They want us to forgive and we do forgive to a certain extent but we don’t forget.

Mr. LaBelle discusses what he learned about Dakota history growing up, including the U.S.-Dakota War.

Audio Chapters

DL: What did you learn about Dakota history while you were growing up and who told you? EL: Well like I said, my uncles and my grandfather. My father was more into Christianity. As far as the 1862 Conflict, my father only would call it the New Ulm Massacre. We didn’t know what that was. That’s the only time that he ever mentioned things of that sort. The Dakota Conflict, the New Ulm Massacre, well who got massacred? Mostly the white people defending the town and Fort Ridgely. I did learn a lot. Like I said some of my uncles would come to the house. It was a learning experience. I loved it and I still do. DL: Did your father or your uncles have a relative who fought in the New Ulm battle? EL: Yes, this Louis LaBelle. He was my grandfather’s brother. I gave you that picture of him. He was living at Fort Ridgely when the outbreak started in 1862. His name was Lewis LaBelle. Under the direction of Henry Sibley, they formed a group of young Indian half-breeds to go and fight in the Civil War. They were called by the name of the Renville Rangers. They were a group of Indians to help, like I said fight. At that time the [Dakota] war broke out which was on August 16th and they took a lot of these Renville Rangers along with Sibley to go down and try to put down the insurrection. On the way, Louis LaBelle, my uncle, thought to himself, “Why am I doing this, why am I going down there to kill my relatives?” Consequently he deserted. He went over with the Little Crow band. He fought in the battles. Birch Coulee, Wood Lake, Fort Ridgely, New Ulm. He fought in all those battles. When they rounded them all up, he was one of the 350 to 400 Indians brought to trial. He was convicted because all they had to say under this trial was, “Were you involved in this battle, that battle?” All they had to say was yes. “You’re guilty, you stand over there.” Consequently they made the list. 342 of them were condemned to die at Mankato. But they sent the list to President Lincoln; he reduced it to 38, actually 39. Sent it back and Louis LaBelle’s name was not on there. He got a reprieve. But he did do three years’ incarceration at Fort McClellan in Iowa. He was not married at the time so he didn’t have any wife or children to worry about. He did time there and he was released. He didn’t come back to Minnesota because at the time the Dakota’s were banned from the state under the direction of Alexander Ramsey. They took every Dakota Indian in the State and shipped them on a river boat down to St. Louis, Missouri. Some of them boarded cattle cars and were taken west to the border on South Dakota. Then they were put back on river boats and taken upstream on the Missouri to Crow Creek where they were dropped off. A lot of them died on the way. A lot of them died at Crow Creek that first winter from starvation and disease. There was nothing there. It’s a barren country. Trees don’t even grow there. How did they think these Indians were going to survive? They didn’t care. You started this war, you pay for it. They were taking it out on the civilians, the little children, the women and old people. My thinking is yes, to this day we can forgive, yes, but we will never forget, we will never forget. I won’t. Like I said, my Uncle Louis was a true “patriot.” He did what he had to do. He believed in his people and he paid for it. He went to South Dakota and settled at the Sisseton Reservation and he married a Dakota woman. They received an allotment from the Federal Government under the Dawes Allotment Act which was in 1887/88. They were given 160 acres of land up there. That’s where he spent the rest of his life. He was elected County Sheriff of Roberts County while he lived there. In fact I’ve got that picture over there. He died on the reservation. He was quite a man. DL: Do you think he ever wanted to return to Minnesota? EL: He couldn’t, like I said the Dakotas were banned from living in Minnesota. There were very few that stayed here. There was a group that lived along the Minnesota River. A group of probably about 200, they stayed in Minnesota. But they had to hide out in the corn fields. If a farmer [saw] him walking down the road they’d kill him. They wanted revenge, white people wanted revenge. There are many stories about the movements of my people. The walk from Mankato to Fort Snelling, 1400 Indians, men, women, children, old people were made to walk from Mankato to Fort Snelling. This was in 1862. In the towns that they went through, people would come out with rocks and bottles and pitchforks. One woman came out with a teakettle of boiling water and threw it on some kids. One woman took a baby away from a woman that she was carrying, threw it on the ground and stomped on it. She killed it. The woman picked up her baby and stopped up the trail and put it in a tree and said the prayers and left it there. This was the feeling that Minnesotans had against our people and it’s not good. They want us to forgive and we do forgive to a certain extent but we don’t forget.

DL: Little Crow told the warriors at the soldiers lodge to spare
the women and children when they went into battle.
EL: He did, he did.
DL: And that was ignored.
EL: It was.
DL: The Dakota went from farm to farm and basically wiped out
with tomahawk and rifle, children, the women, the old people.  The men were away at the Civil War.
EL: They did, yes.
DL: The men were away at the Civil War often.  There were no guns.  There was no defense and there were reports
of mutilations of the bodies afterwards. 
So the families who did survive would return to farms and find this
horrible aftermath.  That led to a white
hot rage.
EL: It did, it did and it still does to this day.  These were the soldiers under Little Crow
that were fanatical. See, our culture in the past was based on a warrior
society.  They lived to go to war against
the Chippewa.  That was an honor to go
against your enemy.  But that was gone
when they tried to civilize, when they took the land away from the Dakota.  They’re saying that the soldier lodges [added later: “Tio-Tipi”] that they formed
which were traditional, [but there was] no one to fight.  [They] had no one to bring honors back to
their people.  This is why I think they
killed the white people.  They were so
fanatical about the warrior society, the warrior lodges that they took it out
on women and children.  There was over
500 settlers killed along the Minnesota River. 
To this day it’s a black mark on our people.  It is. 
Sorry for that but that’s the way it is. 
They took out their revenge [added later: “because the people were
starving to death”].
You’ve got to look at it [this way] too, the Dakota were
starving to death when the Government owed them money.  They had warehouses full of food down there
at the Lower Agency, the Lower Sioux. 
Thomas Galbraith the Indian Agent said, “No, you can’t have that
food.  You have to wait for that annuity
money to come from the Government.  Then
we’ll pass out the food.”  But these
Indians, a large group came from Sisseton and they settled around there.  [They] brought their teepees.  There was over a thousand lodges settled
there. August 2012 addition from Mr. Ed LaBelle following the
interview: The Indians could not
understand the concept of being cooped up on the small land area along the
Minnesota River (the Lower and Upper Sioux Reservations). Because they had
always been free to roam the whole Upper Midwest and Plains areas on their
yearly buffalo hunts for thousands of years, they could not adapt to a different
way of life.
[They] came looking for food and it wasn’t given to them.  That’s what started it.  But the money wasn’t there.  In fact the money came the same day that the
outbreak started.  The same day it came
to the bank!  It was too late then. [Added
later: One of the traders, Andrew Myrick, said if they’re hungry, let them eat
grass or their own dung.] 

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. They want us to forgive and we do forgive to a certain extent but we don’t forget. May 29, 2024.

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