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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Dakota War III

Just a day after four young Dakota had killed five people near Acton, just a few hours after a rapidly convened war council that drew Little Crow into action and the Dakota into war, the very first offensive began when Dakota warriors rode into the Redwood Agency and began killing people, white people. Some were friends; many were known to each other, and known well. In that sense, the attack was, to the people at the agency, as much of a surprise as it was a shock.

It was August 18, 1862, and the carnage ended that morning with 20 white people dead, ten captured. By the time the horror stopped, 47 more were missing. Most of those eventually escaped.

"A great many members of the other bands were like my men; they took no part in the first movements, but afterward did. The next morning, when the force started down to attack the agency, I went along. I did not lead my band, and I took no part in the killing. I went to save the lives of two particular friends if I could. I think others went for the same reason, for nearly every Indian had a friend that he did not want killed; of course he did not care about anybody's else’s friend."

"The killing was nearly all done when I got there. Little Crow was on the ground directing operations. The day before, he had attended church there and listened closely to the sermon and had shaken hands with everybody."

After the war, many whites and Dakotas gave their testimonies concerning the terrible events that began that day. This account, by Big Eagle, is typical. But is Big Eagle telling the whole truth, or is he spinning the tale to save himself from hanging?

No one will ever know.

Here’s what he remembers of that morning attack on the agency.

"I was never present when the white people were willfully murdered. I saw all the dead bodies at the agency. Mr. Andrew Myrick, a trader, with an Indian wife, had re¬fused some hungry Indians credit a short time before when they asked him for some provisions. He said to them: "Go and eat grass." Now he was lying on the ground dead, with his mouth stuffed full of grass, and the Indians were saying tauntingly: "Myrick is eating grass himself."

The Myrick story is well documented and somehow carries emblematic quality of the whole awful tale.

What Big Eagle also remembers, however, is how thrilled the Native people became once they knew they could take their fortunes into their own hands. Once they’d killed the people who’d taken their land, they warmed to the cause.

"When I returned to my village that day I found that many of my band had changed their minds about the war, and wanted to go into it. All the other villages were the same way. I was still of the belief that it was not best, but I thought I must go with my band and my nation, and I said to my men that I would lead them into the war, and we would all act like brave Dakotas and do the best we could. All my men were with me; none had gone off on raids, but we did not have guns for all at first."

Minnesota’s other civil war was underway.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't Little Crows story sound a lot like Joshua's story? I hear that the Jews are still fighting for their lands today. What happened to the people who lived in Jericho?

Paul Vander Klay said...

These are excellent.

If I were Dakota knowing of the Civil War there is of course some sense on the timing. Attack your enemy when he is weak or disorganized. As you said though, Little Crow knew better. He probably also knew that there was no stopping this sea of white and that the war for their way of life had been lost long before he had been born.

We are powerless all before the age of decay. pvk