Dakota War Captives at Camp Release

On September 26, 1862, Col. Henry H. Sibley (1811-1891) accepted the release of 269 captives held for six weeks during Minnesota’s U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The captives and their Dakota protectors had named the place Camp Lookout while they waited for Sibley to arrive.[i] Sibley re-christened it Camp Release. Today, the National Register-listed site is outside Montevideo, Chippewa County, Minnesota, on the Minnesota River opposite the mouth of the Chippewa River.

Sibley’s scribe on the 1862 expedition was missionary Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883). On October 11, 1862, Riggs wrote to his superior, Selah B. Treat, “…we came up to this point [Camp Release], which is ten miles below Lacquiparle, and here, from the camp of friendly Indians, we obtained the captives in their hands —to the amount of over one hundred whites, chiefly women and children, and one hundred and sixty-odd half-breeds. There are still a few [captives] in the hands of the Indians —some fifteen or twenty. The great part of these are way out in Dakota Territory.”[ii]

 Pages 3-9 of my report, Dakota War Captives at Camp Release, comprise data from three extant lists of captives at Camp Release compiled by Riggs. These lists are designated R, P, and NR in the last column of the table of captives in this report.

R         is a four-page holograph in the Stephen Riggs Family Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society titled, “A List of the White prisoners and Half Breeds delivered at Camp Release Oct. 1862.” A note by Riggs at the bottom of page four tallies: “In all — white persons 107; Half-Breeds 162 [total] 269.” This list names captives freed between September 26 and October 1, 1862. It also includes the names of two mixed-blood men who were subsequently tried for participation as Dakota insurgents during the war. The number following R/ in the last column of the table indicates the page number on which that individual appears. For example, R/2 is Riggs list page 2.[iii]

P          appeared in the Saint Paul Press October 3, 1862. The section was headed: “The following is a list of captives delivered up to Col. Sibley, at Camp Release, opposite the mouth of the Chippewa River on Friday September 26, 1862.” The editor summarized this list as containing: “91 whites and the rest half breeds —but the latter are not all embraced in this list [appearing in the newspaper]. Probably the number will be over 100 whites and 150 half-breeds.” This list includes a pre-war place of residence for some captives, a town name like Beaver Creek. P was reprinted in many regional newspapers.[iv]

NR      is “a list of captives delivered up to Col. Sibley, at Camp Release, opposite the mouth of the Chippewa on Friday September 26, 1862” located at the National Archives in Record Group 393. Like R, it appears to have been written by Stephen Riggs. NR is the most detailed list, containing the first names and ages of children as well as a place of residence for each captive. However, the holograph is so aged that the data is barely legible. Where names of children are provided in the table, they are typically derived from NR.[v]

The lists do not precisely accord with each other due to the order in which they were compiled. NR represents the earliest extant list, probably dating to Sept 26 or 27, 1862. It contains the names of captives whose primary ethnic identity was “white,” including some people of mixed descent whose lifestyle was probably indistinguishable from that of their neighbors living off the Sioux Reservation. The wrapper indicates that NR was directed by General Henry Sibley to his superior, General John Pope.

P is presumed to be based on a copy of NR, although either Riggs or the newspaper editor shortened the list by naming the only the head of household (typically, a mother) and substituting “…and [X number] children” in place of the children’s names and ages given on NR. It is logical that Sibley and Riggs would have sent a copy to the state’s leading newspaper. Not only were families hoping to find missing loved ones among the liberated captives –the alternative being that they were presumed dead –Sibley had been castigated in the Minnesota press for how slowly he proceeded to Camp Release. Publishing the names of safely freed captives was a partial vindication of Sibley’s campaign strategy.

R represents a final summary Riggs compiled in early October 1862 and preserved in the portion of Riggs Papers owned by the Minnesota Historical Society.

People Who Are Missing

The compiled list in this report does not capture the names of every person who may have been captive in 1862. More than 40 people reported having been held for a period of time (varying from several hours to several weeks) during the Dakota War, but were released or escaped before the majority of the captives were turned over on September 26, 1862. Three identified captives died in captivity. Sixteen more named people were held beyond October 1, 1862. Several were released within a few weeks; several more in the spring of 1863. One was not freed until 1866. A few children, last seen captive, never returned.[vi]

Other people of Dakota descent are missing from this compiled list because they were not officially recognized as ‘captives.’ For example, Cecilia Campbell Stay’s written accounts of her captivity mention that her baby sister Stella and her Uncle Hypolite (Paul) Campbell, his wife Yuratawin, and their children John and Theresa were also held captive.[vii] Similarly, George Crooks reported that he, his parents (John and Mary Crooks) and his brother (Julius Crooks) were held captive and freed by Sibley at Camp Release.[viii] Yet they were not listed as captives in1862.

In late 2011, I discovered a document which may be the missing census of Dakota people at Camp Release taken by Riggs on September 27, 1862. The list, in Riggs’s handwriting, tallies 143 men, 230 women and 308 children for a grand total of 681 Dakota people. I am still working on this list. From its context, the census appears to have been created between September 26 and October 27, 1862.


[i] For use of “Camp Lookout” in letters dated before September 26, 1862 at Camp Release,  Mary Butler Renville, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War edited by Carrie Reber Zeman and Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. (University of Nebraska Press, 2012)  p. 81-84, 182-188, 211-212.

[ii] S. R. Riggs to S.B. TreatCampRelease October 11, 1862. Northwest Missions Manuscripts and Index 1766-1926. The Minnesota Historical Society.

[iii] Stephen R. Riggs and Family Papers, Box 1. The Minnesota Historical Society.

[iv] The Saint Paul Press, October 3, 1862. Microfilm. The Minnesota Historical Society.

[v] Record Group 393, Part 1, Entry 3449. The National Archives.

[vi] Statistics drawn from my database of 1862 captives.

[vii] “Cecilia Campbell Stay’s Account” in Anderson, Gary Clayton and Alan Woolworth, eds. Through Dakota Eyes; narrative accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862. (St Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988)  p. 51-52.

[viii] “True Facts About the Outbreak Between the Sioux Indians and Pioneers in 1862 as told to me by George W. Crooks, 81-year Old Sioux Indian.” Unpublished manuscript by Crook’s granddaughter, 1937. The Brown County [Minnesota] Historical Society.

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2 Responses to Dakota War Captives at Camp Release

  1. Laura says:

    I am looking for information that may list my Dakota grandfather (several generations back) as one of the participants in the Dakota “Rebellion” (as it is referred to in family documents). You mention you “discovered a document which may be the missing census…of 681 Dakota people” and I was wondering if there is a way for me to check to see if my grandfather’s name is on those documents?

    • Carrie Zeman says:

      Laura, I’m happy to look him up. The census was created between late September and (I think) mid-October, 1862 and comparing people on the list (and not on the list) to their stories is helping me deduce a group identity for the census: Why are these particular Dakota people on it and why did Sibley record their names? I will email you so you have my direct contact info.

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