Let Them Eat Grass: The 1862 Sioux Uprising in Minnesota; Volume One: Smoke

 by John Koblas, North Star Press of St. Cloud Inc., 2006, $16.95.

 Let Them Eat Grass: The 1862 Sioux Uprising in Minnesota; Volume Two: Fire

 John Koblas, North Star Press of St. Cloud Inc., 2006, $16.95.

 Let Them Eat Grass: The 1862 Sioux Uprising in Minnesota; Volume Three: Ashes

 by John Koblas, North Star Press of St. Cloud Inc., 2006, $16.95.

 Though often overshadowed by events involving Sioux Indians farther west, the Dakota War of 1862 is a remarkable and controversial chapter in the settling of the American frontier. Angered by treaty violations and suspected graft of Indian agents, four Indians killed five settlers on August 17, 1862. That night, a council of tribal leaders decided to drive all white settlers from the area. Thousands of settlers would be forced from their homes during the uprising, which left hundreds dead. The war also led to the largest single-day execution in U.S. history when, on December 26, 38 Sioux were hanged in Mankato, Minn. The toll could have climbed much higher, but President Abraham Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 264 prisoners, and another Sioux’s life was later spared.

Minnesota historian John Koblas (perhaps best known for his studies of the James-Younger Gang’s Northfield raid) chronicles the events in meticulous detail in Let Them Eat Grass, a mammoth, three-volume history that totals 1,038 pages. The first volume, subtitled Smoke, was released in 2006, and although the final two volumes, Fire and Ashes, are copyrighted 2006, they weren’t released until 2007. Smoke studies the reasons for the uprising and covers the first raid on August 17. Fire moves through the so-called Belmont Massacre of August 25 to the Battle of Acton on September 4. Ashes follows with the battle at Wood Lake (after which most of the fighters surrendered), the mass hanging and subsequent events, including the death of Sioux leader Little Crow, who was shot in 1863 near Hutchinson.

Yet the series covers more than the events of 1862 and 1863, starting with Columbus’ discovery of America and ending not at Wounded Knee in 1890, but at another overlooked event: The Battle of Sugar Point, which pitted Ojibwe Indians against inexperienced federal troops, resulted in the deaths of six soldiers on October 5, 1898. It, too, happened in Minnesota, at Leech Lake.

 

Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here