Tearing down Fort Snelling-Why it makes sense

What does Fort Snelling say when no one is speaking? The answer to this question is the reason for tearing down the fort. When this idea was first suggested several years ago, it caused the tearing of hair and rending of garments, even among those who never cared for the fort in the first place. When I first heard it myself, I did not embrace the idea. Now after careful thought, I suggest a gradual process of deconstruction, starting with the northwest or southwest walls, so that in the future a person arriving at the fort from the nearby visitor center will see a breach in this monolithic diamond. That would be a good start.

The truth is that many who have dealt with the history of the fort over the years may secretly embrace the idea of tearing down the fort for their own reasons. And if they did so, I believe they would be speaking out for more truthful history as well as for the moral truth that would be affirmed. What many people don’t seem to realize is that much of the fort is a reconstruction done in the 1960s and inspired by the Minnesota Centennial celebration in 1958. By the 1950s only a few portions of the original fort were left. Postcards from the early 20th century show the Round Tower, sitting in the midst of a grassy field, in an almost bucolic setting, with a streetcar line passing nearby. A few of the officer’s quarters had been turned into apartments. The hexagonal tower was still standing above the path down to the river.

Fort Snelling's Hexagonal Tower, as it looked in the early 1900s when much of Fort Snelling had disappeared around it.

Fort Snelling's Hexagonal Tower, as it looked in the early 1900s when much of Fort Snelling had disappeared around it.

In the late 1950s however highway construction and a new Fort Snelling bridge threatened what remained of Fort Snelling. This was in the midst of Minnesota’s Statehood Centennial. Citizens were motivated to help save the fort by building a tunnel underneath it instead of routing the highway through it. At the same time work began to excavate the fort site, to do extensive research into the history of the fort and to reconstruct it as it had existed shortly after it was built.

I know the research part of it from first hand. My mother, Helen White, did quite a bit of the first research on the fort at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s, when my father was working for the Department of Interior. One of my first research experiences was being taken, at the age of 12 or 13 and put to work looking through a register of correspondence from all the military surgeons around the country, searching for documents from Fort Snelling. I don’t remember what I found, but I have a strong memory of the rich odor of that leather-bound volume.

Though she participated in the historical research that led to the reconstruction of the fort my mother was never one to view history as contained only in the physical remains of the past. She knew that places were what people made of them and that their essence was in communities past and present. My mother recalled an argument with an archaeologist about the comparative importance of the information supplied by the documents and the archaeological record. He said: “If I can’t see it in the ground it didn’t happen.” She did not agree, because she knew that history was about people’s memories and the meanings they invest in places.

One of the major decisions made about the reconstruction of the fort, was to rebuild it to the period of the 1820s and to remove evidence of other eras that had become part of the place. For example, inside the ivy-covered walls of the Round Tower was an extensive WPA mural depicting the settlement of Minnesota, painted by Richard Haines, a prominent Iowa-born artist. While art such as this in post offices and public buildings has been preserved across the country, it was felt that its removal would contribute to reconstructing the fort as it had been shortly after it was built. The mural was destroyed. Photographs show it depicting Native and military history in fairly stereotypical ways but with all the energy of other public murals of that era.

I often wonder what it would have been like to see the mural, just as I wonder what it would be like today if the Fort Snelling of the 1900 were still there, with the Round Tower sitting in the midst of a green field. Sometimes ruins are preferable to elaborate reconstructions because when you visit them much is left to the imagination. The problem with Fort Snelling today is that there is too little room for imagination and memory. And there is very little room for the telling the history of Indian people and their place in Minnesota history.

In erecting this convincing historical reconstruction the Minnesota Historical Society, people who were my mother’s friends and colleagues, and some of whom later became my friends and colleagues, with all the best of intentions, succeeded in recreating a setting in which only one kind of history could be told, a military story. Though Indian people came to Fort Snelling, they seldom went in to the fort. Much of their interaction with whites took place at the Indian agency, which was located along the bluff to the west, mostly where the current massive highway intersection and the approach to the Mendota Bridge is located. Unfortunately the Centennial celebration of the 1950s did nothing to preserve the historical evidence of that aspect of Fort Snelling’s history.


A portion of the Richard Haines mural which once circled the inside of the Round Tower at Fort Snelling, showing a Dakota family traveling across a prairie. Minnesota Historical Society photo.

Recently I read through all of the journals of Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent who managed the  agency at Fort Snelling in the 1820s and 1830s. Taliaferro was on good terms with Dakota and Ojibwe leaders. Though he was certainly patronizing and manipulative, he treated them with respect as representatives of sovereign nations. His journal records extensive speeches by Indian leaders in which they dealt with the issues between themselves and the United States and with each other.

Taliaferro mentioned few occasions where Indians were allowed in Fort Snelling. On several occasions Indian people entered as prisoners, which of course was also the case with the chiefs Medicine Bottle and Shakopee who were held prisoner there until their hanging right outside the walls of the fort in 1864. In Taliaferro’s time there was a continuing discussion between agent  and the officers of the fort about whether Dakota or Ojibwe people should be allowed to enter the fort. Sometimes when they did they were given liquor by the soldiers. In other cases soldiers assaulted them. Both matters concerned Taliaferro a great deal and he was in favor of their never going in the fort at all, for their own protection.

From a historian’s point of view, the real problem with Fort Snelling is that it makes it very difficult to remember, to record, to tell a different kind of history, other than a military one. Certainly in the 1820s and 1830s, there was a lot else going on at Fort Snelling. There were the Indian people who outnumbered the whites. There were traders, missionaries, and settlers. But these people seldom ventured inside the fort. Their history in the area did not occur inside Fort Snelling. It occurred at the Indian agency, at Coldwater Spring, at Pike Island, at Pilot Knob, and in the nearby prairies and river valleys.

Efforts have been made over the years. Talented and thoughtful staff of the Minnesota Historical Society have sought to enlighten and make richer the history told at Fort Snelling. But the place itself always undermined their efforts. The proof of the impossibility of telling a different story at Fort Snelling comes from the checkered history of attempts by the Historical Society to make any permanent change in the interpretation at the fort. In the 1990s a decision was made to try to interpret a broader social history beyond the military history of the place, specifically the stories of what happened there in 1838, among a rich population of Native people, soldiers, settlers, missionaries, lumbermen, slaves such as Harriet and Dred Scott, interacting in the aftermath of the two 1837 treaties with the Dakota and Ojibwe.

In the 1997, the Historical Society’s Historic Sites Department hired two historians, my mother Helen White and I, to do a study to guide the change. We authored a report called “Fort Snelling in 1838: A Historical and Ethnographic Study.” The report had many flaws that I would try to correct if I were doing it today, but people at the Historical Society seemed happy with the result. Within a few years, however, those people had left and one remaining official told me: “There’s no support around here for switching to 1838.” A few years later I heard that the latest plan was to interpret all aspects of the history of the fort: the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Military history was obviously making a comeback as it always does at Fort Snelling. The last I heard, Fort Snelling was to be “the next big thing,” something I did not fully understand, and in any case, that was before the recession.

Inevitably the story of Historic Fort Snelling, that diamond-shaped monolith, is a military story. The fundamental fact about the fort–as reconstructed and as interpreted–is that it is a fortress and that for many years since its reopening, when you walked into the fort you went through a gate, and often there was an interpreter there, dressed as a soldier, guarding that gate. The reconstructed fort created a logic of its own. One could try to give a different message inside the fort, but what did the fort itself say when no one was speaking? What did the mere presence of the fort say? The message was a military message and it told the story of the colonial conquest of the 19th century.

This is precisely the point that Waziyatawin makes in her new book What Does Justice Look Like? The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland (Living Justice Press, St. Paul, Minnesota). She writes:

Fort Snelling still stands as this moniker of imperialism. In spite of its purpose and history, because it has marked the landscape for so long, many of us have come to accept it as a permanent feature. . . . In fact it has only been through the systematic and faithful efforts of White Minnesotans that the fort continues to be resuscitated. Human activities, fires, gravity, and Minnesota weather have jeopardized the fort on more than one occasion and Minnesotans have had to reinvest consciously in their icon of imperialism in order to save it.

Waziyatawin is also critical of one of the efforts made to transcend the colonial aspects of the history of the fort and reclaim it and the space it represents for Indian people. Several years ago Brenda Child, a professor at the University of Minnesota and a board member of the Minnesota Historical Society started an effort to “reclaim Fort Snelling,” for Native people by having a Dakota/Ojibwe language and culture institute at the fort, not in the diamond, but in an adjacent empty cavalry barracks. She was aided in this effort by a number of Dakota and other Native people, including some of her Dakota students, who interviewed Dakota and Ojibwe elders around the state in formulating the plans. The resulting proposal was criticized by Waziyatawin and others at a contentious public meeting at the University of Minnesota. Eventually the Historical Society, in a typical response, appears to have lost interest in the plan because of the controversy, not in judgment of the plan’s merits.

Among other criticisms, Waziyatawin stated that the plan “glosses over the genocidal role the fort played in 1862-63 and reaffirms the benign narrative also espoused by literature produced at Historic Fort Snelling.” Despite my basic agreement with Waziyatawin about the importance of recognizing the history of Dakota genocide at Fort Snelling, I disagree with some of her criticisms of the language-school plan. It seems to me that a language school might have been good for the Fort Snelling area, though perhaps not in an old cavalry barracks. In fact the idea of a language school and cultural center was proposed many years earlier by the Mendota Dakota Community, which has sought to play a conciliatory role in shaping what will happen to the area. Over the years Jim Anderson of the Mendota Dakota has spoken frequently of the need for the area around Fort Snelling, particularly Coldwater Spring, to be used as a place for people to come together. Anderson speaks of Fort Snelling as a place of Dakota genesis and of genocide, yet he calls for positive steps to repair the pain of Dakota history.

However, regardless of how one feels about the controversy involving the language school or any other of the controversies about Fort Snelling, the very fact of controversy demonstrates Waziyatawin’s point about the problematic nature of the fort and the need to address those areas which make it problematic. To begin with Dakota genocide and the full history of the fort and the surrounding community must be acknowledged and told.

The problem is that it is so hard to tell that story within the existing Historic Fort Snelling. Despite the best efforts of many the colonial story keeps reappearing. It is no accident that in May 2008, misguided Sesquicentennial commemorators maneuvered their covered wagons to Historic Fort Snelling (see the YouTube videos documenting this event). Something about Fort Snelling attracts colonial re-enactments. It is my understanding that this was not something the Historical Society encouraged, but did not feel it could actively discourage. When Waziyatawin, Jim Anderson and others, lay down in front of the wagon train, along the approach to the old fort, they provided much needed Dakota commentary.

In surprising ways the wagon-train arrival was a very successful interpretive event for a state institution that has sought Native involvement in its interpretation for many years in many ways. At a meeting with some other historians I asked what it was that possessed people to think of wagon trains when they thought of Minnesota statehood, since people seldom came to Minnesota in wagons; they came in steamboats. In response I was told: “You sound like you are saying that all historians should have been lying in front of the wagons.” In retrospect I think this is right; historians should have been there doing the same thing.

Telling the American Indian story has been a challenge everywhere in the Fort Snelling area. One of the best efforts has been done in Fort Snelling State Park, the location of the camp where Dakota people were concentrated during the winter of 1862-63. The story of that period is discussed with great sensitivity in an exhibit in the visitor center there and memorialized in a monument outside. Wisely the Department of Natural Resources has not tried to reconstruct the concentration camp and its surrounding stockade. Every year in the nearby woods the Mendota Dakota hold a ceremony in mid-winter to mark the suffering of the people in the camp. It is hard to imagine a ceremony like that within the walls of Historic Fort Snelling.

On the other hand, in other places within the checkerboard of government ownership in the Fort Snelling area, even in places where one might think a Native story could be told, the overriding military history of the fort takes hold. At Coldwater Spring, little has been done to interpret Native history. The area below the spring, along the stream that leads to the Mississippi is managed by the Minnesota Historical Society. Occasional tours have been given by Historical Society staff and the place is mentioned by tour guides at the old fort, but little has been done to maintain or interpret the area.

Markers for the 38 Dakota hanged in 1862, at Fort Snelling State Park, near the location of the concentration camp.

Markers for the 38 Dakota hanged in 1862, at Fort Snelling State Park, near the location of the concentration camp. Photo taken by Bruce White in January 2009 and the time of the annual Mendota Dakota ceremony honoring those who survived the camp and those who died while there.

As for the Bureau of Mines property, the location of the place where Coldwater Spring comes out of the ground there, it has been a real struggle to achieve recognition of the American Indian connections to this place. Several years ago, when the Park Service addressed the idea that Coldwater Spring might be a place of traditional cultural importance to Dakota people, Park Service officials rejected the advice of a number of experts who had examined the evidence affirmed its importance to the Dakota. In writing to several Dakota communities MNRRA stated that it acknowledged that the spring had “significant contemporary cultural importance to many Indian people,” and in any case the spring was “already a contributing element to the Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark and the Fort Snelling National Register of Historic Places District.”

These remarkably condescending words suggested that although the federal government rejected the Dakota communities’ claim to the spring as a historical and cultural feature and in the process rejected the history and cultural traditions on which it is based, the Park Service would try to protect the spring because it is part of a site important for, among other things, its role in colonizing Minnesota and sending the Dakota into exile in 1863. The area’s place in Dakota history was not significant; its white history was. The irony of this juxtaposition was truly lost on the Park Service.

In many ways the message of the failure to get Coldwater Spring acknowledged as a traditional cultural property for the Dakota is that throughout the Fort Snelling area, the military history generally wins out. It is as though the walls of Historic Fort Snelling exist not only in physical form but in the minds of people. If nothing else at all happens these are the walls that need to be torn down. As Waziyatawin stated in her new book: “It is time we take down all the forts, literally and metaphorically.”


Tearing down Fort Snelling-Why it makes sense — 20 Comments

  1. A friend wrote me:
    Based on what he is saying here I wonder if it might not be might be best if Fort Snelling is just left deserted for a time until it ripens into something else. But what would happen to the Sibley House site across the river in Mendota?

  2. I hadn’t really thought that far when I wrote this. Now that the drastic budget cuts have been announced for the Historical Society, I wonder too if maybe Fort Snelling should be shut down for a couple of years until some future role for it is finally determined. This is something to think about.

  3. Bruce. It’s a provocative idea, and it’s presented clearly. It seems to me, with all the pressures we have, there are better landmarks and programs that deserve our investment, particularly in outstate areas. We should shut it down for 3 years, minimal maintenance, and really evaluate it’s true value. I know few people who use or visit it, and even less who care.

  4. I don’t think tearing everything down is the answer. Consider, for a moment, that Fort Snelling is one piece of the history of a larger area. Dark history needs to be taught along with that which we can be proud of, but that won’t happen if we wipe the area clean. A fuller history of the region needs to be told, however, the area’s management is too fragmented for that to happen. Coldwater Spring is claimed by the federal government, Minnehaha is claimed by(I believe) the City of Minneapolis, and two different state agencies manage Fort Snelling and Fort Snelling State Park.

  5. Once the fort is torn down we can all forget what ever happened there. Why retain any lessons from our mistakes of the past? We can forget who ever died here and we can forget who ever lived here – just go on like NOTHING ever happened – nothing ever mattered. Or preserve the stone walls to tell the tale as a permanent record for all to consider.

  6. Tear down Fort Snelling? You have got to be kidding. Whenever I’ve been there in the summer, there were lots of visitors and kids having a wonderful time absorbing history from something besides a book. When you are at the garrison, you take a little trip back in time. Certainly, the history of Fort Snelling is not politically correct at all by today’s standards. But there isn’t a single thing we can do to change the attitudes of the 19th Century. People are products of their own eras and the societies that formed them. Not everything connected to Fort Snelling was bloody or bad. For example, one Indian Agent, Maj. Lawrence Taliaferro, was well-regarded by the local tribes for the fairness of his nature and to what extent his word was his bond. The various army surgeons stationed at the fort treated sick natives as well as the whites. Also, if you are Catholic, you might want to know that one such army doctor saved the life of the first priest of the area, Father Lucien Galtier. One of the reasons the garrison existed was to keep peace between those ancient enemies, the Sioux and the Chippewas, and a lot more blood would have been spilled between the two were they not aware that the infantry would intervene in their battles. Nor was the fort personnel responsible for the disastrous events spurring the Sioux Uprising of 1862. The only local person at whom a finger could possibly be pointed was the Indian Agent at the time, but the responsibility for breaking the treaties with the Indians and not paying them what they were owed for their lands lies with the US Government, based far away from Fort Snelling. However, once the Indians captured white prisoners, the Minnesota militia had no choice but to try to free them–and a battle took place. The Sioux subsequently hung at Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862 really were guilty of murder and rape of the whites because President Lincoln personally reviewed all the files of the imprisoned Sioux and pardoned all but 38. Sorry, but those whites taken prisoner by the Indians had nothing to do with the Government’s unreasonable stance regarding the treaties. So the Sioux also had innocent blood on their hands, too. It’s all history and, as I said, cannot be altered. But tearing down a wonderful reconstruction of Minnesota’s past like Fort Snelling would be a desecration in itself.

  7. Marianne, sometimes “political correctness” consists in the continuing assertion of something as being true, even when many would dispute it. Your comment includes a great deal of assertions, which despite corresponding to what is in some history books, are not universally accepted by historians today. They may be “politically correct” but that does not mean they are true. For example, the process through which Dakota people were convicted and punished was a sordid process. The blanket assertion that they were guilty does not provide an answer to the just criticisms about the ludicrously unjust trials through which they were convicted.

    The blanket assertion about the “Sioux and Chippewas” being “ancient enemies” does not seem to include an understanding of the ancient alliances between the Dakota and Ojibwe, or that many Ojibwe and Dakota are actually descended from some of the same people. In many cases the presence of whites in the Minnesota helped cause aggression between the Dakota and Ojibwe.

    How much of the true history of Fort Snelling is actually taught at Fort Snelling? Do interpreters mention that Lawrence Taliaferro did not want Dakota women to come to the Fort because they might be subject to sexual assault by soldiers? Perhaps it is not politically correct to interpret this at Fort Snelling.

    There is a lot more I could say about the real meaning of political correctness and history. These are just a few examples, exemplified by your comments.

  8. I *am* a historian of Minnesota’s past and my assertions are not from history books but from first-hand accounts, of which many survive. I do know of examples of Indian women coming to the fort and they were sexually assaulted by nobody. In fact, not a single woman was ever assaulted within the environs of the garrison, even though ladies who lived nearby came there regularly for the balls and other entertainments.

    As to 1862, while 392 Sioux warriors were sentenced to death in Minnesota for criminal offenses, only 38 were executed. As I said before, President Lincoln, who had spent most of his adult life as a lawyer and surely knew a little about justice, pardoned most of those connected to the uprising. What better review of the case would you have liked? The Dakota and Ojibway not being enemies? Don’t make me laugh because the bad blood between these nations is well documented and to say the presence of whites “helped cause it” is not so except in that whites introduced the Indians to alcohol, which does nothing to make men act more peacefully. It seems to me, sir, that you resent the presence of Fort Snelling and perhaps even any white persons settling in Minnesota. It happened! It can’t be undone now.

  9. Conventional wisdom might agree with you, but conventional wisdom is often lazy and ignores contradictory information. Each of your statements can be contradicted, but would require a separate conversation, which we can have later. For starters the danger to women at Fort Snelling came from the garrison itself. Here’s one example–and not an isolated one–from the journal of Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro:

    Saturday January 5th [1828] The Soldiers of the 5th Still quite troublesome to the Indians encamped near the Agency-House. Russick of F Cpy. is much complained of he having endeavored to force two or three different women who felt—disposed to resist his embraces.—The Indians have declared that unless this man ceases to interfere with their wives & daughters that they will be compelled to Kill Russick in Self defence.—

    Here’s another example:

    Sunday 19th [1826] The Petit Corbeau — and part of his Band paid a Visit this day The Chief is about to have a medicine dance — and has invited me down to See him. He is about throwing off his mourning for the loss of his wife last fall Summer. He reported that three of his Bark Houses had been burnt last fall also — that the Soldiers who attend the Cattle near his Vil[l]age — a day or two since — while his women were in Search of their Corn — abused them very much— and one of the Soldiers shot at one of the women and lodged two Shot in her breast, — also objected to the Soldiers remain[in]g where they were — as they were cut[t]ing down and hacking the Trees from which they usually obtain Bark for His houses.

    As for the statement that I somehow resent the presence of Fort Snelling, and white persons settling in Minnesota, that seems like a fairly odd thing to say in a conversation about historical evidence. As someone who has worked on treaty-rights cases I am in favor of justice, even at this late date, but either the evidence is there or not. My alleged motives have nothing to do with it.

  10. But none of it happened within the environs of Fort Snelling, so I am still not contradicted. What soldiers did, drunk or sober, was no worse than anything perpetrated by Indian men, drunk or sober, who went so far as to kill and scalp children. And what about the poor white girl who merely went for a walk and was set upon and murdered by two native men and a woman not far from the fort? The situation was not one-sided, so I don’t see your point unless you want to insist that the settlers had no right to be where they were and the fort was not needed for their protection. The Indians sold their land for cash! That they were not properly compensated is the criminal thing. But to point out what renegades did, whites and Indians, avails nothing.

    • That is a lot packed into your response. Let’s deal with each assertion in turn.

      But none of it happened within the environs of Fort Snelling, so I am still not contradicted.

      Actually, the “agency house,” where the Dakota people were camped, was within a few hundred feet of the fort. But the actions of the garrison from Fort Snelling within a few miles of the fort also seem relevant. Little Crow’s village, Kaposia, was located within present-day St. Paul, and was certainly within the boundaries of the reservation negotiated by Pike in 1805.

      What soldiers did, drunk or sober, was no worse than anything perpetrated by Indian men, drunk or sober, who went so far as to kill and scalp children.

      Is this a reference to something that happened in the 1830s around Fort Snelling, or 1862 or are you talking about 1762 or 1662, somewhere else? Who are the “Indian men” you mention? If you are referring to 1862, do you want to establish equivalence between happened in peacetime when some soldiers at Fort Snelling were assaulting Dakota women in the environs of Fort Snelling and what may have happened thirty years later? Are you justifying something that happened in 1832, with what happened thirty years later? Do the later incidents somehow justify the earlier? As for the behavior of soldiers at Fort Snelling toward Native women, Taliaferro certainly felt burdened by it, because it did damage to his own efforts to establish good relationships with Dakota people. I do not think that he would have seen it as equivalent to anything that a Native person did.

      And what about the poor white girl who merely went for a walk and was set upon and murdered by two native men and a woman not far from the fort?

      Which “poor white girl”? Historical details, please?

      The situation was not one-sided, so I don’t see your point unless you want to insist that the settlers had no right to be where they were and the fort was not needed for their protection. It was not built for that purpose and never had that role.

      I agree, Fort Snelling was not there to protect settlers, as you say. And it was not needed for that purpose. But which settlers had no right to be where? Are you referring to settlers who may have encroached on the Dakota reservation on the upper Minnesota River in the 1850s?

      The Indians sold their land for cash! That they were not properly compensated is the criminal thing.

      Well, we can agree on that, too. Some Indians did sell their land for cash and some were not actually paid and some were not paid adequately. And that was criminal on the part of the people who engineered such transactions. What’s more it seems to me that these facts do have some relevance to interpreting the behavior of some Indian people.

      But to point out what renegades did, whites and Indians, avails nothing.

      I will agree about that also. The behavior of any small group of people should not be used to represent an entire people, whites, Indian people, or Dakota people, in particular. The wholesale punishment of an entire people by their exile from Minnesota in 1863 was a shameful episode in Minnesota’s history as a state.

  11. I am not justifying anything. Is there supposed to be some time-limit on wrong-doing where the natives vis a vis the whites were concerned? And I did not say Fort Snelling did not have the capacity of protecting settlers, although that wasn’t its purpose when built. I would like some details from you about this alledged “abuse” of Indian women by the soldiers of the garrison. When, what, and how.

    Also, your contention that there was no feuding among the Dakota and Ojibway is either from ignorance of the facts or willful refusal to acknowledge. In 1826 200 or 3oo Ojibway came to Fort Snelling and made camp near Pickerel Lake. The Dakota soon came and attacked them, killing a number of women and children who could not escape. At this time the fort was pretty new. The same season there was supposed to be a peace parley between the two nations, but some Dakota fired into the wigwams of the Ojibway, killing several persons. Colonel Snelling made the Dakota hand over the guilty men to be punished by the Ojibway. And things like this went on year after year. There weren’t any settlers involved yet because they hadn’t arrived yet.

    In 1837, around twenty chiefs and braves of the two nations went to Washington to make a treaty and give up their lands east of the Mississippi for cash. That isn’t just a “few” Indians because all were represented by their chiefs at the time. Fast forward to 1839. Another serious skirmish between the two tribes. 1842–a battle involving same. Little Crow or Petit Corbeau led the Dakota. By now there were white settlers. A Frenchman named Francois Gammel had married a Sioux woman and was living not far from the fort. Visiting the couple were a Dakota named Rattler and his two wives. All were hoeing corn except Rattler and one of his wives who was sick and inside the Gammel cabin. The Ojibway showed up and shot Mrs. Gammel and the other wife of Rattler in the field. Mrs. Gammel was scalped while dying in her husband’s arms. The little boy of Rattler had his head cut off, but Gammel’s little boy and Rattler’s daughter escaped harm. You can make a lot of claims here how everything was the fault of the whites because you don’t have anyone who knows Minnesota history well enough to contradict you. My guess is I will soon be banned.

    The white girl who was murdered by three Indians was named Helen White and this happened in 1872. And what about the Jewett family near Mankato in 1865? Don’t you know what happened to them? So I guess there must have been some Sioux and Chippewa left after 1863!

    • It seems only right that when one is engaged in a discussion that one should at least acknowledge the points made by others in the discussion. Otherwise why bother having a discussion at all? For example, I presented two examples of the abuse by soldiers of Dakota women. In response you state: “I would like some details from you about this alleged ‘abuse’ of Indian women by the soldiers of the garrison. When, what, and how.” I suggest you go back and read what I wrote.

      Second I did not say that there was no fighting between the Dakota and Ojibwe. Instead I said that the presence of white aggravated it, especially beginning with the building of Fort Snelling. I also pointed out that there had been peace and intermarriage between Dakota and Ojibwe much earlier. There is, as I have pointed out, in my other writings, a clan of Ojibwe people who trace their lineage to marriages between Dakota men and Ojibwe women. Reconciling this fact with the claim that the Dakota and Ojibwe were ancient implacable enemies requires extensive research and understanding. No one has explained it in a satisfactory way. I do intend to write more about this in the future. But simply recounting various examples of Dakota and Ojibwe fighting in the 19th century after the arrival of whites does not really prove my point to be false.

      Finally what is the point in raising all these issues about killings such as that involving Helen McArthur from many years later, which have little to do with Fort Snelling? I though we were discussing the fort? If you want I suppose I could give you examples of the abuse of Ojibwe women at Fort Ripley in the 1860s, or we could talk about the Wounded Knee Massacre, or we could focus on all the various killings involving Native people and whites in Minnesota, but I feel as though you are simply piling up the bodies to try to distract from the issue raised in the article itself, about how difficult it is to tell a Dakota story inside the walls of Fort Snelling, especially if the focus of the fort’s interpretation is on a military history.

  12. I have to correct myself–the girl’s name was Helen MacArthur. I suppose I was too busy mulling over whether or not I should tell you about the Cook family, five persons murdered at around the same time and had a lapse in concentration. But you might as well learn about them, too. And if the local nations were not enemies and had a feeling of solidarity against the white settlers, why did the Ojibway not lift a finger to help the Dakota in their rebellion of 1862? My initial response to you was–it happened in another century. It can’t be undone now and there is no point getting rid of an historic site, Fort Snelling, on account of attitudes that once prevailed. Perhaps you should have taken my words into better account.

  13. I am acknowledging your points but, since you give Taliaferro as your source, I don’t see why you cannot quote him in full context. Is that too much to ask?

    Also, I have no idea who you are talking about when you say you know Sioux and Ojibway who married. Maybe it was a case of Romeo and Juliet in the midst of a feud> Again, you give no details. Yet it could happen.

    But I certainly would like to know why you think the presence of Fort Snelling caused the two nations to “suddenly” become enemies. Was it because each one jealously coveted Colonel Snelling’s red hair?

    I don’t see why you should be upset when I give examples of Indians harming whites when you initially expressed your outrage at some soldiers vis a vis some Sioux women. If you think that supplying examples of some native lack of respect for human life is just “distracting from the issue”, then you would perhaps only like one side of the story to be told?

    And what do you mean by “inside the walls of Fort Snelling”? I thought you said the molesting soldiers did their deed at Kaposia. That’s not “inside” the fort by any stretch of the imagination. The only bad things allegedly happening inside Fort Snelling were after the Dakota Uprising in 1862, when the place had actually ceased operation in 1858 but, yes, briefly became an internment camp following the short war with the Indians.

    Now here’s the salient point: Definitely, the Indians did not get the monies due them. A man called Bishop Henry Whipple made it his business to investigate what happened there. He spent several days examining the books of the Indian Bureau and commented sadly on the corruption and dishonesty. The natives had been cheated for certain, but the fact remains they went to war against those who had NOTHING to do with the wrongdoing and couldn’t have righted it in any way. That is to say the settlers in a territory of about 200 miles.

    No, I suppose the guides at Fort Snelling don’t mention the women and children interred there but they also don’t mention that on August 18, 1862 the Dakota attacked the Lower Sioux Agency surprising a forty-man relief party of United States Army troops from Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, killing nearly all of them.

    Next came attacks on Fort Ridgely and New Ulm. Resistance from settlers and soldiers prevented a complete Dakota victory but New Ulm was so badly burned that the settlers had to run for their lives. Those who could. The Dakota never took male prisoners, only women or children and—the things that happened to them were just as bad as anything that happened to the Indian women and children at the fort after the Dakota were defeated. Do you care about those innocent white people–or not?

    The head of the Minnesota militia, Sibley, asked Little Crow to hand over the prisoners and to talk with him, but the Dakota chied did not. In fact, he could not because then the atrocities committed against these women and children would become known. Well, they did become known , anyway, and that’s why the 38 Indians were hung at Mankato.

    This was a VERY bad time in Minnesota history and much wrongdoing was perpetrated all around. But that does not mean an historic site should be dismantled and forgotten. It’s the history of Minnesota and cannot be changed.

    I would like to be thankful that “we’ve come a long way, baby” in our attitudes from those of the 19th Century, but it’s difficult when certain people, for their own reasons, only want to acknowledge one side of the story in a negative and useless fashion. No, the people working at Fort Snelling today certainly do NOT bad-mouth the Indians. They just try to give people a little glimpse into everday life at the garrison. That’s about it.

    • The truest thing you have said is that you have no idea who I am talking about, or what, for that matter. If you believe that somehow additional context would change the meaning of the quotations from Taliaferro, then it is up to you to supply that additional context. I have presented you with the information and instead of responding to the specifics of that information, you want me to supply a context which you suspect would change its meaning, but which you are unwilling to find out for yourself.

      The answer to the criticism that you cannot tell a Native or Dakota story within the walls of Fort Snelling is not to say “What about 1862?” or “What about the Dakota fighting the Ojibwe?” or “What about Helen McArthur?” These may be great topics for discussion, but they don’t really get to the point of the article.

  14. Oh–I meant to tell you something about myself, but forgot. I am the mother and grand-mother of children descended from the nations, including the Potawatomi and tribes of Missouri. One of my daughters married a man who has as much native heritage as white. I am a neutral party by inclination.

  15. Hold on–whoa! I do not now have access to the diary of Taliaferro. I am just wondering, when you mention it, why you write it like this?

    “He reported that three of his Bark Houses had been burnt last fall also — that the Soldiers who attend the Cattle near his Vil[l]age — a day or two since — while his women were in Search of their Corn — abused them very much— and one of the Soldiers shot at one of the women and lodged two Shot in her breast, — also objected to the Soldiers remain[in]g where they were — as they were cut[t]ing down and hacking the Trees from which they usually obtain Bark for His houses.”

    Why all those dashes? Is something missing–what? Are you saying, when you write that “I don’t know what you’re talking about” or have said other “untrue” things that I am a liar and don’t know the history of Minnesota? That what I have written is untrue? As I am an author of a book about Minnesota history, that would be quite a libelous assertion! So I suggest you explain where I have written the “untruth”.

    • Let me make this perfectly clear and then I am going to leave this topic of conversation. No one here, least of all me, called you a liar (or made any comment about any books you have written). Any disagreements I have with people who comment on this site are disagreements about their opinions or the facts they present in discussions, nothing more or less.

      You said you did not know who I was talking about when I wrote about intermarriage between the Dakota and Ojibwe. I agreed that you did not appear to know about those marriages. That was the meaning of the statement. If you want to know more about these marriages one source is William Warren’s History of the Ojibway. As I stated before it is a topic that I intend to write about more in the future. If you disagree with my interpretations at that point I am sure you will let me know.

      Similary, about the quotations from Taliaferro’s journals: Taliaferro was very fond of the dash or other similar squiggles. You might even say it was his favorite form of punctuation. The journals can be viewed on microfilm at the history center. In the future, perhaps, I will reproduce one of the pages on this site.

      I will leave it at that.

  16. I agree with the other poster that said tearing down Fort Snelling is not the answer. It is a significant part of Minnesota history, no matter how dark that history may be. Taking away Fort Snelling would be contributing to the “sweeping under the rug” history of the Dakota. At least now the Fort has an Indian Agency and Dakota representative sharing the truth with visitors. There are very few historic sites in Minnesota where you can get the reality of the Dakota conflict explained through American Indian eyes the way you now can at Fort Snelling.

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