Originally Posted Online: May 09, 2013, 10:47 pm
Last Updated: May 09, 2013, 11:36 pm
Researcher tells history of Dakota imprisonment in Davenport
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By Kevin Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org
History buffs met at the Bettendorf Public Library on Thursday night for a lesson on one of the area's darker tales.
The Dakota Indian Imprisonment presentation offered a bleak glimpse into the lives of Native Americans brought to Davenport from Minnesota during the Civil War. Sara James-Childers, along-time researcher of the Dakota imprisonment, led the discussion for about 90 local history devotees.
About 350 Dakotas were interned and forced to live in harsh conditions at Camp McClellan, now known as McClellan Heights, Ms. James-Childers said. Between 100 and 125 of them died during the prison's operation, from 1861 and 1866.
The Dakotas were imprisoned in Davenport after violence broke out in Minnesota among the tribe as more restrictions were imposed on them, she said. Initially brought to Camp McClellan out of concern for their safety, the Dakotas later were forced into labor through orders by the military.
Ms. James-Childers said her research included years of oral history, gathered from her in-laws of Dakota descent, compared to documents from the time period.
She displayed letters from the imprisoned Dakotas sent to President Abraham Lincoln, politicians and family members. The letters described the poor treatment and living conditions they were subjected to, she said. Often, they were pleas to be treated as humans.
One of the more egregious acts of inhumanity imposed on the prisoners involved a "pest house," Ms. James-Childers said. Healthy Dakotas were sent in to become infected with disease that they then would transmit to others in the camp.
When the camp closed after the Civil War, the freed Dakotas traveled south along the Mississippi River, she said. The bodies of the dead likely were dumped in ravines near the camp, she said.
There is little awareness of the prison as a part of Davenport's history, she said.
"We have all this ethnic history and you wouldn't know it," she said.
Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said he hopes to include her help in planning a memorial to the Dakotas interned at the camp. The memorial would be incorporated in the master plan for the Mississippi River Heritage Park, at the site of the first railroad crossing over the river.
"Now it's fitting and appropriate to provide some memorial to that episode in history," Mayor Gluba said.
The mayor said he was impressed with the amount of information Ms. James-Childers has gathered, adding the first-hand accounts of prisoners could easily have been lost.
Jim Jochum, president of the Rock Island Arsenal Historical Society, said the presentation brought forward new information of which he was unaware.
"It's always important to know history," said Mr. Jochum, adding he had not always believed that. "Sometimes you don't realize that until you're older."