Governor for a moment in silence, with his arms folded, his bearing
betraying perfect self-composure, a defiant smile playing upon his lips.
In a firm voice he said:
Red Iron - "I started to come, but your braves drove me back."
Governor - "What excuse have you for not coming the second time I sent for
Red Iron - "No other excuse than I have already given you."
When the Governor, as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, informed this
proud chief that, by virtue of his office, he would break him of his
chieftianship it appealed to his pride, and he said:
"You break me? I was elected chief by my tribe. You can't break me."
The chief, while surrendering to the powers that be, never felt friendly
to the whites, and during this war of which we write he continued
stubborn and sullen to the end.
Standing Buffalo, hereditary chief of the Sissitons, was a different
type, and counselled living in peace, but desired fair treatment and
honest dealings with his people. He was a handsome Indian, and a man
of rare ability. General Sibley was anxious to know how he felt on
the important question agitating the Sioux Nation, and desired his
co-operation in liberating the captives and compassing the capture of
Little Crow and his followers. At this Indian convention this noted chief
[Illustration: STANDING BUFFALO.]
"I am a young man, but I have always felt friendly toward the whites,
because they were kind to my father. You have brought me into great
danger without my knowledge of it beforehand. By killing the whites, it
is just as if you had waited for me in ambush and shot me down. You Lower
Indians feel bad because we have all got into this trouble; but I feel
worse, because I know that neither I nor my people have killed any of the
whites, and that yet we have to suffer with the guilty. I was out buffalo
hunting when I heard of the outbreak, and I felt as if I was dead, and I
feel so now. You all know that the Indians cannot live without the aid of
the white man, and, therefore, I have made up my mind that Paul is right,
and my Indians will stand by him. We claim this reservation. What are
you doing here? If you want to fight the whites, go back and fight them.
Leave my village at Big Stone Lake. You sent word to my young men to come
down, and that you had plenty of oxen, horses, goods, powder and lead,
and now we see nothing. We are going back to Big Stone Lake and leave you
to fight the whites. Those who make peace can say that Standing Buffalo
and his people will give themselves up in the spring."
They kept their word, and would have nothing to do with Little Crow.
Standing Buffalo was killed in 1863 by an accident.
Other Day, a civilized Indian, in addressing the council at this time,
"You can, of course, easily kill a few unarmed whites, but it would be a
cowardly thing to do, because we have gained their confidence, and the
innocent will suffer with the guilty, and the great Father at Washington
will send his soldiers to punish you, and we will all suffer. I will not
join you in this, but will help defend these white people who have always
been our friends."
Other Day was a true friend of the whites; he looked it. He was a
full-blood Indian, it is true, and the Indians respected and feared him,
but his desire to forsake the barbarous teachings of his father inclined
him towards the unsuspecting settlers.
In 1863 he was General Sibley's most trusted and confidential scout. In
the early outbreak Other Day manifested his loyalty to his white friends
by risking his life in their defense, piloting sixty people through the
river bottoms during the nights to a place of safety. He traveled with
his charge in the night, and hid them in underbrush during the daytime.
He was a true-hearted, kind man, with a red skin, who has gone to his
reward in a land where there are no reds, no blacks, but where all are
Little Crow, who is one of the principal characters in this narrative,
was an Indian of no mean ability. He was the commander-in-chief of the
hostile tribes, and wielded a powerful influence among all the tribes
of this great Sioux Nation. He was a powerful man, and felt his lordly
position; was confident of final success, and very defiant at the outset.
He had a penchant for notoriety in more ways than one. In dress he was
peculiar, and could nearly always be found with some parts of a white
man's clothing. He was particularly conspicuous in the style of collar he
wore; happy in the possession of one of the old-style standing collars,
such as Daniel Webster and other old-time gentlemen bedecked themselves
with. He also possessed a black silk neckerchief and a black frock coat,
and on grand occasions wore both.
He had strongly marked features, and in studying the lineaments of his
face one would not adjudge him a particularly bad Indian. As we had
hundreds of these men in our custody, a good opportunity was offered
while guarding them to try one's gift as a reader of character as stamped
in the face, but Little Crow proved an enigma. It was like a novice
trying to separate good money from bad, an unprofitable and unsuccessful
task. Little Crow said:
"It is impossible to make peace if we so desired. Did we ever do the most
trifling thing, the whites would hang us. Now, we have been killing them
by the hundreds in Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, and I know if they get us
into their hands they will hang every one of us. As for me, I will kill
as many of them as I can, and fight them till I die. Do not think you
will escape. There is not a band of Indians from the Redwood Agency to
Big Stone Lake that has not had some of its members embroiled in this
war. I tell you we must fight and perish together. A man is a fool and
coward who thinks otherwise, and who will desert his nation at such a
time. Disgrace not yourselves by a surrender to those who will hang you
up like dogs; but die, if die you must, with arms in your hands, like
warriors and braves of the Dakotas."
In one of our battles we took some fine-looking bucks prisoners, and the
soldiers were for scalping them at once, but we had a little "pow-wow"
with them, and found them intelligent and well educated; they were
students home on a vacation from Bishop Whipple's school at Faribault,
Minnesota, and said they were forced, much against their will, to go on
the warpath; that they had not fired a bullet at the whites; that they
fired blank cartridges because they felt friendly to the whites, and
had no desire to kill them. There were three of them; we told them they
could take their choice - be shot or enlist; they chose the latter, and
went South with us, staying until the close of the Rebellion, and they
displayed the courage of the born soldier.
[Illustration: Brevet Major General H. H. Sibley,
Commander in the field in 1862 and 1863 against the Sioux Indians.]
GOV. SIBLEY APPOINTED COMMANDER.
While these scenes which I have related were being enacted in the
upper country excitement ran high at St. Paul, and for a time the
great struggle then going on in the South was forgotten. The news of
the outbreak soon reached St. Paul, and couriers, with horses covered
with foam, kept coming in one after another, until the officers at Fort
Snelling were ordered by Governor Ramsey to be in readiness with their
men to move at a moment's notice, and we did not have long to wait.
The Sixth Minnesota, of which I was a member, had just organized, and
was assigned to Hancock corps, Army of the Potomac, but the events
transpiring in the Indian country made it necessary for all available
troops to go there. When I say that the whole country was seething with
excitement it is no exaggeration. The towns, big and little, were filled
with frightened refugees; the rumors that came in were of the most
frightful nature, and the whole state was clamorous for protection.
Governor Ramsey, in his desire to protect the panic-stricken people and
liberate the captives, cast about for a suitable commander for this
important work. Of all the men in and about St. Paul who seemed eminently
qualified for this position, Governor Henry H. Sibley, who at that time
was living in quietude in his home in Mendota, just across the river from
the fort, was his choice.
Governor Henry Hastings Sibley, the hero of these Indian campaigns, was
born in the city of Detroit February 20, 1811. His sire was Chief Justice
Solomon Sibley, of Detroit, and his mother was Sarah Whipple Sproat,
whose father, Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, was an accomplished officer of the
Continental army, and the granddaughter of Commodore Abraham Whipple, an
illustrious commander in the Continental navy. He came from a long line
of illustrious ancestry on both sides, of good Puritan stock, and dating
his lineage back to the Sibleys of William the Conqueror of England in
the fifteenth century.
He was not a fighter; his heart was too tender for that, but he felt
the weighty responsibility he had assumed when he consented to lead
the soldiers and save the lives of the captives. For delaying he
was denounced on all hands. The press denounced him for not falling
immediately upon the Indians; but he knew the enemy better than his
censors. If he had heeded the behests of the clamorous people not a
captive would have been spared; but to-day hundreds live to bless him for
his cautious, conservative movements. Until his death, which occurred
but a few months since, he lived in his beautiful home in St. Paul; and,
although a half century of winters in the far Northwest had whitened
his head, and a great deal more than a half century of time had made
his limbs tremble, neither time nor frost had sapped the citadel of his
mind. He was a member of Aker Post, No. 21, Department of Minnesota, and
the comrades, in deference to his declining years, went in a body to his
beautiful home where he was mustered in. He lived in peace and plenty,
surrounded by his family and friends, who esteemed him for his worth.
He passed away respected and regretted by a host of friends throughout
the land, who knew him as a citizen and a soldier. I knew him personally
and intimately since 1857; and in his death, with others great in our
nation's history, we are reminded that in war the bullet is no respecter
of rank; the commander and the soldier fall together.
Governor Sibley was commissioned by Governor Ramsey as Colonel of
Volunteers, and assigned to the command of the expedition. He was
selected because he had spent many years of his life among the Indians
as a trader, he spoke their language, he knew them personally, and knew
their characteristics. He was a man of large experience, education and
ability, and possessed, withal, a cool head. He knew the Indians, and
they knew him and respected him. He consented to lead the forces against
the Indians when appealed to by Governor Ramsey, upon conditions that he
should not be interfered with by His Excellency, or any one else, and
that he should have adequate supplies of men, stores and transportation.
Colonel Sibley, afterwards Brigadier and Brevet Major-General of
Volunteers, with his staff and Companies A, B, and E, of the Sixth
Minnesota Infantry, embarked on a small steamer then at anchor near the
fort, and steamed up the Minnesota river to Shakopee, distant about forty
miles by water. We started in a furious rain, and after a slow trip up
the narrow and winding Minnesota, arrived at Shakopee, where we found the
frightened citizens ready to receive us with open arms, although all the
firearms we had were worthless and condemned Austrian rifles, without
ammunition to fit them. All serviceable material of war had been shipped
to the South. Our first guard duty was on picket in the suburbs of
Shakopee, and our instructions were to press all teams into the service.
We felt the gravity of the situation, and obeyed orders to the letter as
nearly as we, raw recruits, could. While here the news was spread that
Indians were in the vicinity, and the women and children began to flock
to the vicinity of the soldiers; the alarm was without foundation. As
we were stationed on the various roads leading to and from the town,
the citizens who had been so badly scared seemed to feel comparatively
safe. The news from the upper country, however, was discouraging, and
appeals for protection very urgent. We could not move at once from lack
of transportation, and had no adequate supplies, either of food, arms or
ammunition, for we had been so hurriedly dispatched from Fort Snelling
that only about half of one company had been supplied with even the
worthless muskets spoken of, and the whole command with but two days'
rations. It was necessary, however, to make some quick demonstration to
appease the panic-stricken people. After a delay of one day, by various
routes by land and water, the regiment concentrated at St. Peter, under
command of Colonel William Crooks, where it was inspected and remained
four or five days, awaiting the receipt of suitable arms and ammunition
and also reinforcements.
Our guns were so absolutely worthless that it was necessary to delay
a little, as the Indians, in large numbers, were then besieging Fort
Ridgely, and were well armed with Springfield rifles, while our own arms
were condemned Austrian muskets.
We embarked on a boat at Shakopee and sailed up to Carver, forty miles
above, and there pressed in teams to carry us through what was known as
the "Big Woods." It had been raining for days, and the town of Carver
was literally packed with refugees. There was not an empty building in
it, even the warehouses were filled, and the muddy streets were a sight
to behold. The mud was ankle deep, and you may imagine in what condition
everything was. I cannot describe it.
The frightened people, who had flocked in from all the country round,
told most woeful tales of Indian atrocities. In some cases they were
overdrawn, but later on we saw evidences enough to warrant them fleeing
to a place of safety. There was no safety, however, in coming to these
small towns, for they were without protection.
After loading up the teams, we started through the "Big Woods," and the
roads were in such a horrible condition that we made but slow progress.
However, we had to make Glencoe, twenty-five miles distant, before night
or camp down in the woods in the mud. It became pitchy dark, but we kept
on the move, and in time got through the woods and could see the lights
of Glencoe afar off. This was only a small place, but the twinkling
lights from the houses were a pleasant sight, and when we arrived there
the people were glad to see us. We remained over night, and the next day
started for St. Peter. We could see evidences of Indian devastation in
every direction, among which were the burning buildings and grain stacks
on the beautiful neighboring farms.
On the route to St. Peter, which we reached early in the evening, we
discovered a few dead settlers, and took some families along with us.
Upon our arrival we went into camp with the rest of the command, and were
soon placed under strict military discipline, and in a brief time our
commander, Colonel William Crooks, a West Pointer, brought order out of
Of the preparation and forward march to relieve Fort Ridgely I will
reserve for another chapter.
MARCH TO FORT RIDGELY.
In the interval the companies were drilled and the command otherwise
prepared to act effectively against the formidable body of hostile
warriors, who were well armed and plentifully supplied with powder and
ball. Colonel Sibley, having looked the ground over with a critical
eye, uninfluenced by the public clamor and fault-finding of the press,
remained firm in the determination not to take the field until assured
of success in his operations. He knew the Indians well, and knew it was
necessary to fight or failure, there would be no adequate barrier to the
descent of the savages upon St. Paul and Minneapolis, and the desolation
of the state generally. The Chippewas on the north were known to be in
secret communication with Little Crow, the head of the Sioux hordes, and
ready to them cautiously if he would succeed, for, in case of defeat
co-operate with him if victorious, while the Winnebagoes were also in
active sympathy with him, for two or three of their warriors were found
among the dead after the battle of Wood Lake, which occurred later on.
Arms, ammunition and supplies arriving, we took up the line of march for
Fort Ridgely, which was then in a state of siege. Our advent at the Fort
was hailed with delight, for the little garrison was pretty well tired
out with the fighting and watching that they had had on their hands for
the eight days previous. Barricades had been erected at all weak points,
but the Indians so far outnumbered the soldiers that they approached near
enough to fire the wooden buildings of the fort proper in many places.
Our march to Fort Ridgely was the first we had made as an entire
organization, and under an able commanding officer we profited by it. On
the way we found the dead body of a colored man from St. Paul by the name
of Taylor. He was a barber by trade, but also quite a noted gambler, and
had been up to the agency to get his share of the money when the Indians
got their pay.
He played one game too many, and lost - his life.
Before we reached the Fort the Indians took alarm and sullenly retreated
upon our approach, after having done all possible damage to men and
property. As we entered, the brave little garrison accompanied by the
women and children turned out to greet us, and a right joyous time we
had. A detachment of thirty men of the Fifth Minnesota, under Captain
Marsh, the commander of the fort, upon receipt of news of the outbreak,
had marched in the direction of the Lower Sioux Agency, distant a few
miles. The Indians, perceiving the advance of this small detachment,
placed themselves in ambush in the long grass at the crossing of the
Minnesota River and awaited the oncoming of their unsuspecting victims,
and, when in the toils, they opened a terrific fire upon them, which
destroyed almost the entire party.
Colonel Sibley hurried forward supplies and ammunition for an extensive
campaign, for, from his knowledge of the Indians, he knew it was no boy's
play. The moving spirit among the hostiles was Little Crow, a wily old
chief, without principle, but active and influential. He had harangued
his people into the belief that the fight going on among the whites in
the South had drawn off all the able-bodied men, leaving none but old
men, women and children. "Now," he said, "is the time to strike for
Minnesota. These fertile fields, stolen from us, are ours; the buffalo
are gone; we have no food, and our women and children are starving. Let
the warriors assemble in war paint and drive the pale-faces from the
face of the earth!" He told his people they could pitch their wigwams
the coming winter in St. Paul and hold high carnival in the legislative
halls. So widespread had the alarm became that it reached St. Paul and
Minneapolis, and "minute men" were on duty on the bluffs adjacent for
several days. In addition to the Sioux, the Chippewas and Winnebagoes
were becoming very restless, and this caused additional uneasiness in the
Colonel Sibley, upon his arrival of the fort, sent out scouts to
ascertain the whereabouts of the Indians. The news they brought was that
a large camp of hostiles was located above the Yellow Medicine, where
they held as captives about four hundred white women and children, and
one white man. They also reported that the Indians were preparing to make
a raid on the small towns below the fort.
It was also known that a large number of citizens who had been killed
near the agency were yet unburied, and the fate of Captain Marsh and his
men was in doubt. To this end a small command was organized, as narrated
in another chapter, to go out to bury the dead and relieve Captain Marsh
and his men if they were found alive.
BURIAL OF CAPT. MARSH AND MEN.
Company "A," of the Sixth Minnesota, together with two men each from
the other companies, were detailed to accompany a burial party, with
instructions to properly bury all bodies found, and, if possible,
ascertain the fate of Captain Marsh and his thirty men, who had gone out
to intercept the Indians at the Redwood Crossing. In addition to this
detail we had a small detachment of citizen cavalry, under Captain Joe
Anderson, to act as scouts.
Our little command numbered, all told, 153 - infantry, cavalry and
teamsters - and ninety-six horses, including twenty teams taken along
to carry camp and garrison equipage, rations and ammunition, and to
transport our wounded, either soldiers or citizens. The expedition was
under the immediate command of Captain H. P. Grant, of Company A. Major
Joseph R. Brown, better known as "Old Joe Brown," was in charge of the
scouts. He had a cool head, but no fighting qualities; had been an Indian
trader for many years, raised an Indian family, and knew a great deal
about Indian signs and customs. In this particular case, however, the
Indians fooled Joe. The first day out we found and buried about fifty
citizens, and at night went into camp in the river bottom near Redwood
Crossing. The night was dark and dismal, and particularly sad to us who
had been gathering up the dead all day long. The instructions to the
guard by Captain Anderson were of a very solemn nature, in view of the
surroundings and the probable fighting ahead. This, together with the
stillness of the night and the impression that a lurking foe was near,
made the boys feel rather uncomfortable.
[Illustration: DR. WILLIAMSON'S HOUSE.]
Deep sleep settled upon the camp, but the sentinels maintained a vigilant
watch, however, and the night slowly passed without incident. After
reveille the next morning we found Captain Marsh and his comrades, but
not one of them answered to "roll-call." We found the captain's body and
those of a few of his men in the river, and the rest of the bodies in the
thicket on the river bank, where they had evidently been hemmed in and
fired upon from all sides. Nearly all had been scalped, and were minus
guns and ammunition, for these had been confiscated by the redskins. We
buried the soldiers side by side, with their captain at their head, and
marked the place by a huge cross, so that the bodies might be easily
found and removed, which was subsequently done, when they were finally
buried in the Soldiers' cemetery at Fort Ridgely. After this last service
to our dead comrades, we took up the line of march, leaving the bottom
lands for the prairie above, and it was when passing over the bluff that
a large body of Indians, who were on their way to capture Saint Peter and
Mankato, espied us. What was our subsequent loss was the gain of the two
towns mentioned. Our scouts had crossed the river, making a detour to the
south, and thus missed making the acquaintance of our enemies, who had
their eyes on us.
We went into camp the second night near Birch Coolie, and sixteen miles
distant from Fort Ridgely, about 5 p. m., well tired out with our day's
march. Birch Coolie is a deep gorge running north and south in Redwood
county, Minnesota. What was then a bleak prairie is now a beautiful
farming community, and Birch Coolie a thriving village.
From information gathered by the scouts we felt comparatively safe.
[Illustration: "Chickens for Supper."]
Old Joe said: "Boys, go to sleep now and rest; you are as safe as you
would be in your mother's house; there is not an Indian within fifty
miles of you." At that very moment five hundred Indians were in the
immediate vicinity watching us and impatient for the ball to open, as
they intended it should at the proper time, which, with the Indian, is
about four o'clock in the morning.
After our supper on chicken stew, song-singing and story-telling, we
turned in, well tired out and in a condition to enjoy a good night's
sleep and dreams of home.
The night was warm, the sky clear, with the stars shining brightly, and
a full moon in all her glory. It was a beautiful night - too beautiful
to witness the scene that was so soon to follow. The guard had been
stationed and cautioned to be on the alert for strange sounds; "tattoo,"
"roll-call," "taps," sounded, and the little camp was silent. The low hum
of voices became less and less as slumber came to the weary soldiers, and
all that could be heard was the occasional challenge of the guard: "Halt!