Editorials Speculate on Cause of Dakota War in Minnesota
While Northern readers were consumed by stories in their newspapers about the Civil War during the summer of 1862, they were startled to suddenly find accounts of an awful massacre of white settlers in Minnesota by enraged Indians that erupted on Aug. 17, 1862. During a fearsome six-week period settlers were relentlessly pursued and killed by roving bands of Eastern Sioux (Dakota) Indians driven to desperation by the government failing to honor treaties and deliver promised food, money and goods. Northern editorials assigned blame for the Indian uprising to one of two causes.
A popular belief was that the Dakota had been agitated by Confederate forces from Missouri in hopes of causing trouble for the Union. Some papers said the troublemakers were secessionist individuals from Missouri acting on their own, while others speculated the Confederacy itself played a direct role. Other papers provided a more sober analysis, noting that the Dakota were driven to their murderous rage because their people were starving—due to the greed and corruption of government officials that should have been providing annuities, food and supplies to the Indians.
The following seven newspaper editorials reflect these contrasting views on the cause of the Dakota War. The first three place the blame on government corruption and neglect, while the remaining four make the claim that Confederate agitators were behind the Dakota uprising.
This editorial was printed by the Crisis (Columbus, Ohio) on Aug. 27, 1862:
War News of the Week
The most distressing accounts come this week from Minnesota. The uprising of the Indians, without previous preparation, or knowledge of the inhabitants, is most surprising. There has been monstrous neglect in the matter by the Government Agents. They are the same Indians which gave us much trouble five years ago, while we were Governor of the (then) Territory. These Sioux are what are denominated “Annuity Indians,” and depend on the prompt pay of the Government annuities, a large portion of which is paid in gold and silver. They will not touch “paper money.” The annuity goods (blankets, &c.) they care but little about, but the money—the hard money—they must have promptly or a fuss follows. This, we learn, the Government has failed to pay them for the past nine months. This being known, the Agents and State authorities were very delinquent in not being prepared for this horrible [situation].
It is not necessary for the Republican papers to draw upon their imaginations to find “secesh instigators from Missouri” at work in the business. If the Indians are not promptly paid their annuities in gold or silver, there will be an uprising all along the frontier. Everybody acquainted with these tribes knows that such will be the result.
This editorial was printed by the Weekly Patriot and Union (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) on Aug. 28, 1862:
Indian Massacre in Minnesota
The recent shocking massacre of hundreds of the frontier settlers of Minnesota by a party of Sioux Indians who have been waiting for many weeks for their pay from Government, is attributed to different causes. Some attribute it to the influence of Confederate agents, others to rum, but the cause which seems most likely to have operated upon them is the unusual dilatoriness of Government in forwarding their money. After waiting six weeks they became greatly excited; a further delay of two or three weeks rendered them furious, and having nothing else on which to revenge themselves, they commenced an indiscriminate massacre of the innocent and defenseless inhabitants. We trust that, before this time, the massacre has been stopped and the murderers secured—but should it turn out that the remissness of the War Department in paying the Indians was the cause of the outrage, we know not what measure of public indignation and rebuke would be too great to pour out upon the guilty.
This editorial is based on two articles first printed by the Journal (St. Paul, Minnesota) on Aug. 28, 1862. It was printed by the Crisis (Columbus, Ohio) on Sept. 10, 1862:
The Indian War and the Causes of It
Had we not been so confident of what led to the horrible outbreak among the Indians of Minnesota, we should not have risked so prompt a contradiction of the twaddle of the Republican papers, about foreign influences from “secesh quarters.” We knew well that is was nothing but a blind thrown out to screen the miserable thieves—for they can be called no other name—who were striving to make money out of these unfortunate Indians.
The two following articles which we cut from the St. Paul Journal, fully sustain us in what we have said:
From the St. Paul Journal, Aug. 28th.
The Indian War
…The Chippewa agent, Walker, to whose bad conduct is attributed the rising of the Chippewas, committed suicide near Monticello, while insanely flying from the troubles he labored so hard to bring about.
While affairs look sufficiently gloomy, yet the utmost determination and energy is indicated by those in authority, to suppress the revolt, and exterminate the guilty parties. There will be no prisoners taken in this war!
The Responsibility of the Indian War
The present is not the proper time to enter upon any discussion of this subject. The temper and necessities of the people of the State demand that the Indian attack shall be first suppressed; the infernal murderers driven from the borders of the State; and the outrages they have committed so terribly avenged that they will not be repeated. But after this duty has been accomplished, no clamor on the part of the Indian officials in the State will prevent a searching investigation into the extent of their responsibility for the war. The general feeling among the well informed is, that had it not been for corruption at the North, and negligence and inefficiency at the West, we would have had no trouble with either the Sioux or Chippewas.
…The responsibility for the Sioux trouble can be easily investigated. The cause assigned for it is the delay in making the annual payment, and consequent suffering among the Indians, which induced the outbreak. Now, either Congress is responsible for this delay, in neglecting to appropriate moneys to pay the Indians—or the Federal officers are responsible for it, in withholding the money from the Indians, after it had been appropriated by Congress. This is the whole question; and we are free to say, that notwithstanding the diplomatic statements published to clear the Federal officers of all blame, our belief is that a rigid investigation will place a fearful responsibility on the officials of the Indian Department in this State and at Washington. The charitably disposed may possibly attribute their action to inefficiency and negligence, but others will seek an explanation in that “itching palm” which now rages with epidemic force in all departments of the public service.
This editorial was printed by the Press (St. Paul, Minnesota) on Aug. 26 and reprinted by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on Aug. 28, 1862:
It does not clearly appear what causes have operated to stir up the murderous spirit among the Minnesota Indians. Col. Sibley, who, at last accounts, was near St. Peters, calls for a full regiment to protect the beleaguered villagers. He thinks 4000 or 5000 warriors will have to be met, sooner or later. The St. Paul Press, of the 26th, has these remarks:
A careful consideration of the evidence accumulated so far forces the proof of the influence of white men at the bottom of the Indian massacres. For weeks past white men and Missourians have been among them.
The facts that remote tribes like the Yanktonians and Cutheads are moving in concert with the Sioux, and that a large force attacked a large artillery post like Fort Ridgley, which is an attack without precedent in Indian history, and that the Indians are butchering missionaries who have spent their lives among them, and who would in ordinary disturbances possess great influence over them, forces us to the conclusion that this outbreak is a part of a deliberately-concerted plan, its purpose being to distract and embarrass the general government by alarming it for the safety of the frontier and requiring the detention here of a large number of troops who might otherwise be differently used.
This editorial was printed by the Springfield Weekly Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts) on Aug. 30, 1862:
Indian Massacres in Minnesota
The Sioux Indians upon the western frontier of Minnesota, have risen in large bodies recently, and committed fearful depredations among the settlements between Fort Ripley and the southern boundary of the state. Probably not less than 800 of the settlers have been savagely butchered, and their homes and villages burned. Fort Ridgely has also been burned. The government forces in the vicinity are too weak to present any formidable opposition, although reinforcements are being sent forward. Many of the men murdered are missionaries who have spent a good share of their life in that desolate region. The secession traitors of Missouri are suspected to have urged on the Indians to these deeds of outrage and slaughter. There are also indications of Indian hostilities in the far West, doubtless instigated by Rebel emissaries. These atrocities make it necessary to visit condign and terrible punishment upon the savages, and the fiendish traitors who are responsible for these shocking massacres will meet with no mercy at the hands of loyal men. Nothing further is necessary to show the utter wickedness and malevolence of the Rebel leaders, and this revelation of it should nerve with new power the arm of every freeman who strikes a blow against the rebellion.
This editorial was printed by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on Sept. 1, 1862:
What details we have from Minnesota, only confirm the dreadful Massacre of the whites by the Indians. Reinforcements were going forward, but fighting was anticipated. The Indians had sent their women and children Northward, which looks like war on their part. It is rumored that Sterling Price, the Rebel General, is the instigator of these Indian outbreaks, and that the arms used by the savages have been furnished by him.
The next day, the Plain Dealer ran another editorial, once again asserting that Confederate forces (“Rebels”) were responsible for the Dakota War:
The Indian Troubles
The accounts from Minnesota only confirm what has heretofore been published. The Indians seem to have an idea that all the adult males in the Northern States are engaged in the war with the South, and only women and children remain. Therefore it is the time for them to rise and take possession of all the valley of the Mississippi. This Idea has been infused by Rebel instigators, and must result in a severe chastisement of the ignorant and deluded savages. Minnesota is sending forward troops and arms, and no doubt ere this, the Indians have been severely punished. The numbers already massacred and the amount of property destroyed is large. There will [be] much suffering grow[ing] out of it. While the Sioux seem to take the lead, it is believed that several other tribes are ready to join should success crown some of their first efforts. That white men are at the bottom there can be no doubt, and the white men Rebels.