Camp Release: Stories and Reflections




Camp Release

Narrator: The mid-1800s saw Dakota lifestyles changing. While some held on to traditional life, others adopted the white ways of farming, sparking tension. Many Dakota opposed the war and risked their lives to save whites. At Camp Release, many Dakota who didn’t fight returned captives to the army. But for their trouble, most Dakota were exiled from the state of Minnesota.

The Story of Mazasa and his attempt at a Peaceful Resolution

Narrator: As the U.S.-Dakota War raged on, Dakota men from the Lower Sioux Agency, reached out for reinforcements from the Upper Sioux. This request forced Upper Sioux chiefs including Red Iron (or Mazasa) to make hard choices, as they knew the white soldiers would return in greater numbers.

Dallas Ross: “Mazasa wanted to try to find a peaceful solution to prevent something bad from happening. He disagreed with the battles. And, of course the warriors were going that way. The warriors decided not to challenge him but turned the captives over. The captives were probably more of a security blanket than anything else. ‘How do we extricate ourselves from this battle without getting killed completely? Well, we’ll take some hostages and we’ll do what we can.’”

Narrator: Many reluctantly joined fellow Dakota men in the fighting, while others protected white captives.

Dallas Ross: “Mazasa wanted to hopefully make things better. So Mazasa was able to take the captives and keep them relatively safe until someone came to get them.”

Narrator: As the war came to a close, the Upper Sioux Dakotas surrendered and turned over the white captives at Camp Release, with the promise of being spared prosecution by Henry Sibley and his troops. Yet another promise broken. Roughly 2,000 Dakota were taken into custody at Camp Release. Of those, more than 300 were convicted in makeshift court hearings, some lasting as short as 5 minutes.

Dallas Ross: “Whether it would have been better if he would have taken his warriors and joined the battle – hard to say. But the end result was the same. He wanted something peaceful to come out of it. It’s a place that should be remembered for what it is – a man seeking a peaceful resolution to a battle he didn’t want to fight.”

Mounting Tensions within the Dakota Community leading up to the time of the U.S.-Dakota War

Elden Lawrence: “The warrior faction looked at the Christian Indians as traitors. There was a whole cultural renewal or revolution taking place - two whole ways of life were clashing, and one was going to lose out. The Dakota people who were Christian, they were thinking, 'Well we haven’t changed that much. What are we doing that’s different? All we’re doing is trying to farm and provide in a different way'.”

Dallas Ross: “One side of my family for the most part was a warrior side…the other side was actually, at that time, trying to find a peaceful resolution. So even in my family there were differences.”

Elden Lawrence: “I think the Dakota people said to themselves, ‘well we have to do something, necessity has to take precedence, we have to do something to keep our families alive and to maintain what we can of our culture, and this is the way we can do it'.”

Dallas Ross: “The ones that decided to try to find peaceful means, they were hoping for something better but the result was the same. The decisions of the peaceful versus the unfriendly had no impact on the result.”