The Battle of Wood Lake
In the summer of 1862 the Dakota Indians were desperate and near starvation. Confined by treaties to a narrow strip of land on the south side of the Minnesota River, they waited for treaty money and food from the government and talked of war to regain their homeland.
One August 17th, a group of young Dakota men killed five settlers in Meeker County. Many Dakota felt that the die had now been cast; there was no alternative but to go to war. The next day the warring faction led by Little Crow attacked the Lower Sioux Indian Agency, and the war erupted over western Minnesota.
Settlers were killed or driven off their farms, but attacks on Fort Ridgely, led by Henry H. Sibley, who had been Minnesota’s first state governor. Here, at Lone Tree Lake (mistaken for Wood Lake, three and a half miles to the west). Sibley’s men fought a decisive battle against the Dakota on September 23, 1862. Three days later most of the Dakota surrendered. Little Crow and his most ardent followers escaped to the west and north.
White Minnesotan’s demanded revenge. A government tribunal sentence more than 300 Dakota to death. President Abraham Lincoln, at the urging of Episcopal bishop Henry B. Whipple, greatly reduced this number. Nevertheless, on December 26, 1862, 38 Dakota were hanged in Mankato, in what has been called the largest mass execution in the United States. Some 1,700 Dakota, most having not participated in the war, were confined at Fort Snelling. Many died over the winter the survivors were shipped to a reservation in what is now South Dakota.
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