It’s Time to Broaden Our Views on History: A Dakota War Historiography

It’s Time to Broaden Our Views on History: A Dakota War Historiography

This blog post relies heavily on the scholarship of William E. Lass in his article titled Histories of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 published by Minnesota History Magazine in 2012. To learn more about the historiography of the U.S. – Dakota War, I highly recommend reading the article. 

“Anyone who writes history engages in a selective process.” – William E. Lass

Historiography is the study of the body of historical work about any given topic. As a historian, it’s important to study the historiography of a topic before delving deep into the research and formulating an argument. For example, before researching and writing my master’s thesis about the Pampas Indians of Argentina, I was required to read thirteen books about the history of Argentina during the 19th century. This helped me understand the historical context of the people and places I would be researching. 

But while historiography has become essential to studying history, it also raises significant questions—questions about who is writing history and how and why they came to their conclusions. A very brief historiography of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 demonstrates how problematic our views of the past can become. By relying a single viewpoint, that of the white, Western world, we are limiting our views of the past to a single set of cultural influences and backgrounds. For better or worse, history is an unbroken line of narratives that build off of one another and are influenced by each preceding narrative. Our stories are shaped by what we’ve been told and what we’ve been taught. Our stories are a reflection of who we were and who we are. We get to decide where the narrative goes next.  

History of the Sioux War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863 by Isaac V.D. Heard

Isaac V.D. Heard was born in Goshen, Orange County, New York. He moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota and studied law. Heard was admitted to the Minnesota bar and served as the Ramsey County Attorney and as the Saint Paul City Attorney. Heard was involved in the Dakota War of 1862 and served with United States General Henry Hastings Sibley. He served as acting judge advocate involving the Sioux Indians and the Dakota War of 1862. Heard served in the Minnesota Senate in 1872. He died at his home in Goshen, New York and was buried in Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Source:Wikipedia

Dakota War Whoop: Or Indian Massacres and War in Minnesota of 1862-‘3 by Harriet E. Bishop McConkey

Harriet E. Bishop (January 1, 1817 – August 8, 1883) was an American educator, writer, suffragist, and temperance activist. Born in Panton, Vermont, she moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1847. There, she started the first public school as well as the first Sunday school in Minnesota Territory. She was a founding member of temperance, suffrage and civic organizations, and played a central role in establishing the First Baptist Church of Saint Paul. An active promoter of her adopted state, she was the author of books such as Floral Home, or First Years of Minnesota (1857) and Dakota War Whoop, or Indian Massacres and War in Minnesota of 1862–63 (1863). (Source: Wikipedia)

A History of the Great Massacre by the Sioux Indians by Charles S. Bryant and Abel B. Murch

Charles S. Bryant was a lawyer who moved from Ohio to Minnesota in 1859. In 1863, while practicing in St. Peter, he presented more than 100 damage claims to the Sioux Claims Commission, the body established by Congress to be the federal government’s arbiter in determining compensation for war-incurred losses. (Source: William E. Lass)

Abel B. Murch was born in New York, March 4, 1824. He lived at the Upper Sioux Agency before the war and had joined the Renville Rangers only days before the opening of hostilities. As a member of the Renville Rangers, Murch helped defend Fort Ridgely from the attacks of the Dakota. (Source: William E. Lass)

The Indian’s Revenge: Or, Days of Horror. Some Appalling Events in the History of the Sioux by Alexander Berghold

Alexander Berghold was born in Dirnrieth, parish of St. Margarethen, in the state of Steiermark, Austria on October 14, 1838. His father, Philip and mother, Josepha Kloescher, moved with the family in 1844 to Petersdorf, parish of St. Marien on the Pickelbach River where they operated a large estate and from where Alexander attended the school of St. Marien. In the fall of 1851 Alexander left home to attend the normal school at Graz. After passing his final examinations at the latter institution, he entered the theological department of the Royal Franzend University in 1862. Two years later in 1864 Alexander Berghold was recruited by the most famous Minnesota missionary of all, Father Francis Pierz, to come to Minnesota and work in the German immigrant missionary field. (Source: La Vern J. Ripley)

Indian Outbreaks by Daniel Buck

Daniel Buck moved to Minnesota Territory in 1857 and eventually settled in the area that became Mankato, Minnesota. He was on hand to witness the aftermath of the final climatic battle between the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes at the Battle of Shakopee in 1858. Buck was a central figure in the founding of the Village of Mankato, the Mankato Normal School, and the Mankato Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1866, Buck served in the Minnesota House of Representatives as a Democrat and then served in the Minnesota Senate from 1879 to 1883. Buck also served on the Minnesota State Normal School Board and Mankato School Board. Buck was an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1894 until 1899 when he resigned due to his wife’s ill health. In 1904, Buck published his book on the Indian troubles in Minnesota, especially for the Spirit Lake actions. He intended his book Indian Outbreaks to be a judicially impartial account. (Source: Wikipedia)

Great Sioux Outbreak of 1862 in Minnesota in Three Centuries, Volume 3, by Return I. Holcombe

Born Robert Ira Holcombe in Huntington Township, Gallia County, Ohio, February 24, 1845, he changed his name to Return after his grandfather’s grandfather, a soldier of Connecticut in the army of the American Revolution. His parents and family moved to Missouri when he was six years old, and there he received a serviceable education. During the Civil War, Holcombe served on the Union side in the Tenth Missouri Regiment. In Missouri and Kansas, Holcombe became a proficient writer on the staff of various publishers of county and city histories. In the summer of 1888 he helped prepare several long chapters of a history of St. Paul. From that date his home was in St. Paul where he did much work as a newspaper writer, especially for the Pioneer Press and Dispatch. (Source: Minnesota History, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1917)

A History of Minnesota, Volume 2, by William Watts Folwell

William Watts Folwell (1833-1929) was an American academic and advocate for parks. He attended Hobart College and later became an adjunct professor of mathematics there. In the years leading up to the American Civil War, he studied philology in Berlin and served in the 50th New York Volunteer Engineer Regiment. After the war, he briefly pursued business ventures in Ohio and then served as the chair of mathematics at Kenyon College. In 1869, Folwell became the first president of the University of Minnesota, where he implemented an ambitious plan for expansion. He also played a significant role in promoting parks in Minneapolis, serving on the city’s park board and supporting the creation of a park network. Folwell’s contributions were recognized with the naming of buildings, neighborhoods, and schools in his honor. He passed away in 1929 and was buried in Lakewood Cemetery. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Indian Wars of Minnesota by Louis Harry Roddis

Louis H. Roddis (1918-1991) was the 15th President of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) and a notable figure in the field of nuclear energy. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Roddis served in the Navy during World War II and participated in the atomic weapons tests in the Bikini Atoll. He played a significant role in the development of nuclear submarines and the first major nuclear power plant in the U.S. at Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Roddis later became the president of Pennsylvania Electric Company, where he oversaw the construction of innovative transmission lines. He held leadership positions in various organizations and received several awards for his contributions to the field. Roddis passed away in 1991, leaving behind a legacy of advancements in nuclear energy. (Source: American Nuclear Society)

The Great Sioux Uprising by Chester M. Oehler

Chester M. Oehler worked as a camp clerk for the Virginia and Rainy Lake Lumber Company in 1928. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he majored in journalism, in 1932. Later, Oehler worked as the director of research for the western offices of Batten, Barton, Durstine, & Osborn. (Source: William E. Lass)

The Sioux Uprising of 1862 by Kenneth Carley

Kenneth Carley was a journalist who wrote for the Ortonville Independent, the Minneapolis Star, and the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune’s Picture magazine. He was also the founder and past president of the Twin Cities Civil War Round Table and was named to the citizens’ advisory committee of the Minnesota Civil War and Sioux Uprising Centennial commission. He graduated from the University of Minnesota. (Source: Goodreads)

Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862 by Duane Schultz

Duane Schultz is an accomplished author known for his expertise in psychology and historical fiction. He earned degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Syracuse University, and American University, specializing in social psychology. Schultz has written college-level textbooks, including internationally translated editions, as well as books on psychology and a comparative study of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. After a successful teaching career, he transitioned to full-time writing and currently resides in Clearwater, Florida. Schultz has authored novels on World War II and the Civil War, drawing from extensive research and interviews with former prisoners of war. His books have been adapted into television documentaries, received critical acclaim, and have been published in various formats and languages. (Source: DuaneSchultz.com)

Let Them Eat Grass by John J. Koblas

John J. Koblas (d. March 8, 2019) was a celebrated author, musician, and meticulous researcher from Minnesota. With over 70 books to his name, he focused on outlaws like Ma Barker, John Dillinger, and the James-Younger Gang, earning him three Perry awards. Koblas explored the lives of Minnesotan authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis, notably with his book “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul: A Traveler’s Companion to His Homes & Haunts.” Additionally, he delved into historical mysteries for young adults and wrote about figures such as J.J. Dickison and the Minnesota Sioux Uprising. As a trained concert pianist and a member of the rock band the Magpies, Koblas’s musical talents were well-known. Through lectures, appearances, and television contributions, he made a lasting impact on literature, music, and historical research. (Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press)

The Dakota Uprising: A Pictorial History by Curtis A. Dahlin

Curtis Dahlin, an independent historian specializing in the Dakota Uprising of 1862 in Minnesota, has spent thousands of hours and driven many thousands of miles researching and writing about the subject. In 2007, he published Dakota Uprising Victims: Gravestones & Stories. Previously, in 2001, he participated in compiling and writing Joel E. Whitney: Minnesota’s Leading Pioneer Photographer, and in 2008, he wrote an essay for Trails of Tears: Minnesota’s Dakota Indian Exile Begins. He and his wife, Gay, live in Roseville, Minnesota. (Source: USDakotaWar.org)

Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson

Gary Clayton Anderson is an historian of the American Indian and the American West.  His  most recent book is Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History (2019). His other publications  include Kinsman of Another Kind:  Indian-White Relations on the Upper Mississippi River (1984), a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize,  Little Crow, Spokesman for the Sioux  (1986),  Through Dakota Eyes:  Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862  (ed., 1988),  Sitting Bull and the Paradox of Lakota Nationhood (1996),  The Indian Southwest:  Ethnogenesis and Cultural Reinvention (1999), winner of the Angie Debo Prize,  The Conquest of Texas:  Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land (2005), a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize,  Will Rogers and “His” America (2010), Ethnic Cleansing and the Indian: The Crime That Should Haunt America, (2014), The Army Surveys of Gold Rush California:  Reports of the Topographical Engineers, 1849-1851, (ed., 2015), and Gabriel Renville and the Creation of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Reservation (2018).  He has also co-authored with Kathleen P. Chamberlain, Power and Promise:  The Changing American West (2007). (Source: The University of Oklahoma Department of History)

Reclaiming Mni Sota: An Alternate History of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 by Colin Mustful

Colin Mustful is an independent historian, author, and publisher. His work, which includes five historical novels, focuses on the tumultuous and complicated periods of settler-colonialism and Native displacement in American history. He has a Master of Arts degree in history and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. He is the founder and editor of History Through Fiction, an independent press that publishes compelling historical novels that are based on real events and people. As a traditional publisher, he works with authors who want to share important historical stories with the world. Mustful is an avid runner and soccer player who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He believes that learning history is vital to understanding our world today and finding just, long-lasting solutions for the future.

History is both a product of our time and a product of the compiled times that have come before us. Even in my own writing, which began in 2007, I can see a significant change in how I convey historical topics related to the U.S. – Dakota War. The history hasn’t changed, I’ve changed. Looking back through these sources, each one is a clear reflection of the time and place in which it was written. Moreover, there is a clear pattern regarding the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of the people who share and proliferate this history. On its own, that’s not a problem. Everyone has a right to take an interest in and share history—to share their views on history. But when you review these and thousands of other sources on the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, it’s obvious that certain voices are missing. That is a problem. 

Today, there is a lot of excellent scholarship being done by Indigenous scholars in Minnesota such as Brenda Child, Anton Treuer, and Waziyatawin. But when you look at the thousands of sources on the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 that have been written over the past 160 years and how the perspectives and messages of those sources have influenced present views on this history, it becomes apparent that it will take a lot more than a few Indigenous scholars to reframe the entire conversation. What’s more significant, is the structural framework of our society that has enmeshed itself so deeply in who we are, that the opportunities to learn, understand, and convey such historical messages is and will continue to be dominated by an all too narrow cultural viewpoint. 

As a historian, a writer, a human being, I am a part of all of it. I cannot offer any immediate solutions, I merely wish to contribute to a more even-handed, level playing field where historical narratives, discussion, conversations, and scholarship are shared through any and all viewpoints—whether they be Western, white, and educated, or Native and traditional. This, and other factors, contributed to my decision to create the Reclaiming Mni Sota Indigenous Writers Grant, a literary diversity initiative to raise $10,000 for one Indigenous writer from Minnesota. While I continue to try to understand our history and its legacy for us today, I want to facilitate and support those viewpoints outside of my cultural, ethnic, and religious background while also helping others make their own contributions to the historiography of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862. I want to view history objectively—fully—and I cannot do that until all voices have been heard. I want to see the conflict—I want to see ourselves—from all sides and all perspectives so that I can truly understand what happened here and how it led to who we are today.  

One thought on “It’s Time to Broaden Our Views on History: A Dakota War Historiography

  1. There is the traditionalist view of western history dominated by a celebration of Manifest Destiny, the perspective of historical figures such as General Phil Sheridan that Indians were wild to be dealt with and that those coming west were enlightened on some mission to expand freedom. Then there is the broader, multi-perspective view known as New Western History where we see authors such as Elliott West, Gary Clayton Anderson, and others who have delivered with many an explosion of broader perspective works. Unfortunately a number of buffs continue to embrace the romantic traditionalist perspective for a variety of reasons including even to the point of being prejudiced.

    Thanks for your post.

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