Master of Science

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Exiled: The Northwest Tribes *

The estimates varied.  According to a report in the Sioux City Register, circa May 23, 1863, there were at least 1,500 Native American warriors ready to fight and die for their land in 1862.  The Dakotian, however, place the estimate closer to 913, at least amongst the true rebels, the Santee Sioux.

“The tribes of the Northwest,” The Dakotian reported July 7, 1863, “which dwell upon the Missouri and its tributaries, may be set down as follows….  There are 42, 430 Indians — 17, 784 males and 24, 646 females — north of us and between Red River and the mountains, all of whom receive their annuities, to the amount $300, 814 yearly, by steamboats navigating the Missouri.

“Of these tribes the only one known to have been in open hostility to the government, is the Minnesota Sioux (Santee), recently removed to this Territory."

“At the time of the Sioux outbreak, this tribe consisted of 5,086 persons, 2,905 of which were females, and 1,218 old men and boys; leaving 913 effective warriors.”

“(But), have the Indians of Dakota committed any murders upon our white citizens?  Not one that we can prove against them,” Dakotian editor, George W. Kingsbury, said.  “Only three settlers have been massacred in the Territory in three years....

"We believe that these murders were committed by the Minnesota Sioux, who were instigated to their bloody revenge by the belief that they had been made the victims of a long succession of gross and abusive frauds in their annual payments. ... At the time of the Sioux outbreak, this tribe consisted of 5,086 persons, 2,905 of which were females, and 1,218 old men and boys; leaving 913 effective warriors."

The mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota, where 38 men of the 303 Native Americans found guilty of these murders were hanged is well known, but what is often missing is how so many of the innocent victims were not European, but Native American.

When President Lincoln received the list of condemned men from General Pope, the Commanding General of the newly created Department of the Northwest, he immediately asked for the full records of the trial.  The military and civilian leaders in Minnesota were shocked; they felt the President should accept the convictions out right.  He did not.

According to an article by Paul Finkelman (PDF download here), Lincoln and his staff reviewed all the convictions, and concluded many of the charges against the Dakota were exaggerated or bogus.

After his examination, according to Finkelman, Lincoln discovered that the persistent assertions throughout the conflict and its aftermath of rapes and the slaughtering of women children and captives were vastly overstated and mostly false.

“Lincoln concluded that only two of the condemned men had actually raped anyone, although a number of other convicted men had killed civilians, including women and children," Finkelman said. "In the end Lincoln refused to authorize the executions 265 of the 303 men sentenced to die, effectively pardoning them.”

“Within a day,” Finkelman said, “the Rebellion was in full force.  Dakota swept through isolated farms and small towns.”

Thus, all the prisoners were initially condemned for the actions of a few, and like the convicted men, all the Native American people in the area were rounded up: noncombatants, those who did not support the violence and even the Wisconsin Winnebago, who had been forced into the area by the Federal Government, all saw their crops and homes destroyed.

The rage had spilled over when four starving Santee Sioux hunters, most likely Bdewákaŋtuŋwaŋ (Mdewakanton), or Wahpekute young men, attacked and killed Robinson Jones, his wife, adopted daughter and two other white men near Acton Township, Meeker County, on August 17, 1862.

"Within a day," Finkelman said, "the Rebellion was in full force.  Dakota swept through isolated farms and small towns.  By mid-September large numbers of settlers — probably no fewer than 600 and perhaps as many as 800 to 1,000 — had been killed, much of the town of New Ulm had been destroyed, and as many as 20,000 settlers in western Minnesota had fled to St Paul."

The history of Native American abuse may help explain the rage, but most Dakota, and other Native Americans in the area, had nothing to do with the killings.  Anger over this injustice is still visceral today.

Dawi Huhamaza, a member of the "Oċéti mitáwa kiŋ hená bdewákaŋtuŋwaŋ ewíċakiyapi do" band (known as the dwellers of the scared lake), said the people need to be patriotic, speak their own languages, teach their children how to live as the ancestors lived and defend the people and land from further destruction.

At the time, European settlers (and traders) would have applauded a headline Carol Chomsky reportedly said captured the feelings of most whites in the state, and indeed, in the tri-state area: "Death To The Barbarians."

And the trader, Andrew Myrick, who found infamy when he callously defended his greed by allegedly saying: "So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry, let them eat grass."

But it is the archives at the University of South Dakota that tell it like no other.  A "bulletin finger" in the Sioux City Register — just about the time Native Americans were on their way to Crow Creek.

People were brought from Fort Snelling in barges. 

Vernon Ashley, a former chairman of the Crow Creek reservation in South Dakota, told Mark Steil of Minnesota Public Radio that his people were brought from Fort Snelling in barges.  Down the Mississippi River to St. Louis, and then back up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek reservation.

The formerly favorite steamer, Florence arrived at our levee on Tuesday; but instead of the cheerful faces of Capt. Throckmorten and Clerk Gorman we saw those of strangers; and instead of her usual lading of merchandise for our merchants, she was crowded from stem to stern, and from hold to hurricane deck with old squaws and papooses — about 1,400 in all — the non combative remnants of the Santee Sioux of Minnesota, en route to their new home, selected for them by the Government, in Dakota.  It has never been our fortune — or misfortune, rather to behold a class of human beings who approach within the pals of comparison to the dirty, ragged, lousy, beastly, nasty appearance of these 1,400 "noble sons and daughters of the forest!" and we doubt very much whether the duties of missionaries to the most benighted heathen on earth ever brought them in contact with more forbidding, ignorant and Godforsaken looking mortals.

This "cargo" was mainly composed of the families of the prisoners now in confinement and under sentence of death, or imprisonment for life, at Davenport in this state.  Not more than one-tenth of the number were males, and about the same proportion of these were children and boys under the age of warriors.  Those of the able-bodied men of the tribe, who are not prisoners, are scattered over the prairies of Dakota waiting for opportunities to prey upon the lives and property of the frontier settlers.

Other boats will be hear (sic) in a few days with the remainder of the Sioux and Winnebago Indians, making about 3,600 in all that are being transfered from Minnesota to Dakota (Sioux City Register, circa May 30, 1863, Dr. S.P. Yeomans, editor).

The callous disregard of native rights by so many European settlers, bureaucrats, traders, soldiers and others does not justify the death and destruction caused by Dakota warriors in 1862.  However, Yeomans’ eyewitness account is hard to read, and is perhaps why someone clipped his bulletin and put it in a scrapbook, now archived at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, and shared here: a man who witnessed, with unflinching disregard, the “forbidding, ignorant and Godforsaken” remnants of a free and proud Dakota Oyate.

* Unjustly, a good number believe; especially given the repercussions felt by those unaffiliated with the initial raid, and what followed…. 


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