Q&A: Was population growth a contributing factor to the U.S. – Dakota War?

Q&A: Was population growth a contributing factor to the U.S. – Dakota War?

Thousands upon thousands, in and out of Minnesota, are anxiously and impatiently waiting . . . for the opening of the magnificent country, which is spread out west of us, like a beautiful map – a country full of game, and heavy timber, and delightful prairies and rich bottom lands – its resources of natural wealth, not only not exhausted, but, as yet, scarcely seen.”  – James Goodhue, The Minnesota Pioneer, July 3, 1851

James Goodhue, Editor of the Minnesota Pioneer, MNHS Collections

In 1850, Minnesota’s non-Indian population was 6,077.  Just a decade later, the non-Indian population had grown to 169,654.  Once Minnesota became a territory in 1849, settlers began pouring into the region.  In just a matter of months the city of St. Paul grew from about one dozen buildings to one hundred forty-two.  Describing St. Paul in 1851, traveler Frank Mayer wrote, “Two years ago it was little more than a mere trading post for the Indians, but already it assumes the appearance of a bustling New England village and well attests the presence of an energetic and free soil population.”


A view of St. Paul in 1851, MNHS Collections

The signing of the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux in 1851, had a similar effect on the population of Minnesota as in 1849 when it became a territory.  Immigration became constant as settlers clamored for claims on the west side of the Mississippi River.  Settlers included immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and other European countries as well as a slew of native born citizens from all parts of the Union.  All of them were driven by the promise of rich and productive land which was described by Congress as being, “probably superior to any part of the American Continent.”  Facilitating settlement even more, the Homestead Act of 1862, promised settlers free land if they showed improvement to their acreage after five years.

With a rapidly growing non-Indian population, and continued support for immigration, the Dakota faced constant pressure to give up their lands and concede their traditional ways of living.  Unfortunately this led to Indian unrest and was likely a contributing factor to the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.

Read about St. Paul as described by a traveler in 1849 – page 94

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William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 1, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1922)

Bertha L. Heilbron, Ed., With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986)

J. Fletcher Williams, A History of the City of St. Paul and the County of Ramsey, Minnesota, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1876).


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