MANKATO — Truth is often the first casualty of war. Nothing epitomizes this statement better than the historiography associated with the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. One hundred fifty years after it was fought, the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, remains one of history’s most significant, but controversial subjects.
Immediately after the event, those who wrote the official histories of the conflict [whites] described the Indians, who were involved, as “bloodthirsty savages.” Consequently, they deserved punishment for “massacring” innocent, white settlers on the frontier. Little attention was given to the underlying causes of the war, such as treaty violations by the U.S. government or its Indian agents and traders, sent to protect the Indians, or encroachment by white settlers on Indian lands.
Beginning in the 1970s, significant revisionist efforts were undertaken to re-tell the story from the Native American perspective — to the point that the historical pendulum has completely shifted in favor of the Dakota side. Many of the earlier efforts to commemorate the conflict, in the form of books, vocabulary, civic observances, museum displays, artifacts, and even monuments “set in stone” have been ridiculed and discarded in favor of this new, “politically correct” historiography.
Some Native American activists, as well as their white, apologist allies, have gone so far as to advocate the removal of, and the destruction of, anything that suggested any wrongdoing on the part of the 38 Dakota warriors tried, convicted and executed in the nation’s largest mass-execution at Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862. For these revisionists, the Dakota were simply protecting their homes, families and culture from annihilation. The end justified the means. (2)
In 1912, fifty years after the execution of the thirty-eight Dakota, Judge Lorin Cray and General James Baker, both Civil War veterans, commissioned a six-foot-tall, eight thousand-five hundred pound monument, on the site of the mass-hanging. Inscribed on it were the words: “HERE WERE HANGED 38 SIOUX INDIANS, DECEMBER 26, 1862.”