I start this dissertation journal from the banks of the Mississippi River. Today I visited Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois to view a few manuscript collections related to the study of the U.S.-Dakota War. The Quad Cities region – five cities on both banks of the Mississippi including Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois – plays an important role to U.S.-Dakota War history. After Minnesota’s 1862 Dakota War, hundreds of Mdewakanton Dakota surrendered to the U.S. Army. A military commission gathered and tried 393 Dakota men, sentencing 303 to death for their role in the Dakota War fighting. Once President Abraham Lincoln caught wind of this tribunal decision, he examined the court records and lowered the number to thirty-eight men guilty for murder and depredations against white Minnesotans and U.S. Army soldiers. On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota—the largest mass execution in United States history. What about those “saved” by Lincoln? The remaining 265 Dakota men faced life sentences at Camp McClellan, a prisoner of war camp near Davenport, Iowa. These Dakota prisoners faced harsh conditions while imprisoned at the camp. In some accounts, the Dakota prisoners were spectacles to the local white population. I chatted with Jane Simonsen after my archival visit, and she says that the Dakota men were given passes to work in the city during the day. The Dakota prisoners remained there until 1866 when President Andrew Johnson ordered their release. This research trip brought me closer to materials related to Camp McClellan, a story deeply connected to the broad post-1862 Dakota diaspora.
My dissertation focuses on Dakota movement from Minnesota into what would become Canada. However, it has become apparent that I need to contextualize the Dakota diaspora that formed after the U.S.-Dakota War. Dakota moved in a variety of directions: some north into Canada, some west into Dakota Territory, others into confinement at reservations and prison camps throughout the Midwest and Northern Great Plains. This broad story of Dakota mobility matters, and Camp McClellan's materials helps me understand this more expansive story of this Indigenous movement. At Augustana College, I examined two manuscript collections pertinent to this topic: the Williamson Family Papers and the John Hauberg Papers. Both of these collections provide useful material to understand the importance of Camp McClellan during the Dakota War period. In the Williamson Family Papers, we see first-hand perspective of Thomas S. Williamson, a missionary that worked with the Dakota nation. This collection offers papers and letters related to the Dakota experience at Camp McClellan. Williamson also worked closely with Stephen R. Riggs, another famous missionary to the Dakota, with creating a Dakota translated Bible. Here’s a photo of Thomas Williamson: