Minnesotans reflect on the US-Dakota War of 1862


The Indians wanted to live as they did before the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux – go where they pleased…hunt game wherever they could find it, sell their furs to the traders and live as they could. Big Eagle, Mdewankanton, 1894.

When I was very young we would visit the farm in McLeod County where my mother grew up. There was a marker in the field and a mystery about the place. It was said that this was where Little Crow fought and died – I have wondered but never really wanted to know the truth.

Later, for a decade, I worked in a library that literally overlooked the spot in Mankato where the 38 Dakota Indians were hanged in 1862. Again, I retreated from learning more than the minimum. I never even paused in my hundreds of trips along Highway 169 to visit the Treaty Site History Center at Traverse des Sioux near St. Peter.

In a word, I have always resisted knowing the truth about the US-Dakota War of 1862. The truth was too painful, too much.

The Minnesota Historical Society makes me face the facts – at a pace and in myriad ways that force me to make an effort to internalize the reality of what happened 150 years ago and to comprehend the ways in which the US-Dakota War of 1862 shaped the world in which we live.

The hallmark of the MHS exploration of our history is the multi-dimensional art exhibit that opened June 30 at the Minnesota History Center. The exhibit grapples with the conflicting interpretations of events and encourages visitors to “review the evidence and determine for themselves what happened and why.”

And there are special programs coming up soon that offer opportunities to further explore the facts and the stories. The first is July 18, 7:00 p.m. at the Minnesota History Center. The free program is an introduction to the US-Dakota War and its impact on the making of Minnesota. Mary Lethert Wingerd, author of North Country: The Making of Minnesota, will participate in that discussion.

This is followed the next week by a program entitled “We Are Still Here: Minnesota is a Dakota Place.” This free program is July 25, 7:00 p.m. also at the Minnesota History Center. Gwen Westerman, Dakota artist, poet and scholar, will share her perspectives on the modern Dakota people and their place in Minnesota’s history and culture.

Other free and open public programs at the Minnesota History Center follow in coming months. There will be a Dakota Family History Class on September 11 and a Dakota Family Day on September 29.

The learning opportunities virtually flow forth from the generous Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota History Center. The travel guide to Minnesota sites related to the Dakota War is an itinerant learner’s treasure trove. Even the homebound can vicariously experience the reality of the War and the devastated people who were – and are – affected. Every Minnesota has an opportunity and a challenge to physically or mentally travel the land where people lived and died, where the war itself caused such pain.

Mobile guide in hand, visitors have entrée to and descriptive information to stop at learning resources ranging from the Historic Fort Snelling to Traverse des Sioux near St. Peter to the Birch Coulee Battlefield near Morton to the Harkin Store in New Ulm to the Lower Sioux Agency near Redwood Falls and Fort Ridgely State Park near Fairfax..

And then there are the virtual learning opportunities. The wealth of print, audio and video digital resources gives the armchair learner the facts and stories – and time to think about the implications.

The Minnesota History Center is the principal among countless Minnesota initiatives to help us all understand – or at least think about – the US-Dakota War of 1862. The website in particular is a guide to the myriad initiatives that abound in organizations, communities, colleges and libraries, museums and more.

Discover the magnificent Minnesota History Center in real time and place at 345 Kellogg Boulevard in St. Paul, just across from the State Capitol where the 19th Century saga continues. Or explore the institution’s virtual presence on the Minnesota History Center website, on Facebook or on Twitter. Or call 651 259 3000 for more information about the US-Dakota War of 1862.