Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Booknotes: Massacre in Minnesota

New Arrival:
Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson (OU Press, 2019).

What happened on the Minnesota frontier in 1862 was exceptionally horrific by any measure. "In August 1862 the worst massacre in U.S. history unfolded on the Minnesota prairie, launching what has come to be known as the Dakota War, the most violent ethnic conflict ever to roil the nation. When it was over, between six and seven hundred white settlers had been murdered in their homes, and thirty to forty thousand had fled the frontier of Minnesota. But the devastation was not all on one side. More than five hundred Indians, many of them women and children, perished in the aftermath of the conflict; and thirty-eight Dakota warriors were executed on one gallows, the largest mass execution ever in North America."

The Dakota War bookshelf is somewhat similar to that of the Red River Campaign in that both are fairly crowded with modern single-volume overviews, arguably none of which provide a truly satisfactory standalone combination of description and analysis. Now there is a new entry to the Dakota War field. "A sweeping work of narrative history, the result of forty years’ research," Gary Clayton Anderson's Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862, the Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History "provides the most complete account of this dark moment in U.S. history."

Though the conflict widened over the next year and beyond, spilling out onto the Northern Plains, Anderson's study concentrates on the origins, course, and aftermath of the violence in Minnesota. More from the description: "Focusing on key figures caught up in the conflict—Indian, American, and Franco- and Anglo-Dakota—Gary Clayton Anderson gives these long-ago events a striking immediacy, capturing the fears of the fleeing settlers, the animosity of newspaper editors and soldiers, the violent dedication of Dakota warriors, and the terrible struggles of seized women and children. Through rarely seen journal entries, newspaper accounts, and military records, integrated with biographical detail, Anderson documents the vast corruption within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the crisis that arose as pioneers overran Indian lands, the failures of tribal leadership and institutions, and the systemic strains caused by the Civil War. Anderson also gives due attention to Indian cultural viewpoints, offering insight into the relationship between Native warfare, religion, and life after death—a nexus critical to understanding the conflict."

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