Tragedy in History: Respectfully Acknowledging the Dakota Conflict
I confess I have been somewhat anxious for the coming of 2012, however, unlike those who expect the world to collapse in on itself, I have been anticipating it for a different reason…
In history, so often we acknowledge the terrible, world-altering events with a certain kind of reverence. Some events are idealized, shaped by scholars, historians and teachers to be more positive than negative. Or, at the very least, the injustice, sacrifice, or sometimes abuse is considered a “necessary evil” in order to accomplish change, revolution or advancement. Sometimes, of course this is true, and there is never a “right” way to look at these things or address them, as with any historical event, it is open to interpretation and opinion.
It becomes more difficult in situations where conflict is present, what is an awful tragedy to one side, can be a victory to the other. As the old adage goes, History is told through the eyes of the winners.
This August, 2012 marks the anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862. The MNHS exhibit on this topic opens this Wednesday.
Unlike many wars, I have never read anything glorifying this one. Personally, it is a perspective I wish we saw more of in history. The story of this war is devastating and horrific. Six weeks, and hundreds dead, settlers and natives alike. In the end, no one wins. People are starving and suffering, injured and dying.
In case you don’t know the story of the Dakota Uprising: The Dakota were being pushed from their land by yet another land treaty, they were starving, living off of small government annuities which were continually late and slowly dying. Then it all started when on a dare, 4 Dakota men slaughtered a white family. Chief Little Crow feared what the white settlers would do once news spread, he declared war in an effort to organize and protect his people from whatever would come next. Lead by Colonel Henry Sibley who had until 1860 been the first Governor of Minnesota, the settlers charged. After months of fighting 600 settlers were killed and 50 to 60 Dakotas. At the end of the war 1,600 Native Americans were rounded up and moved to internment camps, over 400 went on trial for war crimes and consequently 300 were condemned to death. President Lincoln issued an order to reduce that number to 39 and shortly thereafter on December 26, 1862 38 Dakotas were hanged to death in Mankato. The largest mass execution in U.S. History.
This event spurred decades of racism against Native Americans setting ablaze the embers of all kinds of civil injustice and abuse. By 1863 the Dakota people were banished from Minnesota and the U.S. Government abolished their reservations.
The whole matter is a delicate balance. So many accounts in archives, libraries and museum are so grizzly and proud. The details put forth are so horrific that I won’t offer up the details here. Rest assured, if you are curious and you have a strong stomach for such things, there are many online (and offline) resources that offer specifics.
And HERE is a fantastic list of additional resources put together by the City of Mankato on the topic, some are print, some are online.
The Star Tribune put together this transcription of newspaper articles from 1862 detailing the war.