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Anderson taking the south. After one hour's fighting we
had driven the Indians all back to at least long range, but
it had been at fearful cost. Already twenty-two of our
men were dead or mortally wounded. Sixty more had


received serious or slight wounds. One-half of our whole
force was killed or wounded. Eighty-five horses were
dead, leaving only two alive. One of the two horses that
had not been injured was my own faithful horse. I went
up to him, slipped the halter off, and he went about three
rods from camp. During the day he fed altogether
around the camp, and about sundown he walked inside of
the camp and placed himself where he had stood the night
before, turned his head around and neighed. I went up
to him to put his halter on, when some of the boys
shouted, 'Down, Captain.' Horse and myself fell together,
he with seven bullets in him, I unhurt. As soon as we had
forced the Indians back I put every man I could spare dig-
ging and throwing up breastworks. We had nothing but
our bayonets to dig with, but by noon we had ourselves
pretty well entrenched, using our dead soldiers and horses
to help our breast works. The Indians were lying in the
grass watching for some one to show himself; our men
were watching for an Indian. About this time the men
commenced to say, 'This is my last cartridge.' I then had
the three thousand extra ones brought from the wagon
and commenced distributing them, when we discovered
that the ordnance officer had given us sixty-two caliber for
fifty-eight caliber rifles. Immediately I put the men to
work whittling down the balls to the size of our rifles, and
now gave orders not to fire except when necessary, a pre-
caution taken none too soon, as when relieved the next
day we did not have over five rounds to the man left. In
the early morning of September 2d General Sibley, at
Ridgely, hearing the firing at our camp, although sixteen
miles away, promptly ordered Colonel McPhail to take
three companies of the Sixth Infantry, three companies of
his mounted men, in all two hundred and forty men, to-
gether with a section (two guns) of Captain Hendricks'


battery, and make a forced march to our relief. (The
exact number of this force is stated by General Sibley.)

"At our camp all was quiet. Occasionally a stray bul-
let came into camp. At four o'clock, however, we saw
quite a commotion among the Indians. There appeared
to be large numbers of them crossing the coulee east. In
a few moments our hearts felt glad, for McPhail's com-
mand hove in sight, about two miles across the coulee. I
gave orders to fire a few shots to let them know that we
were still alive. The Indians fired perhaps twenty shots at
long range toward McPhail's command, when that officer
retired to the east side of the east coulee and encamped.
He sent two messengers to General Sibley, with the infor-
mation that he had met the Indians, and that they were
too many for him, and reinforcements were asked for.
Everything was quiet in our camp until about two p. m.,
when the Indians made a show to take our camp. A few
volleys from our watchful men quieted them.

"During the night the Indians had been reinforced by
about five hundred warriors. On September 3d the day-
light and sunrise were most beautiful, but we discovered
large bodies of Indians southwest and north of us, circling
around and closing up nearer to us. An Indian (probably
Little Crow's brother) came riding directly toward us, on
a white horse, waving a white flag. He rode to within
twenty rods, stopped, and held a conversation with my
interpreter, Corp. James Auge of Mendota.

"He said the Indians had largely reinforced during the
night; that they were now as many as the leaves on the
trees; that we stood no show to resist them any longer;
that they were now going to charge the camp and should
take no prisoners; but if the halfbreeds and all of those
who had Indian blood in them would march out and give
themselves up they would be protected. Those with us
who had any Indian blood gathered around the inter-


preter, — some eight or ten. I asked them what they were
going to do. Corporal Auge, with some hesitation,
answered for them : 'We are going to stay with you, Cap-
tain.' I then told Auge to tell them that they did not
have Indians enough to take our camp ; that we were still
two hundred men ; that each had two rifles loaded, and all
the Indians that wanted to die should come at once ; that
we defied them (it was only a small exaggeration in regard
to numbers, as we really had but about sixty-five men who
had not been killed or wounded). I instructed the inter-
preter to tell him to get out of the way ; that we could not
respect a flag of truce for any such offer as he had made,
and to go at once. He turned his horse and rode slowly
toward the meadow. I then gave the order to fire. About
twenty shots were fired at him. We killed his horse, but
he got off safely. Then there was great excitement
among the Indians, who all the while were circling closer
and closer around us, myself and officers of the command
telling our soldiers to hold their fire, lay low until the
Indians were close upon us, and then to take good aim and
fire and seize the other gun and repeat. We assured the
men they could not take the camp, and I think most of
the men believed us. We now expected a general attack,
and while almost holding our breath, expecting every
moment to hear their warwhoop, we discovered a large,
powerful Indian come up out of the woods, yelling at the
top of his voice. I asked Interpreter Auge what he said.
He said that he told the Indians that there were three
miles of white men coming. This made our hearts beat
with joy, for we knew that some one besides Colonel Mc-
Phail was coming to our relief.

"When McPhail's courier reached Fort Ridgely Gen-
eral Sibley immediately ordered Colonel Crooks, with the
remainder of the regiment, and Colonel William R.
Marshall, who had arrived that day with his regiment, to


start at once to our support. At daybreak the relief,
marching by flank, was seen by this Indian, and accord-
ingly he hastened to report that three miles of white men
were coming. We now saw that the attack oh our camp
bad been abandoned, and that the great body of Indians
was crossing the coulee toward where General Sibley was
coming. About this time the command came into sight,
halted at the same place where McPhail had retreated from
the day before, and after a few moments resumed their
march, moved further up the coulee, crossed over and
relieved us, without loss of another life. The sight that
met our rescuers — the eighty-seven dead horses; twenty-
two dead soldiers ; the poor woman who had remained in
the wagon forty-eight hours without food or water (the
wagon had been struck with more than fifty bullets, and
she had been shot again through the right arm) ; the sixty
wounded soldiers, who had been nearly forty-eight hours
without food, water or sleep ; the seriously wounded, with
parched throats, crying for water; the stench from the
dead horses, that were already bursting open — was a scene
long to be remembered. The wounded were gathered up,
placed in wagons, and the command started for Fort
- Ridgely, where we arrived about eight o'clock that even-

"So many years have passed that, should I attempt to
recall the names of those who contributed most of the
defense of our camp, I might do injustice ; suffice it to say
all did well, and a few such men as Captain Anderson,
Lieutenant Swan, Lieutenant Gillham, Sergeant Barnes,
Sergeant Gardner, Corporal Auge, Hon. James J. Egan
of the Rangers, and George D. Redfield, a citizen, by their
courage and bravery, helped others to be brave and cour-
ageous. All did well. After a night's sleep at Fort
Ridgely I made my report of this expedition, and when
it was ready took it personally to my commanding officer.


It was handed back to me, and I was coolly informed that I
should make my report to Maj. Joseph R. Brown, who
was in command of the expedition. This was the first I
had heard of it. We had been gone four days, two of
which we had been engaged in deadly fight ; no order had
been given me by Major Brown ; not an intimation that he
considered himself in command. To say that I was angry
when told to make my report to him would only express
half what I felt. I then and there destroyed my report and
never made another.

"If any blame rests on any one for selections of camps,
or in carrying out any of the details of the expedition, it
rests upon me. All officers, soldiers and citizens obeyed
my orders ; I had the full charge."

Among the many brave men in the battle was Dr.
Jared W. Daniels, the only physician, when one-third of
the command was either killed or wounded. He was a
brother of Dr. A. D. Daniels, one of the heroes of the bat-
tle at New Ulm. For seven years he had been the gov-
ernment physician at the upper Sioux agency. When this
most terrible battle commenced he was at all times in great
persona] danger, as he went around among the wounded.
The balls fell thick and fast around him during the entire
battle, but he never flinched for a moment. For thirty-
six hours he neither slept nor tasted a morsel of food, so
great was the demand upon him. Bareheaded and active,
he was a prominent mark for the savage rifle as he dressed
and bound up the wounds of the men, but he seemed to
bear a charmed life, and was relieved by General Sibley's

It appears that the Indians did not continue the fight or
make any attack during the night. They seldom attack
an enemy while it is dark. It is a superstition among
them that a man killed in the dark exists through all
eternity in darkness. Early daylight is their favorite time


to attack an enemy, when he is supposed to be unprepared
for a sudden assault.

Chief Big Eagle describes the Indian side of the battle
of Birch Coulee as follows :

"Our scouts brought word that our old friend, Wape-
tonhanska ('The Long Trader'), as we called General Sib-
ley, was coming up against us, and in a few days we learned
that he had come to Fort Ridgely with a large number of
soldiers. Little Crow, with a strong party, went over into
the Big Woods, toward Forest City and Hutchinson.
After he had gone I and the other subchiefs concluded to
go down and attack New Ulm again, and take the town,
and cross the river to the east, or in the rear of Fort
Ridgely, where Sibley was, and then our movements were
to be governed by circumstances. We had left our vil-
lages near the Redwood in some haste and alarm, expect-
ing to be followed .after the defeat at Ridgely, and had
not taken all our property away. So we took many of our
women with us to gather up the property and some other
things, and we brought along some wagons to haul them

"We came down the main road on the south side of
the river, and were several hundred strong. We left our
camps in the morning and got to our old villages in the
afternoon. When the men in advance reached Little
Crow's village, which was on the high bluff on the south
side of the Minnesota, below the mouth of the Redwood,
they looked to the north across the valley and up on the
high bluff on the north side, and out on the prairie some
miles away they saw a column of mounted men and some
wagons coming out of the Beaver creek timber on the
prairie and going eastward. We also saw signs in Little
Crow's village that white men had been there a few hours
before. Judging from the trail they had made when they
left, these were the men we now saw to the northward.


There was, of course, a little excitement, and the column
halted. Four or five of our best scouts were sent across
the valley to follow the movements of the soldiers, creep-
ing across the prairie like so many ants.

"It was near sundown, and we knew they would soon
go into camp, and we thought the camping ground would
be somewhere on the Birch Coulee, where there was wood
and water. The women went to work to load the wagons,
the scouts followed the soldiers carefully, and a little after
sundown returned with the information that they had gone
into camp at the head of Birch Coulee.

"At this time we did not know there were two com-
panies there. We thought the company of mounted men
(Captain Anderson's) was all, and that there were not
more than seventy-five men. It was concluded to sur-
round the camp that night and attack it at daylight. We
felt sure that we could capture it, and that 200 men would
be enough for the undertaking, so about that number were
selected. There were four bands, my own, Hu-sha-sha's.
('Red Legs'), Gray Bird's and Mankato's. I had about
thirty men. Nearly all the Indians had double-barreled
shotguns, and we loaded them with buckshot and large
bullets called 'traders' balls.' After dark we started,
crossed the river and valley, went up the bluffs and on the
prairie, and soon saw the white tents and the wagons of
the camp. We had no difficulty in surrounding the camp.
Pickets were only a little way from us. I led my men up
from the west through the grass, and took up a position
200 yards from the camp, behind a small knoll or eleva-
tion. Red Legs took his men into the coulee, east of the
camp. Mankato (Blue Earth) had some of his men in the
coulee and some on the prairie; Gray Bird and his men
were mostly on the prairie.

Just at dawn the fight began, and continued all day
and the following night and until late the next morning.


Both sides fought well. Owing to the white men's way of
fighting they lost many men. Owing to the Indian's way
of fighting they lost but few. The white men stood up
and exposed themselves at first, but at last they learned to
keep quiet. The Indians always took care of themselves.
They had an easy time of it. We could crawl through the
grass into the coulee and get water whenever we wanted it,
and in a few hours the women crossed the river and came
up near the bluff and cooked for us, and we could go back
and eat and then return to the fight. We did not lose
many men; indeed, I only saw two dead Indians, and I
never heard that any more were killed. The two I saw
were in the coulee, and belonged to Red Leg's band. One
was a Wakpeton named Ho-ton-na ('Animal's Voice') and
the other was a Sisseton. Their bodies were taken down
the coulee and buried during the fight. We had several
men wounded, but none very badly. I did not see the
incident which is related, of an Indian, a brother of Little
Crow, who, it is said, rode up on a white horse near the
camp with a white flag, and held a parley, and had his
horse killed as he rode away. That must have happened
while I was absent from the field eating my dinner. Little
Crow had no brother there. The White Spider was not
there. I think Little Crow's brothers were with him in
the Big Woods at this time. The only Indian horse I saw
killed at this time that I remember was a bay. Buffalo
Ghost succeeded in capturing a horse from the camp.
Late in the day some of the men who had been left in the
villages came over on their horses to see what the trouble
was that the camp had not been taken, and they rode about
the prairie, but I don't think many of them got into the
fight.. I do not remember that we got many reinforce-
ments during that day. If we got any they must have
come up the coulee, and I did not see them. Perhaps some
horsemen came up on the east side of the coulee, but I


knew nothing about it. I am sure that no reinforcements
came to me; I did not need any. Our circle about the
camp was rather small and we could only use a certain
number of men. About the middle of the afternoon our
men became much dissatisfied at the slowness of the fight
and the stubbornness of the whites, and the word was
passed along the lines to get ready to charge the camp.
The brave Mankato wanted to charge after the first hour.
There were some halfbreeds with the whites who could
speak Sioux well, and they heard us arranging to assault
them. Jack Frazier told me afterwards that he heard us
talking about it very plainly. Alex Faribault was there,
and heard the talk, and he called out to us : "You do very
wrong to fire on us. We did not come out to fight. We
only came out to bury the bodies of the white people you
have killed.' I have heard that Faribault, Frazier and
another halfbreed dug a rifle pit for themselves with bay-
onets, and that Faribault worked so hard with his bayonet
in digging that he wore the flesh from the inside of his
hand. One halfbreed, named Louis Brouier, attempted
to desert to us, but as he was running towards us some of
our men shot and killed him. We could have taken the
camp, I think. During the fight the whites had thrown
up breastworks, but they were not very high and we could
easily have jumped over them. We did not know that Ma-
jor Joe Brown was there; if we had I think some of our
men would have charged anyhow, for they wanted him out
of the way. Some years ago I saw Captin Grant in St.
Paul, and he told me he was in command of the camp at
Birch Coulee. Just as we were about to charge word
came that a large number of mounted soldiers were com-
ing up from the east towards Fort Ridgely. This stopped
the charge, and created some excitement. Mankato at
once took some men from the coulee, and went out to meet
them. He told me he did not take more than fifty, but he


scattered them out and they all yelled and made such a
noise that the whites must have thought there were many
more, and they stopped on the prairie and began fighting.
They had a cannon, and used it, but it did no harm. > If the
Indians had any men killed in the fight I never heard of
it. Mankato flourished his men around so, and all the
Indians in the coulee kept up a noise, and at last the whites
began to fall back, and in the end they retreated about two
miles and began to build breastworks. Mankato followed
them, and left about thirty men to watch them, and re-
turned to the fight at the coulee with the rest. The
Indians were laughing when they came back at the way
they had deceived the white men, and we were all glad
that the whites did not push forward and drive us away.
If any more Indians went against this force than the fifty,
or possibly seventy-five, that I have told you of, I never
heard of it. I was not with them, and cannot say posi-
tively, but I do not think there were. I went out to near
the fortified camp that night, and there was no large force
of Indians over there, and I know that there were not
more than thirty of our men watching the camp. When
the men of this force began to fall back, the whites in the
camp halloed and made a great commotion, as if they were
begging them to return and relieve them, and seemed
much distressed that they did not. The next morning
General Sibley came with a large force and drove us away
from the field."



General Sibley was born at Detroit, Michigan, Febru-
ary 20, 181 1. His father was Judge Solomon Sibley, a
native of Massachusetts. His mother was Sarah W.
Sproat, a daughter of Col. Ebenezer Sproat, who was an
officer in the patriot army in the War of the Revolution.
Her maternal grandfather was Commodore Abraham
Whipple, of the American navy. General Sibley settled
at Mendota in 1834, where he lived for twenty-eight years.
He became the chief factor in the fur trade, and knew the
general character of the country and its occupants, and
his knowledge of the characteristics of the Indians prob-
ably surpassed that of any other white man at the time.
He traded with them, learned their language, visited them,
hunted with them and lodged in their tepees and wigwams.
He spoke the Sioux language fluently, and was a good
French scholar. The Indians gave him two names; one
was Wah-ze-o-man-nee ("Walker in the Pines"), and the
other Wah-pe-ton-hauska ("The Tall Trader"). He was
the first delegate elected to Congress from the Territory
of Minnesota. This was October 30, 1848. On the third
day of March, 1849, he secured the passage of the organic
act establishing the Territory of Minnesota, his former elec-
tion as delegate having been from that portion of Wiscon-
sin left over after its admission as a state. This organic
act provided that Minnesota should retain for educational



purposes sections sixteen and thirty-six of each township,
and constituted the basis of Minnesota's grand educational
system of today.

After the expiration of his term in congress he repeat-
edly held many important offices, but none so momentous
as that of commander of the military forces against the
hostile Sioux, from 1862 to 1865, first commissioned colo-
nel the day after the Indian outbreak, and six days after
the battle of Wood Lake he was appointed brigadier gen-
eral by the president. Estimated and measured according
to his merits, General Sibley was a great man, and his
military record won for him much praise, but not the
renown it deserved. Fate is not as kind to some men as
it ought to be, while others ride on the waves of popu-
lar applause, through partisan bias and personal friend-
ship, where real merit is frequently wanting. The manner
in which General Sibley planned and carried out his Indian
campaign, his rescue of the 270 captives held as prisoners
by the hostile Indians, his love for our educational institu-
tions, his generosity and sense of personal honor and in-
tegrity, entitle his name to be revered and his acts regarded
by the present and future generations as worthy of praise
and admiration. He died February 18, 1891.


The story of this battle is best told by those who par-
ticipated in it, and by none better than by Hon. Ezra T.
Champlain, late speaker of the house of representatives.
His recollections are quoted in full as follows:

"Sept. 23, 1862, the expedition against the Sioux In-
dians, under the command of General Sibley, was en-
camped at Wood Lake, in what is now Yellow Medicine
county. The command consisted of about 2,000 men,
including some 275 men of the Third Minnesota Infantry,
paroled prisoners just returned from the South. At this
time nearly all the commissioned officers were held pris-
oners of war in the South, there being but one officer of
the regiment, Lieut. R. C. Olin, accompanying us. Before
starting on the expedition, and while at Fort Snelling,
Maj. A. E. Welch, formerly of the First Minnesota In-
fantry, was placed in command of the detachment of the
Third. Our camp, which stood on the eastern shore of
the little lake, was upon high ground, overlooking the
surrounding prairie. Eastward, a short distance, was the
Minnesota river, and to the north of the camp, about a
quarter of a mile, ran the outlet of the lake, a small stream
that a man could leap. Occupying a position in camp
nearest this stream was our detachment.

"It was a fine morning, when, about seven or eight
o'clock, several company wagons of the Third, each con-


taining a few men, left camp for the purpose of foraging,
and made their way toward the government agency at
Yellow Medicine, the ruins of which were some three
miles distant.

"I may as well state here that the Third, galled by a
humiliating surrender at Murfreesborough, Tenn., by a
recreant and cowardly commander, had lost in a great
measure their former high discipline, and were quite
unruly, anxious only to redeem in the field their wounded
honor, and this foraging move was, I think, wholly unau-

"Company G wagon leading, they crossed the outlet
of the lake and had reached the high land beyond, about
one-half mile from camp, when a party of twenty-five war-
riors sprang up from the grass, where they lay concealed,
and fired a volley into the leading wagon, which was some
twenty rods in advance, mortally wounding Degrove Kim-
ball and wounding others. William McGee immediately
sprang from the wagon, and returned the fire ; the men in
the rear wagons joined in the fray, and the battle of Wood
Lake had commenced.

"The attack was made in full view of the camp, and as
soon as the firing was heard our young and resolute com-
mander, not waiting for orders from General Sibley,

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Online LibraryDaniel BuckIndian outbreaks → online text (page 12 of 21)