They had a cause against the federal government

Mr. Glotzbach reflects on the U.S.-Dakota War.

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GG: You’ve got to remember, looking at it from New Ulm’s point of view, that the Indians had good cause for their unhappiness. The government annuities were late. The whites were making them change their culture. There were fights going on here and there and everywhere. So from the Indian point of view, they had a cause against the federal government. I understand that and I don’t think any fair person would disagree with that.

Now today, in my great opinion, [I believe that] the Indians attacked the wrong people. They should have attacked the federal government and the Fort. But they didn’t. The Indians attacked the whites – defenseless, unarmed and generally a peace loving people. New Ulm did not attack the reservation; the reservation attacked New Ulm twice. So from that point of view which I hold, especially when you read contemporary books from the time (and I’ve got a few of those at home because I’ve got a pretty broad library on all this), the atrocities committed by the Indians against the whites are unforgiveable. I understand that that was the Indian culture of the time but that was not the German culture of the time and it is not the culture of today. So is it any wonder when the kinds of massacring that was done would cause one to be displeased with the event today.

GG: I could talk more about that if you want but I mean that’s kind of where I’m coming from on all this.

DL: What atrocities are you talking about?

GG: I’m talking about how the Indians killed people and what they did to them after they had murdered them. I mean this business of killing innocent women and children, chopping their heads off, pulling babies out of wombs, nailing babies to barn doors. Whether all of that is factually correct you don’t quite know because the white men are the people who wrote the histories and the Indians never wrote anything down and therefore all you’ve got is their oral history and the oral history of most Indians has been kept pretty close to home. They don’t broadcast their oral history so you tend to get a one sided view of all that. I’ve got two books at home, one a contemporary book written in 1863 by a guy who was a sub-officer to Sibley and Flandreau and those people. [During the editing process, Mr. Glotzbach added the book title: History of the Sioux War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863 by Isaac V.D. Heard, Harpers & Brothers, 1863] He recorded how white victims of the war had been found and it’s awful by today’s standards and by the standards of the day back then. I understand that there were likewise scalpings and all that kind of stuff by the whites on the Indians following that but I think most of that was a result of having learned from the Indians what they did to the whites returned the favor on the Indians. So there you are.

DL: What is your opinion of the war?

GG: Well I said earlier, no question but what the Indians had cause to be unhappy. We were fighting them in various places. The treaties were of questionable equality. The payments from the Federal Government were late. All that is true and we were destroying their culture and we wanted to make white men out of them and all of that. I understand that and I have empathy for that. I’m just saying the beef they had was with the Federal Government. OK, let’s go after the Federal Government and make war on the Federal Government if that’s what it takes. But the way to make war on the Federal Government is not to kill innocent people, innocent unarmed peaceable people. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Indians attacked Milford. Milford did not attack the Indians. The Indians attacked New Ulm. New Ulm did not attack the Indians. So from that point of view, we had every right, duty and responsibility to defend ourselves and we did. Now did that serve a peaceable end? I guess it did because we stopped shooting at each other at least at the Battle of Wounded Knee. I’m saying maybe in order for the United States to be what it is today, those wars had to occur. Like we had to fight the Mexicans in the Mexican Wars and we would have fought the Russians in Alaska if they hadn’t sold it to us. I was not the policy maker there and the policy makers weren’t always in control of policy. Those were made at the scene at Acton when the thing flared up. So I mean, it’s like 9/11. The United States didn’t declare war on the Muslim Nations. They declared war on us or at least somebody did and killed 5,000 people in one fell swoop. Well is it a great surprise that we armed and retaliated. I think it’s perfectly normal. If somebody came in and attacked my family, I’d attack right back.


I mean it’s a mixed bag we’re talking about here. You made me say things that I normally would not say in polite conversation but you asked me what I really thought and I’m telling you what I really think. But I don’t go around talking like this every day and making trouble. I don’t. But when you get down to where I eat, where I think, I can sum it all up in one sentence I said I’ve said three or four times now: The Indians had great cause [but] they just killed the wrong people from my point of view. That sums it all up in one sentence.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator George Glotzbach Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Thursday, August 11, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. They had a cause against the federal government June 13, 2024.

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