Fort Snelling

A Closer Look

You can learn more about the history of Fort Snelling at the Fort Snelling Historic Site, Minnesota Historical Society.

Can you imagine life at Fort Snelling in 1862?

Following the Dakota War in August, 1862, all Indians, no matter what their role in the war, were held captive. They were initially imprisoned at the Redwood Agency, where trials were held and 303 Dakota were sentenced to death. On November 7, all those who were not condemned were ordered to march to Fort Snelling. Almost 2000 Indians and mixed-blood settlers were forced to march for six days to get to the Fort. Taopi was one of only 40 or 50 men on the march. In some places, settlers still angry about the war attacked the four-mile train of prisoners.

This is how one artist imagined the scene inside the Fort Snelling prison in 1863.
This is how one artist imagined the scene inside the Fort Snelling prison in 1863. Drawing by W.H. Childs. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Read the following accounts of this time. How are they alike? How are they different? What is the viewpoint of each person?

Gabriel Renville, a mixed blood Farmer Indian.
Good Star Woman, eight years old at the time of the war.
Harriet Bishop McConkey, Minnesota’s first schoolteacher.
Historian Mark Diedrich

 

Gabriel Renville, a mixed blood Farmer Indian raised as a Dakota, gave this account sometime before he died in 1892:

“The friendly Indians and their families, and the families of the prisoners, on their way to Fort Snelling, passed through Henderson, at which place the whites were very much angered and threw stones at the Indians, hitting some of them, and pulled the shawls and blankets off the women, and abused them much. But they finally got through the town without any one being killed... a fence was built on the south side of the fort and close to it. We all moved into the inclosure, but we were so crowded and confined that an epidemic broke out among us and children were dying day and night...”

(Through Dakota Eyes, p. 234)

Good Star Woman was eight years old at the time of the war. In the 1930s, she told Francis Densmore about that time. Densmore wrote down her story:

A child captive. This boy lived in the Fort Snelling camp in 1863. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

 

"At last the pitiful column of friendly Sioux reached Fort Snelling. A high fence was put around their camp, but settlers came and took their horses and oxen. They were provided with food. The soldiers drove a wagon among the tents and gave crackers to the children and bread to the older people. Measles broke out, and the Indians thought the disease was caused by the strange food. This was the first time they ever had the disease. All the children had measles and one of her sisters died. Sometimes 20 to 50 died in a day and were buried in a long trench, the old, large people underneath and the children on top. A Roman Catholic priest brought a box for each body and put them in the trench until spring, then he ‘buried them right.’”

(Through Dakota Eyes, p 264)

Harriet Bishop McConkey

Harriet was the first schoolteacher in Minnesota. She visited the encampment. She did not think it was fair that the government was spending money to house and feed the Indians when the widows and orphans of those killed during the war were getting no help from the government. She said the prison camp was “disgustingly filthy,” because “the streets were the receptacles of all the offal of the lodges, where barefooted women and children splashed around.”

(Diedrich, Old Betsey, p. 67)

Tepees of the imprisoned Dakota in the Fort Snelling enclosure, November, 1862. Tepees of the imprisoned Dakota in the Fort Snelling enclosure, November, 1862. Photo by Benjamin Franklin Upton. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society .

 

Historian Mark Diedrich:

“At Fort Snelling the Dakota were quartered in an immense picket fence. Their lodges were erected with streets, alleys, and a public square. Anti-Indian sentiment was so strong that soldiers paraded within and without the encampment to protect as much as guard them. Even so, one Dakota woman was killed by soldiers during a target practice. One newspaper evidently saw this as a homicide rather than an accident: ‘We doubt not but that there will be a great many such accidents if Abraham [Lincoln] don’t consent to let them swing.’ On December 2, 1862 a census was taken of the Dakota camp. Taopi’s band was numbered at 214 people.”

(Diedrich, Old Betsey, p. 67)

s

Alexander Faribault

Beaver
Buffalo
Children
Farming
Faribault's French House
Fur Trade
Making the Town Grow
Request
Site of the Bluffs
Trading Post
Translated

Mary Whipple

Bed Bugs
Divinity Students
Emma and Eva Havens
Emma Willard School
Eva's Death
Hastings to Faribault
Hawaiian Fever
Learning
Letters
Letter of August 25, 1862
Longed to Travel
Mary's Wedding
Muhlenberg
Pets
Sandwich Islands
Soap to Sausages
Some Clothing
Sound of Bells

Taopi

Baptism
Big Woods
Fort Snelling
Ginseng
Injuries
Map
Saving Others
When it Started

Henry Whipple

Back Home
Bad Teeth
Bashaw
Correspondence
East to School
Enmegahbowh
Frozen
Gull Lake
Loved to Fish
Six Children
Time of Crisis
Treatment of Indians
Underwear
Youngest Child


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