Recommendations & Historical Context

Recommended Reading and Viewing 

Recommended Viewing

Smooth Feather Documentary about the Dakota 38+2 Riders.

Recommended Reading

These are just a few titles a reader can look to if he or she is interested in learning more about this time in history. Or review the works consulted page.

  • The Infamous Dakota War Trials of 1862: Revenge, Military Law and the Judgment of History by John A. Haymond

  • The United States-Dakota War Trials: A Study in Military Injustice by Carol Chomsky

  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer

These are a few titles of fictional stories about this time period or the experiences of indigenous people.

  • The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

  • Beneath The Same Stars by Phyllis Cole-Dai

  • The Thirty-Ninth Man by Dale Swanson

  • Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Historical Context

A collection of historical events, facts, and speculations that a reader may find useful or interesting after finishing the fictional interpretation in Dovetails in Tall Grass.

  • In 1851, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed, moving the Dakota-Sioux people onto a reservation on the north and south of the Minnesota River. The cessation of about 14 million acres by the Sioux was to be paid over 3 million dollars in the form of annuities.

  • In 1858, Chief Little Crow and Chief Wabasha led twenty-nine Dakota chiefs to Washington D.C. to meet with the commissioner of Indian Affairs. For three months, they debated the new treaty, Little Crow was most resistant. With no other real options or allies in Washington D.C., the treaty was signed. The north side of the river reservation was ceded, and the Dakota were moved to an even smaller reservation and would be paid $266,880 for their ceded land. Any Dakota family willing to convert to “white ways” would receive 80 acres to begin farming. When he returned, Little Crow moved into a log home and began converting, partially, to a settler way of life.

  • The legality of these treaties is disputed, as often the contracts were not translated, or additional stipulations were snuck into the mix. The annuity payments from the United States government to the Dakota-Sioux were often missing, delayed, or withheld. Traders and Indian Agents would skim and steal from the annuities. Additionally, tribes were delivered spoiled food rations. It is speculated that payments were sometimes withheld in an effort to incentivize native people to convert to farming and “white ways”.

  • In the 1860s Chief Wabasha was High Chief; Chief Traveling Hail was elected to the honored position of Speaker in the spring of 1862. It is believed that Chief Little Crow took this as an insult and a disappointment. The summer of 1862 was particularly difficult, crops failed from drought and locusts.

  • On August 5th, 1862, Little Crow and others met with the Indian agent and local store clerks to ask for the release of the Dakota food that was kept in a warehouse. Trader Andrew Myrick’s responded with his now infamous quote, “Let them eat grass if they’re hungry.”

  • On Sunday, August 17th, 1862, Little Crow attended a morning church service. Unbeknownst to him, four young Dakota men (Killing Ghost, Runs Against Something When Crawling, Brown Wing, Breaking Up) killed settlers near Acton township. A midnight gathering was held at Chief Little Crow’s house: a call to war. While the Chief had been peace-seeking and his reasons for joining the war party are debated, ultimately Little Crow responded to the braves saying: “Taoyateduta is not a coward, he will die with you.”

  • On Monday, August 18th, 1862, Myrick’s store at the Lower Agency was the first attacked. His store assistant also killed. Many accounts state that Myrick’s mouth was found stuffed with grass.

  • A majority of the over 6,000 Dakota did not participate in the war and many openly chose peace, some rode and warned settlers what was coming.

  • The overdue annuity payment, $71,000 in gold coins, arrived in New Ulm on Monday, August 18, 1862. Approximately eight hours after the war began.

  • From August 19-25, 1862, the town of New Ulm was attacked. Townspeople barricade themselves and created a civilian army. A rainstorm helped end the battle in New Ulm.

  • Estimates of white casualties range from 300 – 800 people; most historians approximate 600 white people were killed during the war. Seventy were soldiers, somewhere around 50 were armed civilians, and approximately 500 were unarmed of settlers, including women and children. Historians believe this may have been the highest civilian casualty event in US History until September 11, 2001.

  • Somewhere between 75-100 Dakota soldiers were killed during the battle.

  • Approximately 20,000 settlers fled their prairie homes during this war.

  • Colonel Henry Sibley had a child with a Dakota-Sioux woman. It is speculated that he felt particularly betrayed by Little Crow and other Dakota men; some of his responses may have been revenge-motivated, especially initially.

  • On September 24th, 1862, Chief Little Crow and a small group of followers rode north and west, refusing to surrender to the US Army, and continued attempting to organize a counterattack.

  • On September 26th, 1862, the Dakota Peace Party surrendered somewhere around 3,000 people along with approximately 200 white and mixed-race hostages. About one-quarter of those who surrendered in 1862 died in the following year.

  • From September 28th, 1862 – November 5th, 1862, 392 prisoners were tried by a military commission, 303 were sentenced to die and 16 were given prison sentences. After an official review of the verdicts, Abraham Lincoln confirmed 39 executions.

  • Reverend Stephen Riggs lived among the Dakota for decades. He served on the jury during the trials.

  • Isaac Heard served as court recorder during the military commission. 

  • On December 25th, 1862, a brave named Round Wind received a last-minute reduction in sentence from President Lincoln after two reverends (Riggs and Williamson) appealed his sentence.

  • On December 26th, 1862, 38 Dakota-Sioux men were hanged in front of a crowd of 4,000 spectators in Mankato, Minnesota. General Pope changed the location of the hangings to Mankato to accommodate the expected crowds.

  • The peace-seeking man Chaska, who did not participate in the war and even protected a white woman named Sarah Wakefield, was executed due to a case of mistaken identity.

  • After the hangings on December 26th, the executed men’s bodies were cut down and buried. Quickly, many local physicians unearthed the bodies to be used as medical cadavers. The Dakota man, Cut Nose, had aggravated a local doctor years before the war– stealing the doctor’s horses while the Mayo family was crossing a river. After Cut Nose was hanged in the mass execution in Mankato, Dr. Mayo, went to retrieve the body of the man who had wronged him years earlier. The doctor kept the body of Cut Nose in his office to educate his sons on human anatomy. These two sons went on to begin the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota – regarded as one of the most respected hospitals, dedicated to research, today.

  • After the war, a bounty of $75-200 dollars was offered by the US government for Indian scalps. Little Crow was shot and killed by farmers while picking berries with his son Wowinape on July 3rd, 1863. The farmers did not know the man’s identity that they killed. Little Crow’s body brought into the town of Hutchinson during their Fourth of July Celebration. The men who shot him were paid a bounty of $500 in 1864.

  • In 1863, 1,300 Dakota people were moved to the Crow Creek Reservation. In the first six months, more than 200 people died at the reservation, most of them children.

  • Many widowed residents of New Ulm and the surrounding area married after the war. The annuity payment that had been intended for the Dakota-Sioux was used to pay depredation claims to compensate settlers for losses suffered during the war.

  • Some scholars believe the U.S.-Dakota War was one of the final tipping points that caused President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The necessity of sending troops to Minnesota in 1862 (to support the Minnesota Infantry led by Sibley) left President Lincoln in desperate need of more soldiers to continue fighting the Confederates in the Civil War happening at the same time in the south. It’s hypothesized that in order to recruit additional soldiers meant the necessity of enlisting Black soldiers to the US Army, which led to the drafting of the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • In January of 1864, Medicine Bottle and Sakpe (Shakopee) were drugged and captured in Canada. They were tried and hanged at Fort Snelling on November 11, 1865.

  • The United States Congress abrogated and annulled all treaties with the Dakota-Sioux and issued and the Dakota Expulsion Act and Ho-Chunk / Winnebago Removal Act in 1863 – making it illegal for any Dakota to live in Minnesota. This law has never been repealed. As of 2021, the Dakota Expulsion Act still stands in the lawbooks. In 1884 Indian religious practices, medicine men, tribal dances were formally outlawed in the United States, any native American caught practicing tradition or religion was to be imprisoned.

  • Dakota 38+2 Memorial Ride occurs annually. Jim Miller, a Vietnam Veteran and descendant of the Dakota people displaced by the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, organized the 330-mile ride from the Lower Brule Indian Reservation to Reconciliation Park in Mankato, Minnesota, the site of the mass hanging.