Date of Award

Fall 12-14-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Clifford M. Kuhn

Second Advisor

Michael Elliott

Third Advisor

H. Robert Baker


The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 resulted in the deaths of more than 500 Minnesota settlers, the expulsion of the Dakota people from their homeland, and the largest mass execution in U.S. history. For more than a century, white Minnesotans declared themselves innocent victims of Indian brutality and actively remembered this war by erecting monuments, preserving historic landscapes, publishing first-person narratives, and hosting anniversary celebrations. However, as the centennial anniversary approached, new awareness for the sufferings of the Dakota both before and after the war prompted retellings of the traditional story that gave the status of victimhood to the Dakota as well as the white settlers. Despite these changes, the descendents of white settlers persisted in their version of events and resented the implication that the Dakota were justified in starting the war. In 1987, the governor of Minnesota declared “A Year of Reconciliation” to bring cultural awareness of the Dakota, acknowledge their sufferings, and reconcile the continued tense relationship between the state and the Dakota people. These efforts, while successful in now telling the Dakota side of the war at official historic institutions, did not achieve a reconciliation between native and non-native residents of the state. This study of the commemorative history of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 illustrates the impact this single event exhibited for the state of Minnesota and examines the continued tense relations between its native and non-native inhabitants.


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