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History of "Uprising: The Dakota Conflict of 1862"
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
Dean Urdahl, October 1, 2007

Dean Urdahl, author and State Representative for District 18B, has published his third book and first novel, "Uprising," about the 1862 Dakota Conflict.  He has had an interest in the conflict, also known as the Sioux Uprising, from childhood.  Dean's ancestors, the Ole Ness family (immigrants from Norway) were 1856 residents of Meeker County and lived through the uprising.  He has taught about the conflict for thirty-five years in the classroom and on school trips to Fort Ridgely.  Therefore, he didn't have to do a lot of research and knew where to find the information he needed.  Dean lives across Long Lake from the site of one of the battles, which took place September 3, 1862.  Dean wrote the book in his spare time in six months, and "Uprising" was published in June of 2007.  The book is selling well, and Dean said that there is some interest in making a movie of it.

A history teacher described "Uprising" as a history lesson disguised as a novel.  The events and battles are accurate and most of the names are real.  The dialogue is made up out of necessity.  Although its a novel, Dean tried to be as accurate as possible and to be fair in his treatment of both sides of the conflict.

The book submitted to his agent was 300 pages.  The agent suggested adding more description and intrigue, so 100 pages were added.  The addition of an Indian spy in the fort added intrigue. The hook in the novel is the idea that there could have been a Confederate officer sent north to incite the uprising to divert attention and possibly soldiers away from the Civil War.  There was mention of a Confederate officer in Little Crow's camp, although there is no proof of this.  Dean found some references in books including a 1904 book by Oscar Wall, who served at Fort Ridgely during the conflict.

The main characters are Nathan Thomas, the fictitious Confederate officer;  Emily West, an actual teacher at Fort Ridgely, who is recorded in history as having been captured after the attack on the Lower Sioux Agency;  and Solomon Foot, most accurately described as the Daniel Boone of Kandiyohi County.  There is quite a lot of historical information available about Solomon Foot, who is well documented in the 1900 edition of "History of Kandiyohi County."  Foot's cabin was located at the present site of the Blue Heron Restaurant in Willmar.  Dean used Solomon Foot's actual words in the novel.   

The 1862 Dakota Conflict was one of the important events of Minnesota history.  The American Civil War was being fought, and our nation was in danger of being ripped apart.  In the middle of the Civil War, another war started in Minnesota. 

Dean gave an overview of Dakota Indian history.  The Chippewa drove the Dakota from northern Minnesota to the south. In an 1837 treaty, land east of the Minnesota River was given to the whites. The treaty of 1851 gave the Dakota a strip of land ten miles on either side of the Minnesota River from New Ulm into South Dakota.  In exchange, the Indians received money, goods and food  (the equivalent of 13 cents an acre for the land they gave up).   A treaty was signed in 1858 for more land, this time for 30 cents an acre. 

The white man's Indian policy was based upon removal and change.   The government and missionaries  worked to change the Indian way of life and dress (to cut their hair, convert to Christianity, change their names, and  become farmers on the reservations).   Resisters were called "blanket  Indians."

There was a poor harvest in 1861.  The Indians were starving and the situation was desperate.  In 1862 the government warehouses were full, but the agents wouldn't give the Indians food until their money came.   The promised annuity payment was delayed again and again.  Agent Andrew Myrick of the Lower Sioux Agency said, "If the Indians are so hungry, let them eat grass."  Permission was given for some of the Indians to go north into the big woods in Meeker County to hunt.  On August 17, 1862, four Indians came to a small white settlement at Acton, challenged the men to a shooting contest, and ended up killing three men and two women.  Little Crow had accepted the inevitability of the new way of life.  Realizing that all Indians would be blamed for the Acton shooting, several chiefs came to Little Crow to tell him what had happened and demanded that Little Crow lead them to war.  Little Crow tried to dissuade them, and finally reluctantly agreed saying, "I am not a coward.  I will fight and die with you."  The agency was attacked at 7:00 the next morning.   Andrew Myrick was killed and grass stuffed in his mouth.   The payment arrived on August 18, the same day the fighting started. 

A fort was built at Forest City in one day.  Ole Halverson Ness, Dean Urdahl's ancestor,  was the superintendent in charge of fort construction.  Logs already cut to build a church were used to build the fort.   (This fort has been reconstructed at Forest City.)  240 people took refuge at the Forest City Fort. Ole Ness was also a founder of the historic Ness Church five miles southwest of Litchfield.

"Uprising" describes the events during the 38-day conflict.  The final battle called the battle of Wood Lake was fought at Lone Tree Lake on September 23, 1862.  700 whites were killed during the uprising, most of them civilians.  Fewer than 100 of those killed were soldiers.  Most of those killed were Norwegian, German, Swedish, etc. and were unsuspecting victims.  Solomon Fort was about the only one who fought back and killed Indians.

Little Crow fled to the Dakotas and Canada.  The summer of 1863 he returned to Minnesota with a small band to steal horses.   Several members of the Dustin family were killed June 29, 1863, near Howard Lake by five Dakota Indians.   James McGannon was killed July 1, 1863, near Lake Union (South Haven) by Heyoka (Little Crow's son-in-law)i-ka.   Little Crow was killed near Hutchinson on July 3, 1863.  38 Indians were hung at Mankato on December 26 for their part in the uprising.