State to commemorate US-Dakota War's 150th anniversary

Minnesota is marking the 150th anniversary of the bloody U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

One of the main figures in that conflict was Minnesota's first territorial governor Alexander Ramsey.

Ramsey was born in 1815 in Hummelstown, Penn. After earning a law degree, Ramsey served Pennsylvania for two terms as a Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was rewarded for his political efforts in 1848 with the governorship of the recently organized Minnesota territory.

Annette Atkins, who teaches history at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, said Ramsey was among the first Minnesota politicians who came from a political background, rather than a fur-trading background.

Indians didn't fit into the civilized world as Ramsey understood it, Atkins told Cathy Wurzer of Morning Edition.

"When he is sent out here in 1851 as the territorial governor, he is also in charge of Indian affairs," Atkins said. "I'd have to say, he knows nothing about the Indians when he comes."

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Ramsey was instrumental in negotiating some major treaties with the Eastern Dakota people, including the Treaty of Mendota and the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.

"He helps swindle the Indians out of many of the proceeds that they just have negotiated for in these treaties," Atkins said. "And I think that Ramsey couldn't have been happier to do the tricking, because that tricking was going to pay off in huge benefits, not only to Ramsey, but to a lot of Ramsey's friends."

Discontent brewed by those treaties set the foundation for the Dakota War of 1862, which would break out when Ramsey was governor. During that conflict, hundreds of settlers were murdered.

Ramsey tapped Minnesota's first governor, Henry Sibley, to lead soldiers against the Dakota. Towards the end of the war, Ramsey famously declared "the Sioux [Dakota] Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state."

The war concluded with the execution of 38 Dakota men at a camp near Mankato. It was the largest mass execution in United States history. Following the war, the Dakota people were mostly exiled from the state.