May 2022: The Quad Cities

19 May 2022

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:


Image of Thomas Williamson, missionary to the Dakota Nation.

The John Henry Hauberg Papers provide a glimpse into a man interested in community affairs during the early twentieth century. Hauberg, a lawyer working in the Quad Cities region, became deeply invested in local history. He developed a boy scout troupe and helped create the Blackhawk State Park. In terms of the Dakota prison camp in Davenport, Hauberg charted the prison on Iowa’s landscape and captured photographs that provide vivid details of where things took place in the 1860s. Here are a few examples:

John Hauberg hand-drawn man of Camp McClellan and surrounding area.
John Hauberg hand-drawn man of Camp McClellan and surrounding area.


John Hauberg hand-drawn man of Camp McClellan and surrounding area.
John Hauberg hand-drawn man of Camp McClellan and surrounding area.
An image by John Henry Hauberg of trees and grass. Listed as a Sioux Cemetery, here is where Dakota bodies were buried while imprisoned at Camp McClellan.
John Hauberg's photo of the "Sioux Cemetery." His caption reads: "View In the Sioux cemetery. Whites dug up the Indian remains, hunting for relics, but , says Mr. Boldt, ' there were no relics but bones. The Indians had scarcely enough clothing to keep them warm and were buried almost without anything on them."

Both of these collections offer great insights into the place of Camp McClellan at Davenport, Iowa. We get to see historical materials from figures that directly worked with the Dakota prisoners as missionaries and we get to see spatial drawings and analysis of the landscape on which Camp McClellan sat during the mid-1860s.


After the archival visit, I ventured over to the site of Camp McClellan. There’s not much there. Other than a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) commemorative rock, the site offers no perspective on the Dakota experience. The site of Camp McClellan now sits at a place called Lindsay Park. With the Mississippi River flowing in the background, an open green grass field provides locals a public space to enjoy. Nestled next to a water fountain, the Dakota commemorative rock offers a glimpse into the space that once imprisoned hundreds of Dakota in the 1860s. Unfortunately, the commemorative message sheds fraught light on the Dakota War experience. Many white Americans interpreted the Dakota Ware as an "outbreak" or a "massacre" by hostile Dakota warriors. The use of that language, even as late as 1928, demonstrates how white Americans wanted to remember Camp McClellan's place in their Quad Cities region. The site helped train federal soldiers for the Civil War and aided in punishing Dakota guilty for war crimes committed during 1862. Here’s all the commemorative plaque reads:

A bronze or copper plate placed on a commemorative rockdescribes the place of Camp McClellan.
The commemorative rock sits in a bed of plants and landscaping.
The Dakota commemorative rock sites in the open field of Lindsay Park, the Mississippi River flows in the background.

While nothing remains around the site of Camp McClellan, the local lore seems to continue remembering the prison camp. In East Davenport shopping district, several stores use the Camp McClellan name: The McClellan Stockade or the Camp McClellan Cellar, to name a few. Perhaps one day, a group of historians or public stakeholders can collaborate with Dakota community members to develop wayside markers that contextualize the story of the prison camp, its impact on the Dakota people, and its lasting legacy today.

Many thanks to the archival staff at Augustana College, including Michaela Terronez and Harrison Phillis. Jane Simonsen also provided valuable insights on the Dakota War and Indigenous presence throughout the Quad Cities region. I lastly wanted to thank Cate Denial for introducing me to all of these wonderful folks at Augustana. Keep an eye out for future posts. I just heard news that the American Philosophical Society has awarded me the Phillips Fund for Native American Research, which will help me conduct research at the Archives of Manitoba and Yale University's Beinecke Library this summer. More posts to come!