Minnesota struggles to reconcile 150 year Dakota War

By Hannah Zeeb

A new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center commemorates the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War by documenting the personal narratives and histories of the Dakota people. One hundred and fifty years after the U.S.-Dakota War, tensions remain between the tribe and the Minnesota government over land ownership and accepted narratives about the war. In August the Minnesota government issued its first public apology to the Dakota people and officially recognized the event as a war. On Aug. 16, 2012, Governor Mark Dayton repudiated Ramsey’s statement that all Dakota people “must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of Minnesota.” The Dakota Indians, who lived in small groups around the Mississippi River, were one of the largest Native American tribes in the country prior to the 19th century. In 1805, explorer Zebulon Pike exchanged $200 worth of rum for a 100,000-acre plot of land in Minnesota previously occupied by the Dakota. He remarked in his journal that the land was worth $200,000. Congress later paid the Dakota $2,000 for that same amount of land. No interpreters were present at the treaty signing and only two Dakota leaders officially signed the deal to trade the land. Colonial immigration continued and by 1825, Fort Snelling was built primarily intended to protect Canadian and English encroachment. The war began on Aug. 17, 1862 when a four-member Dakotan hunting party killed five white settlers near the Minnesota River in southwestern Minnesota. Most violent combat occurred in the region around Pike Island (named after Zebulon), five miles from Macalester. Fort Snelling, Pike Island’s neighbor, overlooks the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Eight hundred settlers and an unknown number of Dakota tribe members were killed during the war. As the war ended, the state government opened up a concentration camp that contained 1,600 Dakotans composed primarily of women, children and the elderly. Historians estimate that 300 Dakotans died in the camps with at least one 50-person mass grave recorded. At the end of the war, over 303 Dakota men were convicted of murder and rape by military tribunal. The Dakotan soldiers were held at Camp McClellan in Davenport, Iowa, for the next three years. They were all sentenced to death by hanging. President Lincoln only officially convicted 39, but spared one Dakotan at the last second. He did not want too many hangings, worrying it would sway Europeans to join forces with the Confederates in the Civil War. The last battle occurred in Wood Lake on Sept. 23, 1862, but the hanging marked the official end of the war, which some historians classify as a conflict. The mass hangings at Fort Snelling remain the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The events still inspire some controversy today. One current object of dispute is the Minnesota History Center’s ownership of a noose used in a mass hanging of Dakota men on Dec. 26, 1862. In recent years, several groups have also considered taking Fort Snelling by force. In 2006, an activist group started a “Take Down the Fort” movement. refresh –>