A Brief History of the Early Settlement of Dakota in Blue Earth County

By Sam Burnton

Although the exact time of the settlement of Blue Earth County by the first Dakota tribe is lost to history, it is known that settlement was caused by a series of mass migrations probably in the middle of the 18th century. The Dakota people who first migrated to Blue Earth had originally consisted of seven tribes living in the woods of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, in the mid 18th century, a rival tribe, the Ojibway, who had been forced west by white encroachment forced Dakota tribes out of their homelands and farther south towards the plains in Southern Minnesota. In fact, it is from the Ojibway language where the Dakota’s alternative name, Sioux comes from, which in Ojibway was Nadouesee (enemy or snake-like ones). The French traders in the region translated this as Nadousioux which American settlers shortened to Sioux.

Dakota life changed and adapted to settlement on the prairie. Adapting the firearms and horses of white settlers, many Dakota tribes turned to hunting Buffalo. However, some tribes retained elements of their woodland past and practiced agriculture and retained tools and clothing from their woodland days. Chief amongst the food eaten by the Dakota were Buffalo hunted by the men and corn, squash and beans planted by the women. In addition to tools adopted by the Dakota for life on the prairie, trade with white settlers also flowed in and goods such as metal knives, copper kettles for the exchange of furs brought new amenities to the Dakota tribes.

However, this trade would prove to have disastrous effects on the Dakota in Blue Earth. As traders began to demand more fur, many tribes began to go into debt. As a result, they began to give up land for outrageously low prices. In 1851, the Dakota gave up all almost of the land in Southern Minnesota except for a small reservation near New Ulm. About 24 million acres were given up for about 12 cents an acre. This treaty would prove to have even further devastating results about 10 years later when mismanagement of the payments owed by the treaty and further encroachments by white settlers would lead to the horrific U.S. - Dakota Conflict in 1862.

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