The genocide of Dakota people and the history of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 has rightfully been getting more public awareness in our state, but a terribly overlooked part of our history is the atrocious treatment of the Winnebago people.
Yes, the Winnebago used to have a reservation in Minnesota. That history is invisible.
The Winnebago (also known as Ho Chunk) had been forced to relocate several times, as business and settlers moved west and wanted their land. In 1855, they got resettled on a reservation in Minnesota near Mankato, just years before the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War. While they did not participate in the fighting, the war became the excuse for state leaders to remove them to get access to prime farm land.
At the urging of the Minnesota delegation, Congress passed a law exiling the Winnebago from Minnesota before they passed the law exiling the Dakota.
Part of this ugly history is the story of the Knights of the Forest, a secret society in Mankato bent on killing the Winnebago. This blog wrote about this last year in a piece titled:.
City Pages has come out with a detailed piece: Knights of the Forest: How Minnesota’s Klan drove out the Ho-Chunk. This story needs to be told and taught. We as a state haven’t acknowledged, let alone repented, from these acts.
The City Pages story notes that the Knights of the Forest started just after the post-war hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato, on Dec. 26, 1862. According to the story:
Among the thousands in the audience that day, some viewed the spectacle through the windows of Mankato’s Masonic Lodge across the street. A week later, a group gathered in secret to form the “Knights of the Forest.” They had a singular goal: “To banish forever from our beautiful state every Indian who now desecrates the soil.”
Two years before the first meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret society of white terrorists had sprung up in Minnesota.