Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


War of 1862: Books, exhibit, discussions illuminate conflict

On Saturday the Minnesota History Center will open its central U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 exhibit, which includes artifacts, documents and contributions by the descendants of people involved.

150 years is not such a very long time. Although no one who lived through it is still alive, the War of 1862 is still fresh in the minds of Minnesotans whose family members or communities were involved. This bloody six-week clash between the resident Dakota and white newcomers killed hundreds of people on both sides, left a series of landmark horrors across the state, exiled the Dakota from their homeland, delayed white settlement, and culminated in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The Sioux Uprising, as the war is also known, shaped the development of the state, and today relations between Native Americans and whites remain affected by the war and the events that led to it.

This summer, the Minnesota Historical Society marks this dark anniversary with statewide events and discussions about the war. An in-depth, interactive website creates a deeper understanding of the war and people involved. Two new books further illuminate the subject:

Mni Sota Makoce cover“Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota,” by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White, explores how life in what is now Minnesota shaped life for the Dakota life for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of whites. Who the Dakota were before the war, and how the newcomers changed everything about their society becomes more clear in these carefully researched pages.

“The Dakota Prisoner of War Letters,” by Clifford Canku and Michael Simon, offers English translations of 50 letters written by Dakota men imprisoned in internment camps to missionaries. Following the War of 1862, 270 men were held in camps; 120 died there. Remarkably, many learned how to write in an attempt to reach news of their families outside of the camp. Canku and Simon are descendants of Dakota prisoners of war.

Dakota Prisoner of War Letters coverOn June 30, the Minnesota History Center will open its central U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 exhibit, which includes artifacts, documents and significant contributions by the descendants of people involved in the conflict. From the very beginning, reports about what happened and why varied widely, and visitors will have the chance to weigh in and contribute their own thoughts. 150 years later, the story is not done being told.

Other events:

Upper Sioux Agency State Park, Commemorating Controversy exhibit, July 1-30.

Fort Ridgely, Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857 discussion with  Mary Bakeman, author of “Legends, Letters and Lies,” June 30, 2 p.m.

Tour of U.S.-Dakota War Sites, Pond Dakota Heritage Society, July 7.

Oral Histories: Ongoing at:

More than three dozen other events this summer, details here.

Article continues after advertisement