Genocide in Minnesota: The Dakota Death March


On November 07-13, 2010, I was able to participate for several days in what my mother, Elsie Two Bear Cavender, an oral historian, called the “Dakota Death March.”  This historical event happened On November 07-13, 1862 when 1,700 Dakota People, primarily women, children, and elders were forced marched 150 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency (Morton, Redwood Falls area) to the concentration camp site at Ft. Snelling. 

The re-enactment of this March is called, today, the Dakota Commemorative March.  Many descendants of these grandmothers and allies/supporters participate in this March.  The purpose of this March is to remember and honor those courageous grandmothers.  Also, because of the historical trauma which the descendants suffered and suffer, the March also is a source of emotional and spiritual healing for the descendants.

Dozens of the grandmothers were murdered along the March.  I, myself, had a grandmother who was bayoneted in the stomach by a soldier on horseback.  Again, a reminder, this historical event was a forced-march.  Thus, there were soldiers who were enforcing this march, under the command of Colonel William Rainey Marshall.  My grandmother did not understand a white soldier’s orders because she did not either speak or understand the English Language.  When Kunsi (“grandmother) didn’t respond positively, the white soldier killed her with his bayonet.  Another grandmother, an ancestor of my friend, Baine Wilson, was shot and killed because she needed to relieve herself in the woods for modesty’s sake.  The first time she headed for the woods for privacy, the white soldier waved her back.  The grand-mother marched until she had to go and she headed for the woods.   This time the white soldier shot and killed her.  According to our oral histories, these kinds of actions occurred many times during this march.  To summarize, one grandmother was killed because she did not understand the English Language.  Another grand-mother was murdered because she wanted to go to the bathroom for the sake of privacy and modesty. 

According to the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, this forced-march was an act of genocide.  Criterion “c” (there are five criteria) states, “Deliberately inflicting on members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”  Whether our grandmothers were killed directly, e.g. being bayoneted by a soldier, or shot and killed by a soldier, etc., or dying of hunger, of cold, of sickness, or of despair created by the physical conditions, these were and are acts of GENOCIDE (my emphasis).  The route of the march is a route of genocide!  Also, the concentration camp at Ft. Snelling where our grandmothers were “concentrated” during the cold Minnesota winter of 1962-63 was the site of killings of hundreds of our ancestors.  Ft. Snelling is a site of GENOCIDE! 

The years 1862 and 1863 were significant and notable years because of these genocidal acts.  In addition to the forced marches and concentration camps, there were bounties on the Dakota People ($25, raised to $75, and, finally, $200), mass executions (38 Dakota hanged at Mankato, MN in the largest mass execution in the history of the U.S. and, perhaps, in the world), and the forced removal (or “ethnic cleansing”) of the Dakota people from their ancient homelands in the Upper Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys.

The military officer who commanded the troops who enforced the “Dakota Death March” was Colonel William Rainey Marshall.  This man later became a governor of the state of Minnesota.  There is a town in southwestern Minnesota and a county in northwestern Minnesota which carry the name of this Colonel Marshall.  The town and county are named for a Genocidaire, a perpetrator of genocide.

If the city of Marshall ever decided to change its name, I think “Schwanville” would be a good name.  I don’t think that the man named Schwan was a genocidaire.  Besides, “Schwanville” has a nice ring to it.

For more information and/or questions, one can contact me at the following email address:  ” “.