LaBatte discusses accuracy of historical accounts of U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

NEW ULM – A descendant of great-grandparents involved in all sides of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 detailed how accurate and inaccurate accounts of the conflict and issues that led to it are Thursday at the New Ulm Public Library.

John LaBatte, part White, part Dakota, has spent much of the last two decades reading more than 200 sources about the war and issues he found in many places. Eight months ago, he began a WordPress blog site –

“We all make mistakes, but history must be as accurate, balanced and respectful as possible. Too often, that is ignored due to someone’s personal agenda,” LaBatte said. “I’ve written letters to individuals and institutions. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.”

LaBatte said most Dakota didn’t want to go to war and didn’t, but some were forced into it. He said a number of settlers were friendly to the Dakota too.

“There aren’t many accounts of it, but some German immigrants shared food with the Dakota,” LaBatte said. “The causes of the war were more complicated than just broken treaty promises and hunger.”

He said the Dakota attacked New Ulm in August 1862 because they thought it would be easier to take than Fort Ridgely. He agreed with William Folwell’s “History of Minnesota” book that called the defense of New Ulm with makeshift barricades “an heroic defense” against Indians that outnumbered defenders nearly three to one.

LaBatte said history accounts often ignore the brutality of traditaional Dakota warriors in their treatment of defenseless settlers. He said Dakota fought and killed members of other tribes on their way to southern Minnesota from the Lake Mille Lacs area, long before the 1800s.

LaBatte agreed with retired Ramsey County Prosecuting Attorney Walt Bachmann’s book on the Dakota trials and hangings in that there was enough evidence against most of the Dakota to convict them in a court today.

LaBatte said Dakota warriors took 285 white and mixed-blood hostages, with the idea of using them as human shields in case the U.S. Army attacked them. Peace-loving Dakota led by Wahpeton leader and Christian farmer Little Paul helped convince warriors to release the hostages, he said.

While it is often reported that the U.S. government offered bounties for Dakota scalps, LaBatte said Chief Little Crow’s soldiers lodge offered bounties for the scalps of Henry Sibley, Joseph R. Brown, Nathan Myrick and others.

“Myself and my families were paid in the 1970s for land taken by the U.S. government (more than a century earlier), but nobody wants you to know that,” LaBatte said.


U.S.-Dakota War Commemoration events sponsored by the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS), Junior Pioneers of New Ulm and Vicinity, New Ulm Battery, New Ulm Public Library and the Wanda Gag House Association continue Monday with author Lois Glewwe at a brown bag lunch at the BCHS Annex. At 6 p.m. Monday, the movie “Dakota 38” will be screened at the Martin Luther College Auditorium. It will be shown at 7 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 18 at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter.

For more information, visit

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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