It was a clash of two cultures. It had to be.

Mr. Juni talks about the causes of the U.S.-Dakota War and reflects on aspects related to World War II.

Audio Chapters

DL: What is your understanding of the cause for that war? What started it?

FJ: That's a good question. I don't know. And there's a lot of information that conflicts with what I think happened. I was always told as a kid that the Indian agents, the people who represented the federal government and the state government, weren't giving them the stipends they needed. They weren't giving them the food they needed or the payments, whether it was gold or currency when it was due. That’s what my grandpa always said. One of these guys up at Fort Ridgely said "Let them eat grass." That's an old quote I've heard from the time I was this big [gestures]…That we told the Indians to eat grass.

The story is that it started with a couple of braves on a dare who stole some eggs. And one of the braves didn't want to keep the eggs, saying it was wrong. And his two buddies said, even back then, that long ago, they said: “You're weak, you're afraid of the white man. We're starving and you're afraid to take some eggs from a nest.” And he said, “I'll show you that I am brave.” And he went and killed a member or two of that family. That's what they say really started it.

But the fact that they were hungry didn't start that day. There was animosity. I think that inflamed it; escalated it. But I don't think that was the root cause. Unfortunately it was maybe the white man who was unfair to the Indians and didn't live up to the promises that were made by the government. Even in the Indian community there were factions. Some were becoming -- I hope it's not incorrect to say -- civilized. They took the white man's ways, went to church and wore white man's clothes. And there were other factions who chose their historical lifestyle. So even within the Dakota there were internal conflicts. And they didn't all get along during the Dakota war. So, what caused it? I think it was just general distrust of the white man, ultimately. And the white people did some bad things. I'm not ashamed of anything that I think our family did, from what I've been told or what I've read. I've been told that there was mutual respect there, and I hope that was the case. We did some terrible things-- but that's mankind. Humanity does some pretty barbaric things to humanity. It's hard to understand but we do. It was a clash of two cultures. It had to be.

DL: What's your opinion of the war?

FJ: In what regard -- good, bad, necessary, unnecessary? That's tough. Well, I don't think it was necessary but it probably became necessary. It was not a war like World War Two. There it was easy to hate Adolf Hitler and it was easy to hate the Nazis. It was easy to hate the Axis because of what they were doing. And yet we didn't even know what they were doing when World War Two started. And World War Two-- everybody could kind of get their arms around and embrace it. We were going to save the world and we probably did at the time.

The Dakota War was unlike your typical war, though. They were neighbors fighting neighbors based on the color of their skin and their heritage. But they comingled earlier and traded for years with each other. They were friends. They lived side by side, and yet, when the straw broke the camel's back, they went to war with each other. Yet, the whites spared many Indians and the Indians spared many whites. So there was compassion, too. It shouldn't have been necessary, and I think it was. I think it occurred because of mistreatment and misunderstanding. It didn't occur because they just hated each other, because that was not true. It was man-made, it was created. There were created circumstances that caused it.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Frederick Juni Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, Milford Township, MN | Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. It was a clash of two cultures. It had to be. June 15, 2024.

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