In August 1862, Minnesota erupted in unprecedented violence. The Dakota, a people that had been confined to two strips of land along the Minnesota River Valley through a series of treaties, began attacking white settlements in the region. Within days, New Ulm had been almost completely burned down and an American Army outpost had been besieged. Just as quickly as the fighting began, it was over; Lincoln, in the midst of leading the Union through the American Civil War, sent Federal troops into Minnesota to put down the uprising. Retaliation was swift and brutal: women, children, and elderly Dakota were sent to an internment camp below Fort Snelling while almost 400 men were tried by a hasty military tribunal for crimes committed during the war. Ultimately 38 were hanged before the end of 1862 in Mankato. All Dakota would be removed from the state in 1863.
For much of the last century and a half since the 6-week U.S.-Dakota War that has largely been the narrative put forth in the newspapers that covered the event and its aftermath. This myopic approach to covering the U.S.-Dakota War almost entirely ignored the manipulative treaties, the withheld annuity payments, and other causes that led to the fighting. Subsequent articles from anniversaries ignored the legacies of the war; choosing to focus largely on the plight of settlers at the expense of highlighting the continued disenfranchisement of the Dakota people.
For the last several years, the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies has been engaged in a research project, analyzing newspaper accounts of the U.S.-Dakota War and later anniversaries in an effort to better understand how the state’s memory of and attitudes toward the war have shifted over the last 150 years. Last year, the Center released a curriculum geared towards Minnesota sixth grade students that incorporates this research.
Now as Minnesota approaches the 158th anniversary of the war that changed the trajectory of the state and sealed the fate of its original inhabitants, the Center will be sharing the headlines from the war, providing critical insight into what’s been long considered Minnesota’s forgotten war. The newspapers come from Mankato, near the epicenter of the fighting along the Minnesota River, and St. Paul, the seat of the state government where decisions impacting the course of the war and its aftermath were made. Some of these headlines will be painful, like the calls for the complete annihilation of the Dakota. Some will be surprising, like drawing attention to broken treaty agreements as early as in 1912. Along the way, we’ll showcase that the U.S.-Dakota War has never been black and white.
Follow the project on Twitter, @USDakotaWarinP1
For questions about the project, contact Joe Eggers, CHGS Outreach Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.