August 13th, 2012

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#610 – Dick Bernard: The Dakota Conflict (the so-called Indian War, or Sioux Outbreak, of 1862-63)

Monday, August 13th, 2012

UPDATE August 18, 2012: Here is a note about this ten-part series in today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune:LEARN MORE: This series “In the Footsteps of Little Crow,” can be downloaded in a 10-chapter e-book for Apple, Kindle and Nook e-readers startribune.com/ebooks. Miss an installment? Find the entire series, plus photo galleries and video, at startribune.com/dakota. Coming Sunday [August 19]: Minnesotans family stories from 1862.”

I would venture that most students learn history as I did: from a book, with one side winning, the other losing. And the winning side was the one supported by the author of the book, and the authorities who authorized the book to be used, and taught, in a certain way. That’s how history has always been – a story – and if the teacher dared to teach some alternate view, even if more accurate in hindsight, that teacher would probably not have a job next year.

That’s why I find the 150 year retrospective about the Dakota Conflict refreshing. This week is an opportunity to revisit that time in our history.

Sunday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune began a six part series on that they now call the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862-63. The series is entitled “In the Footsteps of Little Crow” and can be followed on-line.

I have a particular interest in this War, since one of my ancestral family was involved in it as a soldier; and a direct outcome was the final treaty that led to the family homestead land in northeast North Dakota. I wrote a bit about this two years ago, here. His enlistment document on 6 October 1862 is here: Samuel Collette Oct 62001. Note the scratch outs on the form. He was born in Canada, not the U.S,; his term of enlistment was for a year, rather than three months.

Introducing the series in the Star Tribune is this commentary by editor Nancy Barnes, and an editorial “Dakota War Story can aid the healing”.

There is an ongoing exhibit on the War at the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul. I posted briefly about this exhibit at this space on July 1. It is a powerful exhibit, well worth seeing. It causes reflection. It makes the simple much more complicated.

Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes, in her column (previously noted), includes this most pertinent quote from a 1924 history book authored by historian Solon J. Buck: “In the history of the nation the Sioux Outbreak is only an incident, while the Civil War is a major event. In the history of Minnesota, however, the relative importance of the two is reversed.”

Samuel Collett, Great-Grandpa’s half-brother, arrived in St. Paul from Quebec in about 1857, just before statehood, and ultimately settled in Centerville. He is almost certainly the reason the rest of the family followed to old St. Anthony in the mid-1860s.

Samuel enlisted in the Army at age 22 on 6 October 1862 and was discharged 28 November 1863, serving in Co. G, First Regiment of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers. I’ve seen no pictures of Samuel – they were apparently all destroyed in a house fire some years ago – but the Narrative of the First Regiment of Mounted Rangers to which he was assigned is recorded in Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars 1861-65 pp 519-524, published in 1891 by the Pioneer Press Co*.

The narrative, written in January 1890 by Captain Eugene M. Wilson, is, of course, solely from the point of view of one person on one side of the conflict. It’s first long paragraph sets the stage, and is my small contribution to this conversation:

This regiment was recruited in the fall of 1862, on account of the urgent necessity of having cavalry for the purposes of the Indian War then being prosecuted in Minnesota against the Sioux Indians. In the month of August previous this merciless and savage foe had perpetrated a massacre all along the frontier that, for extent of mortality and horrible details, was without a parallel in American history. The Sioux were naturally a fierce and warlike race, as their name “Cut Throat” implies. They undoubtedly were suffering some injustice from the neglect of the general Government, which was then bending its every energy to the suppression of the great Rebellion, and was excusable for failure to carry out treaty obligations with the Indian tribes with the promptitude that had characterized its actions in times of peace. But this formed no adequate excuse for an outbreak of war, and not the slightest apology for the fiendish outrages that spared neither infancy, age nor sex, and that followed even death with mutilations so diabolical and obscene that common decency forbids their publication….”

This is, of course, ‘war talk’, about an enemy. At the time the book was written, it was likely the only accepted point of view, unburdened by another ‘side’ to the story.

Nonetheless, it was into this attitude that people like Private Samuel Collette volunteered to serve.

I plan to read the story this week. I hope you do, as well.

* This book is part of the Minnesota Historical Society Library collection. The chapter, and additional writings about the soldier and campaign, are found in the family history, “The First 400 Years: Remembering Four of the Families of Henry Louis Bernard”, compiled by Dick Bernard, 2010, also in the collection of the MN Historical Society, pp 23-26 and Appendix 1. The story of the Old Crossing Treaty is found on page 269 of this same book.

Other relevant articles in the family history book: pp 245-268.