Dakota Wars

Images of Indian fighting were prevalent in American print culture during the Civil War era. Edward Sylvester Ellis’s dime novel, Nathan Todd, casts scouts and settlers as brave and righteous fighters in mortal combat with a bloodthirsty and primitive foe.

Nathan Todd; or, The Fate of the Sioux Captive

Edward Sylvester Ellis, Nathan Todd; or, The Fate of the Sioux Captive
London: George Routledge and Sons, ca. 1861
Newberry Ayer 439 .B36 1861 v. 4
Gift of Edward E. Ayer

In “The Indian Massacres and War of 1862,” the Native Americans themselves appear in the role of conquered victims, under guard, and brought to justice. The prisoners’ bodies, slumped in defeat, evoke the stereotype of the Indians as a “vanishing race.”

"The Indian Massacres and War of 1862"

"The Indian Massacres and War of 1862" from Harper's New Monthly
New York: Harper's Magazine Co., June 1863
Newberry A 5 .391 v. 27

“Indian Outrages in the Northwest” presents a scene of savage murder. Purportedly based on a “sketch by a correspondent” but probably embellished by a Leslie’s staff artist, the grisly scene presents itself as unvarnished truth.

"Indian Outrages in the Northwest"

"Indian Outrages in the Northwest" from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
New York: Frank Leslie, October 25, 1862
Newberry oversize A 5 .34 v. 15

The popular press tended to assume some involvement by the Confederacy in the Dakota War, as is evident in this Harper’s cartoon depicting Indians massacring women and children. Lying at their feet is a liquor jug labeled “Agent CSA”—implying that the Confederate States of America helped to instigate the violence. The cartoon takes the savage Indian stereotype to an extreme, depicting the Natives as merciless killers dispatching their unarmed and helpless victims.

Dakota War scene (untitled cartoon)

Untitled cartoon (Dakota War scene) from Harper's Weekly
New York: Harper's Magazine Co., September 13, 1862
Newberry folio A 5 .392 v.