As the immigrant and Euro-American population of the North American east coast region grew, population pressures affected people far inland. People moved west to find new homes as more and more land was used by farmers. The Minnesota area is the ancestral homeland of the Dakota people, which consisted of the Oceti sakowin (seven council fires). By 1700, Ojibwe had come to what is now Minnesota and at times they had come into conflict with each other.
The traditional Dakota yearly cycle of farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering wild rice had been unalterably interrupted by cultural changes. Permanent farms were established by settlers. Forests were removed for timber and farmland in eastern Minnesota. Wild game like bison, elk, whitetail deer, and bear had been hunted so intensively that populations were tiny compared to the populations before Euro-American settlement. Dakota people relied on the sale of valuable furs to American traders to earn cash needed to buy necessities.
To encourage the Dakota to bring in more furs, traders offered merchandise on credit. It is not clear that the concept of credit was readily understood in the Dakota culture, but their dependence on trade goods was real.
Pressure from traders who wanted to be paid and concern from government officials about the ability of the Dakota to earn the money they wanted, led to the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. In exchange for money and goods, the Dakota agreed to live on a twenty mile wide reservation centered on a 75-mile stretch of the upper Minnesota River. Annuity payments for the Dakota were late in the summer of 1862.
What is now Redwood Falls was within the reservation area. The war of 1862 was a small segment of the Sioux’s long history of conflict, first with other Indian tribes and then with the white man. Corruption and malfeasance by the Bureau of Indian Affairs combined with the inability of many Dakota to adjust to change in functional ways created great hardships for the Dakota. An August 4, 1862 confrontation between soldiers and braves led to a decision to distribute provisions on credit to avoid violence. At the Lower Agency at Redwood, however, things were handled differently. At an August 15, 1862 meeting attended by Dakota representatives, Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith, and representatives of the traders, the traders resisted pleas to distribute provisions held in agency warehouses to starving Dakota until the annuity payments finally arrived. In 1862, U.S. officials in Minnesota were distracted by the U.S. Civil War and the suffering of the Dakota was severe. Payments to the Dakota were not made and some young men took action to claim what they were owed, killing several people in the process. Thus began the Dakota War of 1862.
As a result of the war, the U.S. government abolished the reservation, hung 38 participants, and attempted to expel the Dakota people from Minnesota. In 1864, Sam McPhail, a colonel who had commanded U.S. troops in the war and was a land speculator, claimed the land where Redwood Falls is now located. He hired men to use lumber from the Dakota reservation to build a fortified house and surrounded it with a sod stockade eight feet tall. McPhail published the Redwood Falls Patriot from 1866 to 1869. He was a probate judge and first Redwood County attorney. In 1872, he donated land for the county courthouse.
One of the people who joined McPhail in 1864 was John St. George Honner. Honner claimed land north of Redwood Falls. The house he built in 1869, stands in North Redwood and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Honner was the first postmaster and a county official. He was a representative and a senator in the state legislature between 1866 and 1874. Honner also operated a granite quarry near North Redwood and supplied the stone for the county courthouse.
The cities of North Redwood and Redwood Falls merged in 1996 and now coexist as the single entity Redwood Falls.
Redwood Falls is home to the Minnesota Inventors Congress. Started in the 1958 to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship and attract industry to town, MIC holds a juried exhibition each year. It also sponsors a contest for student inventors.
The city of Redwood Falls took over Alexander Ramsey Park in 1958 from the state of Minnesota. Ramsey had been one of the least used and least developed state parks but is now the largest municipal park in Minnesota.