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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Dakota War II

“Taoyateduta is not a coward, and he is not a fool! When did he run away from his enemies? When did he leave his braves behind him on the warpath and turn back to his tepee? When he ran away from your enemies, he walked behind on your trail with his face to the Ojibways and covered your backs as a she-bear covers her cubs! Is Taoyateduta without scalps? Look at his war feathers! Behold the scalp locks of your enemies hanging there on his lodgepoles! Do they call him a coward? Taoyateduta is not a coward, and he is not a fool. Braves, you are like little children: you know not what you are doing.”

They’d called him a coward because, as an old, veteran warrior, he didn’t like the idea of taking on the white settlers, not after five people were brutally murdered, a woman and a child among them. In council, the young men said the old man was afraid. Not so, he told them. And more.

“You are full of the white man's devil water. You are like dogs in the Hot Moon when they run mad and snap at their own shadows. We are only little herds of buffalo left scattered; the great herds that once covered the prairies are no more. See!—the white men are like the locusts when they fly so thick that the whole sky is a snowstorm. You may kill one—two—ten; yes, as many as the leaves in the forest yonder, and their brothers will not miss them. Kill one—two—ten, and ten times ten will come to kill you. Count your fingers all day long and white men with guns in their hands will come faster than you can count.”

Those four young murdering braves who’d murdered five people white people had hightailed it back to their camp, where they told others what they'd done. Immediately, a war council was created, and the band leaders determined that the finest Dakota general among the Native people would be Taoyateduta, or Little Crow. What shall we do?--they asked Little Crow.

Little Crow knew war was foolhardy. He’d been to Washington D.C., and he’d seen the millions of white faces few others had.

“Yes; they fight among themselves—away off. Do you hear the thunder of their big guns? No; it would take you two moons to run down to where they are fighting, and all the way your path would be among white soldiers as thick as tamaracks in the swamps of the Ojibways. Yes; they fight among themselves, but if you strike at them they will all turn on you and devour you and your women and little children just as the locusts in their time fall on the trees and devour all the leaves in one day.

Little Crow knew about the Civil War, even though Bull Run was a half a continent away. They all knew about the Civil War, in part because there were precious few white men in the valley of the Minnesota River. They were gone to fight a war.

“You are fools. You cannot see the face of your chief; your eyes are full of smoke. You cannot hear his voice; your ears are full of roaring waters. Braves, you are little children—you are fools. You will die like the rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon (January). Taoyateduta is not a coward: he will die with you.”

And so, Taoyateduta, or Little Crow, took up the fight, fully confident that it would end in failure, fully confident it would end the way it did. But, like a warrior, fierce heroism meant more to him than human life, far more than his own.

It was August 18, 1862. Only five white people had yet been killed. Inside of just a few days, the numbers would rise exponentially. The Dakota idea was simple—drive all the white people off Indian land.

That simple idea was foolhardy. Little Crow knew as much, but he could not abide being thought of as a coward. Just a day before, he'd sat in church and listened to a white man preach a sermon about God and Jesus. But he loved his people. In just a few hours, the war would begin in earnest.


Anonymous said...

What does Jesus example, sacrifice and teachings have to do with this story anyhow? Did these white men know about Jesus? What did that White Man preach about Jesus?

Anonymous said...

Why didn't Jesus fight those Romans instead of letting them just kill him in a mean way? Was Joshua acting like a real Christian when he killed all those people who lived in their own town at Jericho?

Seriously Though said...

This is so interesting. The language is so poetic. I hope you write more about this. I do think it's a bit interesting he actually went to a church service. Who invited him?

J. C. Schaap said...

The missionaries play an incredibly interesting role in all of this, much of it very sympathetic, much of it not. We'll be hearing from them soon.

I don't know what to say about Joshua. His methods, the Bible says, were approved by God.

"Seriously," I'm glad you like these summary chapters, and more are coming. It was not terribly unusual for Dakota people to go to church in the Minnesota River valley in those years. The missionaries were well established. Some "praying Indians," as they were called in New England, participated in the bloodshed, but many did not. They too play a larger role--there is more to come.