This monument was dedicated in 1894 as a testament to U.S. soldiers and civilians who fought and died in the Battle of Birch Coulee. The U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862 started when Dakota Indians, frustrated over broken treaty promises and efforts to change their traditional way of living, made an attempt to drive out all the settlers of southwestern Minnesota. A burial party was sent out to bury the dead from previous battles, search for survivors and determine the whereabouts of the hostile Dakota. The battle that ensued would turn out to be one of the deadliest for the U.S. Army during the conflict.
On Sunday, August 31, 1862, 170 U.S. soldiers and a few civilians, under command of Major Joseph R. Brown, moved upriver from Fort Ridgely. Captain Hiram Grant commanded one company and Captain Joseph Anderson commanded the other company. Their orders were to bury the dead, search for survivors and determine the whereabouts of the hostile Dakota. They buried over 70 settlers, soldiers and traders over two days on both sides of the Minnesota River. Seeing no signs of the Dakota, Grant set up camp at the head of Birch Coulee. Brown re-crossed the river and joined Grant.
Near dawn, one of the sentries saw Dakota soldiers moving in the grass surrounding the camp and fired at them. While the men had slept, Dakota soldiers led by Zitkahota (Chief Gray Bird), Wanmdi'tan'ka (Chief Big Eagle), Husasa (Chief Red Legs), and Mankato (Chief Blue Earth) had surrounded the camp.
The Dakota fired a deadly hail of bullets into the half-awakened camp. Brown's Army was severely weakened, with many men wounded and almost all of the 90 horses killed. The U.S. soldiers used the dead horses for cover.
The firing was heard by sentries at Fort Ridgely, 16 miles in the distance. A relief column of 240 soldiers, led by Colonel McPhail, was sent out from Fort Ridgely only to be stopped by Chief Mankato and Dakota soldiers. A messenger was sent back to Fort Ridgely. Colonel Sibley led all of the remaining troops out to finally relieve the battered burial party at about 11:00 a.m. that next morning. According to most accounts, thirteen members of the burial party were killed and 47 severely wounded. It is believed that the Dakota lost three men.
The Birch Coulee Battlefield is located 2 miles northwest of this monument, just east of State Highway 71. It has a self-guided interpretive trail.
The two Morton monuments, dedicated to the soldiers who fought at Birch Coulee and to those who aided the settlers, agency employees, or missionaries in... unreadable due to truncation
Struggles for a Home
The Minnesota River Valley has a story to tell about indigenous people struggling to make a home amid a changing environment. The Minnesota River Valley also has a story to tell about the struggles of the pioneering immigrant families who eventually created one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.
The Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway
Funded in part by Federal Highway Administration
logos of: America's Byways; Renville County; Scenic Byway Minnesota River Valley