New Exhibit Recounts the Minnesota War That Tore Apart Lives, Families, and The Dakota Nation

Mon, 2012-05-14 13:45 -- amy.danielson

Media Contacts
Julianna Olsen, Marketing & Communications: 651-259-3039,
Lory Sutton, Marketing & Communications: 651-259-3140,
Amy Danielson, Marketing & Communications: 651-259-3020,

ST. PAUL (May 2012)—Visitors to “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” exhibit at the Minnesota History Center will examine the evidence, hear heart-wrenching stories and learn about the broken treaties and promises that led to this disastrous chapter in Minnesota history.

The war ended with hundreds dead, the Dakota people exiled from their homeland and the largest mass execution in U.S. history: the hangings of 38 Dakota men in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862. 2012 marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War. It was waged for six weeks in southern Minnesota over the late summer of 1862, but the war’s causes began decades earlier and the profound loss and consequences of the war are still felt today.

“The U.S.-Dakota War, its causes and its devastating aftermath are a fundamental part of Minnesota’s story,” said Steve Elliott, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). “This exhibit reflects a search for truth about this tragic chapter in Minnesota and American history, examining the historical context, presenting the many perspectives, and describing the long-reverberating consequences.”

There are many, often conflicting, interpretations of events relating to the war. “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” exhibit will include multiple viewpoints as well as historical and contemporary voices. Visitors will be encouraged to make up their own minds about what happened and why, to discuss what they are seeing and learning, and to leave comments.

“The history of the war is complex and compelling. We hope the exhibit will inspire visitors to learn more, do their own research and uncover the truth for themselves,” said Senior Exhibit Developer Kate Roberts.

Descendants of people involved in the war have taken an active role in shaping the exhibit. Exhibits staff members have met with Dakota people from throughout Minnesota, the Upper Midwest and Canada and with settler descendants from the Minnesota River Valley region to solicit research advice and comb through original documents, letters, diaries, artifacts and other historical sources to assemble a narrative of what happened. These meetings with descendants are part of a broader initiative called a “truth recovery” project.

“We’ve been humbled by the great wealth of knowledge and passion these individuals have shared with us,” said Dan Spock, director of the Minnesota History Center. “It has dramatically shaped our thinking about the causes, violence and aftermath of the war. The choices we inevitably made for presenting the exhibition and associated website are the products of that process.”

Throughout this year, the Minnesota Historical Society is offering many new ways to learn about the U.S.-Dakota War, how it shaped our state and how its bitter consequences are still felt today.

Visit for a list of all initiatives, events and resources for commemorating and learning about the war.

The exhibit is included with regular History Center admission of $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and college students, $6 for children ages 6 to 17; free for children age 5 and under and Minnesota Historical Society members. Free for all ages Tuesday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. Call for special group tour rates, 651-259-3003.

The exhibit is open during regular History Center hours, Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (admission is free from 5 to 8 p.m.); Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. For History Center information call 651-259-3000 or visit

“The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” exhibit is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the Legacy Amendment through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008.

The Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, the Society preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.