The Dakota War Goes Digital

Every golden moment in my research career is tied to the feel of old paper beneath my fingertips. So I will be the last one to counsel researchers to settle for sources available on the Internet!

At the same time, having done almost all of my research the time-intensive way –making trips to research libraries –I welcome the digital age: images of manuscripts and other original documents available on the web.

The Sources tab on the navigation bar at the top of this page captures documentary sources (most of which I have consulted in their original form) that now are available digitized on the Internet.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Dakota Conflict of 1862 Manuscript Collections — familiarly known in research circles as M582 –is the grand-daddy among the research links I’ve added so far. Not because it is authoritative. But because it is HUGE. And because it is composed of unpublished manuscripts.

The MHS Library catalog entry (linked above) says: “This compilation comprises a variety of small collections of letters, reminiscences, reports, diaries, and related materials dealing with Minnesota’s Dakota Conflict and related activities of 1862-1865. They primarily detail the personal experiences of both white and Indian participants or witnesses, including raids and killings, construction of fortifications, hostages’ experiences, the execution at Mankato of 38 Dakota, and the subsequent Sibley and Sully punitive expeditions into western Minnesota and Dakota Territory. A few items offer insight into the background and causes of the conflict…. These items were received separately or removed from groups of unrelated materials. Additional Dakota Conflict manuscripts that are intrinsically related to collections of personal or family papers remain with those papers and are not included here.”

Within M582, “Collections are arranged alphabetically by the name of the participant about whom they contain information, who may or may not be the author of the materials.” While this systems makes microfilm users dependent upon the indexing sense of those who cataloged the collection, digitization makes the collection even more accessible because it is now digitally searchable.

On the pull-down Sources menu, select MHS 1862 Manuscripts and use the digitized Catalog  to search for manuscripts of interest. Note the roll number for each item, then follow the links on the MHS 1862 Manuscripts page to the corresponding digitization.

A user note: Although the digital roll images are available from MHS as PDFs you can browse directly on your computer, the files are so large that loading and navigating are slow. The version hosted on is easier to use.

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