or not, he just shot an Indian on his lands and later collected the five-hundred dollar bounty on Little Crow’s scalp.
On February 16, 1863, the United States Congress abrogated and annulled the 1858 treaty with the Upper and Lower Sioux, thereby terminating the “Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux” and “Treaty of Mendota” with the Dakota along with the subsequent Treaty of 1858 wherein the Lower and Upper Sioux had sold to the United States the ten-mile strip of land north of the Minnesota River. Congress discussed establishing a reservation for Loyal Dakota on the lands of the Upper Sioux “Traverse Des Sioux Treaty” of 1851 at Devil’s Lake. Meanwhile government leaders deliberated about where to permanently place the Mdewakanton and Wakpekute. Many were moved to lands above Fort Randall at Crow Creek on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory, located approximately 60 miles SE of present day South Dakota capital city Pierre.
Gabriel Renville of the Peace Party asked in December of 1862 “how can we get lands and have homes again.”. Having no lands troubled all of the Dakota, especially those who did and did participate in the War. They felt that they should have been able to stay in Minnesota. These Dakota felt injustice for losing lands, rights, and dignity because of the actions of the wicked Indians. These loyal Dakota would have a chance to help their people earn lands again. General Sibley called for them to form a scout army to pursue the Indians responsible for the war who (that) fled into Dakota Territory and elsewhere and offered them additional leverage for trying to get lands for their people.
In December 1862, General Sibley selected Gabriel Renville to be the head of the scouts. Renville spoke only Dakota and had many half brothers and sisters from his mother’s marriages to other men after his father was killed by Ojibwe Indians in 1833. Gabriel Renville selected the men to be part of the scouts group. The scouts were dominated by the Renvilles and the Mission Indians. They also included several full-bloods to be part of the Dakota scouts who were farmers like Renville, which Sibley at first opposed, whereupon Renville replied, “you told me to pick out reliable men. I have done so. There are full-blood Indians who are more steadfast and more to be depended upon than many of the mixed-bloods. This is why I have chosen them.”
Over the next three years, the Dakota scouts operated on the prairies of the Dakotas, tracking down Dakota who had participated in the war and killing them. It was up to the scouts to determine who were “wicked” and who were “friendly” without trial. Many scouts recall having to kill relatives. These actions by the scouts enabled the Missionaries, General Sibley, and others to push for reservations for the Dakota. They rewarded the Sisseton and Wahpeton Indians with two reservations of good farm lands and acreage that was nearly fifteen times the size of their lands on the Upper Sioux Agency and included some of their traditional lands on the Lake Traverse Reservation and their winter camp at Devil’s Lake in present day North Dakota.
Many other Dakota, mostly Mdewakanton and Wahpekute, were taken in two groups to Crow Creek in the Dakota Territory along the Missouri River in May of 1863 while the men served prison sentences in Davenport, Iowa. The lands at Crow Creek were not ready for the new arrivals and they suffered a difficult first year with the U.S. government providing provisions for the survival of the Dakota at Crow Creek. Colette A. Hyman points out Dakota women “were forced to sustain themselves, their children, and their elders without benefit of the labor or companionship of fathers, brothers, husbands, or adult sons.” This proved to be an immense responsibility and the survival of the exiled Dakota fell to these strong-willed women. They had to handle all of the chores while raising a family during the Dakota men’s imprisonment. Some Dakota women felt compelled to take to prostitution in order to keep their families fed. This extremely difficult and tragic time period is still discussed by many of the descendants of the Dakota who have heard stories passed down by elders, as Hyman wrote in her essay.
The Upper Sioux people, the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota finally achieved a treaty on February, 18, 1867. Gabriel Renville, fifteen other Scouts and leaders, along with Joseph R. Brown and a few other interested traders, went to Washington, DC, and the Sisseton and Wahpeton were awarded two reservations. The group of Scouts and leaders met at the White House with President Andrew Johnson. Some members mistakenly believed they would receive their Minnesota lands back including Wahpeton leader Kangiduta “Scarlet Raven” who was later kidnapped and found hanging in a tree in Arlington, Virginia. They did receive the Lake Traverse Reservation where a majority of the Christian, farmer Indians and scouts settled on the 1,449 square miles (927,781 acre) in the northeast corner of South Dakota, with a sliver of land into North Dakota. The more traditional or “blanket” Indians went to the 495 square mile (317,228 acre) Devil’s Lake, now the Spirit Lake (Mni Wakan) Reservation in northeastern North Dakota near Fort Totten.
Acculturation to life on these new reservations, remnants of the 1851 Traverse Des Sioux Treaty with the Upper Sioux, depended upon the level of civilization of the various Dakota groups. There was a great division between Christian Dakota, the more traditional “blanket” Indians and that differences showed up with Christians being successful at farming. Farming on the Lake Traverse Reservation prospered more than at Spirit Lake. The lands of the Red River Valley are renowned for their fertility, and the Lake Traverse reservation includes many thousands of acres of this good soil. In addition to the reservations, the government restored annuities for the Dakota as well as special recognition for the Dakota who acted as Scouts for the United States, which lasted from 1862 to 1885. The leadership of the combined Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation went to Gabriel Renville, the leader of the scouts who helped the United States pursue the Dakota on the recommendation of the Department of Interior.
The Lower Sioux, Mdewakanton and Wahkpekute Dakota, now collectively called Santee, were taken from Crow Creek in 1863 and moved to north central Nebraska, near Niobrara on the space here113 square miles (72,914 acre) Santee Sioux Reservation. This represented an improvement from the lands in Crow Creek and meant a shorter trip for provisions to be taken to the Santee. From 1866 forward, as Dakota settled the Santee (Mdewakanton–Wahpekute), Lake Traverse (Sisseton-Wahpeton), and Devil’s Lake (Sisseton-Wahpeton) Reservations, small groups and families of Dakota (Mdewakanton-Wahpekute) made their way to present day Flandreau, South Dakota, in southeast South Dakota, where twenty-five families settled and bought lands under the Homestead Act. These lands later became the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation as recognized under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. According to Meyer, these Dakota had become disenchanted with the tribal leadership structure and life under the Indian agents, because they were “the very people who had progressed the farthest in adopting the white man’s way of life.” These Dakota who fled the Santee Reservation and were supported by Episcopalian minister John P. Williamson settled Flandreau without any thought or idea of incorporating into an Indian settlement.
The eventual removal of Dakota from Minnesota was inevitable as “Manifest Destiny” made the Dakota Conflict or any other conflict a reason for the United States to remove them from Minnesota, as Prichette predicted five years before the Dakota Conflict, in 1857. When East met West, the rush of new settlers into Minnesota and their demand for land exceeded what was readily available led to the chain of events that forever stained the soil of Minnesota with the blood of guilty and innocent, and led to the exile of nearly all of the Dakota Indians from their ancestral Minnesota homeland. This story of the Dakota in 1862 also reflects a split among the Dakota with a portion of the people maintaining the “blanket” tradition, whereas “progressive” Dakota--the Christians or cut-hairs, farmer Indians, mixed-bloods and the Indian scouts--left the “blanket” for the lifestyle promised by the white man.
It is my hypothesis that the broader cause of the Dakota Conflict resulted from the ideal of “manifest destiny,” with the United States policy derived because of that. A conflict or removal of the Dakota would have happened eventually. That the a precipitating factor was the loss of more than 24-million acres of ancestral lands the Dakota used to hunt, gather and roam freely for generations and the United States thirst for land. Add to that the restrictive crowding of 7,000 Dakota from four (4) different Tribes onto two narrow pieces of land along the Minnesota River and the tensions that inevitably rose when peoples are forced to live together in close proximity to each other, along with the white settlers on Dakota ancestral lands which a dozen years earlier they freely roamed and hunted without restriction.
Present Day Minnesota reflects a new landscape. After the rest of the North American continent was settled, the lands of Minnesota were not as in demand as they were in 1862, and the Dakota were slowly allowed back. Today there are four federally recognized Dakota Indian reservations in Minnesota: Upper Sioux Community; Lower Sioux Community; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, formally recognized in 1969; and Prairie Island Dakota Community, which started when Congress purchased lands for homeless Mdewakanton in Minnesota starting in 1936, with formal recognition coming some fifty years later.
To frame things properly, the Dakota War was not a war of a united Dakota people versus the United States. It also was not the Lower Sioux versus the United States, though some members of the Upper Sioux participated in the war and two of them were sentenced to hang. Not all members of the Lower Sioux supported the war, most notably full-blooded Mdewakanton cut-hairs Chief Wabasha and Taopi, who helped arrange the release of prisoners at Camp Release on the Upper Agency. My perspective is that it was a war between the United States and the “traditional” way of life that the “blanket” Indians desperately tried to hang onto. The vast majority of those who willingly participated in the War were the “traditional” or “blanket” Indians while the majority of the “peace party” was comprised of “progressive” Indians. Progressive Indians felt a strong moral objection to the war with thoughts of self-interest and self-preservation for keeping peace with the whites. Differing thoughts of the future which “progressive” Dakota embraced makes the significant difference between them and the “blanket” Indians especially those who participated in the Dakota War of 1862. There was a sense that the “progressive” Dakota knew that the old way of life was over and that in order to succeed and have a future, they would have to adapt, and many/most of them did.
Today the Dakota consider Minnesota their ancestral homeland and with the annual wacipis (pow-wows), there was and continues to be a strong sense of family. The very successful Shakopee Mdewakantons Sioux Community uses revenues from their casinos to grant monies to their less fortunate Dakota relatives who live in remote parts of the country to build health centers, hotels, casinos and other infrastructure to help them when others do not. The bravery of the progressive Indians is slowly forgotten, but it was that sacrifice that allowed for the Dakota to survive and thrive with tens of thousands of ancestors enrolled in tribes and tens of thousands of others descended from them. The year of 2012 was the sesquicentennial of the 1862 Dakota conflict and many events happened throughout the State of Minnesota to commemorate this stain on the history of Minnesota as Dakota come back to Minnesota to their homelands in the State and with the hope for reconciliation and the hope for a brighter tomorrow in the lands of our ancestors.
John L. O’Sullivan, “Annexation,” Democratic Review, 17 (July and August 1845). In Manifest Destiny and the Imperialism Question, ed. Charles L. Sanford (New York: Wiley, 1974), 28.
 Roy W. Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux: United States Policy on Trial (Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1967), 124.
 Meyer, 113.
 Mark Diedrich, Little Crow and the Dakota War (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988),170.
 Duane Schultz, Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 10.
 Ibid, 26.
 Ibid, 27.
 Meyer, 114.
 Ibid, 112.
 Meyer, 102.
 Meyer, 102-03.
 Dr. Elden Lawrence, The Peace Seekers: Indian Christians and the Dakota Conflict (Sioux Falls, SD: Pine Hill Press, 2005), 71.
 Kenneth Carley, Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota’s Other Civil War (St. Paul, MN: The Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1962, 76), 3.
 Schultz, 3.
 Ibid, 6.
 Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988), 20.
 Diedrich, 197.
 Ibid, 191.
 Schultz, 113.
 Diedrich, 145-147.
 Schultz, 28.
 Carley, 10.
 Carley, 14.
 David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 393.
 Carley, 64.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 169.
 Schultz, 13.
Anderson and Woolworth, 168.
 Ibid, 169.
 Ibid, 187.
 Ibid, 173.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 221-222.
 Meyer, 125.
 Schultz, 204.
 Meyer, 123.
 Ibid, 107.
 Schultz, 14-15.
 Meyer, 116.
 Ibid, 116.
 Meyer, 119.
 Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, PhD, In the Footsteps of our Ancestors: The Dakota Commemorative Marches of the 21st Century (St. Paul, MN: Living Justice Press, 2006), 46.
 Carley, 64-65.
 Carley, 65.
 Schultz, 264.
 Meyer, 140.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 225.
 Carley, 67.
 Schultz, 246.
 Ibid, 247.
 Meyer, 125.
 Ibid, 127.
 Meyer, 127.
 Carley, 69.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 171.
 Schultz, 257.
 Donald, 394.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 172.
 Meyer, 135.
 Carley, 86.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 234.
 Meyer, 133.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 100.
 Ibid, 269.
 Anderson and Woolworth, 273.
 Wilson, 46.
 Colette A. Hyman, Survival at Crow Creek, 1863-1866, Minnesota History, the Quarterly of the Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota History, the Quarterly of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 61, 2008), 155.
 Meyer, 148.
 Herman. J. Viola, Diplomats in Buckskins: A History of Indian Delegations in Washington City (Oklahoma City, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), 164.
 Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Scout List, March 3, 1891
 Meyer, 200.
 Meyer, 242.
 Ibid, 124.
 HistoryNet.Com, “Abraham Lincoln: Deciding the fate of 300 Indians convicted of war crimes in Minnesota’s Great Sioux Uprising”, published June 12, 2006 @ 8:05 PM, http://www.historynet.com/abraham-lincoln-deciding-the-fate-of-300-indians-convicted-of-war-crimes-in-minnesotas-great-sioux-uprising.htm/1
1. Charles L. Stanford, Manifest Destiny and the Imperialism Question (New York: Wiley, 1974)
2. Roy W. Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux: United States Policy on Trial (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1967)
3. Mark Diedrich, Little Crow and the Dakota War (St. Paul: Historical Society Press, 1968)
4. lDuane Schultz, Over the Earth I Come (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992)
5. Dr. Elden Lawrence, The Peace Seekers: Indian Christians and the Dakota Conflict (Sioux Falls, SD: Pine Hill Press, 2005)
6. Kenneth Carley, Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota’s Other Civil War (St. Paul, MN: The Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1962)
7. Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862 (St. Paul, MN: The Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988)
8. David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Touchstone, 1995)
9. Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, PhD, In the Footsteps of our Ancestors: The Dakota Commemorative Marches of the 21st Century (St. Paul, MN: Living Justice Press, 2006)
10. University of Minnesota Duluth, “Little Crow”, 05.07.13, http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/tbacig/studproj/a1041/siouxup/LittleCrow.htm
11. Colleen A. Hyman, Survival at Crow Creek, 1863-1866 (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota History, the Quarterly of the Minnesota Historical Society, 2008)
12. Herman. J. Viola, Diplomats in Buckskins: A History of Indian Delegations in Washington City (Oklahoma City, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995)
13. Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Scout List, March 3, 1891
14. Shakopee Mdwakanton Community website, 05.07.13 http://www.shakopeedakota.org/about.html
15. Praire Island Indian Community website, 05.07.13 http://www.prairieisland.org/community/
16. HistoryNet.com, Abraham Lincoln: Deciding the Fate of 300 Indians (June 6, 2006)