Sioux Uprising in Minnesota

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SIOUX UPRISING IN MINNESOTA. The easternmost group of the Sioux peoples, known as the Dakota, controlled the northern Mississippi River valley throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, living in semi-sedentary communities along the river's tributaries in Minnesota and Iowa. In the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux of 1851, the Dakota ceded millions of acres to the U.S. government in exchange for federally protected reservation lands in Minnesota. The treaty also set forth extensive terms of payment by which the U.S. government would annually compensate Dakota groups for their ceded lands.

As tens of thousands of American settlers began moving into Minnesota, the Dakota increasingly found their game depleted and came to rely upon guaranteed government provisions for subsistence. When corrupt government officials began withholding provisions in 1862, Dakota children starved while government storehouses remained filled. Dakota resentment grew. Under the lead-ership of Little Crow, Dakota communities prepared for conflict, particularly following a series of insults by reservation

agents, including Andrew Myrick's infamous remark: "So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass" (Meyer, p. 114).

After several Dakota warriors attacked a white ranch near Acton, Minnesota, on 17 August 1862 while in search of food, Dakota–white conflicts erupted throughout southwestern Minnesota. Reservation officials were killed and their hoarded provisions distributed to hungry Dakota families. At Lower Agency at Redwood along the Minnesota River, Dakota warriors killed Myrick and filled his mouth with grass in retribution. Quickly, white settlements along the Minnesota River retreated east as fear of the "uprising" shook the entire state.

Little Crow and Dakota leaders never imagined retaking all of Minnesota; they had lived alongside whites for years. They primarily wanted to feed their families, drive out corrupt officials and white farmers, and have the government fulfill its treaty obligations. White settlers and territorial leaders, however, thought otherwise and called in the army under Colonel Henry Sibley. Before Sibley arrived, the Dakota had won some small battles but failed to take the heavily defended town of New Ulm in a series of attacks from 19 to 26 August. After Sibley and his fourteen hundred well-equipped soldiers arrived, Little Crow and his warriors lost a succession of battles in September and then retreated.

After Sibley drove further into Dakota lands, hundreds of Dakota families surrendered and their warriors were imprisoned. With more than 800 settlers dead, white leaders called for revenge, and 303 Dakota warriors were sentenced to death at Mankato. After years of starvation, the loss of resources, and the loss of hundreds of warriors in conflict, the call for so many more Dakota lives was tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Despite the carefully negotiated treaties of the federal government, many recently arrived immigrants could no longer countenance living near autonomous Dakota groups. Heeding Indian policy reformers and advocates, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but thirty-eight of the Dakota. On 26 December 1862, the thirty-eight were hung at Mankato in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Little Crow retreated onto the Plains but was murdered in 1863 by white bounty hunters after rewards of up to two hundred dollars were offered for Dakota scalps. Little Crow's scalp was exhibited in the Minnesota State Historical Society beginning in 1868. Many Dakota moved out of the state to join Lakota kinsmen on the Plains.


Meyer, Roy W. History of the Santee Sioux: United States Indian Policy on Trial. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.


See alsoIndian Agents ; Indian Land Cessions ; Indian Policy, U.S.: 1830–1900 ; Indian Removal ; Indian Reservations ; Indian Treaties ; Wars with Indian Nations: Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900) ; andvol. 9:Speech of Little Crow .