This Day in History: The Dakota Exile, May 4-5

Following the Dakota-U.S. War, Dakota prisoners were held under brutal conditions below Fort Snelling in what amounted to a concentration camp. Many died.

Congress passed a law in early 1863 (still on the books today) banishing the Dakota people from their homeland here in Minnesota. (In a separate bill, it also banished the Winnebago who had nothing to do with the war.) In the spring of 1863, the Dakota were sent by steamship down the Mississippi River, then up the Missouri River to their reservation in exile at Crow Creek, according to William Lass’s article: The REMOVAL From MINNESOTA of the Sioux and Winnebago Indians:. There were 1,318 in all: 176 men, 536 women, and 606 children.

The Steamship Davenport left on May 4, but not before an ugly attack.

At St. Paul, the boat halted briefly to take on cargo. An ugly crowd and apparently goaded to violence by a soldier who had been wounded at the battle of Birch Coulee, commenced throwing rocks at the Indians. Those crowded on the boiler deck could not escape the barrage and several women were injured. The crowd was stilled only after the captain commanding the military escort threatened a bayonet charge. A reporter from the Press labeled the mob action a ‘gross outrage’ because the prisoners on the ‘Davenport’ were peaceful Indians, not war criminals

The last group of Dakota, 547 people, left aboard the steamship ‘Northerner’ on May 5.  At former Governor Sibley’s recommendation, the Dakota were sent by ship instead of a more direct overland route. It was less expensive, avoided clashes with white settlers, and reduced the opportunities for escape.

In case you missed our earlier blog today, check out: Dakota Truth-Telling Gathering at Fort Snelling May 4-6.

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