Q&A: What role did the Winnebago play in the U.S. – Dakota War?

Q&A: What role did the Winnebago play in the U.S. – Dakota War?

On February 25, 1855, the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Indians signed a treaty with the United States Government agreeing to move to a reservation along the Blue Earth River.  According to the treaty, this was to become a “permanent home.”  However, in the aftermath of the U.S. – Dakota War, the Winnebago were expelled to a tract of land “beyond the borders of any State.”  A few months later, 1,945 Winnebago Indians were packed aboard a steamboat and sent to the Crow Creek Reservation.

Winnebago Indian Agency, 1860, MNHS Collections

In the years leading up to the U.S. – Dakota War, the Winnebago showed themselves to be peaceful and productive.  Throughout their time on the Blue Earth Reservation the Winnebago made a marked improvement on the land while they adopted Western methods of living and advanced their education.  According to their agent Charles Mix the Winnebago exhibited a “love of labor.”

During the war, there is very little evidence that the Winnebago played any part.  It is true that a few may have be active participants in the initial attacks, but this could have only been a small portion.  The Reverend Stephen Riggs wrote that on August 17, one day prior to war, that there were several Winnebago’s at the Lower Agency, but that “they do not appear to have been there for the purpose of the outbreak.”  The rest remained on their reservation and showed no support for the fighting.  A small force of Minnesota Infantry was stationed at the reservation to assure peace and never reported a problem.  Rather, according to Agent A.D. Balcombe, it was the Winnebago who needed protection from the whites.

Despite their almost non-existent involvement in the war, public opinion urged the removal of the Winnebago people.  At a public meeting in Mankato in January, 1863, it was resolved that, “we affirm with greater emphasis than ever before, our firm determination to secure the speedy removal of the Winnebago from the State . . . sincerely made as an act of justice warranted by the higher law of self-preservation.”  Public opinion won out, the Winnebago were removed, and their land was bought and settled.

Read the Winnebago Removal Act of 1863

See this blog post on YouTube


Colin Mustful, Unwarranted Expulsion:  The Removal of the Winnebago Indians, (Colin Mustful, 2014).


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