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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