The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862; Part I
In 1851, the Dakota ceded 24 million acres of land to the United States government. In exchange, the Dakota were moved to two reservations that extended 10 miles out along both banks of the Minnesota River for 150 miles from the present day border of South Dakota to just northwest of New Ulm, MN.
After years of breaking the treaties, ineffective government policies, and the flood of settlers into Dakota lands a perfect storm for conflict was created by late summer of 1862. Just months before the August start of the war, George E. Day, a federal government official, wrote a report to President Lincoln documenting the rampant corruption in Indian Affairs. With the Civil War dominating the Nation’s attention span, nothing was done to ease the tension.
The Upper Sioux Agency’s responsibility was with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota, while the Lower Sioux Agency operated the “lower” reservation which was occupied by the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands.
By late summer of 1862, the Dakota were desperate after crops failed and annuity payments had been delayed. Dakota leaders demanded that provisions be distributed directly to them, cutting out the traders. The Upper Sioux Agency allowed supplies to be dispersed on the credit of the coming annuities, but on 15 August, Thomas J. Galbraith, the Bureau of Indian Affairs agent at the Lower Sioux Agency, refused to distribute food on credit, even though he had distributed some supplies on August 4. It was at this time that Andrew Myrick, a trader on the Lower Sioux Agency, made the infamous comment in a confrontation with Dakota leaders and U.S. Government employees, “So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”
A friend of mine, the CEO of MAO, Inc, had already followed the trail of this influential period in Minnesota history this past summer. We decided to follow the trail one more time, over a couple of weekends, in order for me to explore this part of our history.