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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Who's out back at River Bend? (4)

If the inscription on John Moore's grave site didn't give away the story, you could walk right by and simply assume that in 1899, when he died, he was just another pioneer settler in eastern South Dakota. He could have been a white man. "There's John Moore," you might say, the stone bearing no Dakota language or Indian name. 

But there aren't many people that fit that description in the River Bend churchyard. River Bend is a colony of people from a similar homeland just like any other--Dutch, Norwegian, German, Bohemian--with this  exception: it was Santee Sioux.

John Moore's year of birth (1826, "in Minn." the stone says) means he was about forty years old when "the uprising" began in 1862, when hundreds of Santees determined the life they were living was more painful death than dying and therefore attacked the Lower Sioux Agency near Morton, Minnesota, where food was stored, food that belonged, by treaty, to them. 

Not all the Santees drew blood. There can be no doubt that this man, John Moore, did not, a conclusion we can reach on a great deal more information than simply that he's here, that he wasn't one of those who was killed or hung or starved. We know he didn't join Little Crow and the crusaders because the stone says John Moore spent the next three years of his life--1862 to 1865--somewhere out front of a cavalry unit hunting down the Santee warriors he didn't join. 

In 1862, not all the Santee men was some stock 19th century Hollywood Indian. When the war began, more than a few had already tossed the old blanket and dressed up like the white man. They'd cut their hair and started to farm pretty much at the time they decided to come to church and listen to the missionary talk about Jesus. In all likelihood, John Moore was just such a man, just such a Santee. 

Before the war, more than 6000 Santees made their home along the Minnesota River. Two thousand of those were captured and killed, while 4000 fled either to Canada or North Dakota, where eventually General Henry Sibley, who'd commanded the cavalry during the Dakota War, hunted them down. He and his army located them finally on a hill named Big Mound in Kidder County, North Dakota. 

I don't know it's true, but perhaps John Moore was among the sixty or so scouts who Sibley recruited and sent up there to parley with their brother Santees. Some of those scouts met with their own tribal members, reps of the encampment, a meeting that finally turned into a bloody fight. 

Sibley estimated his troops met as many as 1500 warriors out there at the Battle of Big Mound, few of them armed with anything that shot straight. Sibley's force, meanwhile, was the biggest army ever to mounted to fight Native people--over 3000 well-equipped troops. 

That John Moore--or his family--wanted the line about him being a scout inscribed on the stone suggests that he was among the scouts Sibley employed to find the Santees who'd fled the Minnesota valley after the war. That he was among that group strongly suggests he was a Christian, that he'd claimed to know the Lord already before the war. 

And there's more of Mr. Moore's life inscribed on the stone. 

"Took claim in 1887," it says, "near Lake Benton. . ."

Some Santees were rewarded for their work as army scouts by a homestead plot in the state of Minnesota, where legislation immediately after the war banned all Indian people. John Moore died there, near Lake Benton, the stone says, but his remains, somehow, are here behind the church at River Bend. 

With his people. 

What isn't at all complicated about Native American history is this: Euro-Americans took most all of the land its original occupants once ruled. We did, my ancestors among them. There is no other way of summarizing what happened across the face of America. That's indisputable fact.

All of 143 years after the Flandreau Sioux put the first logs together for a place to worship the Lord, set them down on a hill looking over the Big Sioux, the story told in its ancient cemetery is more complicated than anything Hollywood ever dreamed and most of the rest of us know or can imagine. 

Someone perhaps knows a whole lot more about this man John Moore, some descendant maybe. I really hope so. Other than what's here, what I've told you is conjecture, well-founded but only presumed to be true.

Nonetheless, his stone speaks volumes, and the story it tells, like the story it suggests, is far more complex than all of us might wish it to be. 

Rest in peace, John Moore. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John Moore died the year my dad was born.