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The Dakota War

Through the eyes of a Native


By: Ella Jameson, Sofia de la Morena, Meredith Moore, Jacob Perea, Jude Sabo and
Alex Limon
Treaty of Mendota (August 5th 1851)

Issued in 1851, The Treaty of Mendota was an agreement between the Sioux
Indians and the United States government, which allowed white farmers to settle the
Minnesota area, native territory, in exchange for 1.4 million dollars. With clear articles
and specific wording, the treaty isnt open for interpretation, making the points clear for
both parties. (Document 29) Around this time, the western coast of the United States
was seen as a land of opportunity, inspired by happenings such as the California Gold
Rush, where Americans sought to build a better life for themselves. The purpose of this
treaty was to facilitate westward expansion, protecting the settlers from Indian attack
while they attempted to develop their own industry. The Treaty of Mendota is an
example of government abuse of Native Americans, for it clearly benefits one side more
than the other. However, being the underdog, the Sioux Indians had little to do but
accept it.
Letter to Lincoln (January 1st 1862)

In 1862, George E.H. Day, a government official from Washington D.C, traveled around
Minnesota to build connections with Native Americans in order to report back of the affairs to
Abraham Lincoln. Day described the treatment given to Indians in detail, highlighting how
they lived in poverty, and asked President Lincoln to enact change. (Document 25) By being a
white official who recognized how the government is at fault, Day was able to shed light into
the true culprit of this issue, as Native American aggression proved to be born from the
hunger and poor conditions they had to deal with. At this time, the natives were allowing the
United States to use some of their land, in exchange for annuities, which the government
had promised to pay. A failure to fulfill these payments caused many Sioux Indians to starve,
which in turn increased the tensions between the Native Americans and the American
government. Through his letter, Day attempts to show the American government their own
shame, hoping that this would lead them to advocate for the Indians and therefore prevent
the upcoming war.
Escaping Settlers (August 21, 1862)

The image portrays many American settlers escaping from the Minnesota territory after
attacks carried out by Sioux Indians in August of 1862. Sleeping on the ground and taking only
what they could carry, many American settlers were forced to leave their homes to avoid
conflict. (Document 1) At this time, Little Crow, a native leader, had begun attacking white
settlements with the hopes of driving them out of their sacred land. The photographers
purpose is to illustrate how settlers were suffering due to conflict with Natives. However,
faced with starvation, having many in their tribe go hungry due to delayed payments, Sioux
Indians had grown impatient and resorted to violence against the settlers. An attack born
from hunger and desperation over a land that was originally theirs, the flow of escaping
settlers grants insight on the relationships between settlers and natives, as both parties
seemed to fear one another. The settlers in the picture were relocating once, whereas the
natives had faced that hardship hundreds of times by the government hand.
Letter General Pope (Sept 28, 1862)

An American Commander during the Sioux uprising, General Pope writes to Colonel
Sibley, an ally during the war, to express his desire to exterminate the Sioux after the murder
of many white women and children. Pope compares the Indians to animals and asks Sibley to
either capture them or kill them. (Document 10) Through this, General Pope demonstrates
the unwillingness of the American white to see its own fault, letting his clouded judgments
pinpoint the entire blame on the Native American, whom he saw as inferior. Around this time,
the Sand Creek Massacre, an attack on Colorado Cheyenne natives by the American cavalry,
resulted in the death of about a hundred and twenty Indians, around eighty of which were
women and children. Popes purpose is to make Sibley see argument with the Sioux as
useless, and to share his vision that they are animals that must confined or put to their death.
This shows the American white as savage because he holds primitive perspectives that cannot
allow for argument.
Letter from General Sibley (October 17,
In 1862, Colonel Henry Sibley, one of the men responsible of sentencing Sioux Indians
to their death, wrote a letter to his wife expressing the responsibility he felt under his
shoulders. He used a nervous yet firm voice, as he wrote about the weight of these decisions
while still making it clear that he believed these men deserved to be executed. (Document
19) At this time, Sibley and his military men began a march that would take over three
hundred natives to Mankato, where they were to be imprisoned, judged, and executed.
Sibleys contradictory feelings, where he acknowledges the Indians as human beings, and yet
does not see them as equal, failing to recognize how his own men were guilty of the same
actions these natives were being convicted about, illustrates strong ideas of white supremacy
held at the time. Through this, the American man, which is stubbornly unwilling to see his
own faults, as proven to be the savage of the war, as his desire to absolve himself leads to
the unfair death of many Indians from the Sioux Tribe.
Letter Rev. Williamson (November 24,
Sofia In November of 1862, Rev. Thomas Williamson, a missionary at Lac Qui Parle, wrote
a letter to his colleague, Rev. Stephen Riggs, to express his displeasure on the corrupt
system that had condemned the natives. He views the trial as unfair, for the judges
werent objective and the natives were deemed guilty before it even started. (Document
15) Williamsons claim supports the idea of natives being the victims of the Dakota War,
because they werent granted a fair trial, but rather sentenced to death without having
their opinions heard. At this time, the natives fell subject to a more powerful American
government, and although they did attack Fort Ridgely, killing many white settlers, the
lack of voice granted to them and failure to recognize their perspective, demonstrates
how they were subject to white rule. Because Williamson had previous one-in-one
contact with natives, and wasnt clouded with prejudices, his point of view, where he
defends the natives over the settlers, grants historians insight into the injustices faced
by the Sioux tribe.
Execution Proclamation (December of
In December of 1862, Abraham Lincoln, the then-president of the United States,
presented the Execution Proclamation, where he sentenced thirty-nine people, all
Indians, to be hanged. He only condemned Natives when both sides were at fault, and
referred to them by case number rather than name. (Document 3) Lincolns
proclamation supports the idea that Americas feeling of white supremacy led to a
biased and unjust punishment because no white was sentenced to death, proving the
government believed the fault to be one-sided. At this time, the American Civil War
was taking place, where the natives caught in the middle were constantly facing loses
from the conflict between white Americans. Because the government sought to absolve
itself, leaving the blame for the Indians, the purpose of this decree was to present the
Indians as the only ones responsible for the Dakota War, as it hoped to end the struggle
with their death.
Letter of Hdainyanka (December of
Dakota Hdainyanka was about to be executed by the whites and wrote a letter to
his chief and the father of his wife, Wabasha. He lamented that Wabasha had deceived
him as, seeking to protect his tribe, Hdainyanka had followed his advice and cooperated
with General Sibley, a man fighting for the Confederates during the Civil War, an action
that cost him his life. (Document 14) At the time the letter was written, Lincolns
Execution Proclamation was waiting to condemn many Native Americans to be hung
after their attacks on white settlers. Hdainyanka also expressed his dismay at the fact
that innocent Indian men were being executed by the Americans, and then requested
that Wabasha protect and care for his family in his absence. Having no blood on his
hands, the letter supports the idea that the natives were the victims of the Sioux War
because even the innocent were murdered and punished.
Account of the Journey to Prison Camp
(Dec 1862)
George Crook, a Native that was taken by the American military, was one of many
Indians that were being transported like animals to their trials. He described the
miserable conditions and how, when they traveled through a city, they were attacked by
a furious mob of whites and were brutally beaten. (Document 20) He then reflected on
how the images of the event were imprinted in his young mind and followed him
throughout his life. At this time, the Battle of Wood Lake, which ended the Dakota
Wars of 1862, led to the imprisonment of hundreds of Indians, and to Americas largest
mass execution. His point of view allows historians to experience the fear and injustice
felt at the time, as Crooks recollection proves the cruelty with which natives were
treated by Americans, reinforcing the claim that the natives were the victims of the war
because the white men treated them like animals rather than human beings.
Bill of Removal (January 26, 1863)

In 1863, The Bill for the Removal of Sioux Indians was issued by the Senate and House of
Representatives. People living in Minnesota were worried and very cautious towards the
Sioux Indians after the uprising back in 1862, and demanded that the Indians be removed
past the boundaries of the state. (document 22) By describing their new land in detail,
referencing the abundance of resources, Congress appears to see itself as benevolent.
However, around this time, the passage of the Homestead Act, which granted 160 acres of
land to any American willing to move out west and improve the land, demonstrates how the
Native Americans were being sold short, with each only receiving 8 acres of land. The reason
for the this bill is to protect settlers from Native attacks, through the expulsion of the latter
from their own territory. The people witnessed the Sioux uprising without being introduced to
all of the reasons why it happened, treaty violations actually occurred from the government
and left the Indians with more work and hardships to carry. Once again, American Indians
were left under the mercy of the American people, causing them to lose the land they hold
The American Progress (1872)

Painted by John Gast in 1872, The American Progress illustrates the iconic idea of
Manifest Destiny, or Americas god-given right to expand westward and bring civilization
with it. The painting shows how light is brought alongside expansion, with telegraph and
railroad lines being built as settlers move west. This demonstrates how Americans had a
positive view on expanding and taking Native American land. (Document 27) Around this time,
the passage of the Morrill Grant Act by Congress, which forced the relocation of natives in
order to reserve state land for public schools, was one of the many examples of treaties that
attempted to take Indian land in order to benefit the American settler. The purpose of this
image is to portray westward expansion as a movement that was laid out by a higher power
and hopes to improve the people it reaches. Used as a means to justify their own form of
imperialism, Manifest Destiny greatly harmed American natives, as with the incoming of
settlers there also came conflict.
Indian Land for Sale (1911)

In 1911, The United States Department of the Interior put out an advertisement
that was offering the selling of Indian land. It made it seem appealing and easy to
acquire this new land, an eye-catcher to many people who were seeking to build a new
life for themselves. Native Americans, ever the victims, were forced to assimilate or lose
their land, and with it, their resources for survival. (Document 28) Around this time, the
Dawes Severalty Act allowed the President of the United States to survey American
Indian tribal land and divide it into allotments for individual indians. In the
governments eyes, Native American autonomy and sovereignty were a threat to the
Republic, as they were both a separate nation but also a part of the United States that
possessed valuable land and resources. Through this, many Native Americans lost their
land and their identity to the American people.