Minnesota hadn’t been a state very long when The Dakota Uprising of 1862 (also called the U.S. – Dakota War) started. Over 600 people were killed during the 6-week period of the war. According to Curtis Dahlin who wrote “The Dakota Uprising, A Pictorial History,” that number applied to today’s population would translate to over 15,000 people killed. About 400 of those killed are in unmarked and unknown graves. This is the most of any Indian war in the United States. No wonder the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 is referred to by many people as the most significant event in Minnesota History.
The Dakota Uprising of 1862 is something that is talked about a lot in the area that I live. I live in Murray County, Minnesota near Lake Shetek where most of my ancestors lived. Lake Shetek State Park is the home of a tall monument to the massacre victims in the area. The park is also where the Andrew Koch cabin is located. The Koch cabin is known for safely housing settlers who were driven from their homes during the uprising.
The Dakota uprising started on August 18, 1862. It entered Murray County on August 20, 1862. The account of events from that day until the end of the Uprising is mostly told from the side of the white people in my area at the time. Mrs. Lavinia Eastlick from Lake Shetek published a pamphlet of her account of the Dakota Indian attack on their settlement called “A Personal Narrative of Indian Massacres 1862”.
Mrs. Eastlick and her family moved to the area in 1861. She and her husband, their five boys, and a boarder all lived on a farm in Murray County near Lake Shetek. Before the uprising, Mrs. Eastlick tells how her family treated the Dakota Indians kindly, and always offered them food. These same Dakota Indians then turned on the white settlers, killing them without mercy. Mrs. Eastlick was shot four times, but survived. Her husband was killed, and three of her five boys were clubbed to death. Many of their neighbors were also killed in the same brutal manner.
On the other side of the story are the Dakota Indians and their mistreatment by the U.S. Government. The Dakota Indians were native to the land before the white settlers came. Several treaties were signed between the Dakota Indians and the U.S. Government. Most of them were for money, land and food. Many of the treaties were broken as untrustworthy federal agents allegedly stole the money and drove the Dakota Indians off their promised lands. The Dakota Indians were denied the money, land and food they were promised. They were driven off their native lands by the government that had signed a treaty to protect them. The winter of 1861 had been harsh and crops and plants didn’t do well in 1862. Many Indians were starving and some feel that desperation led to the Uprising. On December 26, 1862, a mass public hanging of thirty-eight Dakota Indians was held in Mankato. To this day, many descendants of the Dakota tribe will not visit Mankato. This is considered to be the end of the Dakota Uprising.
There were some efforts to make peace during this time. Chief Red Iron, who opposed the Uprising, released ninety-one white captives. President Lincoln also understood both sides of the story. Three hundred six Dakota Indians were scheduled to hang in Mankato, but the President found many had been unfairly accused and ordered their release. In 1867 Congress set up the Indian Peace Commission that found that the Dakota Indians had been unfairly treated before the uprising.
On this, the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Uprising, we can learn many lessons. After the Uprising, all of Minnesota’s Dakota Indians still living were ordered out of the State. Most of them were sent to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota where the reservation still exists and times are still hard. Ed Red Owl of Sisseton, SD states "We've never really come out of that grief and mourning. We are yet afflicted with that. We seem to be a mourning people,"
According to Mark Steil and Tim Post of Minnesota Public Radio “The remnants of war are still evident in the Minnesota River valley. Time has made them harder to find. There are battlefield markers, monuments, and a few buildings.” Kathleen Backer lives in New Ulm. She's related, by marriage, to settlers killed in the war. Despite the war's impact on her family tree, she's not bitter. "This was devastating to family, this was devastating to humanity. There were broken hearts and broken families on both sides," Backer says.
As we mark the 150th Anniversary, I think the lessons to be learned are to accept one another’s differences and look for ways to make peace among those descendants of both the Dakota Indian and the white people. There are several monuments and memorials along the Minnesota River Valley for us to visit and reflect on these lessons.