1862 Exhibit

The Dakota Conflict History Exhibit, is available from the Nicollet County Historical Society.


In the late summer of 1862 a war raged across southern Minnesota between Dakota warriors, U.S. military, and immigrant settlers. In the end, hundreds were dead, and thousands more would lose their homes forever. The day after Christmas, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hung in Mankato by order of Abraham Lincoln.  It remains the largest mass execution in United States history. The bloodshed and its aftermath left deep wounds that have yet to heal.

The traveling exhibit, Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota – U.S. War of 1862, was produced by Gustavus Adolphus College students, in conjunction with the Nicollet County Historical Society. Twelve panels explore the war’s causes, voices, events, and long-lasting consequences.

The project was funded by Gustavus Adolphus College, Nicollet County Historical Society, Minnesota Humanities Center, Minnesota Historical Society, and the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

“The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their life and live like white men . . . If the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Dakota.”

– Wambdi Tanka (Big Eagle)

“The [beliefs] and habits of the Indian must be eradicated; habits of industry and economy must be introduced in the place of idleness . . . the peaceful pursuit of home life must be substituted for the war-path, the chase, and the dance; and more than all, the hostility of the Indian opposed to this policy must be met on the threshold.”

– Redwood Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith

It’s impossible for one display, person, book, or site to tell the whole story of 1862. The research, writing, and production process for these panels left us with much more information than we could possibly include.

 We hope that this exhibit answers many questions, but also encourages you to learn more. Please use this list as a starting point for that exploration.

Online Resources:

Kinsmen of Another Kind
Gary Clayton Anderson

Through Dakota Eyes
Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan Woolworth

The Dakota War of 1862
Kenneth Carley

Ella Deloria

The Soul of the Indian
Charles Eastman

Dakota Women’s Work
Colette Hyman

Night Birds
Thomas Maltman

The Dakota Indian Internment At Fort Snelling
Corinne Marz

History of the Santee Sioux
Roy Meyer

Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865
Minnesota Board of Commissioners on Publication of History of Minnesota in Civil and Indian Wars

Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics
David Nichols

Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees: a Narrative of Indian Captivity
Sarah Wakefield

What Does Justice Look Like?

North Country: The Making of Minnesota
Mary Lethert Wingerd

Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life
Diane Wilson

Camera and Sketchbook: Witnesses to the Sioux Uprising of 1862
Alan Woolworth and Mary Bakeman

Acton Monument, Birch Coulee Battlefield, Blue Earth County Historical Society, Brown County Historical Society, Fort Ridgely National Civil War Battlefield, Fort Snelling State Historic Site and Park, Jeffers Petroglyphs, Lower Sioux Agency, Reconciliation Park, Mankato, Traverse des Sioux, Wood Lake Battlefield National Civil War Battlefield

Primary Sources:
There’s no better way to learn about history than from witnesses or participants to the events themselves. The U.S. Library of Congress currently makes over 9 million original items accessible online at: http://www.memory.loc.gov/.

There you can find many of the important documents of the Dakota-U.S. War. One of those is George E. H. Day’s January 1, 1862 letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Day was appointed by Congress to investigate the payment of annuities to Dakota and Ojibwe peoples in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Day found widespread corruption and graft by traders and government agents. Day warns Lincoln in the letter that a failure to address these injustices will result in, “the just vengeance of heaven [to] continue to be poured out & visited upon this nation for its abuses & cruelty to the Indian.”

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