Two ways of life were clashing

Dr. Lawrence reflects on life for the Dakota people in 1862, and how internal disagreements helped cause the U.S.-Dakota War.

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The warrior faction looked at the Christian Indians as people who were traitors; I guess you could say it that way. But it was more than just, "oh, you jumped over to the other side and now you’re fighting us." It was that there was a whole cultural renewal or revolution taking place, and a whole way of life, two ways of life were clashing, and one was going to lose out. One was going to lose out and one was going to survive. And if the culture the Dakotas knew was lost, they were going to be lost completely, regardless of who they were. And so they saw it as a desperate fight, a desperate attempt to try to hold on to what way of life they had, it just wasn’t a matter of well, I don’t want to farm; that’s too much work – or I don’t care about this thing because I know that doesn’t mean anything. It was more than that. It was looking at the end of a whole era and the beginning of a new, and you don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. And so they looked at these Christian Indians and said, well, you’ve crossed over the line and you’re living like them, and so therefore you’re our enemy. I think the Dakota people, the Indian people who were Christian, weren’t looking at it in the same way because they were thinking, "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. Our hunting and gathering ways." I mean, Little Crow admitted that, that their ways were gone. Why are we fighting, why do you want to go out and fight? I think the Dakota people said to themselves: we gotta 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. And in later years they realized that education was going to be a way that they could strengthen their culture. But at that time they weren’t thinking of that because they were just coming to the end of one, and there was a crossover and they were going to go into this, and we don’t want to do that. We’d rather fight and die. And so I think they looked at the farmer Indians and the Christian Indians as people who were not helping the cause, in fact they’re building their cause because they’re showing, they’re demonstrating that it can be done. Because the Christian Indians were actually at the point where they were refusing their annuities, saying we don’t need them, and gave them to somebody else that needed them. We are raising our own food, we are making our own way. The Hazelwood Republic was. And so they were a kind of a living testimony that it can work. And the difference of course then, came down to a religious matter of saying, well, they’re Christians now, they’re not following our traditional religions. And that’s always the kicker, that’s always the trump card. You see that over in the Far East now, that they’re using that all the time now, "these people are not Muslims." And so we see that, that religion being thrown in as a trump card.

EL: I think that left the Christians out because when it comes to that, then you’re closing the door on any kind of options you might have had, because they’re saying we don’t want your religion, we don’t want Christianity, and then people like Lorenzo and Simon and John Other Day well then, I guess that leaves us out.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Elden Lawrence Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Two ways of life were clashing May 29, 2024.

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.