Q&A: What happened the morning of August 18, 1862?

Q&A: What happened the morning of August 18, 1862?

“I guess they are going to have a dance.”  – A mason at the Lower Sioux Agency on the morning of August 18

A fictional illustration looking upon the August 18 attacks.
A fictional illustration looking upon the August 18 attacks.

Early in the morning of August 18, 1862, several hundred Dakota braves, all armed and painted for war, marched slowly onto the Lower Sioux Agency.  The traders, storekeepers, and others considered no danger at hand.  They had lived as neighbors with the Dakota for many years and had no reason to expect that their intentions were violent.  The Dakota dispatched into small parties and surrounded the agency buildings.  At a predetermined signal, the Dakota launched their attack killing many of the clerks, traders, and merchants.  The first to be killed was James W. Lynd, a clerk at Myrick’s store and a former state senator.  He was followed by Francois LaBathe and Henry Belland Sr.

The initial assault was short because the Dakota were keen on looting the trader’s stores of guns, ammunition, and other supplies.  The remaining settlers, probably about fifty in number fled to the thickets under the bluff and to the ferry crossing where they continued down the road to Fort Ridgely about thirteen miles away.  Some, however, were unable to flee and were overtaken and killed.  This included Philander P. Humphrey, the agency physician, and Philander Prescott, the superintendent of farming and a man who had lived among the Dakota for forty years.

A map of the Lower Sioux Agency, MNHS Collections

After their attack on the lower agency, the Dakota spread themselves up and down the left bank of the Minnesota River attacking adjacent settlements and raiding their homes.  Perhaps the hardest hit settlement was that of Milford,  a small German community who lost fifty people that day.  But, like the settlers at the agency, those in the surrounding settlements took no alarm until the murders had begun.  As the Dakota continued their attacks they killed men, captured the women, and indiscriminately killed the children or let them follow their mothers, while taking plunder, burning the barns, and stealing the cattle.

At the end of Minnesota’s most tragic day, it is estimated that over two hundred people were killed and over two hundred fifty were taken captive.  By nightfall many of the Dakota gathered near Little Crow’s home where they celebrated the day’s events with music and dance.  One captive referred to the scene at Little Crow’s camp as bedlam broken loose.

Read a description of the attacks by historian and witness Isaac V.D. Heard – page 59-71

See this blog post on YouTube


William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Vol. 2, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1924).

Colin Mustful, Thy Eternal Summer:  The U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862, (Colin Mustful, 2013).

“During the War,” The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, http://www.usdakotawar.org/history/war/during-war

Isaac V.D. Heard, History of the Sioux War and Massacres of 1862 and 1863, (New York:  Harper and Brothers, 1865).


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