Reading Through Dakota Eyes

This post introduces a series on the book, Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Dakota War of 1862, edited by Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 1988.

In the 21st century, it is axiomatic to consider the Dakota point of view on this war increasingly owned by Dakota people as the “Dakota-U.S. War of 1862.” But that wasn’t true a quarter century ago. Back then, white men still held the corner on the history market, although they were beginning to feel defensive about the popularity of revisionist stories like Dee Brown’s 1983 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

By the 1980’s, Dakota people had been telling their 1862 stories for over a century. But outside the Dakota community, those stories that had been recorded were almost unknown, originally published in ephemeral places like newspapers and magazines where they were  encountered only by the hardiest of archival scholars.

Through Dakota Eyes (TDE) changed the contours of the Dakota War research landscape by collecting the written Dakota stories that Woolworth and Anderson had identified by the mid-1980s, and by making them accessible in a book, the form at that time most valued by non-Native historians.

TDE remains a standard work on the subject of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862. My goal in this series is to stand in the generation gap, reaching one hand back toward the college student I was the year this seminal work went to press, and one hand forward to help interpret the book for modern consumers of history. With his permission, this series will includes an interview I conducted with Alan R. Woolworth on the development of Through Dakota Eyes, a list of recorded Dakota primary sources that have come to light since 1988, and several discussions about using Through Dakota Eyes in the 21st century.


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