Archived Story

War anniversary good time for education

Published 9:35am Monday, August 20, 2012

The military phase of the U.S.-Dakota War began last week 150 years ago, creating profound suffering and setting in motion the rapid settlement of the western United States.

Those along the Minnesota River Valley have a deep connection to the events that happened here. Descendants of many of the hundreds of settlers killed still live in the area, particularly in Brown County, which was hardest hit during the war.

And Mankato has always had a lasting, albeit uncomfortable and controversial, tie to the war as the place where 38 Dakota men were hanged in what remains the largest mass execution in American history.

What has been far less prevalent — if not

absent — in the past century-and-a-half was an attempt to understand the plight of the Dakota before the war and continuing to this day. Part of that was the near absence of the state’s native Dakota, as virtually all fled or were banished after 1862.

Things have improved markedly in the past couple of decades after a reconciliation effort began the process of healing wounds and gaining mutual understanding. Today, western European descendants and Dakota mingle and learn at events such as the annual pow-wow in Mankato and through talks and school programs. That’s something that was unthinkable as recently as the 1980s, as the Dakota shunned and even feared places like Mankato that held so much historical pain.

The anniversary is a wonderful opportunity for Minnesotans to learn more about the compelling history of 1862. There is no shortage of ways to do that. County and state historical societies, colleges and others have numerous informative exhibits and events. The Dakota will mark the anniversary, in part, with emotional and symbolic events taking place in Minnesota and in South Dakota and elsewhere where many of their ancestors relocated.

More and more people now know that the way the war was portrayed in the past — bloodthirsty Indians attack, settlers victoriously defend — was a simplistic and erroneous account of a terribly complex time and circumstance.

That doesn’t mean brutality or devastating misjudgments by the Dakota — or the U.S. — need to be whitewashed. Rather, people now have the opportunity to study the complexities, emotions and motivations of all the people living in southern Minnesota at the time.

As Nicollet County Historical Society Director Ben Leonard put it: People viewing the war’s history differently doesn’t make one right and the other wrong — it just means people have different perspectives of the same events.

— Mankato Free Press, Aug. 14