Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Who's out back at River Bend? (2)
When he was a kid his father died, was killed really, when a gun discharged in his father's hands. A fight ensued not long after, a bloody fight for leadership between him and his brother. That's when Little Crow was wounded in both wrists, scarring his arms so badly that he kept them covered for his whole life. But he won and became the leader of the band of Dakota into which he was born.
Some would say he caved in for a time. He signed the Treaty at Traverse des Sioux which consigned his people to a reservation on a narrow strip of land bordering the Minnesota River. He took to wearing white men's clothes, joined the Episcopal Church, and started to farm. He visited Washington D. C., a trip which shook the temerity out of a hundreds of Native men. Pictures of him, like this one, make it seem as if he'd become just another white Minnesotan.
But he wasn't. He was, have no doubt, a leader of his people. When the treaty obligations weren't fulfilled, when his people were starving, literally, he chose to go to war, even though he told those warriors who were far more anxious to fight that the cause was sure to fail. Regardless, he went all in. He was, after all, their leader.
He is the only man buried in the old River Bend churchyard who has a war named after him, Little Crow's War. Today, mostly, people call it the Dakota War of 1862, but it's still known to many as the Sioux Uprising. "Little Crow's War" is a fitting description, even though he was, by all accounts, confident of what was going to eventually result. He led his warriors anyway.
When the war's end was in sight, Little Crow, and others, fled north to Canada, which means he wasn't among those thirty-some hung en masse at Mankato in December of 1862. But he returned home to steal horses and, oddly enough, was killed in gun battle when a couple of white settlers stumbled on him and his son. For a time no one knew who it was that lay there dead in the grass. No matter--he was after all an Indian, so his body was dragged up and down the street in town, fire crackers set off in his eyes and ears before his head was cut off. The men who killed him got $75 for his scalp; one was cited by the legislature for his honorable service to the state.
Later, his scarred wrists identified him as Little Crow, the chief of the Dakota who's warriors had killed somewhere in the vicinity of 500 settlers--men, women, and children, slaughtered them. Years later, his remains were given to a grandson. Here in the cemetery at River Bend Presbyterian, they are, one hopes, at rest.
I'm not sure, but the quote at the bottom of the inscription is part of the reason he's still regarded, by some, as a hero, a warrior. In August of 1862, he knew what was going to happen once the 500 Dakota warriors raided the agency that wouldn't give them food that was there in the storehouse. He knew that a fight would not end well, but he led his warriors anyway--"Therefore I'll die with you." See it up there. Bottom line.
It takes something to find it, but stop by sometime. Chances are, his stone is the only one bearing a name you might have heard of.
But you can stand there and read it for yourself. Little Crow's story is amazing in every way. He led a rebellion that slaughtered what a white man like me can't help thinking of as innocent people--men and women and children, immigrant homesteaders, many of them just off the boat, some of whom actually knew him. From church, too.
Little Crow is to some--to many--a hero. Still is. You don't have to believe that to be true, but you really must try to understand.
River Bend is not so far from here really, but it's well off the beaten path. You've got to hunt to find the place. I don't know of a tour that would bring you there. You're very much on your own.
But then I think a story like Little Crow's, in this fair land of ours, is really never all that far away, no matter where you are. I find that humbling, like a walk in a cemetery.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:02 AM