Encounters with other groups

Dakota War of 1862

Throughout the late 1850s in the lead-up to the war, late annuity payments caused increasing hunger and hardship among the Dakota. Traders with the Dakota previously had demanded that the government give the annuity payments directly to them, as payment for purchases the Dakota had made on credit. In mid-1862, the Dakota demanded the annuities directly from their Indian Agent. The traders refused to provide any more supplies on credit under those conditions, and negotiations reached an impasse.

A massive influx of immigrants began to encroach on the Dakota reservation established by the Traverse Des Sioux of 1851. The government redrew the boundaries of the reservation which severely crowded the Dakota yet allowed most settlers to stay. Traders continued to hold the Dakota beholden to their services and the debts of the Dakota rose again. Prices were high, government payments were often late, and food subsidies were all too frequently rotten. On March 13, 1858, twenty-six Dakota chiefs were taken to Washington to meet with President James Buchanan. They were held in Washington for four months before being told they had to move off another portion of the reservation. According to Indian accounts, most of that money went to the traders as well. A blight severely damaged Dakota crops in the spring and early summer of 1862. Food shortages coupled by late annuity payments from the government caused widespread hunger since most traders ended Dakota credit. Frustration and hunger led to foraging.

One Indian foraging party attacked a family of settlers near Acton, MN on August 17th, 1862. Tribal members convinced the Dakota leader Little Crow (Taoyateduta) that the time to go to war against the settlers was at hand. Thus began the Dakota Conflict. On August 18th, 1862, a Dakota force struck the Lower Sioux Agency killing the inhabitants and taking control. They then surprised a forty man relief party of United States Army troops from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, killing nearly all the troops. Attacks on Fort Ridgely and New Ulm took place over the course of the next week. Stiff resistance from settlers and soldiers prevented complete Dakota victory but New Ulm was so badly burned the inhabitants abandoned it and fled for safety.

The Dakota War of 1862 is a complicated and important part of Minnesota history. To learn more, check out these other resources:

Encounters with Native Americans

“Truth to tell, her fear of the Indians was very natural. She and Syvert had heard the tale of the terrors of ’62 so often that they could have repeated it word for word, as if from an open book. When they were living in Fillmore County, Minnesota, two refugees from the Norway Lake massacre had drifted into the place; the story of the horrors they had undergone had taken on new and gruesome details as it passed from mouth to mouth; out here now on the open prairie, where no hiding place could be found, the form in which Kjersti remembered it had assumed the fantastic proportions of a myth.”

Ole Rølvaag, “Giants in the Earth,” page 72

Explore other resources