This Day in History (Feb. 21, 1863): Congress Expels Winnebago Nation from Minnesota, More Than 550 Die During Forced Relocation

Map from Cole Sutton’s blog. Used by permission.

This day in history, Feb. 21, 1863, Congress passed a law — pushed by members of Minnesota’s delegation — to expel the Winnebago people from the state. The Act was fueled by fear, prejudice, and greed; it resulted in land theft and the deaths of more than 550 Winnebago people.

The Winnebago (also called Ho Chunk) were expelled from Minnesota in the wake of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, a war in which the Winnebago did not participate. Yet Minnesota’s leaders were so eager to free up the Winnebago’s reservation lands for settlers to farm that they expelled the Winnebago before they officially expelled the Dakota.

This is a horrifically ugly chapter in Minnesota history. It includes the little known story of the Knight of the Forest, a secret Klan-like group that formed to expel all indigenous peoples from the state.

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This Day in History: Winnebago Removal Act and the Little Known History of the ‘Knights of the Forest’

This day in history, Feb. 21, 1863, Congress passed a law to expel the Winnebago people from Minnesota. Like many acts of injustice, it was fueled by fear, prejudice and greed.

The fear came from the recent Dakota-U.S. War. While the Winnebago (also called Ho-Chunk) had not participated in the fighting, that didn’t stop rumors that they had. The greed came from the fact that the Winnebago were sitting on prime farm land coveted by white settlers. The prejudice and hatred against Indians was part of the country’s fabric. In this case, that prejudice was institutionalized further through a Mankato-based secret group called Knights of the Forest. It was similar to the Ku Klux Klan, but its story much less known.

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