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Kevin Maijala, manager of curriculum development and teacher education for the Minnesota Historical Society, left, discusses the efforts to engage students and the public in a study of the difficult history of U.S. and Dakota relations. "It is our most difficult history but that is also why it is probably one of our most important," Maijala said of the U.S. Dakota?War of 1862, prior to leading media and historians on a tour Monday that included stops at the Lower Sioux Agency, Birch Coulee Battlefield, F...

Minnesota begins observance of 150th anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862

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News Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/20120523052112mhstourkevinmaijala.jpg?itok=VAlhTApT
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Minnesota begins observance of 150th anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Ground Zero in what many consider Minnesota's most difficult and yet most significant historical era is here at the Lower Sioux Agency Historical Site near Morton.

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After the killings at Acton, full warfare flared when Dakota warriors attacked and killed traders and government employees on the morning of Aug. 18, 1862.

This is also where the retelling of the history has begun as the Minnesota Historical Society prepares to observe the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

The Historical Society led media representatives and historians on a tour Monday that included stops at the Lower Sioux Agency, Birch Coulee Battlefield, Fort Ridgely, and the Traverse des Sioux history Center near St. Peter.

"It is our most difficult history but that is also why it is probably one of our most important,'' said Kevin Maijala, manager of curriculum development and teacher education with the Minnesota Historical Society.

The violent events of the six weeks of war that followed the attack at the agency are marked by monuments throughout the Minnesota River Valley and much of southwestern Minnesota.

Telling a more complete story -- the broken treaties and other causes that led to the conflict and all that followed -- is now the challenge for the Historical Society. It is hoping that the anniversary can serve as a time to engage people in discussions and learning about our history, and what it means for us today, said Maijala.

There remains much misunderstanding about treaty rights and relations between the Dakota and whites.

He noted that the Dakota people do not look at the 150th anniversary in the way many in the white culture do. "They don't want their history reduced to six weeks,'' said Maijala.

The Dakota pay more attention to what followed the war. The largest execution in U.S. history with the hangings of 38 warriors on Dec. 26, 1862, at Mankato and the forced march and internment of hundreds of Dakota women and children are remembered.

The importance of learning this history from the perspective of both cultures makes the Lower Sioux Agency a good starting point. It is operated in partnership with the neighboring Lower Sioux Community.

The historical site is equally devoted to telling the story of the Dakota culture, both prior to contact with Europeans and after, said Tom Ellig, manager of the southern region for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Ellig said a similar approach is taken at the Birch Coulee Battlefield site. Visitors are encouraged to step in the footprints of Dakota warriors and U.S. soldiers to see the battlefield as each did.

The Treaty Site History Center near St. Peter also offers a look at the history from the Dakota perspective and documents the broken treaties and pressures placed on the Dakota.

Yet in many places elsewhere, one story dominates. Two obelisks erected at the turn of the century tower over Morton on the Minnesota River Valley bluffs. One is a memorial to the U.S. soldiers and white settlers killed. The other remembers the "friendly'' Dakota who saved the lives of many settlers.

In the 1970s, state legislator Tom Simmons of Renville County had obtained state funding for the Dakota to erect a third monument at the site. It was never erected.

Ellig said he could never find out why. Simmons told him he couldn't really explain it either.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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