Author calls U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 ‘significant’

FORT RIDGELY STATE PARK – A Roseville author and retired Minnesota Highway Department traffic analyst talked about the historical significance of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 in the Fort Ridgely State Park Commissary Building Saturday.

“It was the most historically significant event in state history, considering the number of people who died in the U.S. between 1776 and 1862,” said Curtis Dahlin, who has written a number of books about the war.

“To put it in perspective, 650 civilians dying in a month-long war back then is equal to 15,000 dying today. It’s a subject many people know little or nothing about,” Dahlin added. “I find it a fascinating subject. About 650 settlers, most of which were unarmed, died in the 1862 Sioux Uprising. There were 265 killed on the first day – Aug. 18, 1862, compared to 615 Minnesota soldiers killed in the Civil War.”

Dahlin called the Uprising a clash of cultures. “The Dakota traditional way of life was declining after they were put on reservations. Nobody likes being forced to change your way of life,” he said. “Treaty payments were late, just by a few hours – Some Dakota were starving and were refused credit to buy anything to eat or given any of the food stored at the Lower Sioux Reservation.”

Dahlin said timing had a lot to do with the defense at Fort Ridgely.

Had the Dakota attacked Fort Ridgely on Aug. 18, 1862, they probably would have taken it because there were very few soldiers or civilian defenders to protect it at that time, Dahlin said. “Soldiers and defenders repelled two Dakota attacks a few days later, thanks to their ability to fire cannons that kept the Dakota from overrunning the fort.”

Dahlin described the plight of one settler and her family in particular – Justina (Mrs. Frederick) Krueger whose husband and two children were killed and another child taken captive in a Dakota attack in Flora Township, Renville County (just north of Redwood Falls).

Justina Krueger and her children John, Minnie, Lizzie, Emilie, Caroline and Gottlieb escaped to Fort Ridgely, surviving two Dakota attacks. “Justina was hit in the back by buckshot in the first attack,” Dahlin said. “She was grazed by five bullets in the second attack and her blanket was full of bullet holes.”

Krueger later married widower John J. Meyer who lost his wife and family in Flora Township during the Uprising. The family settled near Le Sueur, then moved to Olmsted County and later to Hatton, Dakota Territory, near Grand Forks. N.D., according to accounts on www.dakotawarvictims1862.com

Krueger later wrote that all her surviving children reached adulthood.

“The survivability of settlers often depended on how far they lived from Fort Ridgely, which provided refuge for hundreds during the Uprising,” Dahlin said. “The deadliest battle was at Redwood Ferry where 24 soldiers of Company B of the 5th Minnesota Regiment died when Dakota ambushed them when they tried to cross the Minnesota River. No more than 15 Minnesota soldiers died in any Civil War battle and that was at Gettysburg.”

Dahlin said about 70 settlers were killed and others were captured by Dakota in Flora Township, which was about 30 miles from Fort Ridgely. He said about 400 of the 650 settlers that died were killed within three miles of the Minnesota River. He said more than 400 settlers were buried in unmarked graves.

“About 6,000 Dakota lived in Minnesota in 1862. Some of them helped the settlers or where not involved in the Uprising,” Dahlin said. “Everyone has their biases regarding the Uprising. Were the 38 Indians hung in Mankato freedom fighters or murderers? When people kill unarmed people, it’s murder. Back then, there was frontier justice, no court system like we have today.”

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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