Education needs to tell the truth about what happened

Mr. LaBatte talks about his family's experience in 1862.

Audio Chapters

JL: Francois LaBatte was half Dakota, half French and he was a fur trader. He was killed on the first day of the Dakota War, August 18. Peter Quinn was full-blooded Irishman from Dublin, Ireland. He was a post interpreter at Fort Ridgely, and he was killed at Redwood Ferry on the first day of the Dakota War. His son George Quinn was among the Indians who attacked Captain Marsh's men at Redwood Ferrry, and George Quinn also was among the Indians who attacked Fort Ridgely. Francois LaBatte's wife, Mary LaBatte, was full-blooded Dakota. Her Dakota name was Hapastina, or Hapstie. Her narrative said she fled among the Indians from the Lower Sioux Agency with her children. My great-grandfather Phillip LaBatte was one of her children, and he would later live in Faribault and move to the Sisseton Reservation. I believe that Mary's mother and father were there. They show on the Faribault census after Mary was moved to Faribault. And I believe that my great-grandfather's future wife Susan Quinn was also there at the Lower Agency. I believe she was a quarter French a quarter Irish and half Dakota. That's all I can remember right now.

DL: So the point you're making is that you had quite a few family members who were very directly connected with that war.

JL: Yes, and I also forgot to mention that I had three uncles inside Fort Ridgely who were among the defenders. One was French, one was French and Dakota and one was Irish and Dakota.

DL: You had family members who were both native and non-native.

JL: Yes. And I had a family member who joined the Indians against the whites and family members who were Christian farmers who opposed the war.

DL: And they were Dakota.

JL: Yes.

DL: Christian farmers.

JL: Yes. They had converted to Christianity and were farming under the government's program. And I'm going to say it now: history has to treat all of these people accurately and respectfully. I do not see that Minnesota Historical Society's products are doing this.

DL: The next question has to do with how you feel being a product of this sort of mish-mash or quilt work display of family ties from the 1860s.

JL: I've got very little information from my family and what I have learned is because maybe fifteen or twenty years ago I started studying family history and tracking down different connections. But at the same time I gained more knowledge, I was looking at exhibits and looking at books and seeing that there are many mistakes: a prejudice toward the white side, toward the Christians, toward the fur traders. I have come to the conclusion that you need to understand what happened. Education needs to tell the truth about what happened. If you're going to criticize any group of people from that time or I'm going to say the fur traders cheated the Indians, I want to see proof of that right there. Don't make that statement and then go on. Don't say Andrew Myrick told the Indians to eat grass and move on. Say why he told them to eat grass. I believe that reconciliation isn't possible because you can't reconcile what you didn't have. I believe in understanding on both sides, understanding why the Indians went to war, understanding why the whites were so angry. Nobody talks about the Dakota Indian warfare. This was traditional warfare and it was very brutal. It wasn't like the white warfare where they tried not to hurt women and children. The Dakota warriors declared everybody an enemy. And their tradition was that the battle would continue in the afterlife so they were mutilating bodies, cutting off hands, poking out eyes. It was very brutal warfare. This is what made the whites so angry and why there were thirty-eight Dakota hanged at Mankato. This is why Indians were removed from the state. People will blame Ramsey for being against the Indians, but Ramsey was a politician -- he was reflecting the wills of the citizens of Minnesota. The people of New Ulm did not want any Indians moved back to the reservation, even friendly Indians. They didn't know the difference back then. They were all guilty. And today there's still some people making them all guilty and I don't like that.

I believe the Minnesota Historical Society should take the lead on this. I believe they should let history rule and not let individuals persuade them away from the truth.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator John LaBatte Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. Education needs to tell the truth about what happened March 20, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1068

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