I. Calls for Extermination and Genocidal Intent

White supremacist notions of Indigenous expendability ascended the continuum of intolerance when the war broke out and the public conversation quickly shifted to one of Indigenous extermination. The most cited call for extermination came from Governor Alexander Ramsey when he appeared before the Minnesota State Legislature on September 9, 1862, just a few weeks after the start of the war, and proclaimed: “The Sioux Indians . . . must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. The public safety imperatively requires it. Justice calls for it. . . . The blood of the murdered cries out to heaven for vengeance . . . .” Given his political power and his capacity to put those words into effect, Ramsey may be viewed as the architect of Minnesota's official genocidal policies that would follow.

He was not the first, or the only one to call for Dakota extermination, however. Lieutenant Governor Donnelly, having already determined that Dakota people would be removed even from their remaining reservation lands, wrote a remarkably similar statement in his August 29, 1862 report to Governor Ramsey about the war:

With prompt action they can be exterminated or driven beyond the State line, and the State once more placed upon such a footing that she can, with some prospect of success, invite emigration. There should be no restoring of the Sioux to their old status; their presence on our frontier would be a perpetual barrier to the growth of the State; they must disappear or be exterminated.

Always concerned about the growth and economic viability of the state, Donnelly's comments suggest that Minnesotans were eager to use the war to eliminate the last obstacles to their settlement of Indigenous lands.

Another strong proponent of extermination, Major General John Pope, the Commander of the Military Department of the Northwest headquartered out of St. Paul, encouraged Henry Sibley, the leader of the expedition against the Dakota, toward extermination. In a letter to Sibley dated September 17, he wrote:

It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year. . . . They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made.

Ironically, the Dakota are characterized by Pope as inhuman beings, unworthy of treaty-making, when it was the federal government that did not uphold its end of Dakota treaties, even when its obligations were meager due to all sorts of fraudulent and unethical negotiations. Even so, as the Dakota moved to a defensive position when Sibley's army advanced, the fighting at this stage would not be characterized as genocidal. Sibley's army did not kill all Dakota people, but instead took 1200 Dakota people into custody when he took over the friendly camp. Officially, Sibley had been charged with defeating the Dakota and securing the release of the white captives. When he accomplished that, he sought to be relieved of his command because he believed, as historian Kenneth Carley noted, that “‘a strictly military commander’ would be better fitted for the task of exterminating those Indians who had escaped.” Had Sibley stopped there, he might be viewed more favorably for his role in the war. Instead, Sibley's request was denied and he became another perpetrator in Ramsey's war of extermination.

Others contributed their public clamoring as a way to incite violence among the civilian population. Jane Grey Swisshelm, editor of the St. Cloud Democrat, used her newspaper to incite genocide writing:

Let our present Legislature offer a bounty of $10 for every Sioux scalp, outlaw the tribe and so let the matter rest. It will cost five times that much to exterminate them by regular modes of warfare and they should be got rid of in the cheapest and quickest manner.

In a later editorial she urged:

Our people will hunt them, shoot them, set traps for them, put out poisoned bait for them. . . . Every Minnesota man, who has a soul and can get a rifle will go shooting Indians; and he who hesitates will be black-balled by every Minnesota woman and posted as a coward in every Minnesota home.

Historian Roy Meyer, in his research, provided a sampling of other newspapers that published calls for extermination. A Red Wing editor proclaimed: “They must be exterminated, and now is a good time to commence doing it.” On August 30, a Mankato newspaper declared, “The cruelties perpetrated by the Sioux nation in the past two weeks demand that our Government shall treat them for all time to come as outlaws, who have forfeited all right to property and life.” The other Mankato paper reported to its readers that if the newspaper columns were shorter it was because its editor “had joined one of the volunteer companies formed ‘for the extermination of Indians.”’ In February 1863, the echoes of extermination were still ringing as a Faribault newspaper printed a letter declaring: “Extermination, swift, sure, and terrible is the only thing that can give the people of Minnesota satisfaction, or a sense of security.” Meyer goes on to observe that although Minnesotans may not have initiated the war for the purpose of seizing Dakota lands, Minnesotans could not be blind to the silver lining in the cloud that was the war: “And what better way was there to mask this greed than to wave the bloody shirt and call righteously for the extermination of the ‘inhuman fiends' who had heretofore stood in the way of Manifest Destiny, Minnesota brand?” By the winter of 1862-1863, a genocidal culture had rooted itself in Dakota homeland. The following section will discuss the criteria for genocide under the United Nations Convention, offering specific examples that might be included under each section. In no way is this list complete; rather, it may be viewed as a sampling.