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Author speaks about the

U.S.-Dakota War

by Trinity Gruenberg

    The Verndale Historical Society held a fundraiser chicken dinner on September 17, to help fund the construction of a small building at McNair Park to house an antique fire pumper and a model of the grist mill.
    Minnesota Author Colin Mustful shared history on the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862. Growing up, he had never learned about the U.S.-Dakota War.
    “I only learned about it when I came across the statue of a buffalo in Mankato that commemorated the event,” said Mustful.
    Minnesota was the site of the largest mass execution in the history of the U.S. when 38 Dakota Indians were hung on December 26, 1862. Discovering this grizzly history sparked his interest in learning more about the events that lead up to the mass execution. 
    “It’s a very complicated, complex history,” he said.
    Minnesota is home to the Dakota. The confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers was what they called the Bdote, the center of the Dakota’s creation, which is located in the Minneapolis, St. Paul area.
    “It’s much like the Garden of Eden for Christians,” he said.
    The U.S. government established a relationship with the Dakota in 1805 and things began to change. The government sent Army Lieutenant Zebulon Pike to establish a relationship with them. The Dakota signed a treaty and sold the government a small portion of their land around the confluence in exchange for some money and gifts.
    “The problem with this treaty is that the Dakota did not understand the concept of land ownership or the terms of the treaty,” said Mustful.
    The Dakota were allowed to use the land to hunt and fish, so they didn’t think they were losing anything. 
    In 1819, Fort Snelling was erected at the confluence. It was placed in an area to conduct business with fur traders and brought more white settlers to the area. They also established the Indian Agency. The first supervisor of the agency was Lawrence Taliaferro, whose job was to settle disputes, establish trade and protect U.S. interest and get the Dakota to follow American/white culture.
    “He encouraged the Dakota people to change the way they live, change their traditional lifestyle. He wanted them to give up their nomadic lifestyle and build permanent homes and take up farming,” he explained.
    The fur trade made a major impact on the Dakota. It had gone on for two centuries before it became big in the 1820s and 1830s. Henry Hastings Sibley was a very prominent fur trader in the 1830s and 1840s. The Dakota would trade furs for tools, ammunition, blankets, food, alcohol and more.
    “Over the years the Dakota became more accustomed and eventually dependent on the trade goods. It had a large impact on their way of life,” he explained.
    Samuel and Gideon Pond were the first missionaries in the state around Lake Calhoun. This greatly impacted the Dakota as they, too, were trying to assimilate the Dakota into the American way of life, such as Sibley had pushed. 
    “They thought Christianity and civilization were one in the same,” he said.
    The fur trade began to dwindle and the Dakota’s next major resource was land. The government took advantage of that to acquire their land. They started land session treaties with the Dakota, with the first major one being the treaty of St. Peter in 1837. They sold their land east of the Mississippi in exchange for annuities, annual cash payments. 
    The next major land treaty was in 1851 with Travers Des Sioux and Mendota. The Dakota sold approximately 30 million acres of land west of the Mississippi and agreed to settle into a reservation 70 miles long and 20 miles wide along the Minnesota River Valley, ending their nomadic lifestyle. 

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