Learning About Pioneers with American Girl Kirsten, Part 4: The Dakota Native Americans

Kirsten and her family found a beautiful new home in the Minnesota territory, but the Dakota tribe of Native Americans had already called the area home for many hundreds of years. They were a hunting and gathering people, and they lived mainly on the wild deer, elk, and buffalo that roamed the area.

When pioneers began to develop the Dakota’s lands, they chased away the wild animals. This caused major problems for the Dakota people who these animals for food. The Dakota did very little farming; they only grew a small amount of corn or squash, so when the settlers chased the wild animals from their lands, the Dakota began to starve.

In 1851, the United States offered the Dakota money and food for their land in Minnesota, and the Dakota were to move to a reservation, which was a small strip of land along the Minnesota River. Because the Dakota were starving, they accepted the offer. However, the United States often did not make their payments to the Dakota on time. There were very few animals on the reservation, and although many of the Dakota began to farm to try to feed themselves, when crops were poor they were still faced with hunger. They really needed the money owed to them by the government, and when it did not come they were angry. This led to the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Some of the Dakota attacked settlements and government agencies. The settlements were vulnerable because many of the men were off fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War. Minnesota’s governor asked President Lincoln to send their troops back so they could defend their state, and after six weeks, the Dakota surrendered. Some of the Dakota fled, others were taken and put on trial. Over 300 Dakota were sentenced to death, but President Lincoln changed most of the death sentences to prison sentences. Thirty-eight Dakota were hung, and the rest were imprisoned in Fort Snelling throughout the winter, where many starved to death or dies of illness.

Despite this tragic time in their history, the Dakota have survived and preserved many of the traditions that they had at the time that Kirsten was a girl. In Kirsten’s day, Dakota women would throw blankets over porcupines and collect the quills that got stuck in the blanket. They would then flatten the quills, dye them, and sew them onto animal hides to decorate clothing, bags, moccasins, and other items. The Dakota women also wove beads together on looms to make beautiful sashes and bags. Some Dakota women still carry on this custom and teach their children how to quill and bead today!

(information from Welcome to Kirsten’s World, 1854: Growing Up in Pioneer America)

Weave a Beaded Sash!

This is a fun project that will help you remember the Dakota people.

You will need:

  • a cardboard loom
  • pony beads (you will need about 150 for each beaded sash)
  • centimeter graph paper
  • durable thread or string
  • colored pencils, crayons, or markers (in colors that match the pony beads)
  • masking tape
  • needle with a large eye


  • First, create your pattern on your graph paper. To do this, mark off as many rows on your graph paper as you plan to have on your beaded sash. Color in squares to represent beads on your sash.
  • Next, prepare the loom. Tape the end of your string securely to the back of your cardboard loom. Wrap your string around the loom, wrapping from back to front until you have six lengthwise strings.
  • Now, thread a needle with a long crosswise string. Tie the end to the bottom longwise string on your loom.
  • Start with your first vertical row. Thread the beads in order onto your needle. Slide the beads down onto the string, then slide the needle UNDER the lengthwise threads. Pull the string all the way up and place the beads in between the horizontal strings.
  • Put the needle back through the row of beads, making sure the cross thread goes OVER the horizontal strings this time. Pull through the beads and pull tight.
  • Cross out the row on your pattern so you know you have completed this row.
  • Now repeat the steps until you have finished your pattern.
  • Once your pattern is complete, tie the ends of your strings together to tie off the sash.

Now you are finished!

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