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U.S.-Dakota War of 1862: A Minnesota River Valley Mobile Tour


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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which took place in the Minnesota River Valley of southwestern Minnesota. To commemorate this, the Minnesota Historical Society presents a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center. The exhibit offers documents, artifacts and images, as well as personal stories from both sides, related to the war.

Even 150 years later, the event remains a sore point in our state’s history, as can be read in The No-Win War. The Minnesota Historical Society stays true to its mission; it offers up a difficult topic and encourages everyone to learn, discuss, and come to your own conclusions.

One amazing way to experience this exhibit is to participate in the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway mobile tour. Travel the byway and call 888-601-3010 (find a two-digit number on a sign and type it into your phone) and listen while on the road. Or just call the number from anywhere (I called from my desk), and learn about the sites and the people who lived in these areas and how they were impacted by the war.

The tour is narrated, and each location also offers different perspectives from real people and voices (“The treaties weren’t worth the paper they were written on.” “New Ulm basically became a ghost town.”) It’s quite detailed and fascinating to listen to.

The mobile tour takes you on several stops along the byway, and additional stops will be added in 2013. Here are just a few places on the tour:

  • Traverse des Sioux: Near St. Peter, this river crossing was where European settlers traded with Dakota hunters.
  • New Ulm: The site of two attacks in August 1862, New Ulm lost more than a third of its town to fire and violence.
  • Lower Sioux Agency: Near Redwood Falls, this is the site of the first attack of the war. The government failed to make promised payments, which led frustrated parties to attack this site of a U.S. government administration center.

Other places of note, though not yet on the tour:

  • Fort Snelling, St. Paul: Learn about the fort’s 120-year history, including it being the site for Dakota prisoners after the war.
  • Sibley House, St. Paul: The home of our first governor (1858-1960), who was given command of the military response during the war in 1862.
  • Mankato: The site of the conviction of 303 men, and the hanging of 38, the largest mass execution in the country’s history. Visit Reconciliation Park, built through a collaboration of the Dakota and Mankato communities.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 exhibit runs for the next year at the History Center, with events happening at many of these sites throughout its run. Come out and see the exhibit and, “Explore the war that changed Minnesota. Forever.”

Click here to download the exhibit's brochure and accompanying map.

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