What happened just up the road in southwest Minnesota in 1862 goes by a variety of names these days--the 1862 Sioux Uprising, for one; Little Crow's War, for another; and the Minnesota Indian War of 1862. I have no idea which one is politically correct right now, nor why. All I know is the horrors of just a few months' bloodletting doesn't have a single name.
Through Dakota Eyes is a wonderful compilation of narratives created by Native people after the fighting had ended. It's a wonderful book because it captures the humanity of the whole story. What's irrefutable, of course, is that white people moved into Native territory and took it. That's the cause for the conflict. There's no debating that fact, a reality white folks yet today have to deal with.
But after that basic truth, all bets are off. "White people died because Indians were starving"--well, yes: the Sioux were promised goods they didn't get. It was 1862, the Union was at war with itself in the South, and there were dozens of paleface liars and cheats and crooks throughout the Minnesota River valley. All of that is true.
But the war started when a crew of teenagers, on a dare, brutally, and without immediate provocation, simply butchered a white family, unleashing horrors so awful I don't even want to describe them, 150 years later. Think Sudan. Think Ruanda.
What those narratives also make clear, however, is that some Native people hated those who slaughtered white settlers in cold blood, shot them in the back--then butchered their entire families. What those descriptions also make clear is that mixed-bloods (and they numbered in the hundreds) were victimized by both sides; yet, they were immensely heroic in freeing the hundreds of prisoners--mostly women--kept (and often used) by the warmongers.
Not all Indians took part. Some who did had far more noble reasons--"this is our land and not theirs"--than others. Some warriors were, without question, savages. Others most certainly were not.
The trials afterward were, largely, a farce. Although the near riots that broke out in small communities when the Native people, in chains, were taken to Mankato were completely understandable, those riots were savage themselves. War is hell.
Through Native Eyes is a rich read, but it's hard to come away from all those memories without coming, once again, to a conviction I come to more often the older I get, a notion once explained to me by an amateur philosopher and fully licensed theologian named Leonard Verduin--to wit, that truth is elliptical, not circular. There are always two foci, two centers--the truth lies somewhere in between.
Jesus Christ is Lord, but he's, at once, both God and man. Deal with it. "Thou shalt not kill" is a biblical principle Moses lugged down from on high. But war?--well, sometimes you have to stand your ground.
Truth has two centers.
Reading narrative accounts of that old war doesn't confuse me or my principles one bit, but it makes me more sure that life itself is as fully as complex as we are. And we are.
The truth is, we all have sinned, we all have feet of clay.
By the way, the Reverend Leonard Verduin grew up at the turn of the 20th century on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.