In August and September of 1862, violence erupted in southwest Minnesota in what is often referred to as the U.S-Dakota War. The deadly attacks by the Dakotas against white settlers exploded out of frustration and anger over starvation and broken promises. In the aftermath of the conflict an Army court sentenced 303 Dakota men to death, 38 of whom were executed.
Many of the surviving settlers called for even harsher responses from the U.S. government, including extermination of the entire tribe. But Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop, Henry Whipple, pled for justice and mercy. He had been warning of the government’s injustice and poor treatment of the Dakotas since arriving in the state in 1859. The bishop traveled to Washington, D.C. directly from the war in Minnesota and met with President Lincoln and shared his understanding of what caused the violent conflict and argued for a thorough overhaul of the government’s American Indian policy.
Gustav Niebuhr tells the story of Bishop Whipple in the new book, Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, a Priest and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors. Niebuhr is a former national religion correspondent for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. He’s currently associate professor of newspaper and online journalism at Syracuse University.