Column: A renewed focus on the Minnesota War of 1862That sect with a Mormon root which insists on polygamy has been giving Texas law enforcement officials pains — and — Texas law enforcement officials have been giving the polygamists pains. No harm in that exchange, I think. We must hope no enduring harm is done the 450 children caught in crossfire. In this year of Minnesota’s 150th anniversary, it seems fitting to note the land we occupy also was a land of polygamists in 150 years gone by.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — That sect with a Mormon root which insists on polygamy has been giving Texas law enforcement officials pains — and —
Texas law enforcement officials have been giving the polygamists pains.
No harm in that exchange, I think. We must hope no enduring harm is done the 450 children caught in crossfire.
In this year of Minnesota’s 150th anniversary, it seems fitting to note the land we occupy also was a land of polygamists in 150 years gone by. Like some of the men in Old Testament sagas, some men from the Santee Sioux bands which made southwest Minnesota their home claimed more than one wife.
Life pressed polygamy on the Santees. In nature, females outnumber males — thus there were more Santee women than Santee men in the tipi communities. In addition, Santee men, out often in dangerous weather and pursuing dangerous activities — hunting buffalo, serving as warriors — had their numbers reduced still more. Populations of tribes and bands diminished. It was reason, not religion, that insisted no woman should be left without a man. Children were precious to the people and everyone in a community joined in watching over youngsters.
Minnesota’s Sioux War exploded in the late summer of 1862. By the next year, all native residents were forced from Minnesota. The Santees were taken first to a desolate site in Dakota Territory and then to Niobrara, Neb., along the Missouri River, about 100 miles from Worthington.
Like Texans, U.S. Army officials insisted no Santee man could have more than one wife. Christian missionaries who worked among the Santees made the same demand. Resolutions shaped by Episcopalians were embraced by every denomination:
A man must be baptized but “he must first choose the one he takes for his wife.” Men, women and children grieved together as men made their awful choices. The women set aside were called “put aways.” Each Put Away was left alone to care for herself and her children. Children, who had lived as brothers and sisters, were sorted and separated.
That was the end of polygamy in southwest Minnesota.
This Minnesota anniversary year is renewing focus on the Minnesota War of 1862. Minnesota’s was the biggest war between native people and white settlers the nation had seen. At least 700 whites died in (about) 72 hours. It is thought the native people lost twice that number. In all, more than 2,000 lives lost. The Sioux War would be judged a major event in America’s settlement history to this day save that, from the beginning, it was overshadowed by the Civil War and neglected by historians.
Major battles and events swirled across our region, at Morton and Little Sioux Agency near Redwood Falls, along the Redwood River, at Lake Shetek and at Jackson, at Birch Coulee. Beyond this were the fierce battles at Fort Ridgely and New Ulm. Five years earlier there were the encounters at Arnolds Park and Spirit Lake and at Springfield (Jackson). Indian attackers camped along Indian Lake.
The question never answered from this war — the only war ever fought on the soil where we make our homes — is: Who won?
The pat answer is, “Well, the whites won, of course. The U.S. Army won.” This seems obvious. The native people — warriors and women and children — all were removed from Minnesota. Three hundred of the warriors were sentenced to death and 38 of them were hanged in one instant at Mankato.
(To everyone’s surprise, President Lincoln ordered all of the death sentences to be reviewed. Lincoln approved death only for the 38, the men who were judged guilty of actual “war crimes.” This became a precedent for the victors’ war crimes trials in Germany and Japan after World War II.)
On the other side of this coin: white settlers had pushed west with only marginal resistance for two centuries. Suddenly (1862) the Sioux people mounted a fierce resistance. White settlers were pushed from the western half of Minnesota and white settlement was ended for a decade, until the coming of the railroad in 1872.
In this light, the Sioux scored a major victory. The Minnesota War ranks with Red Cloud’s war along the Bozeman Trail and with the triumph of the plains people at the Little Bighorn.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.