There were a number of factors which contributed to the Dakota Uprising in 1862. Life was changing for the Dakota as both fur-bearing and game animals, upon which they depended, were getting scarce. It is likely that the Dakota had expected that they would be able to live off the proceeds from selling their land to the U.S. government, via the treaties of 1851 and 1858, but it was not working out that way.
The crops had been poor in 1861 and the winter of 1861-1862 had been difficult, so in 1862, some of the Dakota were hungry. Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith initially refused to distribute food to the Dakota, as he wanted to do that at the same time as he distributed the annual annuity, which had not yet arrived. The late annuity was also a point of contention.
Also, there was tension between the Dakota and the traders, so the situation was volatile. So when four Dakota killed five whites at Acton in Meeker County on August 17, 1862, the decision was made to go to war against the whites, which they did early in the morning of August 18.
And the most tragic and significant event in Minnesota’s history was on.
The Significance and Magnitude of the Dakota Uprising of 1862
Curtis Dahlin, April, 2012
- The War was the most significant event in Minnesota’s History
- If it were to take place today and the same proportion of people were killed, there would be over 15,000 dead. It was a huge event.
- The over 600 who were killed compares with 615 battlefield deaths of Minnesota Civil War soldiers. Most of the over 600 who were killed in Minnesota were unarmed non-combatants and most were killed within a 6-week period, whereas those in the Civil War were spread out over a 4-year period. There may have been a little over 100 Dakota who were killed, with very few or possibly no women and children. In contrast, over 100 white women and over 70 white children who were 10 or under were killed.
- When looking at a daily toll of victims, there were over 200 killed on August 18, 1862 whereas there were about 235 soldiers killed with General George Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. There were only up to six Dakota who were killed on August 18, 1862 in Minnesota. It was a massacre, with the Dakota targeting men, women and children.
- The magnitude of the War can be measured by the number of “mosts” in the nation, since its founding in 1776
- The over 600 victims were the largest number killed in the nation in a war with the Indians. In response to this, 38 Dakota were hanged at Mankato on December 26, 1862, the largest number executed at one time in the nation.
- The August 22, 1862 battle at Fort Ridgely was the largest attack on a fort by the Indians, with about 800 Dakota attacking the fort in which there were over 400 people, most of whom were unarmed refugees fleeing the Dakota.
- The August 23, 1862 battle at New Ulm was the largest attack on a town, with about 650 Dakota attacking the town containing about 2,000 people, most of whom were unarmed.
- The August 25, 1862 evacuation of New Ulm – some 2,000 people – was the largest number of people to completely evacuate a town during an Indian war.
- An estimated 20,000 people fled their homes, which was the most in any Indian war in the nation.
- The New Ulm City Cemetery contains the largest number of civilians (at least 55 and likely more) who were killed by the Indians and buried in a single cemetery. Some of the gravestones contain the inscription “Killed by Indians.”
- About 400 victims lie in unmarked and unknown graves, the most in any Indian war in the nation.
Facts about the Dakota Uprising
Curtis Dahlin, January 2013
- Probably a majority of the 6000 Dakota who were living in Minnesota at the time did not participate in it. Many wanted no part of it, but many were coerced to join in.
- Some Dakota risked their lives to save the lives of whites.
- Some Dakota and settlers were friends before the start of the Uprising. Sometimes the Dakota killed those friends and sometimes they did not. It was an unpredictable affair.
- The vast majority of the settlers who were killed were unarmed non-combatants – men, women and children – who were simply trying to escape the Dakota.
- There are many accounts of atrocities, and nearly all were committed by the Dakota.
- Statistics on the victims:
At least 600 whites were killed in 1862, vs. up to 100 Dakota. The toll eventually reached at least 650 whites.
- 265 whites, including 25 soldiers were killed on Aug. 18, 1862, vs. up to 6 Dakota.
- At least 100 white children who were 10 or under were killed, vs. few to no Dakota children. The Dakota attacked whites in their homes while the whites did not attack the Dakota in their homes, thus the difference.
- At least 40 adult white women were killed, vs. few to no Dakota women.
- 400 of the 650 white victims were killed within 3 miles of the Minnesota River.
- 400 of the 650 white victims lie in unmarked graves at unknown locations.
- The 38 Dakota who were hanged had committed about 100 murders and 2 rapes. Their hanging, which was the largest mass execution in the nation’s history, was in response to the largest Indian massacre in the nation’s history.
- The whites were totally enraged against the Dakota for killing so many of their family and friends. This hatred was so strong that the two peoples had to be separated by a considerable distance, in order to prevent the whites from taking revenge on the Dakota. Consequently, the only practical option was to remove the Dakota.
- Dakota dependents were taken to a camp at Ft. Snelling where they could be fed and protected from the whites the winter of 1862-63. At least 100 Dakota died in the camp that winter, but at least 600 whites also died that winter from disease and overcrowding.
- 20,000 whites fled their homes, most returned but some did not.
- Even though the main part of the Uprising ended in 1862, some Dakota continued the war by returning to Minnesota in 1863, 1864 and 1865, killing settlers or soldiers in each year. It had the effect of keeping the frontier on edge and confirmed in the minds of the whites that the Dakota could not be trusted.