permitted to take their dead and wounded from the field. So confident
were they of success that they had brought their women and teams to take
back the pillage after the Indians had loaded themselves with glory and
scalps - but presto, change; they got no glory and lost their scalps.
The soldiers had not forgotten Birch Coolie quite so soon and took great
pleasure in procuring Indian scalps for trophies.
"Other Day," who guided a large party in escaping the massacre, seemed
to have a charmed life, and a little incident here, in which he is the
chief figure, will not be amiss. "Other Day," the same as other scouts,
wore United States clothing. The day before the Wood Lake battle he was
out scouting, and coming to a house turned his pony out to graze and lay
down to take a noon-day nap. An Indian espied the pony and wanted it.
He stealthily came up to the sleeping "Other Day," and putting up some
kind of a sign so he might know a brother Indian had his pony, he rode
off with the animal. "Other Day," considerably crestfallen, came back to
headquarters and reported his loss and the manner of it. The Colonel and
his staff had a hearty laugh at his expense, which rather offended his
Indian sensitiveness. "Never mind," says he, "me get two for one."
Early next morning "Other Day" put on his Indian toggery, paint, feathers
and all, and as the Indians hove in sight the morning of the Wood Lake
battle, he started out on his pony hunt. Our men espied him across the
ravine, and thinking him a hostile opened fire on him. His blanket was
perforated with bullets, even the feathers in his hair were shot off, and
yet no harm came to him. After the battle he came in with two ponies,
and reporting to the Colonel, laughingly said: "Me got two for one."
His wonderful escape was the talk of the camp, and the Colonel had an
order issued prohibiting any one attached to the command, in the future,
wearing anything but the United States regulation uniform.
The battle was a very decisive one and very discouraging to the Indians,
who suffered a loss of 175 in killed and wounded, while our loss was
fifty-seven killed and wounded. The engagement lasted two hours, and
after the dead were gathered up and buried and the wounded cared for
the column was again ready to move. This battle developed the fact that
the Indian forces resisting our advance were composed in part of the
Medawakantons and Wahpekutas of the Lower and Wahpetons and Sissetons
of the Upper Sioux and Winnebagoes, half-breeds and deserters from the
The utmost solicitude was expressed for the safety of the white
prisoners, who knew that the Indians had gone down to fight the soldiers.
They knew the temper of the squaws especially and feared the results of
the battle. They heard the firing of the howitzer away in the distance,
and by noon squaws began to arrive and in a most unhappy mood.
It was immediately after the battle of Wood Lake that General Pope wrote
to General Halleck as follows;
"You do not seem to be aware of the extent of the Indian outbreak. The
Sioux, 2,600 warriors, are assembled at the Upper Agency to give battle
to Colonel Sibley, who is advancing with 1,600 men and five pieces of
artillery. Three hundred and over of women and children are captives in
their hands. Cannot the paroled officers and men of the rifle regiment
(dragoons) now in Michigan be sent here?"
The stay-at-homes, who were loudest in their complaints, were raising the
cry, "On to Richmond," on the one hand, and then again, "On to Little
Crow" on the other. Colonel Sibley stood like a man of iron against these
impatient behests. The "howlers" were not heeded, and in the liberation
of the captives he gained the gratitude of the nation and a merited
The friendly chiefs who had determined at all hazards to protect the
defenseless women and children redoubled their vigilance during the
night; because they, too, knew the temper of a vanquished Sioux warrior.
The position of these poor creatures was truly pitiable.
No less than four different councils were convoked, the Upper Indians
arrayed, in a measure, against the Lower, and a quarrel ensued. Little
Paul, Red Iron, Standing Buffalo, Chaska and a hundred Sissetons
determined to fight Little Crow himself should any attempt be made to
massacre the captives or place them in front at the coming battle. The
hostiles began to fear that judgment was near, and it compelled Little
Crow to assume a spirit of bravado not at all in consonance with his
[Illustration: INDIAN CAMP TAKEN BY COLONEL SIBLEY.]
Colonel Sibley, when he came in sight of the hostile camp, did not do
as the majority of the soldiers thought he ought; viz., march up and
at once surround the camp. This is where his coolness and knowledge of
the Indians served him so good a purpose. He knew if he attempted such
a course that the renegade Indians in the camp would at once take the
alarm and run away, and that probably before they did go they would
attempt to take the prisoners with them, and failing in this would kill
them outright. He was informed of this by one of the scouts and at once
concluded to adopt but one course, to go into camp and pay no attention
to them and thus disarm them of any fear as to his real intention. While
the Colonel did this, and apparently intended to leave them alone, he
was informing himself of the condition of affairs in the Indian camp. He
learned that several of the worst bands had gone farther up north, and he
sent word to them to return and they should not be harmed. Several bands
did come back, but there were those who did not, and after the scouts had
located them, companies of soldiers were sent out to make their capture.
In this way they all came back or were captured and compelled to come,
excepting Little Crow and his immediate followers.
At Camp Release we attended to guard mount, company and battalion drill,
and all other duties incident to a soldier's life. It became necessary to
make a concerted move against the Indian camp in our immediate vicinity
and relieve the white prisoners, and the orders were received one night
for all the infantry to turn out at twelve midnight. It was to be done
noiselessly, and the instructions were so given. The whole command
marched out in single file until the Indian camp was surrounded, and then
we were ordered to close in. After this was done we received orders to
lie down and to remain until daylight, when, at the sound of reveille, we
were to rise up. The Indians, hearing the early bugle call so near them,
flocked out to see what it was and found themselves prisoners.
Negotiations at once commenced for the unconditional surrender of
the white prisoners, and the object about which General Sibley was
so solicitous was accomplished. He knew that he could not attack the
hostiles in the friendly camp without endangering the lives of the
captives, and that the best policy was to appear indifferent about their
presence and thus disarm them of fear. The plan worked admirably, and the
game was successfully bagged.
[Illustration: OTHER DAY.]
Among the attractive and cultivated women found among the prisoners was
a Miss Mattie Williams, of Painesville, Ohio, who at the time of the
outbreak was living with an uncle on the Yellow Medicine River. They
had been surprised by the Indians without a moment's warning, and of
course, in their hurry, had no time to plan for an escape; but each
sought safety as best they could and became separated. Miss Williams, in
her wanderings, was picked up by a Mr. Patwell, who was escaping with a
German girl, who also was fleeing. They were overtaken by the Indians,
Mr. Patwell was killed, the German girl so wounded that she died, and
Miss Williams herself, wounded in the shoulder, was alone with her Indian
captors, who imposed upon her all the indignities born of their hellish
desires. For forty days she suffered as no human mind can imagine, forty
anxious days and sleepless nights in a dirty, smoke-begrimed, leaky tent,
clad in Indian costume and obliged to submit to savage passion. But the
angels listened and the day of deliverance drew near. The women of this
camp were all of one mind - in accord they prayed that deliverance should
come, and that the guiding hand should be directed by a clear head. As
Moses was preserved in the bulrushes and found by Pharaoh's daughter and
educated for a purpose - to lead the children of Israel from out the land
of bondage and through the Red Sea to the wilderness and the promised
land - so, too, was Colonel Sibley raised up to frustrate the designs of
the Indians and liberate these women and children.
On the night of September 25th our heroine, wrapped in her Indian
blanket, laid herself down, not to pleasant dreams, but to blissful
waking visions of release. Nor was she alone in her night vigils; other
hearts, burdened and borne down with unutterable anguish, petitioned God
to so direct the soldiers who were on the way, that their release might
be sure. The soldiers are coming, and are these weary, anxious, fearful
days and nights to end? At the first dawning of the day, September 26th,
the Indian camp was astir and preparations made to receive distinguished
guests. And who were these guests? Colonel Sibley, the big white chief,
and his staff. Extra paint, paint of every hue, and beads, together with
eagle feathers and white flags, were conspicuous throughout this excited
Indian tepee village.
The bright gleam of muskets away in the distance, banners fluttering in
the breeze and the sound of martial music as it struck the glad expectant
ear, was an answer to all their prayers: "Deliverance had come!" Hearts
made glad because the terrible nightmare of weeks had been dissipated,
the anxious days and sleepless nights were at an end, prayers had been
answered, and it was now a time for thanksgiving. Was it ended, this
horrible dream? Yes. But with it all, strong attachments sprang up
between the captive and the captor. They would have been less than human
if it were not so. These sturdy and determined Indian women and men who
protected them had jeopardized their lives, and what greater love can we
show one for the other than that we lay down our lives?
[Illustration: CAMP RELEASE.]
The little children, from one year up to four or five, who had become
orphaned, were adopted by the Indian mother, and these mothers, who
became so under such sorrowful circumstances, and having all the maternal
instincts of her more favored white sister, cared for them as tenderly as
she did her own. The little things were there with their dirty, chubby
faces, just the same as their Indian mates, their faces were painted,
their hair braided and garnished with eagle feathers, and they really
seemed happy and contented amid their changed and strange environments.
When the time came for them to go to our camps they cried and wanted
to stay with their newly found Indian mothers, and the mothers in turn
hugged them and cried over them and hated to give them up. There is
nothing passes a mother's love, even an Indian mother's love.
It was a proud day for Colonel Sibley, and as he looked into the happy
faces of the captives and received their blessings and reverent homage,
his heart was touched and tears coursed down his cheeks. He was yet a
colonel, so far as we knew, and one of his staff officers, in addressing
"Colonel Sibley, I would rather have the glory of your achievement to-day
than the proudest victory ever won in battle."
The military camp at this point was designated Camp Release, so named
from the nature of our mission in releasing the people from their Indian
captivity. The manner in which they were rescued and the Indians captured
reflects greatly to the credit and sagacity of Colonel Sibley and his
advisers. The impetuous and indignant soldiers, after what their eyes had
beheld in the region where the whites had been murdered, were determined
to annihilate the camp, and it was almost impossible to restrain them,
especially Company A, of the Sixth Minnesota, which had suffered so
severely at Birch Coolie; but wiser counsels prevailed.
After the Indians had been secured, and the captives released, we went
among them and listened to the recital of experiences that would make the
blood of any ordinary mortal boil with indignation, and it was a miracle
that the soldiers did not take the matter in hand and then and there
forever settle the Indian question. The orders were very strict about
guarding the Indians, but on the sly many acts of cruelty were indulged
in by the soldiers that would hardly be warranted, for we should not for
a moment forget the fact that they were our prisoners and we were not
savages and should not indulge in savage propensities.
Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley at Camp Release received a notification of
his deserved promotion, and we shall hereafter speak of him as General
During our stay at Camp Release we were daily drilling by company and
battalion, and perfecting ourselves in all things pertaining to soldier
life. We had a splendid camping place on the broad prairie near the river
bank, but the cold nights reminded us that winter quarters would soon
be more comfortable than the open prairie, and the rations were getting
rather scarce. "Fall in for grub" ordinarily is quite as welcome to the
hungry soldier as is the gong at a fashionable hotel to the fashionable
guest. How we jumped for the haversack containing, not solid silver, but
tin cup, tin plate, knife, fork and spoon, and fell in line according to
our agility to get there, and not according to size, so as to give the
ponies an equal chance with the tall men, whose place is on the right
when in parade. Each received his ration of coffee, hard tack, pork and
beans, irrespective of size, weight or previous condition.
Commissary stores at Camp Release were getting very low and the supply
train was not yet due by several days' march, so it became necessary
to count out the crackers - five crackers to each man for a day, and no
pie or strawberries and cream for dessert. From five we were reduced to
three, and then there was nothing left but the bottom of the barrels.
There was some ear corn, but a guard was placed over that to keep it safe
for the horses and mules. Every mule was honored with a guard during his
meal hour to prevent the "boys in blue" from appropriating the precious
ear for his own use. No coffee, no meal, no hardtack, but there was a
load of potatoes remaining, and when the call to grub sounded, again we
scrambled into line to receive our ration for the day, which was - one
potato. Just after we received this potato ration the commissary train
hove in sight under strong guard with three days' rations, which were
issued to the hungry soldiers, and the indications were that the command
would soon move.
THE INDIAN PRISONERS - THE TRIAL.
After liberating the captives it became necessary to at once proceed
against the Indians, and to this end the General appointed a commission
consisting of Colonel William Crooks, president; Lieutenant-Colonel
William R. Marshall, Captains H. P. Grant, H. S. Bailey and Rollin C.
Olin and Lieutenant I. V. D. Heard as recorder. The Indians were properly
represented, and through an interpreter understood the nature of the
charges brought against them.
The rescued white captives, as soon as possible, were sent under suitable
escort to Fort Ridgely and then forwarded to their friends. As before
narrated, some of them had formed quite strong attachments for their
And it is not to be wondered at. Because a man's skin is red or black it
does not follow that his heart is black. The blackest hearts the world's
history ever recorded beat beneath the whitest breasts.
These friendly Indians were in a very small minority, succeeded in saving
the lives of the captives. It was a watch by day and by night, and
through a bold determination, that the few friendly ones succeeded in
saving, as they did, these captives, and they would be less than human if
they did not form strong attachments for their dusky friends.
[Illustration: THE COURT-HOUSE OF THE MILITARY COMMISSION.]
After the departure of the white captives, the Indian trial proceeded,
but for good reasons the General concluded to move the camp down to the
Lower Agency on the Red Wood River. The Indian camp, mostly made up of
women and children, had been moved from Yellow Medicine to this place,
where the trial still progressed.
It was really amusing to sit by and listen to the testimony given in by
the Indians through their interpreter. They were nearly all like the
white criminals of to-day - innocent. I will only record a few. Cut-Nose,
for instance, will be a fair example of others, who were as guilty
wretches as ever escaped the immediate vengeance of an outraged people.
The bloody old chief tried to play the innocent by saying he was not in
the battles to hurt anyone. He was most always there, but he was engaged
in some innocent pastime, such as feasting on roast beef and green corn,
while his comrades of the paint and feathers were killing people by the
score. If he fired at all it was at random and nobody was hurt. He would
steal, but that was for the benefit of his wife; she insisted upon his
doing something towards the support of herself and their Indian kids; but
as for killing anyone, oh! no, he could not think of that for a minute.
We have his picture here, and his looks are a "dead giveaway;" and,
besides, twenty-seven murders were traced directly to him, and his
protestation of "me good Injun" all went for nought. He was a notoriously
bad Indian; he was so adjudged by the commission, who condemned him to
death, and he finally dangled at one end of a hempen cord.
Who killed twenty-seven persons, and was hanged.]
Another one, prematurely gray, thought this ought to be evidence in his
favor, and others protested that they were too weak to face fire; others,
that their lives were threatened and they were compelled to go on the war
path; others, that they slept while their more wakeful companions fought;
and one old man who said he was fifty years old a great many years ago,
thought he might be excused, but a boy swore straight against him and
said, "I saw that man kill my mother," which solemn words settled the
This Indian was "Round Wind," but it was afterwards shown that he was not
there and he was reprieved just before the day set for the execution.
Among the Indian prisoners were some who had been enlisted in the
"Renville Rangers," and had deserted to their friends - our enemies. These
rangers were all Indians and half-breeds, and it was largely from this
fact that the Indians conceived the idea that all the white men had left
the state and that the time was propitious for the Indians to strike to
regain their territory.
It was proven conclusively that these men had been in all the battles,
and at Wood Lake one of them had taken the first scalp, and this from an
old man and a former comrade in his company. For this he received one
of the two belts of wampum which had been promised by Little Crow as a
reward for killing the first white man. These men all offered excuses,
but the evidence was so overwhelmingly against them that they also were
condemned to death.
It was necessary to make an indiscriminate capture of the Indians and
then investigate their several cases to find out the guilty ones,
because, there were many among them who no doubt had been compelled to
participate in the fights we had with them at Birch Coolie and Wood Lake,
and only kept with the hostiles from policy and to save the lives of the
white people. To these and a good old squaw, well known in St. Paul and
other parts of the Union as "Old Betz," over 400 persons owe their lives.
"Old Betz" has gone to her reward in the happy hunting grounds, having
lived over seventy-five years. She was a good woman and a good friend to
the early settlers of Minnesota. Others who were friendly to the whites
and loyal to their great father at Washington were liberated, and the
guilty placed under strong guard.
[Illustration: OLD BETZ.]
CAPTURE OF RENEGADE BANDS - MIDNIGHT MARCH.
General Sibley was apprised by his scouts that there were several lodges
of Indians up around Goose Nest Lake, and also near the mouth of the
Lac-qui-Parle River, and he dispatched Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall with
two hundred and fifty men (having six days' rations) to bring them in.
The little expedition started at midnight. They did not find Indians at
the point designated, but struck across the country, and by a forced
march of forty-five miles, found two lodges. They took the young men
prisoners, but the women and children were placed in charge of the old
men and sent away with instructions to report at Camp Release, which they
did in due time. Colonel Marshall heard of twenty-seven lodges at a place
described as Two Wood Lake, but upon arriving there, found the place
deserted, the enemy leaving behind for the benefit of other Indians, a
sign indicating that they had left two days before. In order to catch
them, the infantry were instructed to follow, while the cavalry, with a
howitzer, pushed on as fast as possible, and about midnight on the 16th
the detachment came up to the Indians, who, unsuspecting, were enjoying
their sleep. The barking of the dogs awoke them, and they realized that
something unusual was about to occur. Peering out through the opening
of their tepees, they saw horsemen and at once suspected they were
soldiers. The half-breed scouts called upon them to surrender and they
would not be harmed. Some of the younger men started to run away, but
they were overtaken and all made prisoners. In their conversation with
the interpreter they said they would have given themselves up, but were
afraid to do so. They said they knew that starvation stared them in the
face, because a cold winter was at hand, their provisions were all gone,
and that for the sake of their families they were glad to be caught. They
said also that Little Crow and some of his immediate followers had gone
farther north, near Devil's Lake.
The game having been successfully bagged, Colonel Marshall hastened with
the prisoners back to Camp Release, where everything was in readiness for
a move down to Red Wood.
Among the Indians was a negro by the name of Godfrey. He had never known
any other people and was totally ignorant concerning his parentage; but
he was among them, taking part in all their battles, and a very active
part, too, for the charge against him was "murder," in that with his
own hand he had killed seven white men, women and children. He said he
was not guilty. It is often thus - guilty men are innocent in their own
estimation. Mr. O-ta-kle (Godfrey), was in his own opinion one of this
sort. Certain it was, he had been enthusiastic over the prospect of
the excitement that would follow a general uprising, for he put on a
breech-clout and decorated his black face and legs in all the gorgeous
hues of Indian war paint. He could "whoop" as loud and yell as fiercely
as the best of them, and when the Indians returned from one of their
raids he was accounted one of the bravest of their warriors. He admitted
that he had killed seven; this he did, however, to his Indian comrades,
when it would, if a fact, add feathers to his coronet and renown to his
cruel record; but, when confronted by the men who could pass judgment
against him if found guilty, he was the most innocent creature in all
the world. In his hesitating, broken way of speaking, he gave a minute
account of his whereabouts. There was no direct evidence against him,
excepting his own confession to his comrades that he was with the Indians
in all their raids and that he had killed seven people. In his earnest
denial of the fact, he had such an honest look, and spoke with such a
truthful tone, that the court, although prejudiced against him, were
inclined to listen to his story with a reasonable degree of favor; yet
he was finally found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, the verdict
being accompanied with a recommendation that his punishment be commuted
to imprisonment for ten years. He did not go to prison, but was sent to
a reservation and compelled to stay there. Who he was, or where he came
from, no one seemed to know, and he could remember nothing beyond his
life among the Indians.