Years ago, I read Scarlet Plume, a novel by Frederick Manfred. I read the book because I admired the author, who, years later, became a good friend. That novel left a lasting impression on me because of the horrors Manfred related--the gruesome,bloody deaths of white settlers in what was called, for years, the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Manfred related what he'd read in the records, the diaries, the memoirs of the white survivors. Those stories cannot easily be forgotten.
The Dakota cause was to rid the region of white people. Small bands of warriors roamed hither and yon throughout the territory in an incredibly wide arc, killing people, butchering them--often literally butchering them.
Early on Thursday morning, August 21, four Dakota men rode up to the home of Lars and Gure Anderson, fifty miles north of the Lower Sioux Agency. The Dakotas were dressed in white man's clothes, their hair cut in white man's fashion. They carried shotguns, but for white folks it wasn't unusual to suddenly host armed Indian men on their way to hunting grounds.
The Andersons treated them kindly and thought little of the moment. After Lars gave them sine fresh milk, however, they killed him right there on the spot, then went out to the garden where a son was digging potatoes, and shot him dead too. Another son ran to the doorway of the house to see what had happened, and they shot him. Mrs. Anderson grabbed her three-year old daughter and hid in the cellar, but two other daughters, ten and fifteen, ran into the grass, where caught, and raped.
Mrs. Anderson was thrown into horror. Her daughters were screaming, her sons and her husband were either dead or dying, and she had hold of her only unmolested child. Should she abandon the cellar and risk their lives as well? She stayed put, in horror, all day long, waited until nightfall before venturing forth from her hideout.
Dazed, in shock, holding her three-year-old, she walked aimlessly all night long, ending up the next morning somehow back at her own ransacked home. Deathly afraid, she determined that if she was going to die, she might as well do so in her own house, so she reentered the cabin and found the son who'd been wounded in the doorway, a bloodied child who had nearly lost his senses. The Dakota were gone.
Mrs. Anderson hitched two oxen to a sled, put her wounded son and her three-year old on it, and set out for her son-in-law's cabin, hoping for safety. Before she left, she cried over the bodies of her husband and her son who'd been killed in the garden.
Her son-in-law's cabin had also been attacked. The dead were all around, but she also found two survivors, loaded them on her makeshift wagon and left for Forest City.
Those two young, violated daughters somehow miraculously escaped their captors. Eventually they too found their way to Forest City, passing the naked corpses of their neighbors, heads severed, skin stripped from their bodies, long gashes running up and down the rotting torsos.
Multiply that story a hundred times--and more. Use your imagination and make it even worse because even more horrifying things happened, more blood flowed, more wanton, brutal killing was let loose on the entire region. So much horror that five hundred miles in all directions, white settlers left their farms and circled up their wagons in small frontier towns, confident that they would be next to be attacked.
Transgressions against the Dakota people were impossibly unforgivable. Annuities promised were not delivered. Agents were notorious crooks. A way of life was utterly destroyed by hoards of white settlers. 30,000 immigrants came to Minnesota in 1855 alone. In 1850, there were 6000 white people in the whole territory; by 1856, there were 200,000. And they'd all come for land--Dakota land.
Little Crow understood that if the region would be cleansed of white people, he'd have to fight a white man's war: attack the agencies, the fort, the towns. He wanted no part of the butchery that went on, the wanton rape and murder that slaughtered hundreds of men, women, and children, during the next six or seven days. But Little Crow had little say in what went on in the name of war. His warriors were no longer his. They'd become bloodthirsty. Some had become savages.
What happened that week throughout the Minnesota River valley--and beyond--was, and still is, almost beyond our worst imaginations. Whether I like it or not, Manfred's account of the horror, in his novel, Scarlet Plume, wasn't trumped or sensational. Absolutely horrible things happened.
There is, of course, still more to the story.
The drawing above appeared in Harper's Weekly, in the fall of 1862, when the stories reached New York.