The Sioux Massacre, Minnesota

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Bishop Whipple on the Outbreak and the Nation’s Duty to the Redman

Henry Benjamin Whipple
Henry Benjamin Whipple (February 15, 1822 – September 16, 1901) was the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota. Born in Adams, N.Y., he was raised in the Presbyterian church but became an Episcopalian through the influence of his grandparents and his wife, Cornelia whom he married in 1842. Whipple attended Oberlin College from 1838 – 1839 and worked in his father’s business until he was admitted to holy orders in 1848.

Bishop Whipple, of Minnesota, who foretold this very outbreak, and who obtained the names of all the bishops in the Northern States to a petition to the government to have justice done to the red man, has issued a noble appeal in their behalf, in which he tells some humiliating truths. In speaking of this massacre, he says, ” The nation has heard of the most fearful Indian massacre in history; but those who live remote from the border can have no idea of the awful horrors which have accompanied the desolation of two hundred miles of the fairest country on the earth. Many of these victims of savage ferocity were my friends. They had mingled their voices with mine in prayer; they had given me such hospitality as can only be found in the log cabin of the frontier. It fills my heart with grief, and blinds my eyes with tears, whenever I think of their nameless graves.” And yet he adds, “There is not a man in America who ever give an hour’s calm reflection to this subject, who does not know that our Indian system is an organized” system of robbery, and has been for years a disgrace to the nation. It was under this Indian system that the fierce, warlike Sioux were fitted and trained to be actors in this bloody drama, and the same causes are today slowly but surely preparing the way for a Chippeway war. The people here on the borders, and the rulers at Washington know how that faith has been broken. The constant irritation of such a system would in time have secured an Indian massacre. It was hastened by the sale of nearly 800,000 acres of land, for which they never received one farthing, for it was all absorbed in claims. Then came the story (and it was true,) that half their annuity money had also been taken for claims. They waited two months, mad, exasperated, hungry the agent utterly powerless to undo the wrong committed at Washington and they resolved on savage vengeance. For every dollar of which they have been defrauded, we shall pay ten dollars in the cost of this war. It has been so for fifty years; it will be so again. God s retributive justice always has compelled a people to reap exactly what they have permitted to be sown. Deeply as our people feel on the question of slavery, they may here see, on the border, a system which in curses to body and soul, in the loss of manhood, home and heaven, has worked out a degradation to red men which slavery has never done for the African race.”

But though the massacre had ended with the flight of Little Crow, not so the war. This chieftain made his way to near Devil Lake, in the Dakota territory, some five hundred miles north-west of St. Paul. Here, too, collected the fugitives who had fled from the avenging whites, numbering in all over four thousand. He spent the winter in trying to induce the neighboring tribes to join him, so that in the spring he could take the field again against the whites. He also sent to the British forts for ammunition, but they refused to listen to his solicitations.

General Pope, after his defeat in front of Washington, had been assigned to the North Western Department, and spent the winter in organizing a large force to penetrate into the Indian Territory, and make an utter end of the hostile tribes. But before it was ready to march, the Indians were again on the warpath, and small bands hovered along the frontier of Minnesota, killing every unarmed emigrant or settler they could come across. Knowing they could not keep the open field, they avoided assembling in force. Small squads, by the secrecy and rapidity of their movements, were able to elude the armed bodies of whites, that now lined the border. They thus succeeded, during the spring, in murdering some thirty whites, though not always with impunity. With all his cunning the Indian could not always escape the keen eye of the western man, and here and there a painted corpse became the prey of the prairie fox. The worst massacre during this spring, was that of the family of Mr. Dustin, consisting of the father and mother, two children, and their grandmother. They were traveling in a common lumber box wagon, when they were suddenly attacked, and all killed, or left for dead, with the exception of one child, who hid under the seat. They were not discovered for two days, and when found, the head less trunk of Mr. Dustin was sitting braced up in the front part of the wagon, an arrow sticking in it, and a great gaping wound, made by a tomahawk, in his heart. The grandmother hung head downwards over the side of the wagon, her long hair clotted with blood, streaming to the ground. The mother and remaining child lay in the wagon, still breathing, but unable to move.

But in the fore part of July, Little Crow himself was killed, without the least suspicion at the time, that it was he. Mr. Lampson and his son were passing along the road, about six miles from Hutchinson, when they saw two Indians picking berries in a little opening in the woods, on the prairie. Fortunately, the Indians did not see them, and concealing themselves behind some bushes, they crept cautiously forward till within close rifle shot, when Mr. Lampson took deliberate aim and fired. The older Indian gave a sudden yell, and flinging his hands into the air fell back on the ground. Recovering himself, however, he began to creep forward towards the spot from which the shot had come. Mr. Lampson and his son then stole away, but being compelled to cross a little open space in their retreat, they became exposed, when the Indian, partially lifted himself and fired. At the same instant Mr. Lampson discovered the Indian, and fired also. The wounded Indian fell back dead, while his ball whistled harmlessly by the father. The younger Indian now also fired, and one of the buckshot struck Mr. L. in the shoulder, fetching him to the ground. He then jumped on his horse and fled over the prairie. The young Mr. L., thinking his father dead, and supposing the woods to be full of Indians, fled also, and reaching Hutchinson late at night, gave the alarm. A company of soldiers at the place immediately started out, and on coming to the spot found the dead body of the Indian, but could discover no traces of Mr. Lampson. He, after lying for some time in the bushes into which he had crawled, and seeing no signs of any more Indians around, took a circuitous route for home, where he arrived at two o clock in the morning. The dead Indian was carried to Hutchinson, where its singular appearance caused a good deal of wonder. Both arms had been broken, and one never set, while the front teeth were double, like the back ones. It was finally thrown into a pit amid the offals of slaughtered cattle. It was afterwards ascertained that this was the body of the famous Little Crow, and the young Indian who escaped was his son. The latter was subsequently captured, and revealed the fact, that the great warrior and orator, his father, had died in this ignominious way.

The imposing expedition, which in the spring was to end the war by one great blow, did not get under way until the fore part of June. This long delay caused much dissatisfaction, for the western people especially, wanted to see swift vengeance visited on the Indians, and their northwestern frontier no longer drenched in blood. Rumors were freely circulated, that rebel emissaries were among the Indians, stirring them up to hostilities, and though utterly without foundation, many believe it to this day.

Sibley, who had been made general the previous fall, started early in June with an army, over two thousand strong, for Devil Lake, by the way of the Minnesota River while General Sully, with a large body of cavalry, moved up the Missouri, to cut off the Indians as they retreated before the former. But the whole expedition, though imposing in appearance, was not properly organized to operate with success against fleet-footed savages, who had no villages to burn, or fields to lay waste. For a time it threatened to be a total failure, but Sibley, having reached Fort Atchison, near Devil Lake, left all but 1,400 of his men there, and taking these and 500 cavalry, started off on the 20th of July, in search of the Indians. After four days march over the prairie, he came upon a camp of them on the “Big Mound.” Entrenchments were immediately thrown up to protect the camp and trains, and the whole army drawn up in line of battle. Very soon the Indians appeared, when some of our scouts went forward and began to talk with them. Dr. Weiser, surgeon, ob serving this apparently friendly interview, rode forward and joined them, and shook hands with one or two Indians, whom he had formerly seen on the reservation. Almost the next moment an Indian stepped forward, and raising his musket, shot him deliberately through the heart. The others then scattered, the scouts fired, and several shots were exchanged. A part of the cavalry immediately dashed forward, and the conflict began. The infantry, under Lieut.-Colonel Marshall, advanced up a ravine that extended from the camp to the Big Mound, and the Indians fell back three or four miles, pushed resolutely by the whites, till they were driven out of the broken country, in which the cavalry could not charge, into a broad plain. It was a wild and lonely place for a fight, and while it was raging, a thundercloud rolled heavily up over the prairie, throwing into still stronger relief the painted forms, that dotted the green surface. The lightning rent the gloom with strange fury, followed by thunderclaps that burst like the report of a thousand cannon. But the combatants did not heed this wrathful gathering of the elements, and Col. M’Phaill, seeing the Indians breaking into the plain, put himself at the head of two companies of cavalry, and ordered the bugle to sound the charge. As the stirring strains rang over the prairie, they dashed forward, and broke with a shout into the savage crowd, their sabers shaking above their heads. Just at this moment, as if it were an interposition from heaven, came a blinding flash of lightning, and struck right in the midst of that charging body of cavalry. One rider and his horse, while in full gallop, fell dead on the plain. M’Phaill s grasp unloosed from his sword, and the whole force stopped in full career, as though an earthquake had opened at their feet, for the peal of thunder that followed seemed to rend the very frame work of nature. The charge was broken, and the Indians got off. Before the rest of the cavalry could be brought up, they were miles away. They, however, started in pursuit, and coining up with them before dark, charged again and again on their rear, sabring a large number. The Indians had their women and trains ahead, and fought desperately. “One stalwart warrior, with an American flag wrapped around him, fired twice while the cavalry were within twenty yards, charging upon him. He got the powder down but not the ball, for the third load, which he discharged at the heart of Archy M’Nee, of course, without effect. He then clubbed his gun, and struck Carlson, nearly unhorsing him. A dozen carbine balls were put into him, and then he had to be sabred to finish him.” Lieut.-Col. Marshall had a narrow escape in this fight. At the head of the rangers he was charging furiously down a slope, when the same thunder clap that had so suddenly arrested the other companies, made the rangers fetch up with a jerk. He, however, kept on, and before he was aware he was surrounded by a dozen Indians. Wheeling his horse, however, he dashed back to his followers unhurt.

The cavalry took twenty-one scalps in this fight. Col. M’Phaill told his men it was barbarous to take scalps, but he would not believe that any one had killed an Indian, unless he saw his scalp.

The Indians, in their flight, threw away buffalo skins and meat in immense quantities, and their trail looked like that of a routed army. Owing to a mistake in understanding orders, the advance cavalry, instead of pursuing on, returned to camp, and thus gave the Indians a long start in advance, so that ten days heavy marching had to be endured before they were come up with again. The army made but three miles next day. On the 26th it reached Dead Buffalo Lake about noon, and went into camp. Soon the Indians were seen in the distance, advancing towards them, when the six pounders were pushed forward a half a mile to a hill, to hold them in check. The former kept out of range, but all the knolls around were covered with them, watching our movements, and looking to find a place where they could make a successful dash. Thus several hours passed away, when a large body on ponies, suddenly appeared on the north side of the camp, and came down like the wind. But their movement being observed by two companies of cavalry, they sprang forward to the sound of the bugle, and came down on a tearing gallop. The Indians did not wait for the shock, but wheeling their ponies, made off at the top of their speed, but not fast enough to escape the revolver and carbine, which rolled several of them over on the prairie.

The next day the march was resumed, the trail being plainly marked by the skins and other articles, that cumbering their flight had been thrown away. The following morning, as they were winding around a small lake, they suddenly came upon two thousand warriors, who were moving rapidly back, as if to get in their rear. The artillery was hurried forward and opened on them, and the line of battle quickly formed. The Indians had evidently intended a surprise, but finding the troops prepared to receive them, began to hesitate. Then seeing the column resume its forward in arch, pressing in the direction of their camp, they wheeled and passed out of sight. This day, a boy and an old squaw were taken captive, the only prisoners that were spared. The remembrance of the bloody massacres were still fresh in the minds of the soldiers, and they gave no quarter. The cry for mercy was in every instance hushed by the flashing saber, cleaving the suppliant to the earth. A wounded Indian, in one instance tried to escape, by hanging on to the tail of his poay, but a carbine shot striking the animal, he was over taken by a trooper, who drew his revolver upon him. But the piece missing fire, the savage turned and shot him. At the same instant, a shot from a scout pierced the savage, and he fell in the agonies of death. The dead trooper’s comrade coming up, dismounted and tore scalp of the Indian from his head, while he was still breathing.

After the last fight, the column kept on unmolested until it reached, on the 24th, the banks of the Missouri river. The Indians, during the night had got their families over, but their wagon train, composed of over a hundred teams, was left on the bank, and fell into our hands. The army went into camp here for two days, and then started on its homeward march. It would take two or three days at least to cross the river, while but fifteen days rations were left, and a vast prairie had to be traversed before other supplies could be reached.

Not as much had been accomplished as was anticipated, and to the public the results seemed but a poor equivalent for the expense of the expedition. Still, the Indian supplies for the season had been destroyed, together with their means of transportation, and over a hundred warriors killed. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see how more could have been accomplished; the troops had certainly behaved well, driving the Indians wherever they found them, and meeting the hardships of the campaign with unflinching fortitude. They had marched six hundred miles from St. Paul, and all this distance had now to be traversed again.

The power of the Sioux tribe is broken, and the Sioux massacre is over, but whether they will be able to enlist in their favor other powerful tribes on our frontier, will probably depend very much on circumstances. Our Indian wars are proverbially long ones, and unless we change our policy entirely, our troubles from this source have only as yet begun. As we drive them back before our advancing civilization, we concentrate them, and at some future time, a Pontiac or Tecumseh may band them together, and present a formidable array along our frontier, and another bloody chapter in our border history be opened. That they are doomed to extinction is evident, but the stern retributive justice of heaven, in the mean time, may exact its full measure of punishment from the nation for its misuse of power, and its cruel treatment of a barbarous, degraded race, which providence has placed in our charge. The trust thus reposed in us must be met in a different spirit from what it has been, or a day of reckoning will be required. Proud of our strength, it may seem a matter of indifference to us, whether we are just or not to the feeble and helpless, but the Great Father of us all, measures things by a different standard than short-sighted man, and in the end sets all things even.


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-sioux-massacre-minnesota.htm - Last updated on Jan 9th, 2014


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