History does not just belong in the past. It is a living, breathing part of who we are today. The observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Conflict is a piece of history that should be remembered and acknowledged today. On Postcards season four, we will bring you a special episode on this war which many unfortunately do not know about. I’ll admit I was one who before researching the Dakota Conflict did not know this tragic, colossal event in Minnesota history even existed. I do not remember talking about it in Minnesota history class growing up, nor in college at the University of Minnesota, Morris, where I even took Native American studies courses and took part in the Circle of Nations Indian Association. Why is such a sad time in Minnesota history being forgotten? First, let me share some surprising facts about the Dakota Conflict I have discovered through my research and interviews with some important experts on the topic.
- In regards to the smaller population of Minnesota at the time of the 1862 Dakota Conflict, the amount of casualties today in proportion would be 15,000 men, women, and children killed.
- The battles took place largely along the Minnesota RiverValley and from beginning to end lasted only six weeks.
- The Dakota Conflict remains a mystery in history for many because of a larger war which nearly coincided with it at the time, the American Civil War.
- The end of the Dakota Conflict resulted in the largest mass hanging in United States History. 38 Dakota were hung at Mankato on December 16th, 1862.
- Following the conflict on March 3rd, 1863, President Lincoln signed a proclamation that forever removed all Dakota people from Minnesota. Although not enforced, this sadly still remains in place by law today.
There are numerous other surprising facts about the war. I encourage you to go online to the Minnesota Historical Society and see the extensive list of events going on throughout Minnesota this summer and fall in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Conflict. It has been an honor to learn about the conflict up close and personal at the actual sites of where many of these battles took place some 150 years ago. Let me share with you the journey I have taken in learning about this huge piece of Minnesota history.
On July 19th from Connie Henderson at the Hubbard County Historical Society, I received an account from a woman named Mrs. Vogtman in 1914 about her experience as an eyewitness to the Dakota Conflict. She gave her story orally in great detail to the Hubbard County Clipper, who then transcribed and published it in the paper. I had the great honor of receiving the scanned copy of this story via email. I could almost hear the typewriter furiously tapping away almost a hundred years ago as she recalled her story about witnessing the atrocities of the Dakota Conflict. I felt honored to hold such a special piece of history in my hands, and to talk to her great-grandson, Thomas Vogtman, now a historian at the HubbardCountyMuseum in Park Rapids, Minnesota, about her account. While visiting Park Rapids, we also got an opportunity to interview Minnesota Representative Dean Urdahl, who has written three books of historical fiction on the Dakota Conflict. Growing up in Litchfield, Minnesota, Dean comes from the Ness family, who settled in Minnesota from Norway. They formed NessChurch in Litchfield, the site where the first five settlers killed in the Dakota Conflict lie in rest today. From a young boy he has attended NessChurch with his family and been deeply interested in the history of the Dakota Conflict. We also got to hear his story given to members of the Hubbard County Historical Society following the interview, bringing the events of the war to life again. All in all it was a wonderful night in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and a great opportunity to learn about the Dakota Conflict.
The Postcards crew traveled to Montevideo, Minnesota on Thursday, August 2nd, to shoot the kick-off to the three day bike tour for the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Conflict. We talked to biking and history enthusiasts ready to pedal 150 miles in three days and experience historic sites along the path of the Dakota War. We heard from some great historians, like Curtis Dahlin, who we bought two books from on the Dakota Conflict. Then we followed the bikers to their first stop in GraniteFalls, where we saw a performance from young Dakota performers to wrap up the successful day.
Our travels in capturing the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Conflict brought us yesterday to rural Litchfield, Minnesota, where we spoke with local historian and President of Ness Church Preservation, David Lindberg about the monument remembering the first five settlers who were killed in the Dakota Conflict. Unexpectedly, we got to hear some of the very interesting and extensive history about the 1858 Ness Church as well. And we got a welcome surprise when Dean Urdahl showed up to take pictures of the site in preparation for the special healing ceremony to take place there this Sunday. We got a glimpse of downtown Litchfield with the historic GAR Hall and historic Opera House before heading out for the day with ideas for future Postcards episodes floating around in my head.
It seems like everywhere we travel to, there is another story waiting to be told and locals wanting to share the history of their town with us. We got to take part in some of the special cultural events going on in Minnesota this year for the 150th Anniversary of the Dakota Conflict and look forward to sharing this important piece of Minnesota history with you in the coming season. Our ears and eyes are always open to new ideas for Postcards, so please feel free to send us your suggestions. We hope that you enjoy and learn from our travels as much as we do.
By Andrea Singleton, Postcards producer