A Minority in Their Homeland For generations, the land stretching out around you was the homeland of the Dakota Indians. Through treaties in 1851, the Dakota sold all of their land in southern Minnesota. The treaties disregarded Dakota people's traditional decision-making processes and were written in a language they hardly knew. Making an "X" on a piece of paper was not the same as the Dakota way of taking council and obtaining the majority's consent.
After the signings, the Dakota were coerced onto reservations on the Minnesota River—but only until that land, too, was needed for white settlement. By 1860, white settlers in the Minnesota River Valley outnumbered the Dakota five to one. In a single decade, the Dakota people had become a minority in their homeland.
U.S.-Dakota Conflict"We went down determined to take the fort," said Wambdi Tanka (Big Eagle). "If we could take it we would soon have the whole Minnesota valley."
One of the bloodiest U.S.-Indian wars was fought along the Minnesota River, from Upper Sioux Agency to New Ulm. Here at Fort Ridgely, soldiers and Dakota warriors battled for two days.
By the summer of 1862, Dakota families were on the verge of starvation. They had been waiting months for food promised them in government treaties. Tensions exploded on August 16, 1862, when Dakota leaders confronted Lower Sioux Agency trader Andrew Myrick demanding the food they had been promised. Myrick reportedly said they should "eat grass if they are hungry." Furious Dakota warriors attacked the agencies, towns, and settlers in the region. Myrick was one of the first to be killed, and his mouth was stuffed with grass.
The violence lasted more than a month. About 500 settlers and 80 soldiers were killed. Many Dakota were also killed, and hundreds died in the aftermath. Hundreds more were rounded up and incarcerated at Fort Snelling where at least 130 died, most of them children. All treaties were voided, and the Dakota people were exiled from the state. After a trial, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
Minnesota Historical Society