It would serve as a memorial to the people that were there

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DL: Hundreds of Dakota people were interred at Fort Snelling in 1862-1863, kept there against their will, and then moved down river and then moved back up into the Dakotas. And today there are some Dakota who say: "Burn down Fort Snelling, it’s a terrible place, horrible things happened to our people, and it’s just a bad reminder." Do you think that’s an option?

EL: No, I don’t see it that way. I think that if anything, it should be preserved. But along with that you need to tell the whole story because it would serve as a memorial to the people that were there and kept there as they were being exiled out of the state of Minnesota. I see it in very much the same way that you would look at a cemetery. You put up a beautiful monument to remember your loved ones and when you go there you think about them. You think good things about them, or you remember them. There isn’t anything real good to remember about that place at the internment camp, but it’s still a memorial that needs to be maintained and kept there. And the people that are using that in a negative way are exploiting it; not only exploiting Fort Snelling, but they’re exploiting the people that died there. They’re saying: look at what happened to all these people, look at how bad these white people are, and all that. Well, if the truth were really made known, everything that went into that, it’s not the way they tell it.

There were things that happened, there were a lot of deaths there that happened, but they can be attributed to a lot of things other than just mistreatment. I mean, winter is winter in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and it’s hard just to survive. I mean, we just went through a terrible winter, and just to be able to survive through that is a task in itself. But when you don’t have the facilities and everything that you need, the provisions and the food, people are going to die. And it needs to be looked at: was that adequate, were they really making an effort to take care of them. The other thing is, they call it a concentration camp, which is another word that gives it a kind of a wicked connotation that something awful and terrible was happening there all the time. We compare that to prisoner of war camps and stuff, and mistreatments and beatings and all that, and really it was more of a place where they had to stay and wait and try to survive out the winter. And if they weren’t there, they would have been somewhere else. And if they were out in the plains area, or even out in this area, it was not healthy to be an Indian and be out in a place like this, that soon after the war. And so I think they saw the possibility that there would be a lot of killings, different mistreatments that would take place, simply because the anger of the Minnesota citizens at that time was almost uncontrollable. They wanted to exterminate all of them, all 300 of them; that’s how angry they were. Well, if those people weren’t rounded up and protected, kept in some area where they could be protected, there might have been a lot more deaths; random killings. And you see that down south during that period when there was so much discrimination going on. We talk about thirty-eight people being hung, and we say that’s really terrible, but down south there were over 9000 who were hung, not all at once, but during a period of time—Black people. So if you compare that, I guess it wasn’t so bad. Nonetheless, it was something that shouldn’t have happened; it’s a tragic point in history.

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. It would serve as a memorial to the people that were there June 13, 2024.

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