Enlightening tale of Abraham Lincoln’s other war.
In 1862, overshadowed by the Civil War, a dire conflict known as the Dakota War roiled the southern half of Minnesota. Journalist Niebuhr (Newspaper and Online Journalism/Syracuse Univ.; Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America, 2008) provides an intriguing examination of this chapter in American frontier history, focusing especially on the figure of Henry Benjamin Whipple (1822-1901). A transplant from New York and Illinois, Whipple was the first Episcopal bishop in Minnesota and immediately began crusading on behalf of Native Americans there. “He stated his goal simply: the Indians must be protected from corrupt government agents and rapacious traders, especially those who dealt in liquor and abused women,” writes the author. Throughout even the direst moments of the Dakota War and its aftermath, Whipple maintained that maltreatment at the hands of the American government had driven the Dakotas to acts of violence—and in many instances, quite grotesque violence. Niebuhr lays out the precipitant causes of the war—delayed annuities for tribes that had traded in land, leading to hunger and resentment—and chronicles its opening volleys. He also provides a detailed account of the war’s major engagements and its effects on white settlement. But the author always comes back to Whipple, seen by many as an Indian sympathizer, who nonetheless had profound influence on policymakers. His triumph was in convincing Lincoln to spare the lives of 275 Dakota captives (others were hanged for wanton brutality during the war). Niebuhr’s work sometimes feels choppy, bouncing back and forth chronologically and going over some of the same ground more than once. However, that does not lessen the fact that it provides a service by reintroducing readers to Whipple, an early proponent of minority rights, as well as to the Dakota War.
A pleasant surprise for the average history buff.