“You guys can’t be in here; I own all the air in here”

Mr. Lawrence discusses the encroachment of settlers onto Dakota land, treaties, and misunderstandings.

Audio Chapters

I think they were innocent in the sense that they were told they could come here; this is now government land and they could settle on it, not knowing all of the circumstances. They were just told this was open for settlement and they could come here and live. I don’t think that they were aware that a whole nation or culture of people was being affected by that. The government never took the time to brief them on everything that was going on; they just said to go in and settle the land. And I think the Dakotas on the other side, they saw the advancing encroachment. On the other hand, they were allowed in here through treaties, agreements that the leaders had made, however they were made. I have a viewpoint on treaties in that respect, but legally they were allowed to be here, through treaties. So the two things that the Indian people didn’t know was they didn’t understand treaties for one thing. Most of them didn’t even understand English and didn’t know reading and writing, so they didn’t understand the treaties if they did see it. The other thing is, the whole concept of ownership of land was foreign to Indian people; there was no such thing as owning land. The Creator is the one that owned the land and nobody could really own the land. You had occupancy; you could go in and occupy, to live on, but in the end, the Creator owned the land. And it was like somebody that goes in a room and tells everybody in there: I’m going to buy all your share of the air in here and says, if you’re dumb enough to do that, I’ll sell it to you, because it’s such a crazy idea. But then if he later comes in and says, “You guys can’t be in here; I own all the air in here,” that was the way it was with treaties, and they said, “We bought all this land,” and they didn’t understand. Nobody buys the land. And so that was another thing that was wrong with treaties; they didn’t understand those kinds of things.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Elden Lawrence Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. “You guys can’t be in here; I own all the air in here” July 22, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1291

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.