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Book: "Retribution" by Dean Urdahl
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
January 3, 2010

Dean Urdahl 

In October 2007 Dean Urdahl introduced to the Annandale History Club his book, "Uprising," about the 1862 Dakota Conflict. "Retribution" is a sequel to "Uprising." Dean has already started on a third book, entitled "Pursuit." Dean Urdahl, State Representative from District 18B, which includes Annandale, taught American History for 35 years at New London-Spicer Middle School, retiring in 2006.

The 1862 Dakota Conflict or Sioux Uprising took place for six weeks August 17 to the end of September mainly along 40-50 miles either side of the Minnesota River. "Retribution" begins with an incident at Lake Shetek in southwestern Minnesota. There was an unexpected raid at Lake Shetek, a settlement of about 50 families. The Indians feigned friendliness and then attacked. Fifteen people were killed, some were wounded, and some escaped. Two women and eight children were taken captive and brought into the Dakotas.

Charger, a young Teton brave only 18 or 19 years old had a vision to free these captives. Charger and ten other young Tetons formed a Soldiers Lodge to find and rescue the captives. They were called "Fool Soldiers," and told they were fools to help the white people. These young braves negotiated with the captors and secured the release of the eight remaining Lake Shetek captives (two children had died in captivity).

More than 400 Indians thought to have harmed whites were arrested and faced trial. Dr. Stephen Riggs was appointed as "grand jury." It was his duty to question the Indians and compile a list of those to be punished. Of the 5,000 Upper and Lower Sioux Indians in Minnesota, 2,000 were left here. Several hundred warriors had fled, including Chiefs Shakopee, Medicine Bottle and Little Crow. In the trials, it came down to, "Were the Indians at Acton, Fort Ridgely or Birch Coulee?" If so, they were guilty. Many of the trials were less than five minutes with no defense attorney, no rights, and no witnesses on their behalf. Of the over 400 Indians arrested, 303 were sentenced to die.

The list of 303 names was presented to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln knew the sentiment of Governor Ramsey and the people of Minnesota. He understood that there would be riots and the 1,600 Dakota women, children and some older men being held at Fort Snelling would be harmed or driven from the state. Lincoln endeavored to determine the worst offenders, murderers and abusers. He also listened to the advice of Bishop Henry Whipple, the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota, who urged Lincoln to proceed with leniency. Lincoln understood the U.S. treaty violations, abuses of Indian agents and traders and the starvation that the Indians endured. Lincoln vowed that if he survived the war, he would reform the Indian system. Death sentences for 264 prisoners were commuted. A list of 39 Indians sentenced to die was handwritten by President Lincoln. He wrote the Indian names and the commission that tried them. The date set for hanging, December 2, 1862, was postponed because there was not enough rope in Mankato to hang all 39 at once. The death sentence was commuted for one more prisoner. 38 were hanged on December 26, 1862.

Mistakes were made. Some innocent people died. There were four Indians with names that sounded like Chaska. The Chaska that was hanged had protected and saved whites. Cut Nose died and probably deservedly.

The Indian Removal Act sent the remaining Indians into the Dakotas. Ordering troops to remove the remaining Dakota from Minnesota seemed to make sense in 1862, because many Indian men, women and children could have been killed by the white people, who demanded justice, revenge, and assurance of safety.

Events in "Retribution" are written as they actually happened. The author uses actual written testimony of the Indian trials. "Uprising" and "Retribution" are historical fiction because some fictional characters and dialogue are added by the author, such as the love interest between Lieutenant Jesse Buchanen and JoAnna Miller. Major characters in "Uprising" are minor characters in "Retribution."

"Uprising" and "Retribution" add to our understanding of a period Dean Urdahl described as "the darkest days in the history of Minnesota and our nation."

Notes by Annandale History Club Secretary