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Minnesota's Uncivil War
Minnesota's Uncivil War
September 26, 2002
By Mark Steil and Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio

A war fought in the Minnesota River valley back in 1862 still leaves scars today. On one side were the Dakota Indians. On the other, settlers and the U.S. government. Hundreds of people died on both sides of the five-week long war. It lead to the largest mass execution in U.S. history, when 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato.

Much has been written about the Dakota war, but the impact on descendants is less studied. More than a century later, the war still sparks intense debate. But the events are seen by many in a much different light now.


View images of the conflict

Resources & Links

  • The Dakota Conflict trials, by Douglas Linder, University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School
  • Surviving the Dakota Conflict, by Wakanhdi Sapa (Black Lightning), Oct. 2000

  • Kinsmen of Another Kind, by Gary Clayton Anderson
  • Through Dakota Eyes, edited by Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan Woolworth
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown
  • The Sioux Uprising of 1862, by Kenneth Carley
  • A History of Minnesota, by William Folwell
  • History of the Santee Sioux, by Roy Meyer
  • Over the Earth I Come, by Duane Schultz


    Producers: Mark Steil and Tim Post
    Broadcast editor: Kate Smith
    Online editor: Melanie Sommer
    Art director: Ben Tesch
    Production supervisor: Michael Wells
    Historical voices: Lindsay Timmington, Vernon Ashley, Bob Kelleher, Bob Reha, Laurel Druley

  • The Story
    Part 1: The remnants of war

    Part 2: "Let them eat grass"

    Part 3: Broken promises lead to war

    Part 4: Hundreds of settlers die in attacks

    Part 5: Execution and expulsion

    Part 6: The Dakota - still a divided people

    More Stories

    Exiled at Crow Creek
    After the conflict, Minnesota's Dakota Indians were expelled from the state. It was one of the most heartbreaking results of the 1862 war. When the Dakota were defeated, the federal government rounded up the survivors. Most were sent to Crow Creek, S.D., where disease and starvation killed many. There's still a reservation there, and times are still hard.

    A woman of contradiction
    Jane Gray Swisshelm did not follow the stereotypical life of a frontier woman in the 1860s. Swisshelm was a St. Cloud newspaper editor with strong opinions. She used her position to fight against slavery and for women's rights. But while she wrote articles advocating more freedom for some, she also pushed for the complete extermination of the state's Dakota Indian population.

    What should we call it?
    Over the years the U.S.-Dakota Conflict in southern Minnesota has carried different labels. When white historians first wrote the story in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the fighting was referred to as the Great Sioux Massacre or the Great Sioux War. It later became the Sioux Uprising of 1862. The most popular choice these days in to call it the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862. But some say the term "war" is more accurate than "conflict," and want it changed again.

    Talk About This Story
    What's your opinion of relations with Indians today? What should we call the conflict? Share your thoughts in the MPR Forum.