The flashpoint of the Dakota Sioux uprising was the murder of five settlers by four Indian braves. Tensions had been rising because of the late payment of annuities (due from the government according to Treaties of 1851 and 1858, by which the Sioux ceded much of their land). As the summer of 1862 wore on, this left them facing starvation. Nevertheless, ‘cut-hairs’ – farming Indians who had Europeanized – held the majority and counselled peace until the murders took place, when, fearing reprisals, war-fever took over. Dakota war parties rampaged up the Minnesota River valley destroying settlements, besieging Fort Ridgley and defeating a detachment of troops at Birch Coulee. This grabbed President Lincoln’s attention, even mid-Civil War, and reinforcements were sent. The Sioux were cornered in a ravine near Wood Lake and beaten decisively. Some Sioux fought on until final defeat at Badlands (1864). After subsequent trials, 38 Sioux were hanged, the biggest mass execution in American history.
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