1862 Dakota Conflict

Execution of the Sioux

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.

Little Crow fled to the Dakota Territory after Wood Lake leaving Sibley's force to round up Dakota who participated in the conflict. Military trials of 425 pure and mixed-blood Dakota took on a farcical air, with many trials lasting only a few minutes each. Many convictions relied upon testimony of other accused who plea-bargained in return for leniency. When 321 men were convicted and all but 18 sentenced to die, an Episcopalian bishop who had worked with the Dakota, Bishop Whipple, convinced President Abraham Lincoln to intervene. Upon examining the convictions, Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but convicted rapists and murderers to prison. On December 26, 1862, three thousand people gathered to watch the hanging of these thirty-eight Dakota in Mankato, MN.  It is the largest mass execution in United States history. Life was not easy for the survivors. The government declared the various land treaties negotiated with the Dakota as null and void due to the conflict. No Dakota were permitted to live in Minnesota and the bounty on Dakota scalps was raised. Indian annuities were ended and given to settlers to help them rebuild their shattered lives. 1700 Dakota were rounded up and marched to Fort Snelling where they lived in cramped conditions. Various epidemics took the lives of many. These Dakota were eventually repatriated by force to Crow Creek in the Dakota Territory. Little Crow appealed to the British in Canada in hopes of a renewal of their 1812 alliance but to little avail. On July 3rd, 1863, Little Crow was shot by farmer Nathan Lamson while picking raspberries near Hutchinson, MN. Little Crow's scalp and some other personal memorabilia were publicly displayed by the state until being laid to rest in 1971.

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.

Source: http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/history/mnstatehistory/thedakotaconflict.html

Dakota Refugees

In Their Own Words: Excerpts from Speeches & Letters Concerning the Dakota Conflict

Speech Of Hdainyanka In Favor Of Continuing War

I am for continuing the war, and am opposed to the delivery of the prisoners.  I have no confidence that the whites will stand by any agreement they make if we give them up.  Ever since we treated with them their agents and traders have robbed and cheated us.  Some of our people have been shot, some hung; others placed upon floating ice and drowned; and many have been starved in their prisons.  It was not the intention of the nation to kill any of the whites until after the four men returned from Acton and told what they had done.  When they did this, all the young men became excited, and commenced the massacre.  The older ones would have prevented it if they could, but since the treaties they have lost all their influence.  We may regret what has happened but the matter has gone too far to be remedied.  We have got to die.  Let us, then, kill as many of the whites as possible, and let the prisoners die with us.
(Heard, History of Sioux War, 151-52)

Letter From General Pope Declaring His Goal Of Exterminating Sioux

The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners, still alive, call for punishment beyond human power to inflict.  There will be no peace in this region by virtue of treaties and Indian faith.  It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year.  Destroy everything belonging to them and force them out to the plains, unless, as I suggest, you can capture them.  They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.
(Letter to Sibley, Sept. 28,1862)

Letter From Bishop Whipple Concerning Degrees Of Guilt

[T]here is a broad distinction be[t]ween the guilt of men who went through the country committing fiendish violence, massacreing [sic] women & babes with the spirit of demons & the guilt of timid men who received a share of the plunder or who under threat of death engaged in some one battle where hundreds were engaged. (Letter to Editor of Republican Pioneer, Nov., 1862)

Address To Condemned Prisoners Before Their Executions

Their Great Father at Washington, after carefully reading what the witnesses testified to in their several trials, has come to the conclusion that they have each been guilty of wantonly and wickedly murdering his white children.  And for this reason he has directed that they each be hanged by the neck until they are dead, on next Friday; and that order will be carried into effect on that day, at ten o'clock in the forenoon.
The good ministers are here, both Catholic and Protestant, from amongst whom each one can select a spiritual adviser, who will be permitted to commune with them constantly during the few days that they are yet to live:

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)

Statement Of Tazoo At The Time Of His Execution

[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)

Letter From Col. Henry Sibley

[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)

Letter From Rev. Stephen Riggs

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)

Letter From Col. Henry Sibley To His Wife

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)

George Crook's (Wakanajaja's) Account Of Journey To Prison Camp

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

In his youth, the author had read with very much interest the novels of Cooper.  Especially The Last of the Mohicans aroused in him enthusiasm for the Redskins.  But, unfortunately, novels have always been playing on the imagination instead of dwelling on truth and reality.  Had Cooper known the real nature of the Indian, he would perhaps have preferred to put a bullet through his brain rather than writing such crazy nonsense about the red bloodhounds.  No one can imagine dirtier dogs than the Indians with whom I have come in contact; they were not the last of the Mohicans, a tribe of Indians I have never seen, but tribes of Redskins in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, and other northwestern sections which I got to know a little better.  Treacherous of character, proud, and cold of bearing in response to the honest friendliness of the white men, yet begging when hungry and humbly receiving the desired gift and with a "Ho! Ho!", shaking the hand of his benefactor and then cowardly shoot him at the first opportunity, these are just about the main characteristics of our red brothers.

The Redskins hate the palefaces and their hatred has been glowing for centuries ever since the first white man appeared on this continent.  And one should not believe that the present generation of Indians has forgotten, or does not know, that the entire, specious territory of the U.S. once belonged to their ancestors and that their hunting grounds were alive and filled with all kinds of game.  The savage knows this as well as we know it, and this is the reason for his unforgivable hatred of the paleface, a hatred which only waits for an opportunity to destroy the latter.

One should not, of course, have provoked the Indians with injustices, but they also should not have made the inhabitants of an entire region pay for the wrongs committed by specific individuals by murdering, burning, and scorching the earth, and attacking settlers, destroying everything -- men and women, old people and children -- which came before their rifles and bows and arrows.  Then, of course, there suddenly appeared the fanatics who immediately took up the cause of the captured red murderers after the defeat of the uprising.  The following momentous words from the Bible should have been cast before these crazy, hypocritical puritans:  An eye for an eye!  A tooth for a tooth!  That means:  Immediately after the capture of the red scoundrels, one should not have wasted any time in shooting or hanging every one who took part in the horrible crimes which occurred in the summer of 1862 in Minnesota. (The Sioux Uprising in Minnesota: Jacob Nix's Eyewitness History)

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.

The Dakota Conflict