The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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August 7, 2012

Krohn: Retired history prof offers perspective on U.S.-Dakota War

— As an amateur history buff, I always enjoy spending time with William Lass, history professor emeritus at Minnesota State University.

Lass has literally written the book on Minnesota history — several books and articles, in fact. Like the best of historians, he’s meticulous, open minded, precise. When he states something about history, you know it’s based on the best and most careful research.

We had a wide-ranging talk about the U.S.-Dakota War — which began this month 150 years ago.

Here are a few interesting tidbits gleaned from Lass:

 

Atrocities

Much time is spent discussing and debating the atrocities committed by some Dakota during the war. Accounts of a pregnant woman being cut open, fetus removed and nailed to a tree; dismemberments; rape; bludgeoning of babies.

There were atrocities. But says Lass, “My admonition is to be very cautious about the mutilation and atrocity part.”

For starters, Lass notes, bodies bruise and discolor very quickly after death and coyotes, wolves and other animals were plentiful on the prairie. Bodies of dead settlers found a couple of days later could easily have looked like they were mutilated.

And, at the time, everyone from the governor to local newspapers and residents had some stake in portraying the Indians as savage animals that needed to be killed or expelled.

 

Camp Lincoln’s location

Camp Lincoln, where Dakota prisoners were kept after the war, was always stated as being in South Bend, a village outside Mankato, past current Land of Memories Park.

Lass, after running across a sketch done in 1862 of Camp Lincoln, immediately knew the land topography was wrong for South Bend.

After digging, including finding a letter from Col. Henry Sibley describing the camp’s location, Lass found the true spot of Camp Lincoln was in what is now Sibley Park.

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