Looking Back at the War Against the Dakota People in Minnesota [AUDIO]

You may remember in 2015, when the Secret History Project floated on the Upper Mississippi River through Minnesota we talked to two members of the Prairie Island Indian Community, part of the Mdewakanton Sioux band (“people born of the water”), located just north of Red Wing.

We talked to Art Owens, also called White Horse Charges, a tribal elder and Vietnam veteran , who told us traditions of their tribe, Dakota creation stories, fishing in the summer and winter, and taking care of the river.


We also talked to Arthur Lockwood,  a young man who, unlike his contemporaries was learning the Dakota language and the history of his people.  We talked about tribal history going back 12 generations, lost stories of his elders, colonialism, his mixed heritage, Indian sovereignty, racism, and growing up on the river. Afterward he sang us an amazing song Dakota song.

I was reminded of these interviews recently, and how little I know when I heard a radio story about the U.S.-Dakota War.The conflict engulfed the very area in which I interviewed the Dakota men. I hadn’t asked Arthur or Art directly about the conflict, though we alluded to it when we talked about the Ft. Snelling Indian concentration camp, the Dakota Removal, and the Christmas Day mass hanging.

The recording is from John Biewen‘s podcast Scene on Radio and part of a series he’s doing called Seeing White. This, he says, is “a story about whiteness at work on another huge American task: justifying and glossing over the theft of other people’s land.” Part of this originally aired on This American Life in 2012.

Minnesota State Seal, 1858

Little War on the Prairie

Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally produced for This American Life, John goes back to Minnesota to explore what happened, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it afterwards.

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