Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dakota War I


Note:  Several years ago, I wrote a series of blog posts about the Dakota War, a story I wanted to know more about, a story that still gives me a chills.  Three days short of 150 years ago, the violence began--although the causes had roots that went back years and years.  I'm going to run those posts again, something I've never done, because, simply enough, it is time to do it. Remembering isn't fun.  The story isn't pretty.  Truth confounds, but, as the Bible says, it also liberates. 
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Four young Wahpeton men are returning, empty-handed, from a hunting party in a place called "The Big Woods," when they discover a nest of eggs, chicken eggs, along a fence not far from a white man's house, a man named Robinson Jones. They're hungry. One of them says they better be careful because if they eat the eggs they're going to risk getting Jones angry.

The four of them are young, full of spit and vinegar, and, Lord a'mighty, they're hungry, have been for a long time.

Another says being afraid of people like Jones is something he's sick and tired of because life hasn't been all that great with all those white people moving into and onto their land, treaty or no treaty.

Big talk, another one says, or something to that effect. What are you going to do about it?

You think I'm scared?--one of them asks. If you think I'm scared, then let's go over to that house and kill 'em--Robinson Jones and all those white people. Let's just shoot 'em all down.

So they do. Brown Wing, Breaking Up, Killing Ghost, and Runs Against Something When Crawling--the four Dakotas--messed around for awhile, even went with Jones to another place altogether, but eventually shot and killed Robinson Jones, Howard Baker, and Baken Viranus Webster, murdered them in cold blood, then turned on Mrs. Jones and Clara Wilson, an adopted daughter. . .men, women, and children, dead.

It was August 19, 1862, not quite noon, 40 miles south of Acton, Minnesota, out on the frontier of America, at a time when the nation was deeply and horribly engaged in a war with itself, the Civil War.

That horrific incident ignited bloodletting up and down the Minnesota River, a month of sheer horror that left hundreds dead and white people all throughout the Midwest scared to death. In my hometown of Oostburg, Wisconsin, four hundred miles east, immigrant Dutch folks came in from their farms, armed with pitchforks, and readied themselves for what they considered to be an imminent Indian attack that never came.

Robinson Jones didn't ask to be murdered, of course, nor did his adopted daughter. They were victims of Dakota brutality and lawlessness.

Or were they? Which of the Dakota had asked white people to inhabit their land? Which of the Dakota had written up treaties for them to sign? Which of the Dakota had ever wanted hoards of white people to put down roots and build fences all over their land and thereby change forever the way they'd lived their lives?

The opening round of the Dakota War of 1862 was the vicious, cold-blooded murder of five white people, including a woman and a child.

Exactly 150 years later, it's still immensely painful to tell the story, not simply because of the horrific loss of life, but because the opening round of the Sioux Indian wars brings us face to face with a story in which no one is righteous, no not one.

Maybe it should simply be forgotten, like some of the old monuments you can still find throughout the region--if you look. Maybe no one should tell it anymore and simply hope the story dies. Maybe some history is better off forgotten.

Like all wars, the story of the Sioux uprising in 1862 includes blessed individual acts of courage and selflessness, heroism that honors human character. But the sweep of the story is tragic and sad, full of sin, full of pride and envy, carelessness and hate, all of which resulted in bloody murder and degradation.

Finally, it's still our story, all of ours. That may be reason enough to keep it alive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are seeing this kind of violence on a regular basis in our current evening news. Do our current events end in the same way as the "Dakota" story? Why not?