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Through writers’ eyes: U.S. -Dakota War of 1862

September 2, 2012
The Journal

John LaBatte:

"Historic Fort Ridgely"

"The New Ulm Pioneer and the Indians,

Article Photos

LaBatte with his new books


Few authors represent the kind of unique, complex perspective on the events of 1862 that is perhaps inherent in, and inevitable for, writings by John LaBatte, a self-described "activist seeking accuracy, balance and respect in products related to the Dakota Indians" and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

LaBatte's complexity stems, in part, from his own heritage. LaBatte's ancestors were involved in all sides of the war - including Dakota who went to war, Dakota who opposed the war, and whites.

LaBatte's Indian name, inherited from an ancestor, is Wasicun Nazin, or Standing Spirit.

LaBatte writes and gives tours, speeches and consultations on the war, other Dakota history, culture and religion, missionaries and the fur trade.

His speeches include "Causes of the Dakota War of 1862," "Fort Ridgely Battlefield Tour," "The Acton Murders," "The Christian Indians and the Dakota War of 1862" and "The Perfect Dakota Indian Exhibit."

In 2012, he served on two advisory panels to the Minnesota Historical Society, helping develop the society's 1862 U.S.-Dakota War Exhibit.

LaBatte's recent publications include "Historic Fort Ridgely" and "The New Ulm Pioneer and the Indians, 1858-1862."

"Historic Fort Ridgely" contains 25 essays related to the fort that were originally printed in local newspapers beginning in October 2010. Minor changes have been made to the original essays. The booklet contains a list of National Register entries and text from the four state monuments located in the park. The back cover has a survey map of the historic site drawn in 1939.

The booklet is intended as a souvenir for visitors to the park, pooling together information and distilling it into a single reference source. Significant references are identified inside the text.

The essays paint a picture of Fort Ridgely, starting with its geology and ending with its restoration. The central focus is on the fort's role during the war, but LaBatte expands the perspective to paint a much broader picture and foster a fuller understanding of the war and the era. He discusses causes of the war, traces the chronology of and sums up battles and related events at other area sites and covers key or intriguing topics such as pre-war treaties with the Dakota, traditional Dakota warfare and others. He lists facts that are not commonly known. Relative to its size, the publication is rich in both information and insights.

"The New Ulm Pioneer and the Indians, 1858-1862" by John LaBatte and Elwin Rogers is a compilation of articles published in The New Ulm Pioneer in 1858-1862. The articles contain evidence of interactions between settlers and the Dakota, giving readers an idea about the settlers' perspective of the Dakota.

In his introduction, LaBatte explains the process of creating the book.

"I had long suspected that there was information about the Indians in the early New Ulm newspapers," he writes. "But they were printed in German. I asked Dr. Elwin Rogers for keywords related to the Indians. I obtained a copy of the New Ulm Pioneer (1858-1862) on microfilm from the Minnesota Historical Society. I scanned more than 900 pages, mostly line by line, looking for these keywords. I found more than 150 articles related to the Indians. Astrid Jordan and Dr. Elwin Rogers translated these articles to English."

The articles debunk a few myths: specifically that the Dakota Indians were confined to and forced to trade with fur traders on reservations, and that the hatred between Indians and German settlers was a primary cause of the war.

The Dakota were in New Ulm for various reasons, found LaBatte. They spent money and traded furs in New Ulm.

"The Germans had an interest in the Indian culture but found their warfare with other tribes and resulting scalp dances to be 'displeasing and absolutely disgusting,'" writes LaBatte.

Curtis E. Dahlin

"Tales of the Dakota Uprising:

Period Eyewitness Accounts"

Also, "Renville County in the Dakota Uprising," "Victims of the Dakota Uprising:

Killed, Wounded and Captured" and "A History of the Dakota Uprising" (upcoming)

"My 'Tales of the Dakota Uprising: Period Eyewitness Accounts' is just that," sums up Curt Dahlin, who compiled the collection.

The nearly 60 accounts, dating from 1862 to 1864, were written by a variety of people who experienced the war in one way or another at various locations.

The accounts are derived from Minnesota newspapers from that time, and from two books, published in 1863 and 1864. Official reports or personal correspondence by officials, such as letters by Col. Henry Sibley, are excluded.

"I think that by reading this, the reader will get a fairly good idea as to what things looked like at the time. I have been researching and writing on the subject for 10 years now, and had read these accounts at different times. But they have not been available for the general reading public, as they are located in many different places. So, I thought pulling them together and publishing them would give those who are interested in the subject the opportunity to read them."

The author added some punctuation to make the accounts more readable. He added some information, generally names, in brackets, to give readers more complete information on the individual and what took place. Most newspaper accounts are from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society; the period books are from the author's collection. The accounts are grouped by geographic area, generally a county or place.

Dahlin says his overall objective in producing books, or in speaking on the subject, is to advance the understanding of what took place in this "complex, deeply tragic affair." His audience comprises primarily those adults who want to learn more about the subject.

"And many do, but it is not always easy to understand as there are many sides to the story, and they do not always fit well together. One often finds that different people looking at the same story come to completely different conclusions. The other books I have written on the subject are more factual, with me developing the storyline. This book is simply a transcription or early accounts, but I don't think it diminishes its importance. Most of the stories are told by whites but a few are told by Dakota or mixed-bloods."

Dahlin has been researching, writing and speaking about the U.S. -Dakota War of 1862 for ten years. (Dahlin prefers the term "uprising" because he feels it is "the best descriptive term of what took place.")

Dahlin grew up on a farm on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation, spent two years in the U.S. Army and worked for the Minnesota Department of Transportation for 35 years, retiring in 2002.

In addition to "Tales...," Dahlin has published: "Dakota Uprising Victims: Gravestones & Stories," "The Dakota Uprising: A Pictorial History," "Minnesota State Monuments to the Dakota Uprising," "Military Deaths on the Sibley and Sully Expeditions into Dakota Territory in 1863" and "Stories and Final Resting Places: Notable Friendly Dakota and Mixed-Bloods on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation."

By mid-August, he will have three more books out: "Renville County in the Dakota Uprising," "Victims of the Dakota Uprising: Killed, Wounded and Captured" and "A History of the Dakota Uprising."

"Victims of the Dakota Uprising" lists those 650 or so white individuals who were killed by the Dakota. Each person has about four to six lines describing when and where the killing took place, explains Dahlin. The wounded and captured are also included.

"A History of the Dakota Uprising" is an 11 by 17 map-based book with a series of text boxes on each page, relating various events during the war.

"I think that readers will find [this book] to be fascinating, as most of these stories have not been presented in this format before," says Dahlin.

"I find the subject to be extremely interesting, and it is the most significant, and tragic, event in Minnesota's history. It still reverberates today, after 150 years have passed."

Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz

"Recollections and Memories of August 17th, 1862:

The Day Before the Dakota War"

"Alexander Ramsey's Words of War"

"Recollections and Memories of August 17th, 1862: The Day Before the Dakota War" by Corinne L. Monjeau-Marz traces a day in the life of 10 people who would be caught up in the war, on both sides of the divide. "Whereas some of the names, lives an actions of those included in each chapter are well known, others may not be familiar at all...," Marz writes. "Tragically, all of them converged together, on the terrible path, as participants in this historical event."

The narratives in the book were gathered from personal histories and recollections, newspaper articles, government records and biographies. The book includes a map of Minnesota counties in 1862 when shapes and even names of counties were a work in progress, period photographs, prints and a new drawing by artist David Geister.

Marz is also the author of "Alexander Ramsey's Words of War," which examines Gov. Ramsey's proclamation at the onset of a special Legislature session convened because of the war, Sept. 9, 1862.

"His proclamation, intact and whole, was the product of Ramsey's experiences as governor and as citizen of the state of Minnesota in his time," writes Marz.

"As his response to the war, there is great value in examining the entire source document, overlooked and nearly forgotten today. Where the proclamation, as a whole, has been nearly forgotten, the demand contained within it has been remembered. The demand, 'The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state,' may be the statement most closely associated with Ramsey and also may be the most recognized statement ever spoken by any Minnesota governor..."

"Examination and reflection of the proclamation's contents and the demand itself clarify what Ramsey knew about the status of the war," Marz writes. It also presents insights into how he felt as a man, husband, citizen and guardian of the people of Minnesota, Marz writes.

"I would say that all of my research and writing has focused around the desire to understand the background of events and the experiences of those involved - and I am most interested in studying the primary documents - first-hand accounts," says Marz, who traces her family's roots to New Ulm and its vicinity and is a former New Ulm resident herself. (She gradiated from Dr. Martin Luther College in 1973 and completed her student teaching at St. Paul's School. )

"It is rewarding to discover and share research findings - and I have so enjoyed meeting others interested in the 1862 events - both pre and post war experiences, as well - and listening to family histories to learn more."

Marz has also written or edited books and articles on Dakota internment and exile, Minnesota statehood, eyewitness recollections of the war, the women in the Erd basement during the Battles of New Ulm, etc.

Reviews and author interviews by Kremi Spengler



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