Saturday, December 26, 2009

The other side of this annual story

Every year about his time we hear the left trot out the 'shame' of Minnesota's history, the mass execution of 39 Dakota Sioux Indians in Mankato the day after Christmas, 1862.  The Strib in particular likes to stroke this meme of white guilt, but local lefty bloggers carry the water for it as well.

I have posted previously on the disparity between December 1862 and July 1863, when Minnesota soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in historic numbers to turn the tide at Gettysburg.  But the last semester of college included history of the American Indian.  From my research paper for the class-

In 1851, the Dakota Sioux and the US government signed several treaties that gave large areas of present day Minnesota to the US government, while giving the Dakota money, goods, and a guarantee to a large reservation along the Minnesota River in western Minnesota.  Little of the money and goods actually reached the Dakota, and in 1858 when the Minnesota territory became a state, several Dakota chiefs tried to persuade Washington to enforce the treaties as written.  The US agreed, but required the Dakota to cede some of the reservation, mostly prime hunting and agricultural land, back to the state of Minnesota.  This left the Dakota dangerously dependent on cash payments from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to purchase food and supplies. 
In 1862, after several years of unreliable payments from the government, food shortages and massive crop failure on the reservation, the Dakota were facing starvation.  When a government agency refused to sell them food on credit until their government payment arrived, some Dakota turned to violence and killed nearby white settlers in order to steal their food.  With the excitement of their success, and possibly also because the US military was preoccupied with the ever expanding Civil War, the Dakota held a war council and approved the use of force and violence to drive the white settlers out of land that had traditionally belonged to the Dakota.  In the minds of the Dakota, the treaty with the US was no longer in effect because the government had not lived up to its side of the bargain.  The Dakota Uprising of 1862 had begun.
On August 18th, the Dakota attacked the government building where they had been refused in their attempt to buy food and supplies.  They killed several officials and burned the building down.  After a Minnesota militia unit sent in to quell the uprising was routed with heavy casualties, the war parties ravaged several towns in the area of the lower Minnesota River, killing settlers and burning whole towns.  Over the next several days, large war parties attacked and temporarily laid siege to the town of New Ulm and attacked the nearby Fort Ridgely.  They also attacked settlers in a large area of western Minnesota and into the Dakota Territory.  Other Dakota tribes attacked trading and stagecoach routes north of Saint Paul and on the Red River in north western Minnesota.  Estimates on the number of settlers killed vary, from as low as 400 to as high as 1000.
While small American military units were sent in as reinforcements wherever available, the bulk of the reinforcements sent by Washington did not arrive in the area until late in September.  The majority of these units were Minnesota volunteers that had been training in preparation for the Civil War.  Two full regiments, approximately 700 men and one small canon were finally able to engage the main Dakota war party on September 23rd.  The Dakota were decisively defeated, and the uprising quickly ended.  Three days later, most of the surviving warriors surrendered, and they were held until military tribunals were held in November.
By early December, 303 Sioux had been found guilty of various charges of rape, murder, and warfare against the United States and sentenced to death.  But because of the lax standards used during the tribunals (some lasted as little as five minutes and were not translated for the Indians accused), President Lincoln personally intervened and commuted 264 death sentences and granted one reprieve.  The remaining 39 Dakota were hanged the day after Christmas in 1862, in the town of Mankato.  It remains the largest mass execution in American history.
The aftermath of the uprising would be no less than devastating to the Dakota.  Over 1600 men, women and children were interned in a camp near Fort Snelling over the winter of 1862-1863.  Hundreds perished from disease.  The following April, Congress declared all treaties with the Dakota Sioux to be null and void and ordered the banishment of all Sioux from the state of Minnesota.  The internees were relocated to the Dakota Territory and were warned that they would be shot on sight if they set foot in Minnesota again.

Revisionist historians like to point to the mass execution as proof of the guilt that all white men should feel towards Native Americans, but completely lost is the fact that Indians drew first blood.  And second, and third.  This Indian uprising came during the midpoint of the civil war, when many of the men in the area had been mustered into federal service.  This left the settlers in southern Minnesota weak and vulnerable to Sioux attacks.

It is also important to note that 10 times as many settlers were killed by Indian attacks than were executed in Mankato almost 150 years ago.  White men, white women, and white children were slaughtered by roving bands of Dakota men, yet no lefty bloggers weep for them.  The left would have us believe that the Indians were innocent of any wrongdoing, while the white man deserves all the blame.  In truth, each side is to blame, and each side suffered for it.

The research paper, by the way, got an A, 98 out of 100.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

Anonymous said...

"In truth, each side is to blame, and each side suffered for it."
Really??? Whites getting all Dakota land in MN in less than 60 years is suffering? How I feel for the unfortunate white settlers of minnesota who were burdened with the responsibility of taking control, possession and ownership of "uncivilized" peoples' land...
Shared blame and shared suffering is the case only if you truly CANNOT comprehend and respect the differences between INDIGENOUS NATIVE Americans and EUROPEAN SETTLER Americans.

How can you front like you and "Minnesotans" could ever be entitled to the Dakota homeland? Minnesotans are settlers, which by definition means NON-NATIVE.
Like most white settler genocidal apologist narratives, your "argument" manipulates U.S. intentions of, and reactions to treaties and treaty history and is a blatantly racist and outdated failed attempt to justify the continued occupation of Native land.

NovelEagle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NovelEagle said...

Good article but you obviously chose to leave out or under-emphasize that the US drew first blood by causing Native American women and children to die of starvation while white "settlers' literally "lived off the fat of the land."

Blaming Native Americans for getting angry over broken treaties is a common cop out used by revisionist historians. The old "we can ignore treaties but you can't" mentality needs to be made abundantly clear. It grinds through our histories like garbage through a blade-less disposal.

Savage Native American peoples then call them "savages" for retaliating against the only usurpers they can reach. Please! It made no sense then and it makes no sense now.

Blame the bully instead of blaming [and punishing] the victim for fighting back.

The whole thing reminds me of the fact that battered rape victims used to be told, "You should have just laid back and enjoyed it."

Dave Thul said...

Nowhere did I say that the Dakota were to blame, or that they are the only ones at fault.

If anonymous would care to read the title of the post again, it says 'the other side of the story', not the only side of the story.

America's history of dealing with Native Americans is indeed bad, but trying to wallow in the guilt, which is what the blog Bluestem Prairie does, is an effort to rewrite history altogether.

NovelEagle continues this myth by saying that the Dakota were starving while white settlers were 'living off the fat of the land'. In fact, a drought that year affected Indian and settler alike.

Had the Dakota attacked military targets, or seized food and supplies, then you could call their actions honorable. But they convened a war council that choose total war against all whites. That is a far cry from the alternate version of history that liberals put forward with the biggest mass execution of innocent Indians in Mankato.

Also conveniently overlooked by Bluestem Prairie is the fact that President Lincoln personally intervened and commuted the sentences of over 200 Indians. In the middle of the Civil War. But that doesn't fit the story of white guilt, so liberals don't talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Columbus Go Home!

Anonymous said...


Your attempts to portray white settlers in this scenario as the victim is laughable. They were unquestionably the aggressors, forcing Dakota people from their homelands through fraudulent treaties, rape, and murder. When they refused to give food to the displaced Dakota people, as was previously agreed upon in one of these treaties, the Dakota were faced with the choice of starving to death or taking action for self preservation.

Furthermore, there is no justification of the kangaroo courts that were used to sentence these people to death, nor the genocidal concentration camp at fort snelling where countless women and children died from the awful conditions and lack of medical treatment.

Not to mention the genocidal decree of Alexander Ramsey that "All Souix Indians must be driven out or killed" along with the bounties placed on Dakota people, which was high enough for someone to buy a 30 acre homestead for each person killed, be it man, woman, or child.

Dave Thul said...

it wasn't the settlers in southern Minnesota were to blame for the situation of the Dakota in 1862. Yet that is exactly who the Dakota killed.

The treaties made by the federal government were not upheld by the state of Minnesota when it became a state, and for that the blame is clear. But it was the officials put in place by the state and federal governments that refused to sell the Dakota food on credit. The settlers who were murdered by the Dakota war parties had no part in the bad decisions that led to the conflict.

White settlers were the victims of the Dakota uprising, just as all Dakota were the victims of the aftermath. Why you are unable to understand that there are two sides to every story is a mystery to me.

Steve Borsch said...

As a 50+ white male, I can assure you I was educated well in MN and US history while coming away from that education with zero guilt, but instead with a provincial sense that "we" were in the right and those Indian people must've been in the wrong and deserved what they got (which, of course, was reinforced by almost every movie and TV show I ever watched as a kid).

Since I subscribe to the notion espoused by Winston Churchill that, "history is written by the victors," I've spent much of the last 30 years periodically reading about this era and have studied a great many volumes from "both sides" as you describe it. As a lay historian, I've gained much more knowledge about the events you detailed in your post (and other events of that period including the Civil war) which has deepened my understanding and shifted my previous views significantly, ones I now know were childish.

Your description of the situation in your research paper (central to your argument) and conclusions that "Revisionist historians like to point to the mass execution as proof of the guilt that all white men should feel towards Native Americans, but completely lost is the fact that Indians drew first blood. And second, and third." is understandable, but you're missing THE central point.

The Indians were on the land. They considered it their land and many parts of it sacred. We wanted the land and the resources it contained. We had the power and they didn't so we took the land and modified treaties to ensure the resources were ours.

Conflict, fights over resources, and conquest is the hallmark of humanity so I rarely question the "right" of Europeans to enter these territories, completely halt an indigenous people's way of life, breach contracts (i.e., treaties) and remove them, either metaphorically from sight by placing them on reservations or physically from the earth through death.

But when you write about "shame" and "stroking this meme of white guilt" is more about balancing the reality of the history (again, from a 360 degree perspective) vs. continuing to perpetuate the "we were right" myopic view of that history.

Dave Thul said...

A very well thought out comment Steve, and I suspect you and I agree on more than you think.
I never said nor inferred that the overall US policy towards Indians in the 19th century was one of broken promises.
But the Dakota Uprising is a singular event in that long history in that it saw a large scale Indian offensive against civilian targets. Especially with the Civil War moving into full swing, the notion of Dakota war parties killing defenseless women and children on a large scale and long term basis is what I find offensive.
In contrast, I don't find the Indian nations involved in the Battle of the Little Bighorn to be in any way in the wrong-they were attacked by a military force and they defended themselves, and they did it quite well.
What I really take offense to is the one sided story that is perpetuated by liberals that talk only of the end result of the uprising, but make no mention or deliberately conceal the facts that led to violence. Nor do they make mention of the fact that the people of Minnesota in 1862 knew full well the shoddy measures used in the trials of the Dakota, which is why the cases were brought directly to Pres Lincoln's attention.
I would ask you to read the post I referenced at Bluestem and then read mine and tell me which one is the more fair to both sides and gives more of the pertinent facts.

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