In December of 1862, The US Dakota war ended with an entire people exiled from their homeland, and hundreds dead including many casualties of America’s largest ever mass execution. Although, these events and the chain of events leading up to them, largely overshadowed by the Civil War, are not always a part of the standard American history, the actions by both the Sioux and the American people during this conflict offer some insight into the causes and nature of war. The Dakota war of 1862 is an example of how financial incentives can inspire a war and of how fighting a war can require the dehumanization of the enemy.
The US federal government and the Dakota people entered several land related treaties during the time between 1805 and 1851. Most of these treaties confined the Dakota to progressively smaller areas of land giving the rest of said land to the Minnesota territory. This was done in exchange for the continued payment of money and goods from the Americans to the Dakota, often in the form of annuities. However, the Dakota gained an increasing sense that Americans were violating the treaty as time progressed. America’s crop failure, poor hunting and need to pay for the civil war all contributed to the eventual late payments of said annuities to the Dakota. When, American trappers and merchants refused credit to native Americans, US Sioux relations were not improved. When the Dakota were paid, they were often still not satisfied. Some suspected that the money was inflated or falsified. The combined factors of reduced land, late payments and insufficient payments reduced the Dakota’s standards of living and made them much more hostile to the federal government.
In August of 1862, these tensions reached a breaking point, and four Dakota Sioux killed five American settlers on their farms in Minnesota. The US Dakota war started the next day when 44 Americans were killed and ten were captured. The Dakota attacked again in the Battle of New Ulm. Six settlers died and five were wounded. In early September, the Minnesota Militia attacked in the Battle of Birch Coulee and were defeated. Thirteen soldiers died and 44 were wounded compared to six Dakota warriors. After six more weeks of fighting that killed 600 US soldiers and about 100 Indians, the Dakota surrendered at the battle of Lake Wood. Many of them fled Minnesota.
After the war, Col. Sibley, head of the Minnesota Militia, began putting the Indians who fought this war on trail. The trials were very unfair by modern standards of due process, and over 300 Dakota were sentenced to death. President Lincoln then reduced the number of death sentences to 38. All 38 of these men were publicly hanged in December of 1862. It was the largest execution in the nation’s history.
That following April, the US nullified all earlier land treaties with the Dakota and forced them out of Minnesota. A reservation was established in what is now southeastern Dakota and a bounty of $25 per scalp was offered for any remaining Dakota in Minnesota.
- “Anniversary Volume Gives New Voice To Pioneer Accounts of Sioux Uprising.” University of Cincinnati News: Tolzmann Edits Pioneer Accounts of Sioux. University of Cincinnati, 21 Aug. 2002. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
- By the Summer of 1862, Delayed Annuity Payments. “Dakota War of 1862.” Dakota War of 1862. Leagends of America, 2003. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
- “LibGuides: U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 : Overview.” U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 : Overview. Minnesota Historical Center, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.
- “Timeline.” US Dakota War of 1862. Minnesota Historical Society, 12 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2016.