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The Norwegian Indian War

Balanced and extremely exciting about the participation of Norwegians in the war against the Sioux Indians in the 1860s.


In childhood, most people have played Indians and cowboys, but few Norwegians know that Norwegian emigrants were active in the Native American wars. In Karl Jakob Skarstein's book The war against the Sioux we can follow the fate of many of these Norwegians who took part in the fight against the Sioux Indians. The Sioux erupted in revolt in 1862, and the war lasted until 1863. Since these were areas where many Norwegians and other Scandinavians had settled, they were severely affected by the rebellion.

Balanced vision

The American Civil War takes place in the background of the events in this book. This war is constantly affecting the efforts of the northern states in the war against the Sioux. The book distinguishes between portraying the events from a bird's-eye perspective, where we are explained what happens, to a personal perspective where we get to read eyewitness accounts of those who participated in the events.

These stories have existed in rural books and newspapers, especially in the Norwegian-language newspapers that existed in Minnesota at this time. From the other side we have some interviews with the Indians who took part in the uprising. These stories have never before been collected and put into a larger context. Although not in English, we find much literature on the Sioux rebellion in 1862.

The book seeks to present a balanced picture of the events. At the same time, it is a fact that the book's main topic is Norwegians and their role in this war. According to the author, it is also a problem that we have fewer Native American sources presenting their views.

The view most of these emigrants had about the natives was not very positive, and many probably saw them as savages and civilized barbarians. We see this view in many of the depictions, letters and notes in the book, but what is surprising, however, is that some of the emigrants had a fairly balanced view of what was happening. Many understood the injustice suffered by the Indians.

Modern parallels

Only at one point does balanced production seem to fail altogether: We can read that "Native American culture did not have the same barriers to killing unarmed civilians as European and American culture" (p. 49.) This seems strange in a book that can tell in-depth about Native American prisoners being attacked by civilians, and one of the soldiers says he saw "a furious white woman jump up on one of the carriages and tear an infant out of her mother's arms and throw it to the ground." (p. 177) The soldiers pulled her away, but the child died as a result. Nowhere do we find that this had any kind of consequences for this woman. Massacres against the Indians happened frequently, something we can read about in the book, and no one who has read about the wars that have raged in Europe, the American civil war and other wars in recent times may well argue that American and European culture has barred against to kill civilians. Most barriers disappear in a war situation, regardless of culture.

The book has some interesting parallels to modern times. We see that some of the Norwegians in the war view their opponents as cowardly, as they do not want to fight in the same way as they do. The fact that one has firearms himself, while the Indians largely do not have this, is not seen as anything wrong. We see the same thinking in almost every war where one party is the other technologically superior. Of course, everyone wants to take advantage of the benefits one has, it's just natural. The point is not that one has this advantage or that one takes advantage of it. It is also the fact that one condemns that the opponent will not play by one's own rules, when they favor one even to the highest degree.

Exciting story

Another funny detail in the book is found in the history of the Vaalborg family. The family left Lintorpet Farm close to the Swedish border, to Christiania, and on to Kragerø. In Kragerø, the eldest son in the family, Ole, tells that he saw a Negro for the first time in his life. "It was Merchant Henrik Bjorn's Negro," Ole says. (pg. 25) Whatever the situation and status of this man now, this tells us something that Norway was a multicultural society as early as 1850.

Overall, the book is extremely exciting reading, and it is one of the best history books the undersigned has read. It probably doesn't grab the readers in the same way as for example Bury my heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, but few books do. Dee Brown's book, published in 1970, is one of the few books that show history from an Native American perspective. The book changed the way many people looked at American history, and has sold over five million copies. Just that Skarstein's book can be compared to this one says something about how good The war against the Sioux st.

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