Dispersion of the Minnesota Sioux to the Dakotas


Last Updated: 3 years

In 1820, the U.S. government established a Dakota Agency for the
Santee at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. It served as a regional jurisdictional center until
1854, when its functions were assumed by the new Lower Agency (near Morton) and the
Upper Agency (near Granite Falls).

These agencies disappeared when Congress terminated federal administration in Minnesota after the Dakota War of 1862, and decided to move the troublemakers and those most likely to rebel to remote locations, thus separating the various Sioux tribes. They transferred the Minnesota Sioux to the Dakotas.In an attempt to detribalize the remnants of the Dakota people, federal officials
scattered them in pockets throughout South Dakota after the Minnesota Sioux Wars.

In this mass effort, the government removed the Santees (Mdewakantons and Wahpekutes) along with militant Sissetons and Wahpetons to South Dakota, and thereafter they would be under a different administrative system.

The Upper Missouri Agency served as a federal jurisdiction for most of Sioux Country in the United States from its formal establishment in 1819 to its final dissolution in 1868. During the years 1863-1868, the vast majority of Minnesota Sioux lived under the administration of the Upper Missouri agents, the last of whom was J. R. Hanson.

The changes that eventually occurred included the formal creation of numerous, smaller U.S. Agency jurisdictions that were not formal reservations. The removed Santees transferred to a new agency and a new reservation that Congress created in 1866.

Some Lower Yanktonais and a small band of Two Kettles occupied the Crow Creek Reservation. The government established an agency at Fort Thompson, where the tribes remained.

Lower Brules lived across the Missouri River with a sub-agency staff most of the time until 1893, when they received an agency of their own. Some remained at Crow Creek with formal recognition as Santees.

After this change at Fort Thompson, when the Upper Missouri Agency broke
up in 1868, federal officials recognized what now are known as Standing Rock,
Cheyenne River, Rosebud, and Pine Ridge reservations.

All were in place by 1878. Congress defined jurisdictions as reservations by the terms expressed in the Sioux  Agreement of 1889. During the creation of new agency reservations, the government confined Santees to the Nebraska roll for federal recognition.

A second development that took place simultaneously was a change in the definition
of a federally recognized “tribe” or “domestic dependent nation.”

After the 1860s, a “tribe” no longer was a cultural or political entity of Native American  tradition. Rather, it was the aggregate of peoples enrolled at a particular reservation.

The purest among traditional tribes to survive in Sioux Country was the Yankton, but even this tribe became a blend of tribes when many Santees moved from Crow Creek to the Greenwood area during 1863-1866, and they became enrolled “Yanktons” for both administrative and cultural purposes.

In Minnesota and South Dakota, Pipestone and Flandreau boarding schools became
service centers for “Santee” settlements, none of which gained federal recognition as a
“domestic dependent nation” or tribe until the 1930s.

The two boarding schools doubled as centers of federal administration, education, and health care for these tribes. This was the extent of a federal relationship with the tribes attending Flandreau and Pipestone until the 1930s.

Between 1870 and 1934, various commissioners offudian Affairs officially
recorded that the two groups of Santees lived “as white people”, for whom the two
boarding schools provided services without formal obligations. 

Flandreau Santees came to the Upper Big Sioux River Valley “as homesteaders,” 
using a privilege to do so written into the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Between 1869-1878, approximately 325 Santee American Indians assembled as detribalized Indians.

As they arrived, heads of family went first to Yankton, where they formally renounced tribal  connections, and then traveled to Vermillion, where they entered claims on homestead sites like their immigrant Norwegian neighbors.

When economic depression, drought, and grasshopper plagues placed the tribes at
risk in 1873, John P. Williamson called for federal assistance. The government
responded, making a Special Agent for a temporary agency that operated only among the
Santee until 1879.

Thereafter, Flandreau Santees transferred first to the Sisseton then to the Santee Agency, through which they received marginal attention that included mainly education at a day school.

For the most part, the Indians strived to survive by personal initiative, again similar to their immigrant Norwegian neighbors. 

By the end of the 1870s, Santee agent Isaiah Lightner felt that the greatest threat to
the Santee colony was the temptation for Indians to sell their land. Lightner believed that
it would take some effort for the Flandreau colony not to sell off their homesteads.

By1879, there were eighty-six farms, ranging from forty to 320 acres and totaling 13, 527
acres. About a third of the Santees was progressing, another third was at a standstill, and
the rest were retrograding.

Lightner also pointed out that the Santees were not unlike the white pioneers in their willingness to move on when offered what they considered a good price for their land. In general, Lightner thought that more Flandreau Indians maintained their permanent homesteads than their white counterparts.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Flandreau Sioux were better off economically than the other Santees, the Sissetons, or the Devil’s Lake people.

Although they had lost much of their land and were to lose more in the next decades, they had shown a tenacity and ingenuity that helped them overcome difficult obstacles and become moderately successful.

Known for their industry and enterprise, the Flandreau Sioux established a reputation for honesty and reliability among their neighbors.

Lightner wrote in 1881,”they pay their taxes promptly, their word can be relied upon, and they make good neighbors.”

The amount and kind of help they received from white neighbors cannot be measured, but it is not likely that it outweighed the advantage taken of them by the other whites. Nor was the government support given them disproportionate to the handicaps under which they labored as Indians in a frontier community.

Despite the various problems in 1900, the Flandreau colony was the most successful and most secure of the various fragments into which the Santee Sioux had been dispersed since 1862.

Beginning in 1903, the Flandreau Indian School Superintendent appointed an
“overseer” to deal with Flandreau Santees. Thereafter, all could seek health care and
attend the boarding school, but they did so as detribalized Indians.

Not until 1929 did Flandreau Santees gather to express their desire to tribalize. Half a decade later in 1934, they asked for and received federal recognition as a tribe.

John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and Harold Ickes tortured the rules on their behalf, knowing that they had neither federally recognized status as Indians nor were they living on reservation land.

Congress purchased the first reservation for these tribes and funded New Deal programs
on their behalf. As a consequence of federal action today, in Minnesota there are four
federally recognized American Indian political entities:

Flandreau Santees and the Secretary of the Interior approved a constitution and bylaws and formed an executive board to carry on tribal affairs. Since 1935, the Flandreau Santee Tribe has been one with a status equivalent to any other, except that it never has had an agency of its own.

After the school superintendent ceased to look after its affairs, a special liaison
from the Aberdeen Area Office took place. Today, the tribe exists with about 600
members as the federally recognized Flandreau Santee Sioux.

More than half are in residence with a flourishing casino and zero unemployment. As always before, members remain formally detached from the Flandreau Indian School.

After the Minnesota Sioux Wars, there were fifty families of Minnesota Dakotas that
never left the state. Missionaries and politicians arranged secure locations for them
because they had remained peaceful and had extended assistance to white people during
the war.

Documents reveal that during the 1870s, while some Santees left their reservation in Nebraska to become detribalized homesteaders around Flandreau, others drifted back into southern Minnesota in defiance of the Expulsion Act of 1863.

Through a succession of laws passed during the 1880s, Congress purchased a small
amount of acreages for “federal reservations”. Interior Department personnel allowed
“assignments” to Indians some plots under two-year, renewable contracts.

To prevent a steady stream out of Nebraska, federal officials declared that eligible regional assignees or their descendents had to prove that original assignees had arrived by the year 1886.

Moreover, they had to show that their families never had taken up arms against non-Indians (this requirement changed in the year 1980).

To provide a designation separate from Santees in Nebraska or from Flandreau Santees, federal nomenclature added the term “peaceable” or “peaceable Mdewankantons”. 

Unlike Flandreau Santees, most of these people retained enrollments at the Santee, Yankton, or Travers Reservation jurisdictions. Yet in Minnesota, they lived as six enclaves:

  • The Pipestone
  • Upper Sioux
  • Lower Sioux
  • Prior Lake
  • Prairie Island
  • Wabasha

Because these groups had no tribes of their own and lived on small “government reservations”, the Pipestone Superintendent served more as a liaison than as an “agent” to manage their land assignments, provide health care at the school hospital, and accommodate Mdewakanton youngsters at the Pipestone Indian School (which served mainly Ojibwas).

Otherwise they, like Flandreau Santees, were treated as non-Indians. They had no individual Indian money accounts or other trappings of tribalism except at their places of enrollment in South Dakota and Nebraska. 

In 1884 the Minnesota Mdewakantons were unwelcome vagabonds, with no legal title
to the lands they occupied except for those which had been purchased with their own

By 1900, most of them were established on land bought for them by the
government, most ofit securely held in government ownership. In the midst of this, their
settlements shifted from areas such as the Twin Cities to more rural areas with available

By 1900, the Minnesota Mdewakantons were concentrated at three points:

  • Birch Coulee
  • Prairie Island
  • Prior Lake

By the turn of the century, the Minnesota Sioux were far from the self-sufficiency
that Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple of South Dakota had thought they would achieve
with the active assistance of the federal government.

Perhaps they would have been better off than if they had remained on their reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota.

In the midst of this conjecture, the one positive point of departure was the creation of
permanent communities, which stood as authentic examples of the survival of the Sioux
in their traditional homeland.

When the Dakota people were scattered across several states after the Minnesota
Sioux War of 1862, Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools eventually provided a
meeting place for those that were displaced yet very much tied to a shared heritage.

Serving simultaneously as health centers, educational facilities, and federal bureaus, the
schools acted as the common thread that ultimately bound the people together.

When Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools opened their doors in the early 1890s,
their main objective was to provide education for a displaced people willing to embrace
the dominant society.

In reality, both schools served as centers for education, federal intervention, and healthcare. They also provided focal points for common economic ties between both native and non-Indian community elements, who were equally interested in taking part in the creation of the fabric of America’s mainstream.

After the Minnesota Uprising of 1862, many Sioux Indians who participated were
imprisoned for their involvement. A great many of these tribal members died of
inadequate diet, smallpox, and other diseases.

Largely because of President Abraham Lincoln’s concern, the federal officials released the Sioux as well as the Chippewa and Winnebago. Many drifted back to their old homes; others joined the Santee Agency in Nebraska, where the Santee mission school was established.

John P. Williamson and Alfred L. Riggs were instrumental in the establishment and operation of the Santee School. As head of the school, Williamson appointed Riggs in the summer of 1869. Both men were co-founders of the Flandreau Indian School.

In March 1869 twenty-five Santee Sioux and their families moved to the Flandreau
area. The Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 allowed these Indians to exchange tribal
applications for the privilege of homesteading on public domain.

The government required each family head to travel to Yankton to renounce formal tribal membership and then to the U.S. Land Office in Vermillion, South Dakota, to enter homestead claims.

Other tribal members followed until, by the end of the decade, more than 300 gathered as
detribalized Flandreau Santees.