Minnesota marks anniversary of U.S.-Dakota War

“A Meeting of the Grandfathers,” by Lyle Miller, was painted for the Minnesota History Center’s exhibit, “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.”

Most of us are able to relate to wars involving the United States. Most recently, we have been closely following the war in Afghanistan. We have also followed the war in Iraq, the Vietnam war, the Korean War and World War II.

Many of us are not familiar with the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. What kind of war was it? Find out more by visiting The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 Exhibit at the Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN  55102-1906.

2012 marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a tragic time in Minnesota’s history. The war, its causes and its aftermath had a profound impact in shaping Minnesota as we know it today.

The War of 1862 exhibit opened June 30 and will be open to viewers for the next year. The exhibit is open during regular History Center hours, Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (admission is free from 5 to 8 p.m.); Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

“The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” exhibit is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Legacy Amendment through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008.

The exhibit is included with regular History Center admission of $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and college students, $6 for children ages 6 to 17; free for children age 5 and under and Minnesota Historical Society members. Free for all ages Tuesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. Call for special group tour rates, 651-259-3003.

Go to http://www.usdakotawar.org/initiatives/us-dakota-war-1862-exhibit.

Let’s read: ”When you visit the ‘U.S.-Dakota War of 1862’ exhibit at the History Center, you’ll examine the evidence, hear heart-wrenching stories and learn about the broken treaties and promises that led to this disastrous chapter in Minnesota history.

“The war ended with hundreds dead, the Dakota people exiled from their homeland and the largest mass execution in U.S. history: the hangings of 38 Dakota men in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862.

“2012 marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War. It was waged for six weeks in southern Minnesota over the late summer of 1862, but the war’s causes began decades earlier and the profound loss and consequences of the war are still felt today.

“There are many, often conflicting, interpretations of events relating to the war. ‘The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862’ exhibit will include multiple viewpoints as well as historical and contemporary voices. Visitors will be encouraged to make up their own minds about what happened and why, to discuss what they are seeing and learning, and to leave comments.

“Descendants of people involved in the war have taken an active role in shaping the exhibit. Exhibit staff members have met with Dakota people from throughout Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and Canada and with settler descendants from the Minnesota River Valley region to solicit research advice and comb through original documents, letters, diaries, artifacts and other historical sources to assemble a narrative of what happened. These meetings with descendants are part of a broader initiative called a ‘truth recovery’ project.”

Throughout 2012, the Minnesota Historical Society will introduce a wide range of initiatives to encourage discussion and reflection about the war.  Go to the website, http://www.usdakotawar.org/. The website shares historical background, a timeline of events, public programs, books, links to photos, documents and artifacts relating to the war, and also resources for researching family history.


BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (from The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 website)

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 followed years of broken treaties and promises to the Dakota people, combined with a burgeoning white population in the state. In August 1862, when late annuity payments and the refusal by agents and traders to release provisions found some Dakota facing starvation, factions attacked white settlements, the Lower Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely in south central and southwestern Minnesota.  A significant number of Dakota were against the war and did not participate.

The fighting lasted six weeks.  Between 400-600 white civilians and soldiers were killed. The number of Dakota killed in battle is not known. Troops, under the command of former Gov. Henry Sibley, were sent to support Fort Ridgely and the settlers, ultimately defeating the Dakota forces and bringing the war to a close by the end of September 1862.

After a trial by a military tribunal, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862. It remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. More than 300 Dakota men had initially been condemned to death but President Abraham Lincoln commuted all but 39 of the sentences. Another was reprieved at the last minute because of questions about the testimony used to convict him.

Approximately 1600 Dakota and mixed-race people at Camp Release near Montevideo (so named because friendly Dakota had gathered 269 captives there to release to Sibley after the Dakota were defeated  at the Battle of Wood Lake) were taken into U.S. Army custody. In November the prisoners, mostly women, children, the elderly, noncombatants and others who had filtered into the camp, were taken in a six-day march to Ft. Snelling. There, they were held over the winter of 1862-63, in an internment camp, sometimes called a concentration camp, below the fort. As many as 300 Dakota prisoners died over the winter, victims of illness and attacks by civilians and soldiers. Eventually, they were forcibly removed from the state to reservations in the Dakota Territory and what is now Nebraska. The convicted prisoners whose death sentences were commuted, were transported to a military prison at Camp McClellan, near Davenport, Iowa.

Thousands of Dakota had fled the state to Dakota Territory, following the Battle of Wood Lake. Punitive expeditions into the territory in 1863 and 1864, led by Sibley and Gen. Alfred Sully, a Civil War veteran, resulted in three battles in which hundreds of Dakota were killed or forced farther westward. Although these expeditions effectively ended the war between the Dakota and the U.S. government that started in Minnesota, conflict continued in bloody battles at Fort Phil Kearney, the Little Big Horn, and finally, in 1890, at Wounded Knee.

While the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 lasted just six weeks, the issues surrounding its causes went on for decades and its aftermath continues to affect Minnesota and the nation to this day.

The Dakota War of 1862, also known as the Sioux Uprising, began on Aug. 17, 1862, along the Minnesota River in southwest Minnesota. Find out more information about this Minnesota war by going to Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakota_War_of_1862.