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Dakota Conflict


Bands of Minnesota Sioux had joined the western Sioux bands or had gone to Devils Lake in late 1862. The Sibley Expedition left Fort Snelling in the summer of 1863 and traveled across the central part of the area, engaging in battles at Big Mound, Dead Buffalo Lake, Stoney Lake and a number of running engagements to the Missouri River. General Alfred Sully also engaged in the Battle of Whitestone Hill in 1863 and made another expedition west of the Missouri in 1864 fighting at the Battle of the Killdeer Mountains.

On this date in 1864, General Henry H. Sibley reported to Major General John Pope that, although minor confrontations had occurred on the frontier, the region had been stabilized. Pope's desire for revenge with the hanging of 38 Indians had the unfortunate consequence that it angered the western tribes and, also that many of the bands in Minnesota and Dakota feared they would be subject to the same fate. Sibley employed Rev Father Andre and J. R. Brown, as special agents, to open communications with these groups. In his report, Sibley also encouraged return of the forces from the South, as well as vigilance at the frontier posts in Minnesota and construction of a post at Devils Lake to monitor incursions from Canada.

There was never a confirmed relationship of the Indian War to the Confederacy, however, Indian hostility along the frontier would significantly reduce the numbers of troops that could be sent to fight the war in the South. Red River hunters and sympathizers from Canada were actively supplying arms and supplies to the Sioux and attempting to excite the Chippewa. There was even some belief that the there had been white-men leading some of the raids in the fall of 1862.

The end of the Civil War allowed for a return of troops to the Plains and a series of posts were built in Dakota Territory. The buffalo were killed off ensuring both the end of a way of life for the Plains Indians and also, that crops could safely flourish without being trampled under by millions of hooves. Just barely six years after Sibley gave his report, the first homestead document was filed in what is now North Dakota and by 1872 the railroad was stretching its silvery ribbon from the Red River to the Missouri. Many of the troopers who had crossed the plains with Sibley and Sully returned to settle. The 1890 Census showed that there were 2,064 former Union soldiers and some 48 Confederate soldiers living in North Dakota along with a 152 widows of former soldiers.

North Dakota's presence in the Civil War was minimal when compared to eastern states but those years from 1861 to 1865 were significant in establishing the future path of our great State.

By Jim Davis


Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, Pioneer Press, 1891.