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Conflicted Mission

Conflicted Mission

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Faith, Disputes, and Deception on the Dakota Frontier

Author Linda Clemmons

Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 15, 2014)

Contrasts the missionaries’ rhetoric with the reality of their work on the frontier to tell a complicated and fascinating story of cultural collision.


From the mid-1830s to the 1860s, the missionaries sent to Minnesota by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) wrote thousands of letters to their supervisors and supporters claiming success in converting the Dakota people. But author Linda M. Clemmons reveals that the reality of the situation was far more conflicted than what those written records would suggest.

In fact, in the rough Minnesota territory, missionaries often found themselves looking to the Dakota for support. The missionaries and their wives struggled to define what it meant to convert and “civilize” Dakota people. And, although many scholars depict missionaries as working hand in hand with the federal government, Clemmons reveals discord over the Dakota people’s treatment, especially after the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, when many missionaries spoke out against exile.

The missionaries found that work with the Dakota was rarely as heroic, romantic, or successful as what they read about in the evangelical press, but, at the same time, they themselves painted a rosier picture of their own work.

Author information

Linda M. Clemmons is an associate professor of history at Illinois State University.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“In her clear and straightforward account of the missionaries to the Dakota people, Linda Clemmons hits on key concepts and issues that we as Dakota people often speak about, as well as things that our elders have told us for years. Because she allows the missionaries’ story to unfold through many of their own letters and reports, I found myself able to extract information that spoke to me in very personal ways. This book left me with a new appreciation of the missionaries as people and a greater awareness of the role they played in the history of my Dakota people. It was a great pleasure to read.”
Tamara St. John, Archivist, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate

“Clemmons powerfully conveys the conflicts facing men and especially women of the American Board as they struggled to Christianize Dakota Indians of Minnesota in the decades before and immediately after the war of 1862. State and federal government demands, the increasing white settler presence, missionary interpersonal friction, along with interference from remote headquarters—all produced endless challenges. Clemmons also demonstrates how the diverse and manipulative responses of Dakotas ironically forced missionary adaptation to Indian reality. Complexity and conflict communicated with great clarity.”
Michael C. Coleman, author of Presbyterian Missionary Attitudes Toward American Indians, 1837–1893

“Linda Clemmons’s telling account makes clear that whether advocates for Christ, the Dakotas, or both, missionaries of the ABCFM in Minnesota from the 1830s through the 1860s labored in highly contested ground. She convincingly portrays how amid disputes on all fronts, the missionaries’ encounter with the Dakotas changed them as much, and perhaps more, than the native peoples.”
Richard W. Pointer, author of Encounters of the Spirit: Native Americans and European Colonial Religion

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 288 pages
  • 15 b&w photos, notes, index
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873519212

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