Project Description

Birch Coulie

The Epic Battle of the Dakota War



In the days following the Battle of Birch Coulie, the decisive battle in the deadly Dakota War of 1862, one of President Lincoln’s private secretaries wrote: “There has hardly been an outbreak so treacherous, so sudden, so bitter, and so bloody, as that which filled the State of Minnesota with sorrow and lamentation.” Even today, at the 150th anniversary of the Dakota War, the battle still raises questions and stirs controversy. In Birch Coulie John Christgau recounts the dramatic events surrounding the battle. American history at its narrative best, his book is also a uniquely balanced and accurate chronicle of this little-understood conflict, one of the most important to roil the American West.

Christgau’s account of the war between white settlers and the Dakota Indians in Minnesota examines two communities torn by internal dissent and external threat, whites and Native Americans equally traumatized by the short and violent war. The book also delves into the aftermath, during which thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged without legal representation or the appearance of defense witnesses, the largest mass execution in American history. With its unusually nuanced perspective, Birch Coulie brings a welcome measure of clarity and insight to a critical moment in the troubled history of the American West.

“Birch Coulie is a great re-telling of a great story. Birch Coulie accurately captures not only the events leading up to this historic battle, but also the emotions of its participants. Christgau seems to understand the depth of Dakota frustrations that produced one of the most determined Native attacks on US troops in all of American History.”
(Carl Colwell, LTC U.S. Army, Ret., director of the Renville County (Minnesota) Historical Society and director of the Minnesota Valley History Learning Center)

“Essential reading. Rich detail and complex historical characters capture a vibrant snapshot of Minnesota history.”
(Curt Brown, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

“A lively, well-written account. An entertaining study . . . highly engaging.”
(The Annals of Iowa)

“Christgau has captured the facts of the 1862 war and the Battle of Birch Coulie in a way that brings them alive to the reader.”
(Gary Revier, Minnesota Heritage)

Nominated, 2012 Best Non-Fiction Award, Society of Midland Authors

Nominated, 2012 Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize

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