Primary Sources on the Dakota War of 1862

The Back Story

Last year, I laid out a precursor to this blog. My idea was simple: in commemoration of this year, three or four times per week I would publish a transcription of a primary source commenting on 1862 as it unfolded at the Sioux Agency in Minnesota. (“Sioux Agency” was the period Federal designation, not a term of disrespect on my part.)

Those of you who know me well know that primary sources are my thing. I research them and I share them because I’m convinced that when we look back in fifty years, we will judge that advances we’ve made in our collective understanding of 1862 came via examining previously unknown sources.

That was the spirit in which I developed John and Mary Renville’s story, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity, in a new edition as my contribution to 2012: it is a primary source that opens doors to other primary sources on the story of the Dakota Peace Party in 1862. I hoped a primary source blog would open similar windows on other stories.

My idea hit a snag when it became clear from talking with Minnesota Historical Society staff that my transcriptions of holograph sources in their collections were not mine to share without an intensive process on their part looking into the donation history of each collection –which in some cases have been assembled from dozens of separate donations.

Having watched the Library staff dwindle since 2002, I wasn’t about to ask MHS to do that. So I erased the blog I’d never made public.

But here we are on the verge on the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War and new sources are missing from the conversation. It’s not unlike the MHS exhibit without Dakota objects: we can’t talk about what isn’t there.

So for the next few weeks, I want to give primary sources their rightful place center-stage here. My work-around is to offer you sources I’ve gathered from outside the MHS collections.


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