Minnesota Historical Society

Henry Hastings Sibley: Divided Heart

$ 32.95

The first full-scale biography of Henry Hastings Sibley, congressman, army general, and Minnesota’s first governor.

Congressman, governor, military leader, and senior statesman—no person played a longer, more influential, or more varied role in the shaping of Minnesota than Henry Hastings Sibley (1811–91). Yet Sibley’s history reveals universal tensions about the duality of the nineteenth century frontiersman who is at once an accommodating trade partner of the Indian/European/Métis worlds and the conquering government official of the ever-expanding West. Rhoda Gilman has spent over thirty years examining Sibley—through hints and fragments of stories that Sibley himself left in articles, an unfinished autobiography, and scores of family letters—and uncovers in this perceptive and balanced biography the complexities of a man who embodied these clashing extremes.

 As Gilman writes in her preface,

On the broader stage of national history Sibley’s life spanned nineteenth-century America. Rooted in the political and social establishment of the old Northwest Territory, he witnessed the colonizing of a continent and its people, the closing of the frontier, the agony of civil war, and the explosive birth of an urban, industrial society. He was keenly conscious of what he conceived to be the nation’s destiny, and he identified closely with it. An heir to the Indian policy of Lewis Cass, who had managed to dispossess the Great Lakes tribes without war, Sibley belonged to the generation that was left to pay the price of that betrayal in blood and shame. And unlike Cass, he had personal ties to the Dakota people that placed him in a deeply ambiguous position.


Gilman sets the controversial but altogether human Sibley against the tapestry of trade, politics, frontier expansion, and intercultural relations in the Upper Mississippi valley, and reminds us that throughout his life Sibley was poised to become a national figure but always chose to remain in the place he loved and had helped to name “Minnesota.”


Rhoda R. Gilman is the author of The Story of Minnesota’s Past (MHS Press) and co-author of The Red River Trails (MHS Press). She is a founding member of Women Historians of the Midwest and a former candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota on the Green Party ticket.


  • By: Rhoda R. Gilman
  • Format: Cloth, 320 pp., 6.25” x 9.25”, 30 b&w photos, 3 maps, notes, bibliography, index
  • Publisher: MNHS Press (April 2004)
  • Product ##: 978-0873514842



Praise for Henry Hastings Sibley


“In the theatre of American memory Henry Hastings Sibley seems a mere shadow, a frontier figure ignored by many historians and forgotten by most Americans. But as Rhoda R. Gilman makes plain in her compelling biography, Sibley was an emblematic character caught in a world of dramatic change. Marked by nuanced and sensitive judgments, this book offers readers a perceptive portrait of a complex man struggling to find his way in a difficult time. Sibley was a ‘regional’ man; his dilemmas and challenges were national and even universal. Gilman’s book is yet another testimony to the power of biography to reveal the contours of our shared past. Reading Henry Hastings Sibley: Divided Heart is to know that one life can open us to many lives.” — James P. Ronda, author of Jefferson's West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark and Barnard Professor of Western American History at the University of Tulsa.


“Exhaustively researched and skillfully written, Rhoda Gilman’s fascinating story of Henry H. Sibley, the central character in Minnesota’s early development, expertly interweaves his careers as fur trader, politician, and general with the national and regional movements that transformed Minnesota into the industrial age. A major contribution to the historiography of nineteenth-century Minnesota.” — William E. Lass, author of Minnesota: A History and Professor Emeritus of History, Minnesota State University, Mankato

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