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The Sioux Massacre, Minnesota

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The Sioux massacre of the whites in Minnesota in August, 1862, is one of the bloodiest that has ever occurred in the history of the Indian races in North America. In the earlier periods of the country, the frontier settlements were constantly exposed to. Indian depredations, and their destruction at any time seemed probable from their comparative feebleness and remoteness from succor; but that the savage tribes should rise against the whites almost within sight of our populous cities, our railroads and steamboats, was not dreamed of by any one.

The Sioux massacre, had it occurred in a time of peace, would have moved the nation more profoundly than any event in our history, but coming as it did in the midst of one of the most fearful civil wars the world has ever seen, it lost half its horrors. When our fathers, brothers and sons were falling by the tens of thousands in our very midst, the slaughter of a few hundred settlers on our frontier seemed comparatively a small evil.

A Warlike Tribe

Sioux Lands
Sioux Lands

The Sioux, or Dacotah Indians, as they have been known from time immemorial, have always been a warlike tribe, but as civilization advanced and encroached upon them, their savage character gradually changed, and for years they had lived at peace with their white neighbors. They had step by step receded before the tide of emigration, selling their lands to the government, until by the last treaties, especially the one ratified in 1860, they yielded all their possessions in Iowa, Dakota and Minnesota, except a tract a hundred and fifty miles long, on the Minnesota river. In accordance with these treaties, a large amount of money and goods was annually delivered to them, and an agent of the government resided among them to superintend the transaction of all public business. For the sake of convenience two stations were established for this purpose, one fourteen miles above Fort Ridgely, on the Minnesota river, called the “Lower,” or “Redwood Agency,” and the other at the mouth of the Yellow Medicine River, known as the “Upper,” or “Yellow Medicine Agency.” A part of the nation, perhaps a hundred families, had adopted civilized customs, lived in frame-houses, dressed in coats and pantaloons, attended churches and schools, had plows, harrows, and all the agricultural implements, and seemed fast merging into civilization. The other portion, however, lived in huts on the prairie, and retained their savage customs and habits.

A few miles above the Yellow Medicine were churches and schools in charge of Rev. S. R. Riggs and Dr. Williamson, who for a long time had been missionaries among them. At Lac qui Parle was another school under the care of Rev. Mr. Huggins, while trading posts were established at various points. Besides the whites and Indians, a numerous race of half-breeds had sprung up. A good road ran through the reservation, with eighteen well-constructed bridges. Some three thousand acres of this fertile region had been fenced and planted, while saw and corn-mills and brickyards were established at the agencies.

Civilization Commenced

But although matters seemed in this thriving, prosperous condition, there had been at various times, indications of an outbreak. The large annuities paid them by the government furnished tempting bait to unscrupulous traders and adventurers, who managed from time to time to make large fortunes at the expense of the Indian. On two different occasions $2,900 that had been placed on a table in payment to some of the chiefs, was picked up by a half-breed and given to a white man, and that was the last ever seen of it. Receipts were obtained on the promise of furnishing horses, guns, &c. which were never paid. Once a man by the name of Hugh Tyler, took $55,000 as pay due him, as he alleged, for getting a treaty through the Senate. The $166,000 which the Indians were to receive for ceding their lands north of the Minnesota, they never saw or received a penny of for four years, or until the very year of the massacre, and then but $1,500 worth of goods were sent, and even this was deducted from the money due them under a former treaty. The Indians, indignant at the fraud, refused for a long time to receive them, and finally did so only after the government had agreed to make it right with them.

Injustice Of Our Government

Things had gone on in this way until at the outbreak the annuities amounted to scarcely fifteen dollars a piece of the 6,200 that composed the tribe. This was not sufficient to keep them from starvation, and the winter previous to the massacre numbers actually died from want, and many others only lived by eating their horses and dogs. Other and slighter causes, but such as an Indian keenly feels, incensed them against the whites, and nothing but their powerlessness kept them from violence long before. The outbreak of civil war among us naturally excited in their hearts the belief that their day of revenge was at hand. Said a famous Cherokee chief, many years ago, when speaking of the wrongs done his nation, “One of these days you will be at war among yourselves, and then when you are weakened, we will come down on you like the mountain wolf on the fold, and tear you in pieces.” Such thoughts stirred the hearts of the Sioux braves. Besides, they did not escape the war excitement that filled the land. Recruiting stations were in their midst, and companies of half-breeds were organized for the army. This also showed to them the desperate straits of the government for men, and its weakness. Added to all, the wildest rumors spread among them of the sacking of our cities by the south, the capture of Washington, and even the President. All these things tended to kindle the sullen desire for revenge which for a long time had smoldered in their breasts, into a belief that their time for action had come.

Fort Ridgely 1862
Fort Ridgely 1862

About the first of July the young men of the nation formed a secret association, called the “Soldier’s Lodge,” the object of which was to control matters when any thing of great importance to the nation occurred. Yet all this did not alarm the whites, and the traders who had come to despise the Indians, would tell them as Foulon did the mob of Paris when they said they were starving, to “Eat Hay.” The very night before the outbreak, a large council was held only fifteen miles from the lower agency, in which it was determined to go the next day to the Agency and demand the money due them, thence to Fort Ridgely, if refused, to St. Paul; and if necessary, to resort to violence to secure their rights. It will thus be seen that the whole nation was resting on the bosom of a volcano, which at any moment might burst forth in a deluge of fire.

Yet strange as it may seem, the whites reposed in perfect security; the wholesome fear, which kept the early settlers on the alert, had been laid to rest so long that it seemed impossible to rouse it. So complete was this delusion that the government agent, Mr. Galbraith, who visited the entire reservation just before the outbreak, spoke on his return with great satisfaction of the prosperous condition of affairs in the tribe.

Still, notwithstanding this apparent preparation of a sudden uprising, the time and manner of its occurrence seemed purely accidental.

Beginning Of The Massacre

On the first of August a party of twenty Indians went to the “Big Woods,” an extensive forest about eighty miles above the falls of St. Anthony, to hunt and get a wagon which a chief had left the previous winter with Captain Whitcomb. They separated on the way, some of them going towards Acton. These got into a quarrel a few days after, accusing each other of cowardice for being afraid of the whites. They finally separated, the larger number saying to four who went off by themselves, “You will see whether we are brave or not, for we are going to kill a white man.” Soon after, the four heard the others firing, and supposing they were shooting down whites, said they must kill some too, to show that they were equally brave. While they were debating the project, they came to Acton. Here they got into an altercation with three men named Jones, Baker and Webster. At length one of the Indians proposed they should go out and shoot at a mark, for the purpose of getting the guns of the whites discharged. They did so, when the Indians, after firing, carefully reloaded their guns, and consulting a moment together, appeared about to go away, when they suddenly turned and fired, shooting down Jones and his wife, and Baker and Webster. They then broke open Jones house, shot a young lady in it named Miss Wilson, and departed. Mrs. Webster, who was in a covered wagon, near by, and Mrs. Baker, who in her fright fell down cellar and was not noticed, escaped. This was the beginning of the massacre. The two women crawled forth to find their families weltering in blood. Hastening to the house of a Norwegian a few miles distant, they told their horrible story, and no man being at home, a boy was dispatched to Ripley, a distance of twelve miles, where a meeting was being held to raise a company of volunteers for the war. Seventy-five men were speedily assembled at the spot, and hearing that the other Indians were still in the neighbor hood, threatening violence, sent immediately to St. Paul, to the governor, for help.

The four Indians who had begun the massacre, hastened to the house of a Mr. Eckland, and stealing two horses, mounted them, two on each horse, and rode at a break neck pace to Shakopee’s village, into which they broke before daylight with a savage shout. The aroused natives were thrown into a state of the wildest excitement at the story they told. One thing they knew at once; these murderers must be given up, or the tribe held responsible; and the question arose what should be done, surrender them or fight, for there was no alternative. An excited, angry discussion arose in the council that was immediately called, but the relatives of the men declared they should not be given up. It was finally agreed, that as it had been decided in council the night previous, to go to Fort Ridgeley, and if necessary to St. Paul, and demand their annuity, they would start before daylight, and taking “Little Crow” in their way, consult with him respecting their future action. This was one of the most eloquent and crafty chieftains of the tribe. He had been to Washington, had become civilized, dressing like a white man, and living in a brick house, and regarded himself as a respectable citizen.

This wild delegation, mounted on horseback, started before daylight, and passing down the river, roused the Indian settlers on the way with their shouts and war cries. It needed but a spark to fire the tinder, and all along the way, other Indians jumped on their horses, and joined the wild cavalcade, that kept increasing as it advanced, till a hundred and fifty shouting, yelling madmen streamed along the road. They reached Crow s house before he was up, and the astonished chieftain, roused by the war cries that had so often stirred him in his youth, sat up in his bed. The next moment his room was filled with Indians, and wrapping himself in his blanket he asked the meaning of this strange gathering. Their story was soon told. They had now reached a pitch of excitement where counsel was useless. They did not want advice; they demanded that Crow should be their leader in a war against the whites. He saw at once that he must, or part forever with his tribe. Still, knowing the hazards he runs, the struggle within him for a few minutes was terrible. But his mind was soon made up, arid exclaiming, “I am with you,” leaped from his bed. Sending off swift couriers to other bands, he mounted his horse and led on the throng. It was agreed to fall on the Agency at once. But to make the blow sudden and overwhelming, they decided to enter the village quietly and in squads, as though nothing unusual was on foot, and stationing themselves at different points, wait a given signal, which was to be the discharge of a single gun from near the flag-staff, and then dash in and commence their work of blood. When all was ready the signal gun was fired, and in an instant the air was filled with war whoops, and the street with painted demons. The startled inhabitants ran to the doors of their houses and shops and stores, only to be shot down. The love of plunder soon drew them away from the work of slaughter, and many of the citizens succeeded in escaping. Among these was the Rev. Mr. Hindman, who lived in the lower part of the, town. He thus relates what he saw on this morning which ushered in the work of blood. “I arose early, expecting to go to Fairbault, had just finished breakfast, and was sitting outside, smoking a pipe, and talking with a mason about a job which he had just finished upon the new church which I was building. Presently I saw a number of Indians passing down, nearly naked, and armed with guns. The mason exclaimed, I guess they are going to have a dance.’ No, said Dr. Humphrey’s son, who was standing near us, they have guns and are not going to dance. Then I noticed, that instead of going by, they commenced sitting down on the steps of various buildings. About this time I heard the guns in the upper town. A man by the name of Whipple said, he guessed the Chippeways had come over, and they were having a battle. He then crossed the road to his boarding house. I soon noticed that the people at the boarding house, (who could see the upper stores,) were running down the bluff. Then four Indians came down the street. One of them left the others and went into the Indian farmer Prescott s house, and came immediately out. Frank Robertson, a young clerk in the employ of the government, followed him out, looking very pale. I asked him what was the matter. He said he did not know, but that the Indian told them all to stay in the house. He told me he thought there was going to be trouble, and started for Beaver Creek, a few miles above, where his mother lived.

“Soon White Dog, formerly president of the Farmer Indians, ran past, very much frightened. I asked him what the matter was, and he said there was awful work, and that he was going to see Waboshaw about it. Then Crow, with another Indian, went by the gate, and I asked Crow what was the matter. He was usually very polite, but now he made no answer, and regarding me with a savage look, went on towards the stable, the next building below.

Little Crow. Attack On The Lower Agency

Little Crow
Little Crow
Sparrowhawk that comes to you walking
A Sioux Chief

“Just before, Wagner ran by, and I asked him also what the trouble was. He said the Indians were going to the stables to steal horses, and that he was going there to stop them. I told him he had better not, as I was afraid there was trouble. He paid no attention to what I said. The next I saw was the Indians leading away the horses, and Wagner, and John Lamb and another person trying to prevent them. By this time Crow had reached there, and I heard him say to the Indians, “What are you doing? Why don t you shoot these men? What are you waiting for? Immediately the Indians fired, wounding Wagner, who escaped across the river to die, and killing Lamb and the other man.

“Then I found Miss West, and we started for the ferry. After we got about half way, she ran into a house, and I lost sight of her.

“Just as I got to Dickerson’s house, I came across a German who was wounded. I managed to get him down the hill and put him into a skiff, and we passed safely over and arrived at Fort Ridgeley about three o’clock. The people were crossing the ferry rapidly, and flying in every direction.”

A Noble Ferryman

The ferryman, Manley, a Frenchman, of low origin and among the most common and illiterate of the settlers, now showed himself to possess the elements of a true hero. Instead of flying with the rest, as he might have done and saved his life, he stayed manfully at his post, and unmoved amid the terror and panic around him, calmly passed backward and forward, carrying the fugitives over as fast as he could. This humble man, whom no one cared for, suddenly seemed to care for every body but himself. He arose to that loftiest point of self-sacrifice ever reached by man, to give his life for others. The firing steadily drew nearer, and the shots began to fall around him, yet as long as a fugitive stood on the shore, pleading for help, he kept returning until no more was to be saved. When the last man was over, and only infuriated Indians darkened the bank, a shot struck him, and he fell a true hero, though no poet ever sings his fame. The Indians, enraged that he had snatched so many from their grasp, swam across, and tearing out his bowels, cut off his head, hands and feet, and crammed them into the body and thus left him.

A few miles from the Agency several settlers with their families had gathered together previous to taking their flight. The Indians coming suddenly upon them poured a volley into their midst, which killed most of the men. The frightened women and children immediately huddled together in the wagons, and bending down drew their shawls and blankets over their heads to shut out the terrible doom that awaited them. “Cut Nose” then came up, and while two Indians sprang to the horses heads to prevent them from starting off, drove his tomahawk deliberately into the head of each. A smothered shriek from the survivors, followed each dull, crushing blow of the weapon, as they, powerless with terror, awaited their turn. Taking an infant from its mother s arms, Cut Nose handed it to the Indians, who drawing a bolt from the wagon, drove it through the body and pinned it to the fence. There, before the mother s eyes, they left it to writhe and die in agony. For a little while they stood and gloated over the mother s speechless misery at the awful spectacle, and then chopped off her arms and legs and left her to bleed to death. Twenty-five were thus massacred. When all had been disposed of, the savages kicked the mutilated bodies out of the wagons, and filling them with plunder, sent them back to be added to the other spoils, and then pushed on to other deeds of blood. Coming up to a farmer’s house in which were a husband and wife and two children, the father fired at them from the window. Before he could reload, they broke in with a yell. Finding no one within, the family having escaped by a back way, they pursued after and butchered the father, mother and son. The daughter, left alone, threw herself on the ground, pretending to be dead. The savages, after hacking the dead bodies, seized her by the feet to drag her off, when she instinctively moved to adjust her clothes. She was saved for a worse fate.

Flight And Death Of Dr. Humphreys

Dr. Humphreys, the physician, with three little children, the oldest only twelve years old, got off, and when two miles distant stopped at a house to rest. Being exhausted and thirsty, he sent h-s little boy a short distance for some water. While he was gone the Indians came up, and shooting his father, set fire to the house, and burned his mother and little brother alive. Frightened half to death he hid in some bushes. When the Indians left, he crept forth and found his father lying on the ground with his throat cut. Stupefied with fear he crawled back to his hiding place, where he remained till he was picked up in the afternoon by a band of soldiers sent from St. Peters. The Indians, having killed, captured or driven away all the whites, and filled the street with plunder, applied the torch to the buildings, and soon the summer sky was red with the conflagration. Couriers in the mean time had been dispatched to other bands, bearing the war cry.

Having finished the work of destruction at the Agency, the savages streamed down the river, slaughtering and burning as they went. As the fearful tidings spread, the terrified inhabitants fled from their homes, carrying away what household stuff they could collect, but in most cases they were met or overtaken and shot down. The pleading cries of women and children were unheeded, even when made to those whom they knew and had often befriended. Frenzied by their own deeds, and with all the long- slumbering fires of their savage nature fully aroused, they committed every act of atrocity that a devilish ingenuity could suggest. A farmer and his two sons were engaged in stacking wheat. Twelve Indians approached unseen to the fence, and from behind it shot all three. They then entered the farmer s house and killed two of the young children in the presence of their mother, who was ill with consumption, and dragged the mother and daughter miles away to their camp. There, in the presence of the dying mother, they stripped off the daughter’s clothes, fastened her back to the ground, and one by one violated her person, till death came to her relief. One Indian went into a house where a woman was making bread. Her small child was in the cradle. He split the mother’s head open with a tomahawk, and then placed the babe in the hot oven, where he kept it until nearly dead, when he took it out and beat out its brains against the wall.

Destruction Of Capt. Marsh

Children were nailed living to tables and doors, and knives and tomahawks thrown at them till they were killed. The womb of the pregnant mother was ripped open, the palpitating infant torn forth, cut into bits and thrown into the face of the mother. Whole families were burned alive in their homes. Such and similar deeds of horrid barbarity are recorded by Mr. Heard, who has published a book on the massacre, and by the newspapers of the times, all of which were verified. By noon the news reached Fort Ridgely, and Captain Marsh, of the Minnesota Volunteers, immediately started with forty-eight men in wagons, for the scene of destruction. On the way he met terrified fugitives, who told him to turn back, for the Indians outnumbered him three to one, and he was sure to be killed. He however kept resolutely on, and reached the ferry opposite the Agency, at sundown. The Indians came down to the opposite side of the river, and a parley was held through an interpreter. Marsh said he wished to come across and investigate matters. They declared he should not. The banks of the river were lined with bushes, and while the discussion was going on a large number of Indians secretly crossed and surrounded him, in concealed positions. Marsh, at first, was determined to cross at all hazards, but at length, at the earnest solicitations of friends, who declared it was certain death to make the attempt, he desisted. But the order to his men to wheel had hardly escaped his lips, when a sudden yell rose all around him, and the next moment a tremendous volley at close range, was poured into his little band. Nearly twenty fell at the first fire. With the survivors he stood his ground and returned the fire. But resistance was vain; his men dropped like leaves beside him, and seeing it was hopeless to continue the fight, he gathered nine men around him and fought his way out of the circle of fire. But after going two miles down the river, he found his way to the fort cut off, and seeing a spot where he thought the river could be forded, he ordered his men to plunge in, himself leading the way, with his sword and revolver lifted above his head. But he soon got beyond his depth, and sunk to rise no more. His nine followers reached the fort in safety, with the sad tidings of their loss.

Escape of Rev. Mr. Riggs and Dr. Williamson

Chief Little Crow
Chief Little Crow

The couriers which Little Crow had dispatched to the various bands, had but to tell their story, and the savages were ready for action. At the Upper Agency, on the Yellow Medicine, there was some hesitation at first, whether they should kill the whites or send them away and seize their property. In the council that immediately assembled, “Other Day,” a civilized Indian, opposed all violence, and told them they were bringing ruin on the whole tribe. But when the news of Marsh s overthrow was received, all debate ended, and the war cry sounded. Other Day, seeing that the storm would soon burst on the Agency, secretly informed the whites, who were in pro found ignorance of what occurred, and assembling them, sixty-two in all, crossed the river, and conducted them in safety to the settlements. But for his bravery and devotion they would have shared the fate of the inhabitants of the Lower Agency. On the same night some Indians brought the news to the missionary and school station of Rev. Mr. Riggs and Dr. Williamson, six miles above the Agency.

Although Little Crow in his message had urged the chiefs to massacre the whites, they hesitated at first what course to take. Like those at the Yellow Medicine, they were more Christianized than the great majority of the tribe. Many of them were members of the church, and all had been treated with uniform kindness by the missionaries. In sickness they had been attended by them, and when in want had been fed and clothed. The missionary houses were to them like taverns, where they came and went as they wished, and were never turned away empty. Hence, they and their families, in total ignorance pf what was going on, went about their usual avocations in perfect security. On Sunday, when the massacre had commenced, they had religious services as usual, and it being the regular communion Sabbath, the Lord s supper was administered to the Indians who composed the church. Though the missionaries knew nothing of what was on foot, they noticed that the Indians acted strangely. Their usual meek and quiet demeanor was wanting, and a certain brusqueness and defiant manner was observed. Still, nothing serious was apprehended. But after service, an old squaw strode roughly in Mr. Riggs house, and demanded payment for the injury one of his hogs had done her potato patch. When asked what she wanted, she replied a calf. It being refused her, she went away, muttering that she would have it any way before long. Soon after, some Indians quietly walked in Dr. Williamson’s barn, and led out two of his horses; and when the Dr. called after them, they only laughed and galloped off. Two others, following their example, were about to take away those that remained, when he stepped up to them and demanded what they want by treating him in this manner, asking if he had not always been kind to them, giving them clothes when they needed them, and feeding them whenever they came to him hungry. They said yes, and that they did not wish to harm him, but the horses would soon be taken, and they might as well have them as any body else. All this looked very strange; still the missionaries thought it was only a passing mood of some discontented individuals, and retired to rest with a feeling of entire security.

The next morning, while the flames were wrapping the dwellings of the Lower Agency, and the inhabitants were falling or flying before the yelling, infuriated savages; the various members of their families went about their ordinary avocations. Some went into the hay-field, some into the woods hunting, others fishing, and some of the ladies went out to sketch. In the mean time, those who remained at home began to feel the greatest alarm. Some friendly Indians had told them of fearful rumors of the rising of the Indians down the river, and that the work of destruction had already commenced. The farmer Indians, instead of being at work, gathered in groups around the missionary house, and talked over the flying reports that kept reaching them. When the family assembled again that evening, the news of the day was eagerly discussed, and they were forced to admit that imminent danger threatened them. None felt like retiring, and the next tidings from below were anxiously waited for. Some of the Indians watched with them, declaring, come what would, they would stand by them to the last.

Chaska, Paul and Enos, Faithful Indians Aiding Riggs and Dr. Williamson in their Escape

Of these, however, Chaska, Paul, Ma-za-ku-ta-ma-ni and Enos, alone remained faithful. Towards morning, a messenger arrived, announcing that the massacre had actually commenced, and that the tide of destruction was rapidly sweeping towards them. The greatest alarm now prevailed, and some proposed immediate flight to the fort. Others, however, thought it was a mere “scare,” such as had occurred a year before when a warehouse was broken open by the Indians; and said it would blow over in a few hours. It did not seem possible that the Indians would dare to come into serious collision with the whites. But with daylight, evidences of hostile feelings multiplied; the Indians grew bolder; some of the squaws began to roam over the house, and seize such articles as they fancied, paying no heed to the questions asked them, what it all meant. At length they brought out the sugar barrel, and after helping themselves to what they wanted, distributed the rest to those around. Others, catching the contagion, pulled off the feather beds and ripping them open, scattered the feathers on the floor and ground, and sticking their heads through the ticking, walked away with them, laughing insolently at the wonder-stricken whites.

It was now plainly time to leave, for there was no mistaking these hostile signs. Mischief was afoot, and there was no telling how soon the storm might burst upon them. A wagon of hay was standing by the barn, and quickly unloading this, they got in, and guided by Chaska, were driven to a ford of the river but little known. Dr. Williamson, however, with his wife and sister, determined to stay behind a little longer. In the mean time, Mr. Riggs had also taken the alarm, and with his party had crossed the river, and lay concealed in a thicket about a mile distant. The Indians had discovered their flight, and taken their wagon away from them, compelling them to travel on foot. These, after much search wore discovered, and the two parties joining, commenced their sad march over the prairie. The nearest place, which could afford them protection, was Fort Ridgely, and thither they directed their steps. But fearful of meeting warlike Indians on the main route, they turned off, and wandered hither and thither, keeping only the main direction. Dr. Williamson, with his wife and sister, soon became convinced that it would be certain death to remain longer, and taking an ox-cart, followed after. Two friendly Indians, Lorenzo and Chaska, accompanied them, driving the team, and telling all whom they met, and who inquired what was in the cart, that they were carrying away their own goods. On one occasion a war party met them, and being suspicious that they had something besides goods under the buffalo robe with which they had covered the three fugitives, advanced as if to lift it, when Lorenzo stepped in between, and bringing his gun to his side, declared that he would shoot the first man that touched the covering. The Indians, not liking an encounter with him, left, and soon after struck the trail of the first party. Supposing that all had fled together, they exclaimed, “Ah! the tracks of Dr. Williamson and Mr. Riggs! they can’t be far off; we will catch and kill them.” Wheeling, they dashed off on the open trail, and it seemed for a moment that the fate of these missionaries was sealed. But just then a heavy thunderstorm broke along the river, and the rain came down in torrents, completely washing out all traces of their march. Thinking that better plunder was behind, which could be secured with less trouble than to follow the blind trail of the poor missionaries, the Indians turned back towards the Big Woods. Coming upon a farmhouse in which were two men, they entered it and killed one and sent a bullet through the thigh of the other. The wounded man immediately made for the window, but as he was in the act of jumping out, they stabbed him in the back with a butcher knife. He, however, succeeded in reaching the ground, and made off with the energy of despair. The Indians chased him till exhausted with the loss of blood, he fell. Supposing he was dead, they turned back for the plunder. The wounded man, finding himself no longer pursued, got up and limping forward, succeeded in reaching the party which the Indians had left pursuing but a little while before. His wounds were at once bound up, and he was laid in the wagon and covered with a shawl. All that night, a cold, drizzling rain soaked the suffering women and children, yet they did not permit a complaint to escape them.

The next day they resumed their desolate journey, and when night again came on, the only provisions they had left, was a small piece of raw pork. Again the pitiless rain came down, and these women and children, who all their lives had been accustomed to the comforts of civilization, lay the whole night on the wet, dark prairie, watching for the day, which they still dreaded to see. The next morning they started off, and seeing a thicket in the distance, made towards it through the wet and mud, in the hopes that they could there find some sticks with which to cook a breakfast, for they were now entirely out of provisions, except they killed one of the cattle they took the precaution to bring- with them. But they soon discovered that several marshy creeks lay between them and it, over one of which they had to draw the wagon and cart by hand, after making a sort of bridge by bending down the reeds and grass. There were only six men in the whole party of forty, and they had to carry over the women and children as they best could. But alas, as they approached the thicket, they found that a marsh three miles wide lay between them and it. The prospect of a breakfast looked dim enough, but some of the women joined the men, and passing for the whole three, miles over the springy, and at times almost floating sod, brought back on their shoulders, sufficient wood to build a fire. They then killed a calf, and roasting some of the meat, assuaged the pangs of hunger. It was three o’clock in the after-noon, however; before this hard-earned breakfast was ready to be eaten.

Arrival at Birch Cooley

The next day, Friday, about noon, they reached a spot known as Birch Cooley, about twenty miles from Fort Ridgely. Here, Dr. Williamson, with his wife and sister, in the ox-cart, overtook them. Here, too, they came on the track of the destroyer. Beside the fence near them, lay a mother and three children, dead, their bodies gashed and mutilated by the tomahawk. A little further on, stood a solitary house in which a sick woman lay when the tidings came that the Indians were approaching. Unable to leave her bed, her two sons took up the straw mattress on which she lay, and putting it into a wagon, drove of as fast as they could, but all too slowly for their pursuers. The shouts and yells of the Indians were borne to the ears of those two sons, and though escape was hopeless, they refused to leave their sick mother. The Indians dashing up, murdered them both, and then pulling the mattress on to the ground, piled some brush around it, and setting it on fire, burned the poor woman alive.

Never were a people so suddenly awakened from a dream of security, and plunged into such hopeless terror, as the inhabitants along the Minnesota, and throughout the adjoining country, during the three or four days after the massacre at the Lower Agency. Down towards New Ulm, a large village of 1,500 inhabitants, situated only about thirty miles above St. Peters, and towards Fort Ridgely, the Indians streamed in crowds. When the news reached St. Peters, the alarm bells were rung, and the people assembled in the most intense excitement to consult on what course to pursue.

In the mean time, Little Crow, the next morning after the destruction of the Lower Agency, assembled three hundred warriors in the neighborhood of Fort Ridgely, preparatory to an attack upon it. Had he advanced at once, it must have fallen, for it had a garrison of only thirty men, and was totally unprepared for a sudden assault. But that night, Galbraith, with a company of men from St. Peter’s, and Lieut. Shehan, with a squad who had been turned back on their way to Fort Ripley, succeeded in getting into the fort, thus giving it a sufficient force to offer a stout resistance.

Attack On Fort Ridgely

About one hundred warriors only stayed with Little Crow, near the fort, while the others roamed over the country, plundering and slaying. About four hundred gathered around New Ulm, and began to burn the buildings in the suburbs, and sent their shots into the streets of the place, killing several of the citizens. The utmost consternation prevailed, for the place was full of women and children, nearly five hundred fugitives having arrived from the surrounding country. The utter want of organization and proper leadership, showed, that at the first bold dash, that crowded population would be at the mercy of the savages. The sun was stooping to the western horizon, and when darkness should envelope the town, its terrible doom would be sealed. But at this critical moment, a Mr. Boardman from St. Peters, broke on a wild gallop into the place with fifteen mounted men. Moving instantly outside of the mere apology for a barricade, which the terrified inhabitants had thrown up, they boldly attacked the Indians, and by their steady and deliberate firing, at dark drove them back, and saved the town. About nine o clock, Judge Flandrean, from St. Peter’s, arrived with a hundred more men, and the people took courage. The savages, baffled here, went to rein force Little Crow, who now thinking himself strong enough, boldly attacked Fort Ridgely. The shouting, yelling, painted horde, swarmed like demons around it, and would doubtless have swept over its frail defenses with a bound had it not been for two howitzers, commanded by Sergeant Jones. As the shells of these began to burst among them, they grew cautious, for they had the terror common to all savages, of the big guns. But from behind bushes and trees, and log-houses in the vicinity, they kept up a perfect hailstorm of bullets, at those working the guns, which steadily thinned the garrison. At length, heaven seemed to interfere in their behalf, for a heavy August thunderstorm arose, and broke with terrible fury over the fort. The successive peals crashed louder than the cannon, while the rain came down in a perfect deluge.

The savages, alarmed for their ammunition, wrapped their blankets around their guns, and uttering yells of rage, scampered off for the shelter of the woods. This was the same storm that saved Mr. Riggs and Dr. Williamson. This respite gave the garrison time to get the women and children more thoroughly protected, and to throw up stronger barricades. The next day, Little Crow renewed the attack, but with diminished numbers, as many had gone away on the pleasanter and safer business of plundering and massacring helpless women and children, and ravishing such as suited their lusts. They scattered up and down the Minnesota for a hundred miles, committing every act of fiendish atrocity, which their diabolical natures were capable of conceiving. The family at Red Wood, hearing that the Indians were coming that way, fled in two wagons, taking different directions. The Indians, meeting one party, killed them all, and leaving them dead in the road, drove back to the house. Finding it deserted, they applied the torch to it, and started off after the party in the other wagon, which consisted of three girls and a hired man. Overtaking them, they butchered the man and one of the girls, and struck a knife into the breast of another. They then drew lots how many should have each of the girls. The wounded one died from the alternate abuse of sixteen. Seven little children, huddled together in one bed, were all ruthlessly murdered. Not content with killing, they horribly mutilated the bodies. They cut off one farmer s head after they had killed him, and laid it on a table, and bracing open the mouth, filled it with milk. They shut up another dead body with a hog, which devoured all but the bones.

Little Crow Renewing The Attack

Little Crow c1862
Little Crow c1862

On Thursday night, after the second attack on Fort Ridgely, Crow returned to the Agency, where he found arrived a large body of Indians from up the river, who had answered his summons. Strengthened with these, four hundred and fifty in all, he set out next morning to renew his attack on the fort. But this time the garrison was prepared for them. The savages commenced the attack with great fury, and kept to their work with unflinching tenacity. Half the resolution two days before would have captured it. They fired all the buildings around it, shot fire-arrows on to the roofs of the buildings within, climbed up the walls, poured in their destructive volleys wherever a head appeared, but all in vain. But since Monday the garrison had had no communication with the outside world. They were getting worn out, and it began to be a serious question how long they could stand this siege.

The utmost anxiety was felt all over the country for their safety, and every day the people of the state expected to hear of its overthrow, and the massacre of all within. But discouraged by the failure of his prolonged and desperate attack on Friday, in which he had lost many warriors, and narrowly escaped death himself, Crow drew off his bands towards New Ulm, thinking it would be an easier prize. Since the arrival of Flandrean, the Indians had left this place unmolested.

Fort Ridgley Burning
Oil painting depicting Fort Ridgely in 1890, by James McGrew

This sudden abandonment of Fort Ridgely, was most providential for Rev. Mr. Riggs and Dr. Williamson, and their party of forty from above the Yellow Medicine. Pushing out from Birch Cooley, they had on Friday night arrived near the fort, wholly unconscious of the siege, and rejoicing that their dangers and toils were almost over. Just after dark, they saw a rocket go up from the fort, and ignorant that it was a signal of distress to any force that might be approaching, they rejoiced in the fond belief that it was to light them in. One of the party crept on his hands and knees, through the line of fire, into the fort. The commander of the garrison, surprised to see him, told him to hurry back, and tell the rest not to attempt to enter the fort, for it would be certain death. Their hearts sunk in despair at the message, and rather than turn away to the open prairie again, filled with Indians, they at first resolved to make the attempt to get in. But at last they gave it up, and moved sadly off into the night, feeling that a horrible death menaced them at every step. Behind them the sky was red with the burning buildings around the fort, and they pushed on into the gloom, not knowing what was before them. Reaching a creek, a prolonged scream in the bushes, sent the blood curdling back to every heart. However, there was no other course left them but to keep moving forward, for worse evils were behind them. Crossing the creek, they went on a little way, when the exhausted teams gave out entirely. Their journey had come to an end for the present, and placing a guard they sank down in the wet grass and slept. At daybreak they started on, and though the appearance of two Indians, who narrowly watched them, showed that they had been discovered, the sudden departure of the main body for New Ulm, prevented pursuit. The vast booty at that place was a more tempting prize than the little they carried.

Early that morning the people of New Ulm saw huge columns of smoke ascending along the banks of the river.

One after another they shot up into the air, each one nearer the town than the other, showing that the Indians were approaching, burning the farmhouses and barns as they came on. Judge Flandrean, thinking he could fight them to more advantage on the open prairie, led his two hundred and fifty men out and awaited the attack. About ten o clock, the savages, several hundred strong, appeared in view, moving slowly over the plain, and well packed together. When they came within a mile, they began to spread out swiftly, and increasing their speed as they advanced, at length gave a wild yell, and came down like a whirlwind. The assault, so sudden and bold, and accompanied with such unearthly yells, unnerved the raw volunteers at first, and they fell rapidly back beyond the outer houses of the town.

They, however, soon rallied, but they had given a great advantage to the Indians, in leaving behind, the houses as a cover to their approach. It now became a regular Indian fight, and those western men having got their mettle fairly roused, effectually resisted every attempt of the savages to get into the town. The battle raged for several hours, without any decisive result, when the Indians made a desperate charge. The whites received them with a cheer, and charging in turn, drove them helter skelter to cover. The fighting, how ever, was kept up till dark, when the savages withdrew. The next morning they renewed the attack, but not with the same determination as before, and at noon abandoned it altogether.

While these struggles with large bodies of the enemy were going on, detached parties and single Indians were roaming through the settlements, murdering men, women and children, and committing atrocities of the most diabolical kind. Pregnant women were violated again and again, and even little girls abused till they lay lifeless on the earth. One young woman was ravished by sixteen. In succession, who then sharpened a stake and drove it into her body, leaving her to die in the most horrible agony. Multitudes were taken prisoners and hurried away into captivity.

Evacuation Of New Ulm

Though New Ulm at present was saved, the people did not know how soon the Indians might return, and being nearly out of ammunition, and the dead carcasses around, under the hot August sun, filling the air with disease, it was thought best to abandon the place; and the two thousand inhabitants left in a body, and with a train of a hundred and fifteen wagons, safely reached Mankato.

Col. Sibley Marches to the Relief of Fort Ridgely and New Ulm

Henry Hastings Sibley 1862
Henry Hastings Sibley 1862

In the mean time Governor Ramsay had been rousing the state to arms. Luckily, several regiments of volunteers were in the state, nearly ready to depart for the war, so that in a few days 1,400 men had assembled at St. Peters. Col. Sibley was put at the head of these, and marched at once to the relief of New Ulm and Fort Ridgely. The former, we have seen, was evacuated before he reached it. Moving without opposition over the silent, desolated country, he reached the fort on the 28th of the month, much to the joy of the garrison.

Scattered over the prairie around, lay a vast number of black and decaying corpses, on which hogs and prairie foxes were rioting, and to bury these, and also to ascertain in what direction the Indians had gone, Col. Sibley sent out a detachment composed of a company of infantry and cavalry, commanded by Major Brown. This was the last day of August, Sunday. That day and the next they buried over two hundred bodies, and encamped at night at Birch Cooley, a place admirably adapted for a surprise. But water being convenient there, and not anticipating an attack; the command pitched their tents without fear. But Little Crow, who had moved with the Indian families up the river to the Yellow Medicine Agency, for greater safety, had been informed by his scouts that New Ulm was abandoned. A war party was immediately organized, with a long train of wagons, to go and secure the plunder. On their way down, the scouts discovered this detachment on the march. Watching its progress, to ascertain its destination, they saw with unbounded delight, it quietly camp at Birch Cooley. The unsuspecting whites corralled their horses, lit their camp fires, and lay down to rest. Just as the morning began to dawn, as the officer with the new relief was going the rounds, one of the sentinels saw, in the dim uncertain light, the tall grass waving in irregular lines up the ravine. He called the officer back to notice it. Just as he did so, an unearthly yell suddenly arose on every side, and the next moment a tempest of musket balls swept the encampment. Almost the entire guard fell at the first fire, and nearly a hundred horses dropped in their tracks. Had the Indians then charged, none would have been left to tell the tale of blood, for the whole camp was thrown into sudden confusion. But fortunately, they held back, and the men rallying, crawled forward, and sheltering themselves as best they could, behind the living and dead horses and wagons, poured in a destructive fire. They lay two together, and while one was firing, the other, with the point of his bayonet, dug a hole in the earth, ladling out the soil with his tin cup. Thus fighting and digging, they at last got well covered, and made their shots tell on the savages. They lay and fought in this way all day, but with their numbers steadily diminishing. That morning in the camp of Sibley, near the fort, the firing, though some twenty miles distant, was distinctly heard. Knowing at once that the detachment had been attacked, Sibley immediately dispatched a hundred and sixty men, with a six pound howitzer, to its relief. Sweeping rapidly over the prairies, they in the afternoon approached the scene of conflict. The Indians, hearing through scouts of their approach, left a few men at Birch Cooley, and hastened forward to attack them, before they could form a junction with their comrades. Colonel M. Phaill, in command, saw with great uneasiness, apparently more than a thousand Indians swarming down on his little band. He immediately opened on them with his howitzer, which kept them at bay, and dispatched a courier to Sibley for help. But this commander was already on the march. As the heavy boom of the cannon came rolling over the prairie, he ordered the tents to be struck and carried into the fort, and just at sunset put his whole force in motion. That night, at midnight, they came up to M. Phaill, and in the morning the whole moved forward. The Indians, ignorant of the arrival of the main army, came forth to meet them, when to their amazement they saw in the early sunlight, long lines of dazzling steel, moving over the prairie. “Oh! oh!” they cried, “there are five miles of white men coming,” and kept prudently out of range of our guns. Shaking their blankets and brandishing their guns, they scurried hither and thither, with loud war-whoops. The motley throng presented a picturesque appearance on the open prairie, in the early sunlight. Advancing in line of battle, firing as they went, the troops moved forward, and at last came in sight of the beleaguered camp, though not a living soul could be seen. Silent tents and slaughtered horses were all that was visible. As they came near, the survivors arose from their hiding places, and gazing a moment at the proud array, sent up a wild shout of delight, and leaped into the air. Exhausted, without water, and rapidly diminishing, a few more hours of delay would have left them at the mercy of the savages. Thirteen lay dead amid the tents, and sixty more were wounded. The former were buried on the spot, and the wounded placed on a bedding of grass pulled from the prairie, and carried to Fort Ridgely. Little Crow was not with this party, though he started with them. With a smaller band, he went to Acton, where he had a fight with another party of whites. When he returned to Yellow Medicine, and learned what a large force was assembled against him at the fort, he and his warriors became alarmed, and a meeting of the Soldier’s Lodge was called. At this it was determined to enter into negotiations for peace, and so on Sunday, two half-breeds with a flag of truce, rode into camp in a buggy drawn by a mule they had stolen from that very spot a few days before. They bore a letter from Little Crow, asking for peace. This chief, though a great liar, was not naturally cruel, and had opposed from the outset the murder of peaceable settlers, and women and children. The traders he killed ruthlessly, as his worst foes. Besides, there was no real harmony between the upper and lower Indians, and had not been for along time. This breach had been widened by the unwillingness of the latter to make an equal distribution of the plunder taken the first day at the Lower Agency. Chief among the disaffected, though not for this reason, was Paul, a civilized Indian, and head deacon of Mr. Riggs church, a brave and eloquent man. From the first, he had told the Indians that they were rushing on destruction, for the result of their action would be the extinction of the tribe. He and his friends were strenuous for peace.

Little Crow, in his letter, stated that they had been fighting because they could not get their rights, but were now willing to enter into negotiations for peace. But Sibley replied that he would listen to no terms until the prisoners were restored. But Crow saw, if this were done, he would lose the last hold on the whites. Still, the upper Indians advised it should be done. Council after council was held, in which the debates grew stormy, and for a while the two parties threatened to come in collision. Some, even advised to kill Paul, the boldest advocate of the measure, but he openly defied them, saying that if they killed him they would have to kill three hundred more Indians at his back.

Nothing came of the negotiations, and the Indians remained at the Yellow Medicine, and Sibley at Fort Ridgely making preparations to move against them. More than a fortnight was consumed in getting ready, which occasioned great impatience and loud complaints throughout the country. He, however, was determined not to move till he was sure of success. In the mean time several letters were clandestinely received from the friendly Indians, promising their friendship, and quite a number of prisoners, through their agency, succeeded in escaping.

Defeats The Indians, Prisoners Rescued

Henry Hastings Sibley
Henry Hastings Sibley

At length, on the 18th of September, Sibley took up his line of march, and sweeping over the once fair, but now blackened and desolate country, arrived in four days within sight of the ruined and charred building of the Yellow Medicine Agency. The Indians had destroyed the bridges along the road, but these were easily rebuilt, with the exception of an important one near the Yellow Medicine Ravine. When the pioneers advanced to reconstruct this, the Indians fired upon them. A fight ensued in regular Indian fashion, which lasted for some time, but was finally ended by a gallant charge of Lieut. Colonel Marshall, at the head of the seventh regiment, who drove them like sheep before him. Had Sibley been furnished, as he ought to have been, with a large body of cavalry, he would have finished the war with a blow. As it was, this victory broke the spirit of the tribe. Little Crow, with two hundred men, fled into Dakotah territory and scattered. The remainder, with the Mission Indians, retained the captives, and immediately sent a flag of truce to Col. Sibley, requesting him to come and take them before Little Crow could attack them and carry off or kill the prisoners. The army at once took up its line of march, and the next day about noon, came in sight of the Indian camp, composed of about a hundred wigwams. An Indian on a pony, and carrying a bed-sheet tied on a pole as a flag of truce, approached, while a white cloth floated from the top of almost every hut. The column, marching slowly around them, encamped near the river. The painted warriors, fresh from their carnival of blood, at once came forward, smiling and offering to shake hands with every one, and expressing the most profound gratification at seeing their dear friends, the whites, once more. A demand was instantly made for the captives, when over two hundred sad, wan looking beings, some of the women and children half naked, were led out. Tears rained down their faces as with clasped hands they raised their eyes to their deliverers. The soldiers were jubilant, and unbounded joy reigned throughout the camp. Other captives, day after day, were brought in, and the tales they told of hope deferred, suffering and abuse, were heart-rending. Death had incessantly stared them in the face, and often a fate worse than death was offered them. Some had been treated kindly, and among them was the wife of Mr. Huggins, the missionary at Lac qui Parle. Wholly unconscious of danger, she was sitting in her house, surrounded with all the comforts of civilized life, when three Indians, each carrying a gun, entered. They sat down, and appeared to be much interested in watching the operations of a sewing machine, which a young lady was working. Soon after, Mr. Huggins came to the door from the field, where he had been at work. The Indians immediately went out, and the next moment Mrs. Hug-gins heard the report of two guns. She had barely time to look up, when the Indians rushed in, exclaiming, “Go out; go out; you shall live; but go out; take nothing with you.” She hastened out, and there lay her husband, a corpse on the ground. Providentially she fell into the hands of Walking Spirit, an old chief, and friend of her husband, in whose house she remained, treated with constant kindness by himself and family, until her release. Some of the escapes were most marvelous, and could not be credited were they not substantiated by the most unimpeachable testimony. Among these, none were more remarkable than that of a boy named Burton Eastlick, only ten years of age. Left alone with a little brother, only five years old, he started for Fort Ridgely, eighty miles. He did not know the way thither; he only knew it was somewhere down the river, and he set out to reach it. The spectacle of those two mere infants, on that far desolate prairie, linked hand in hand, and turning their little faces southward for protection, might well move the pity of the great Father of us all. With cunning beyond his years, the eldest took every precaution not to be seen by the Indians. When his little brother became foot-sore and weary, he would take him in his arms and carry him till he himself was tired out, and then they would rest together. Living on berries and such fruit as they could find, they traveled during the day, and when night came, would lie down in each other s arms, under the open sky. Thus the brave little fellow kept on, and encouraging his infant brother with all kinds of promises, actually made the eighty miles in safety, and reached the fort to tell his marvelous story. If all the incidents of this wonderful journey the shifts resorted to, and the innocent prattle by the way could be known and related in all their touching details, it would equal the strangest creation s of fiction.

In another case a woman succeeded in getting out of her house with her three children, undiscovered by the Indians. The youngest was an infant, and carrying this in her arms, with two little girls hanging on to her dress, she plunged into a thicket; she got off, and struck out into the prairie, not knowing whither she went. All day this sad group traveled on, uncertain whether each step was taking them nearer to, or farther from, safety. When night came, the trembling mother laid down under a bush, and pulling some grass and leaves for the two little girls, committed herself to Him who hears the young ravens when they cry. With the morning, she resumed her disconsolate journey, oppressed with the fear that she might be going farther and farther from home. Wild plums and berries kept them from starvation, and thus they traveled day after day, directing their steps at random, and looking in vain for some familiar object, or sign of human habitation. Between the miserable food she was compelled to eat, and her fatigue, she could not furnish her baby nourishment, and it gradually sickened and died. The anguish of her heart as she bore the little sufferer in her arms, and her utter desolation as she laid it at last dead on the prairie, can never be told. Gathering some leaves and grass, she covered it carefully from sight, and placing some sticks across the heap so that the wind should not uncover its delicate form, she left it with its God, and with the remaining two, hurried away. She wandered thus, lost on the prairie, till the summer verdure was gone, and the frosts of autumn robbed her of the berries and plums, and she had to dig roots to keep her self and little girls alive. For seven weeks she roamed about in this way, hoping each day would bring her on the track of some white man, before she was discovered and saved. In many cases, the women lost their reason, and wandered around, unfettered lunatics, in the thickets, until by accident they were found. Others still, strolled into the hands of the Indians, and were murdered or subjected to a still more cruel doom. Many a heart-rending tale will never be told, for the tongue that could have related it is still in death.

Women Of New Ulm Attack The Prisoners

Col. Sibley named his camp “Camp Release,” and as soon as the captives had been cared for, he built in it a huge log-pen for a jail. When it was finished, a force under Col. Crooks was dispatched by night, which quietly surrounded the Indian camp, and took all the men prisoners, except those known to be true friends, and locked them up, and the next day secured them with fetters. The camp itself, now consisting mostly of women and children, was removed to the Lower Agency, and finally to Fort Snelling. In the mean time, Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall, with two hundred men, was sent on an expedition into the Dakotah territory. As he was advancing in the direction of James River, he heard that a part of Little Crow’s band was encamped at Wild Goose Nest Lake. Approaching them stealthily by night, he succeeded in capturing the whole. On his return, it being now late in the season, it was determined to return; so October 28d, the camp was broken up, and with four hundred prisoners, loaded twelve or fifteen together, in each wagon, the column took up its line of march south ward, towards Mankato. As it passed through New Ulm, on Sabbath morning, the inhabitants, most of whom had returned, sallied forth with pitchforks, hoes, rakes, knives, guns, and brickbats, in fact with every missile they could lay their hands on, and fell with fierce imprecations on the wagons containing the prisoners, determined to save the government the trouble of hanging them. Even the women, with their aprons full of stones, danced in a perfect frenzy round the wagons, clamorous for a chance at the “red devils,” as they called them. One woman actually pounded an Indian brave on his head till he fell out of the wagon. The mob, however, was soon dispersed, and the column moved on and encamped about two miles from Mankato, at Camp Lincoln. In the mean time a military commission had set at the Lower Agency, to try the prisoners. The scene at the trial and execution was a strange mixture of the revolting, the sad and the ludicrous. The childish subterfuges and falsehoods of some of these braves, whose sagacity in the field was a match for the white man, were laughable, while the brutish in difference and stolid depravity of others; were painful to witness. The trial was hurried through, and three hundred and three were condemned to be hung, and eighteen to be imprisoned for life. The proceedings were sent to Washington for ratification. A rumor spreading that mercy was to be shown to the criminals, it aroused the deepest feelings in the west, and threats were even uttered to take them out of the hands of the authorities, and give them over to popular vengeance. A mob did attack the jail, but was dispersed by the decision of Col. Miller, then in command of the camp at that place. Mr. Riggs visited the prisoners constantly, and every kindness was shown them. A very few, however, seemed to be moved by it, receiving their fate with the accustomed indifference of the Indian. Some complained that they had been deceived by the promise of mercy if they surrendered them selves, and laid the blame of the whole difficulty on the whites, who by their injustice had forced them to seek redress by violence.

After several weeks delay the decision was received from Washington, ordering that only thirty-eight of the whole number should be executed. The 26th day of February was fixed for the execution. These were immediately separated from the rest, and their fate announced to them. They received it with total indifference smoking all the time, some even relighting their pipes, while the sentence was being read.

Their Behavior Mounting The Scaffold

The morning they were to be led out, they put on extra paint to decorate themselves for the occasion, and then commenced their death song. The melancholy chant, now sinking into a low wail, and again rising to a shrill, exultant cry, rang with strange power through their rude prison. At ten o clock they were brought forth, and marched in procession to the scaffold. They showed no signs of fear; on the contrary, they “went eagerly and cheerfully, even crowding and jostling each other, to be ahead, just like a lot of hungry boarders rushing to dinner in a hotel.” As they began to ascend the scaffold, they again raised their weird death song, and when they reached the top, broke out into unearthly shouts. A vast crowd had assembled, but all angry feelings were laid to rest by the painful spectacle, and a death-like silence reigned throughout. When all was ready, three slow, measured beats of the drum broke the stillness, and with a single blow, the rope was cut, and the whole were launched into eternity together.

The execution of this small number, seemed wholly inadequate to satisfy the demands of justice, for six hundred and forty-four whites had been massacred in cold blood, and ninety-three soldiers had fallen in the efforts to repel the outbreak. Perhaps the government thought this inequality in the number of sufferers, fairly represented the amount of actual guilt on both sides. To say that massacres must be avenged, in order to justify our slaughter of Indians, is a logic that will not stand before the great tribunal of heaven. The amount of injustice and wrong-doing that provoked the savage to the only means of redress left open to him, will be reviewed in the final adjustment there. This is but the beginning of troubles, if the nation persists in the policy it has pursued for the last thirty years. The Chippeways are nearly three times as strong as the Sioux, numbering some four thousand warriors in the United States, and about as many more in Canada, and they have been more than once on the point of an outbreak, growing out of the action at Washington. It becomes the people to inquire why it is that we are scarcely ever without an Indian war on our borders, while Canada has never been cursed with one. This single fact shows that there is a radical wrong in our system.

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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