Column: Recalling another 1862 warWORTHINGTON — If you read newspapers or watch television or page through magazines, you know last year was the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — If you read newspapers or watch television or page through magazines, you know last year was the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
It was judged there was so much public interest in Anniversary 150 that focus has been extended to this year, the 150th anniversary of the second year of the Civil War. The cover of last month’s National Geographic magazine had a Union soldier’s photograph.
In southwest Minnesota, we ought to be giving close attention to the 150th anniversary of the Minnesota-Dakota war. Late summer, 1862. The Dakota war is the most frightening, most deadly, most historic event that has occurred in our region to this very day. But for the fact that the Civil War was raging, the Minnesota border war — in Murray County, along the shores of Lake Shetek — the Minnesota war would be made a big chapter in U.S. history.
Major sites from this war can still be seen. Ft. Ridgley. Lower Sioux Agency. The Birch Coulee battlefield.
You wonder why the neighbors have never come home to give you an excited report of seeing the old field stone warehouse at Lower Agency.
It reminds me of a steamy summer Sunday noon many years ago. My late sister-in-law, Nancy, still was rather new in the family circle. In later years she would never have permitted what came to be.
Someone said, “You know, we have never seen Fort Ridgley.” A response was, “We haven’t seen it, either.”
“Where is Fort Ridgley?” Nancy wondered. “Oh — it’s not far. Near Redwood Falls. The Trojans play Redwood teams, you know.”
Off we went, cross country in two cars. Nearly 100 miles. Everyone melting. No air conditioning. It took two hours.
The old, original commissary building and the tall memorial monument came in view. We stopped the cars on a gravel lot, and everyone got out. Nancy exclaimed in near unbelief, “THIS is IT?” She probably had a mental image of something akin to Ft. Snelling, if not the Alamo.
Well — this is why the neighbors never have come home with an excited report that they just saw a Dakota War battlefield. It ain’t that big a thing.
Not many people buy Ft. Ridgley postcards to send to relatives.
Lower Agency is more interesting. Besides the landmark warehouse there is St. Cornelia’s Episcopal church, a historic cemetery with graves of some of Gen. Custer’s scouts, a trading post — and it’s only a short drive to Grand Junction Casino, where the food is very good.
Better, by far, just to read stories of the war between the Minnesota Indians and the Minnesota troops. The Lake Shetek settlers. Lavina Eastlick. The Koch family. Slaughter Slough. Bloody Lake. (a drive of only 30 miles.)
The Dakota war is portrayed typically as an Indian defeat. The Sioux people were driven from Minnesota and 38 Sioux soldiers were hanged at Mankato by Stephen Miller — Gov. Miller, whose grave is in the Worthington cemetery.
In a point of fact, it can be argued that, although their fate was tragic, the Dakota people who lived and fought on our stretch of the American prairie scored the biggest victory of any of the North American tribes.
The westward press of white settlers seemed to be a force which could not be discouraged or stopped. Whites fought and defeated Indians from Massachusetts to Ohio to Illinois to Iowa. But — remember this on this 150th anniversary: The war came in 1862. Worthington was not founded until 1872, Adrian in 1876, Fulda in 1881, Slayton in 1887.
The native people of southwest Minnesota stopped that irresistible press of settlers in their tracks and kept white people from advancing in all but token numbers for a decade. For 10 years there was almost no living human south and west of Mankato.
Nazi Germany kept a heel on France for fewer than five years in World War II and this is counted a major German victory.
Well — the Sioux kept white pioneers at bay for 10 years. This is a greater victory than was scored by any other Indian people in all North American history.
We are talking about the ground we have our feet on right now. Pretty historic place.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.