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Lower Sioux Agency

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Color image of the Lower Sioux Agency Warehouse, 2012

The Lower Sioux Agency warehouse, 2012. Photographed by Wikimedia Commons user McGhiever on August 31, 2012.

The Lower Sioux Agency, or Redwood Agency, was built by the federal government in 1853 near the Redwood River in south-central Minnesota Territory. The Agency served as an administrative center for the Lower Sioux Reservation of Santee Dakota. It was also the site of key events related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Four bands of Dakota—the Mdewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton, and Wahpeton—ceded most of their homelands in southern Minnesota with the 1851 treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota. They moved to reservations along the Minnesota River in exchange for food, supplies, and regular payments from the U.S. government.

In 1853 the U.S. created the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton to issue these goods to the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands. An agency for the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands was built north of the Lower Agency at the mouth of the Yellow Medicine River.

The Lower Agency compound was made up of about a dozen buildings clustered around a council square. Four traders' stores stood nearby. Laborers, teachers, merchants, and missionaries lived on-site. The Agency housed officials and provisions to meet the Dakota people's needs related to the treaties. It also built manual labor schools, mills, and blacksmith shops.

Agency workers tried to persuade the Dakota to conform to Euro-American customs. They encouraged them to give up hunting and gathering and to rely on farmed crops and livestock for food.

Several factors stalled the Agency's program. Funding was unreliable. Administrators neglected their duties. Indian Agents served out short appointments before moving on. Many Dakota families continued to practice their traditional lifeways. As a result, only about 150 of the 3200 Dakota on the reservation became farmers.

A poor harvest in 1861 followed by a harsh winter ravaged the Dakota on the reservation. In 1862, many were starving. Tribal leaders looked to Agency officials to meet the government's treaty obligations: food, supplies, and money.

Previous payments had been made in June. When that month passed without a delivery of gold from Washington, Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith promised to issue the goods and money together by July 20.

In early August, Mdewakanton leader Taoyateduta (Little Crow) met with Galbraith and the traders to persuade them to open their stores. Taoyateduta asked the agent to give out food right away and pay the money later. He spoke of the stores filled with food while Dakota people remained hungry. In response, Agency store keeper Andrew Myrick exclaimed, "If they are hungry, let them eat grass or their own dung."

After Myrick's remark, frustration that had simmered within the Dakota for years boiled over. On the morning of August 18, Mdewakanton warriors attacked the traders' stores. Many of the traders and staff of the Agency were killed, including Myrick and Galbraith's clerk. Buildings were looted and burned down. Some of the Agency's residents fled to nearby Fort Ridgely.

The attack at the Agency was the first organized incident of the U.S.-Dakota War. The six-week series of battles took the lives of more than six hundred white civilians and soldiers and an unknown number of Dakota. In October of 1862 the trials of 392 Dakota prisoners started at Camp Release and then were moved to the Agency and held in the cabin of trader Francis LaBathe. Thirty-eight of the men tried were later executed in Mankato.

Acts of U.S. Congress passed in 1863 exiled the Dakota from Minnesota. They dissolved their reservations and agencies, including Lower Sioux. A few families judged to have been "loyal" to the United States were allowed to stay.

Dakota people gradually returned to the Lower Sioux area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1883 six Dakota families lived there. By the time of the 1936 census, its population had grown to thirty-nine families, including twenty of Mdewakanton heritage.

In 2014 the Lower Sioux Agency is a historic site managed by the Lower Sioux Indian Community, one of the four federally recognized Dakota tribes in Minnesota. Its campus includes an interpretive center and the only original Agency building still standing-a stone granary built in 1861. The surrounding community is home to 145 Dakota families and a total population of 982.

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Anderson, Gary Clayton. Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986.

——— . "Myrick's Insult: A Fresh Look at Myth and Reality." Minnesota History 48, no. 5 (Spring 1983): 198–206.

Carley, Kenneth. "As Red Men Viewed It: Three Accounts of the Indian Uprising." Minnesota History 38, no. 3 (September 1962): 126–149.

——— . The Dakota War of 1862: Minnesota's Other Civil War. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.

Lower Sioux Community: Past and Present History. [Morton, MN: The Community, 1993].

Michno, Gregory. Dakota Dawn: The Decisive First Week of the Sioux Uprising, August 17–24, 1862. New York: Savas Beatie, 2011.

Nason, Wehrman, Chapman Associates. The Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site: Development. [Minneapolis: Nason, Wehrman, Chapman Associates, 1974].

Russo, Priscilla A. "The Time to Speak is Over: The Onset of the Sioux Uprising." Minnesota History 45, no. 3 (Fall 1976): 97–106.

Sheppard, Betty Paukert, and E. L. Sheppard. The Mission at the Lower Sioux, 1860–1980. [MN]: Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, Bishop Whipple Mission, 1981.

Steil, Mark, and Tim Post. "Let Them Eat Grass." News and Features: Minnesota's Uncivil War. Minnesota Public Radio News.

Wingerd, Mary Lethert. North Country: The Making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

Related Images

Color image of the Lower Sioux Agency Warehouse, 2012
Color image of the Lower Sioux Agency Warehouse, 2012
Black and white photo print of Dakota Indian Treaty Delegation, c.1858.
Black and white photo print of Dakota Indian Treaty Delegation, c.1858.
Big Eagle, leader in the U.S.- Dakota War.
Big Eagle, leader in the U.S.- Dakota War.
Little Crow
Little Crow
Black and white photograph of St. John's Church at Indian agency near Morton
Black and white photograph of St. John's Church at Indian agency near Morton
Black and white photograph of trader Andrew Myrick, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of trader Andrew Myrick, c.1860.
Black and white photograph of former Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith, c.1885.
Black and white photograph of former Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith, c.1885.
Black and white photograph of the Lower Sioux Agency Building, 1897.
Black and white photograph of the Lower Sioux Agency Building, 1897.

Turning Point

In June of 1862, promised annuity payments do not arrive at the Agency as scheduled. The delay worsens the situation of the Dakota living on the reservation, many of whom are starving.


July 23, 1851

The Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota sign the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.

August 5, 1851

The Treaty of Mendota is signed by the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands.


The Lower Sioux Indian Agency is created to assist the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands of Dakota living on the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation.


A poor harvest and a harsh winter leave the Dakota on the reservation hungry and pleading for provisions from the Agency and its traders.

June 1862

Promised annuity payments expected from the federal government never arrive. Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith promises the payments by July 20.

July 20, 1862

Traders remain unwilling to extend credit to the Dakota for the purchase of food and provisions.

Early August, 1862

Mdewakanton chief Taoyateduta (Little Crow) meets with Galbraith and the traders to explain his people's dire straits. Trader Andrew Myrick's indignant remarks anger the Dakota.

August 18, 1862

Mdewakanton warriors attack the Lower Sioux Agency in the morning, killing government officials and other employees and burning its buildings to the ground.

October 1862

The trials of 392 Dakota are held at the Agency in the cabin of trader Francis LaBathe.


The U.S. Congress strips the Dakota of their lands in Minnesota.


Several Dakota families move back to the Lower Sioux Agency area. Their homesteads become known as the Birch Coulee Community.


The federal government makes a payment to the Mdewakanton of Minnesota. It is the first time the Dakota of Minnesota are legally recognized since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.


German immigrants Carl and Emily Knueppel Hesse move into the agency warehouse.


Twenty Mdewakanton families live in the Lower Sioux area following a gradual return of Dakota people to Minnesota.


Approximately 145 Dakota families, totaling nearly 1000 people, make their home in the Lower Sioux Indian Community.