The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will host the traveling exhibition, “Commemorating Controversy: The Dakota–U.S. War of 1862” from January 14, 2015, through December 29, 2015. Twelve panels explore the war’s causes, voices, events and long-lasting consequences.
In the late summer of 1862, a war raged across southern Minnesota between Dakota akicita (warriors), U.S. military and immigrant settlers. In the end, hundreds were dead, and thousands more would lose their homes forever. The day after Christmas 1862, 38 Dakota men were hung in Mankato by order of President Abraham Lincoln. It remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The bloodshed of 1862 and its aftermath left deep wounds that have yet to heal. For the Dakota people, what happened more than 150 years ago continues to matter today.
“The stories in these panels reveal the history of the Dakota people in their traditional homelands and with the advance of the fur trade and access to valuable land, the economics changed and the treaties that were signed forced them to reservations,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum. “Starvation and the desire to preserve their traditional way of life ultimately led to the initial attacks on nearby settlements and towns.”
Collection of the Minnesota Historical Society
The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, July 1851, oil on canvas, ca.1881–ca.1885, painting by Frank Blackwell Mayer 1827–1899).
“Commemorating Controversy” has traveled to more than 30 venues during the past two years, including museums, public libraries, private colleges, county historical societies, tribal gatherings and art centers. The exhibition has been on display at President Lincoln’s Cottage, the Legacy of Survival Event on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation, Fort Snelling National Historic Landmark, Macalester College, and more. The exhibition will travel to the Dakota County Historical Society in South St. Paul, Minnesota after it leaves the museum.
The exhibition was created through a Minnesota partnership between Nicollet County Historical Society and Gustavus Adolphus College, funded in part by the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
For more information, visit AmericanIndian.si.edu. To join the conversation, follow the museum’s Twitter feed, @SmithsonianNMAI, and use the hashtag #DakotaWar.