Pike’s Treaty: September 23, 1805
Zebulon Pike, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, meets with a party of about 150 Dakota at the confluence of the St. Peter’s (Minnesota) and Mississippi Rivers. Pike’s commanding officer, Gen. James Wilkinson, wants to obtain sites for future military posts in case of war with Great Britain. Pike makes a deal with two Dakota leaders for roughly 100,000 acres of land; enough for the U.S. government to build a trading post and fort.
Though the boundaries are poorly defined, the agreement becomes the basis for U.S. claims on the land at the confluence. The “treaty” was ratified by Congress in 1808, but since Pike didn’t have the authority of the U.S. Senate or the President, it was not an official government act. According to an 1856 Senate committee report, “There is no evidence that this agreement, to which there was not even a witness . . . was ever considered binding upon the Indians, or that they ever yielded up the possession of their lands under it.”
The United States negotiates treaties with the Ojibwe and the Dakota for the wedge of land between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers—land that will later become part of Minnesota. Ratification of the treaties opens the land for new settlement by immigrants and European-Americans. The Ojibwe will receive payments in money, goods and provisions for 20 years; they also reserve the right to hunt, fish and gather wild rice within the ceded area. The Dakota do not reserve their hunting or fishing rights, but their annuities are to be perpetual. Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro boasts that he made the better bargain for the Dakota.
Doty Treaty: July 31, 1841
James Doty, the governor of Wisconsin Territory, fashions a treaty intended to provide a permanent home west of the Mississippi River for the Dakota, the Ho Chunk and other tribes. Tracts of land are to be set aside for each band on the west bank of the Mississippi; each tribe is to have a school, agent, blacksmith, gristmill and sawmill. The initial treaty is negotiated with the Sisseton, Wahpeton and Wahpekute bands; negotiations with the Mdewakanton collapse. The United States does not ratify the treaty.
Treaty of Traverse des Sioux: July 23, 1851 and Treaty of Mendota: August 5, 1851
Facing mounting debts to fur traders and the pressure of new settlers pouring into the newly established Minnesota Territory, the Dakota leaders reluctantly sign treaties, hoping that government promises of reservations and annuities will provide a secure future for their people. Powerful and influential fur traders coerce the Dakota into giving up their land in exchange for promises of cash, goods, annuities and education.
U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Luke Lea and Minnesota Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey negotiate separate treaties with the Upper and Lower Dakota Bands. In July they meet with the Upper Bands (Sisseton and Wahpeton) at Traverse des Sioux. After several weeks of discussions and threats, the Upper Bands relinquish their claims to all Minnesota lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for an immediate cash payment of $305,000 and annuity payments in goods, food, education and gold. The treaty also provides for a reservation along the upper Minnesota River. Thinking they are endorsing a third copy of the treaty, the Dakota leaders sign “Traders’ Papers,” illegal documents drafted by the traders themselves. The documents promise much of the $305,000 cash payment to the traders to fulfill “just obligations.”
In August, 1851, the commissioners begin negotiations with the Lower Bands at Mendota. The Mdewakanton and Wahpekute are pressured into agreeing to terms similar to those forced on the Upper Bands, including $220,000 in upfront cash to the fur traders. Both treaties promise the Dakota new reservations along the Minnesota River “in perpetuity,” a pledge that will not be kept.
Treaties Ratified by Senate without Land Guarantee: June 23, 1852
The treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota go to the U.S. Senate to be ratified, but become entangled in the battle over the balance of power between the slave and free states. Southern senators hope the Dakota will refuse because of a key change in wording: in reference to reservation lands, the Senate replaces “in perpetuity” with “at the discretion of the President.” Before final ratification, the Dakota must agree to changes in the treaty. Minnesota Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey is charged with attaining the necessary signatures to finalize the treaties, which he accomplishes through a combination of negotiation, withholding of goods and food, and the threat of military force. The Dakota are left with little choice and begin moving to the new lands along the Minnesota River in 1853.
Reservations Halved: 1858
By 1858, more than 150,000 immigrants and European-Americans are living in Minnesota. Seven years earlier, their population was just 6,000. The U.S. government seeks more land to accommodate this influx of settlers. As a result, 26 Dakota leaders are pressured to negotiate yet another treaty. After four long months spent in Washington, D.C., the Dakota are forced to sell the north half of their reservation in exchange for goods and annuities and the continuing right to live on the southern strip of their reservation.
Congress passes the Homestead Act, a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862, offering millions of acres of free land to settlers who stay on the land for five years. The act brings 75,000 people to Minnesota over three years. To qualify for 160 free acres, settlers have to live on it for five years, farm and build a permanent dwelling. Those able to spend the money can buy the 160 acres at $1.25 an acre after living on it for six months.
By the summer of 1862, living conditions on the Upper and Lower Sioux reservations have deteriorated further. Assimilation policies mandated by the U.S. government use the withholding of food and other supplies as a means of forcing the Dakota to conform to white ideals.
The appointment of Thomas J. Galbraith as Indian Agent at Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies exacerbates the situation. Galbraith is considered arrogant, emotionally unstable and rigid in his adherence to rules. By the summer of 1862, tensions on the reservation are unbearable. Annuity payments are late again, and the traders refuse to extend further credit. The Dakota “Soldiers’ Lodge” advocates the use of force to acquire food for the Dakota people. The situation falls apart on August 17, when four young Dakota men kill five settlers near Acton. The Soldiers’ Lodge gains power and convinces a reluctant Taoyateduta (Little Crow) to lead the fight against the traders and settlers.
Dakota warriors attack the Lower Sioux Agency in the early morning of August 18, killing traders and government employees. The Dakota then attack settlements along the Minnesota River valley, killing hundreds of white settlers in the first few days. A U.S. Army force sent up from Fort Ridgely is ambushed at Redwood Ferry; 24 soldiers are killed. The Dakota forces are primarily young men, mostly from the Mdewakanton band, led by Chiefs Sakpe (Shakopee), Wakanozhanzhan (Medicine Bottle), Taoyateduta (Little Crow), Wamditanka (Big Eagle) and Mankato. Most Dakota, however, choose not to fight.
U.S.-Dakota War, First Strike on New Ulm: August 19, 1862
On hearing about the attacks, the men of New Ulm quickly build barricades in the center of town. About 100 Dakota soldiers attack New Ulm at 3:00 p.m. After almost two hours of fierce fighting, the Dakota break off the attack due to torrential rains. Word of the attacks reaches St. Paul. Governor Alexander Ramsey commissions Col. Henry Sibley to lead the response against the Dakota. Sibley gathers his forces, mostly untrained civilians, and heads up the valley in pursuit of the Dakota.
U.S.-Dakota War, Battles at Fort Ridgely: August 20 and 22, 1862
Dakota forces attack the fort twice-on Aug. 20 and Aug. 22. The fort, which had been a training base and staging ground for Civil War volunteers, suddenly becomes one of the few military forts west of the Mississippi to withstand a direct assault. Fort Ridgely’s 280 military and civilian defenders hold out until Army reinforcements end the siege.
U.S.-Dakota War, Second Strike on New Ulm: August 23, 1862
In the morning, Dakota soldiers surround the town of New Ulm; the fighting soon moves into town. Using outlying buildings for cover, the Dakota fire on the town’s defenders from windows and doorways. Taoyateduta’s (Little Crow) men set fire to buildings near the river. The smoke causes panic and confusion, but the defenders hold their ground. After hours of fighting, the defenders make a desperate charge at the Dakota, even setting fire to the building the Dakota are using as cover. At sunset the Dakota retreat, leaving 32 townspeople dead and more than 60 wounded. More than a third of the town lies in ruins.
U.S.-Dakota War, Evacuation of New Ulm: August 25, 1862
With little food and ammunition left in New Ulm and fear of another attack, about 2000 people, residents of New Ulm and outlying areas, are evacuated to Mankato. Some flee to St. Peter and St. Paul. People begin returning to New Ulm in early September and small military posts spring up throughout the county. In December, the town officially reorganizes its government.
U.S.-Dakota War Battle of Birch Coulee: September 2, 1862
While at Fort Ridgely, Sibley sends out a burial party to locate and bury the remains of civilians. The burial party is attacked by Dakota soldiers at Birch Coulee, one of the hardest fought battles of the war. The Dakota keep U.S. soldiers under siege for 36 hours before a relief detachment arrives from Fort Ridgely.
U.S.-Dakota War Battle at Wood Lake: September 23, 1862
In early Sept., Sibley tries to negotiate a settlement with Taoyateduta (Little Crow), but Taoyateduta is not ready to quit. He explains the reasons for the war and states that he is willing to release prisoners. Sibley demands surrender. Taoyateduta refuses.
By mid-September, and under considerable political pressure to defeat the Dakota quickly, Sibley and his troops move up the Minnesota River, arriving at Lone Tree Lake (mistakenly identified as Wood Lake) where they camp on the night of Sept. 22. Early the next morning, a group of U.S. soldiers searching for food stumbles upon a group of Dakota soldiers who had been preparing to attack Sibley’s forces. The ensuing Battle of Wood Lake was the last major battle of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, resulting in a decisive defeat for the Dakota.
Removal of Dakota Survivors: November 7-13, 1862
Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey declares that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” About 1600 Dakota women, children and older men are marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling. Along the route they are attacked by mobs of angry settlers.
Dakota Internment at Fort Snelling: November 1862-Spring 1863
Dakota men, women and children are imprisoned in an internment camp, sometimes called a concentration camp, on the river flats below the walls of Fort Snelling. Nearly 300 Dakota prisoners die over the winter, victims of illness and of attacks by civilians and soldiers.
Trials and execution of Dakota at Mankato: December 26, 1862
Of the hundreds of Dakota people who surrendered or were captured during the U.S.-Dakota War, 303 men are tried in a military court and convicted of raping and murdering civilians. At the urging of missionary Henry Whipple, President Abraham Lincoln reviews the convictions and commutes the sentences of 264 prisoners. Lincoln then signs the order condemning 39 men to death by hanging. One prisoner is reprieved just before the sentencing is carried out. The remaining 38 men are hanged at Mankato on December 26, 1862—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
Dakota Banished from Minnesota: Spring 1863
After the deadly winter of 1862-1863, more than 260 Dakota men convicted the previous fall are brought to a compound in Davenport, Iowa, where they spend three years before being exiled. The Dakota at Fort Snelling are sent by steamboat down the Mississippi and up the Missouri Rivers to new reservations including Crow Creek in Dakota Territory, a dry, barren place that was unsuitable for farming.
A federal law, the Dakota Expulsion Act, abrogates all Dakota treaties and makes it illegal for Dakota to live in the state of Minnesota. The act applies to all Dakota, regardless of whether they joined the war in 1862. This law has never been repealed.
Taoyateduta (Little Crow) Killed: July 3, 1863
Dakota leader Taoyateduta, who fled to Canada after the battle of Wood Lake, is shot and killed by Nathan Lamson near Hutchinson, Minnesota. Lamson is awarded a $500 bounty by the state of Minnesota.
Bounties and Punitive Expeditions: Summer 1863
The state of Minnesota places bounties—ranging from $25 to $200—on the scalps of Dakota people. Governor Alexander Ramsey orders punitive expeditions into Dakota Territory to hunt down Dakota people. Two forces totaling more than 7,000 soldiers are formed under Gens. John Pope and Alfred Sully. When the Dakota hear of approaching soldiers, they flee their camps, leaving valuable supplies. Most of the fleeing Dakota are women and children. Many die from starvation and exposure over the winter.
Sakpe and Wakanozhanzhan Kidnapped and Executed: 1864-1865
Dakota Leaders Sakpe (Shakopee) and Wakanozhanzhan (Medicine Bottle) are drugged and kidnapped near the Canadian border. They are brought to Fort Snelling to be tried for war crimes; they wait almost a year for their trials. Witnesses called by the U.S. government provide only hearsay evidence. The two Dakota leaders have no witnesses to summon on their behalf, nor can they cross-examine U.S. government witnesses. Sakpe and Wakanozhanzhan are sentenced to death and hanged at Fort Snelling November 11, 1865. The day before, the St. Paul Pioneer Press states that “no serious injustice will be done by the execution tomorrow, but it would have been more creditable if some tangible evidence of their guilt had been obtained.”
Santee Reservation Established: February 27, 1866
The U.S. Indian Office establishes a reservation for the Santee Dakota—who are facing starvation at Crow Creek—at the mouth of the Niobrara River in Nebraska. Pardoned prisoners from the military prison in Davenport, Iowa, join the Crow Creek survivors in this new location.
Sisseton Wahpeton Reservations Established: February 19, 1867
The Sisseton (or Lake Traverse) Reservation in northeastern South Dakota and the Devil’s Lake Reservation in central North Dakota are established for the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands, originally from Minnesota. These two bands had argued for the restoration of their treaty rights on the grounds that they had not fully participated in the war of 1862.
Reestablishing Dakota Communities in Minnesota: 1865 to 1890s
About 150 Dakota who assisted in the punitive expeditions are allowed to remain in Minnesota after the war. They take refuge on lands at Mendota and Faribault owned by Henry Sibley and the Faribault family. As the decades pass, more Dakota find their way back to traditional homelands, living near old villages at Prairie Island and the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies. In 1889, Congress passes legislation allowing the Dakota to establish communities at Lower Sioux, Shakopee and Prairie Island. A similar community on former Upper Sioux land is established in 1938. These four communities are all that remain of federally recognized Dakota land in Minnesota. In addition, several Dakota communities are established in Canada.
The General Allotment Act (Dawes Act): February 8, 1887
Congress enacts legislation that allots 160-acre tracts of land to heads of households of American Indian families. The rest of the reservation land is opened to homesteaders. Eventually, American Indian-held lands are reduced by more than two thirds.
The Indian Reorganization Act: June 18, 1934
Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act, sometimes called the “Indian New Deal.” The legislation reverses the Dawes Act’s privatization of Indian lands, and allows for a return to tribal sovereignty, or local self-government.
Mankato Wacipi: 1972
The first Mankato Wacipi (powwow) is held in Mankato, Minnesota, to honor the 38 Dakota men hanged in 1862 and to celebrate the coming together of Dakota people.
Year of Reconciliation: 1987
In an effort to reconcile the events of 1862, the state of Minnesota and Dakota communities proclaim a Year of Reconciliation on the 125th anniversary of the war.
First Dakota Commemorative March: November 7-13, 2002
The first Dakota Commemorative March is held along the route of Dakota prisoners of war who were forced to march to Fort Snelling in 1862.
150th Commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862: 2012
Communities and organizations throughout Minnesota provide many opportunities for people to learn about and discuss the war, its causes and its aftermath.
View the interactive timeline of the events of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.