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MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY. VOL. XV. PLATE VIII.




JESSE V. BRANHAM, JR. THOMAS G. HOLMES. ALBERT H. SPERRY.




PEOPLE ESCAPING FROM THE Sioux MASSACRE, IN 1862, UNDER GUIDANCE
OF JOHN OTHER DAY, AT DINNER ON A PRAIRIE.






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CHAUNCEY LAMSON. NATHAN LAMSON. JAMES BIRNEY LAMSON.



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR.*



BY MARION P. SATTERLEE.



THE ACTON MURDERS, BEGINNING THE MASSACRE.



In recounting the occurrences of the Indian Massacre, the
necessity of differing with the statements and opinions of emi-
nent writers produces an embarrassment, only relieved by the
fact that they could not have witnessed all the incidents, being
dependent upon others mostly for their information. Further,
the tales here recounted are given but slight courtesy by mili-
tary historians, and we shall not trespass upon the military
field, which has been so copiously covered by able authorities.

To those not familiar with events leading up to the Siou.^
Massacre of 1862, it may be briefly stated that in 1851 a trea 4
was made with the Sioux tribes by which they released some
24,000,000 acres of land for a total consideration of $2,075,000.
This was to be paid, a part down and the balance in annuities.
The sum of $495,000 was to be "paid to the chiefs in such
manner as they hereafter in open council shall request." In-
stead, the Indians were forced by the authorities to pay traders'
debts to the amount of $220,000, or go without their money.
The payment of 1862 was held back at least two months while
the Indians were on the verge of starvation. It is the old, old
story of our Indian policy. The Indians could not enforce the
treaties made, and it is doubtful if they were competent to buy
a sack of flour, especially if a bottle of "firewater" was in the
deal. The whole treaty and style of procedure was as farcial
as the negro vote in Mississippi after the war. Missionaries and
officials talked wisely about the "Father at Washington" and
the "Great Spirit," but the effective work was done by unprin-
cipled traders, agents, and the "liquid spirit" which steals
away the brains of men, especially Indians. Trite as their say-



*Read at the monthly meeting of the Executive Council, September
11, 1911.



350 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.

ing, "We need the money," was the demand, "We want the
land ; ' ' and a few reckless promises, more or less, given to In-
dians made no difference few were recorded.

Lest this appear pessimistic, it is well to explain that it was
hard to deal reasonably with these strange people who claimed
the land. As said by Rev. Samuel W. Pond, "They were not
models for imitation, neither were they properly objects of con-
tempt." Those who care to investigate will find many reasons
for the outbreak of 1862, but the essential facts are, that the
Indians were obnoxious to and in the way of the whites, were
preyed upon by conscienceless traders and boot-legging liquor-
sellers, and were neglected by the government and its agents,
till at last long smothered anger and acute hunger produced a
storm that broke in fury, the opening event of which was the
murders at Acton on Sunday, the 17th day of August, 1862.

In Acton township, Meeker county, on section 21, lived Rob-
inson Jones, postmaster, Indian trader, and farmer. He was
married to Mrs. Ann Baker the previous year, on January 14;
but through some error her name appears as Ann Baker on the
monument erected over the remains of the victims at Ness
Cemetery. Living with them was Jones' niece, Clara D. Wil-
son, aged fifteen years, and her half brother, eight months old.
The house was a two-story log building overlooking a marshy
lake on the south, and was surrounded by heavy timber known
as the Acton Woods, a part of the once famous "Big Woods."
The Pembina-Henderson trail passed at the back of the house
and along the west side.

About a half mile southeast of this place was a cabin of
small size occupied by Howard Baker, a son of Mrs. Jones by
a former marriage. His family consisted of ,a wife and two
small children, and stopping with them on this day were Mr.
and Mrs. Viranus Webster, who had a day or two before come
from Wisconsin and were looking for a homestead. The house
faced south and was surrounded by timber, and the above men-
tioned trail ran a few feet in front of the house from east to
west. A monument, commemorating the "First Bloodshed of
the Massacre," was erected in 1909 on the site of this cabin.

On the 10th of August, twenty Indians of the Shokpay
(Shakopee) band left the Lower Agency on the Minnesota river



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR. 351

to hunt in the Big Woods and were divided into several par-
ties. About nine o'clock on this Sunday morning, six of these
Indians appeared at the Jones residence and made the usual
demands for something to eat, and no doubt wanted whiskey in
addition, as they knew that Jones kept it for sale. Chief Big
Eagle, in an account given in Volume VI of this Society's Col-
lections, names four of these Indians, as follows : Sungigidan
(Brown Wing), Ka-om-de-i-ye-ye-dan (Breaking up), Nagi-wi-
cak-te (Killing Ghost), and Pa-zo-i-yo-pa (Runs against some-
thing when crawling). Rev. S. W. Pond names two more;
Hdinapi and Wam-du-pi-dan, as taking part. This treacherous
pair had married into the Shokpay band. All of the six claimed
the distinction of doing the killing, and all probably did shed
blood, as five people were shot down, four of them within a few
seconds of time. With the honor goes the disgrace of causing
the loss of lands and money of all the Sioux in the state of
Minnesota, and the massacre of about a thousand innocent
people.

One of these Indians had borrowed a gun from Jones the
preceding spring, and had not returned it as agreed. This act
might now be deemed a trivial matter, but it was not so when
people lived largely by hunting and guns were not on sale.
Jones was a stalwart man and had no fear of, or regard for,
the Indians. He refused to give them anything, and entered
into an altercation with them over the borrowed gun. The
Indians became angry and left, going toward the cabin where
the Baker and Webster families were living. Knowing that
the newcomers would be alarmed at the appearance of the
Indians, Jones locked up the house, leaving the niece and her
brother inside, and, taking his gun, went over to the Baker
cabin, his wife accompanying him.

The Indians had made no demonstration when they arrived.
Baker's little son had given them water, and the men had fur-
nished them with tobacco ; but, when Jones came up, the quar-
rel over the gun was renewed and the Indians became very
sullen. Finally, they wanted to trade guns, and incidentally
to shoot at a mark. One of the Indians and Baker traded guns,
the Indian paying three dollars boot in the trade. A target
was fixed on an oak tree some six rods from the cabin, and a



352 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.

trial of guns was made. Afterward all returned to the house,
the Indians immediately reloading as if they were going on
hunting. Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Baker, with the two children,
were in the house, and Baker, after hanging up his unloaded
gun, stood in the doorway, leaning against the casing. Mrs.
Webster was in the wagon near by, getting out some articles
wanted, and Mr. Webster, who had not been shooting with the
rest, was carrying the things to the house from the wagon.
Jones, evidently suspicious of trouble, had stepped around the,
corner of the house to reload his gun. One of the Indians
walked a distance on the road toward the Jones place, and
the others were about the cabin door. Suddenly one of them,
carrying his gun across his elbow and standing near Mr. Baker
at the door, shot him through without lifting the gun from his
arm. Immediately the shooting was participated in by all the
Indians. Mrs. Jones was shot while sitting just inside the door,
Mr. Webster in the dooryard, and Jones, who ran toward the
woods, endeavoring to load his gun as he went, was shot down
near a corncrib about three rods from the house. Mrs. Baker
had her youngest child in her arms and was either pushed or
fell into the cellar through an open trap door, where she
stayed until the Indians left. Mrs. Webster in her fright fell
down in the covered wagon and was not molested, nor was the
oldest child who lay on the bed in the cabin. After the shoot-
ing the Indians went north on the trail, and, in passing the
house of Jones, caught sight of Clara Wilson, shot her to death
through a window in the pantry, and then continued on out
of the woods. There were left alive, of the three families, Mrs.
Baker and two children, Mrs. Webster, and the baby boy at
the Jones place.

Contrary to all succeeding events of this kind, they did not
mutilate the dead, nor steal or burn property, which leads to
the conclusion that enmity toward Jones and his family was
the real motive of the murders. They did not get any liquor
at the Jones place, and liquor cannot be blamed for the tragedy,
for the settlers found afterward that the house was not en-
tered, nor the liquor kept there disturbed. The fact that Jones
kept liquor and sold it to the Indians, led many of the set-
tlers to think that the murders were simply the outcome of a



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR. 353

drunken brawl, but that there was no outbreak of a general
nature, and some were probably killed while delaying flight on
this theory. There are many stories of Indians appearing at
different places in the neighborhood during the same after-
noon, and probably some of the band of twenty hunters did
appear; but it is certain that the six who did the killing were
the ones who soon after made a show of arms and stole a team
of horses, with which they carried the news of the murders
to Little Crow at the Lower Agency that night. The war for
the extermination of the whites commenced at daybreak next
morning.

Four Indians came to the residence of Peter Wicklund, at
Lake Elizabeth, a few miles from the Baker place, while the
families of A. M. Ecklund, P. M. Johnson and Jonas Peterson
were at dinner with the Wicklunds. Two came to a window
and two at the door, and pointed their guns threateningly at
the people. Mrs. Ecklund got up from the table and went to
them, and, pushing their guns aside, demanded to know what
they wanted. They told the men to come out as they wanted
to talk with them. The men, four in number, went out with
them a few rods from the house and were told that the Chip-
pewa (Ojibway) Indians had murdered the Jones and Baker
families at Acton. The settlers did not believe them and went
back to the house, and the Indians went away. On going to
feed the stock that night, it was found that the team of Mr.
Ecklund had been stolen. Indians riding double on two horses,
with a third holding to each horse's tail and running, were
seen that afternoon going toward the Agency.

After the shooting at the Baker place, the women finally
came from their places of concealment and cared for Jones,
who lived for some time in such terrible agony that he tore
up the ground in his death writhings. They took the two chil-
dren and went to the residence of John Blackwell, about four
miles west of the present Litchfield; but not finding anyone
there, went to the home of Nels Olson and told their pitiful
story. Ole Ingeman was at once sent as a messenger to Forest
City, the county seat, with the news, and the settlers organized
a party to go to the scene of the tragedy.

23



354 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.

The party started from the Tver Jackson place, eleven in
number, and, approaching the house from the east, they went
up cautiously and called, if any were there alive, to "cry out,"
but received no response. It was about nine in the evening
and the moon was shining, but it was dark in the woods.
After a time they went into the house and lit a lamp, with
which they found the bodies. They covered the body of Jones,
which lay outside, with a wagon box to keep off animals, closed
the door of the cabin where the other bodies were, and then
debated the safety of going to the Jones place, where the chil-
dren had been left, fearing that the Indians were there in a
drunken carousal. They decided that it would not be advis-
able to go, and had started to return, when they were joined
by another party of six, and as they were now seventeen, they
determined to go.

On arriving at the Jones place all was still, and entering
the house, with the lamp which they had brought, they found
Clara Wilson dead on the pantry floor, where she lay in a pool
of blood. On their opening the door into a bedroom, the little
boy got up from the bed and began to cry. The slug which
killed the girl was found and kept for a number of years by
Evan Evanson, a member of the party. Taking the boy, they
returned to the Iver Jackson place, where the neighbors had
assembled.

The next morning settlers from all parts of the surround-
ing country gathered at the Baker place to bury the dead, and
to consider this act of the Indians, whether it was mere mur-
der, or if the long threatened outbreak had indeed begun.
Rough boxes were made for the five bodies, and as they were
about ready at noon to start for the Ness settlement, eleven
mounted Indians appeared over the hill about forty rods to
the southeast, coming toward the cabin, who on seeing the
gathering stopped. Some of the men hailed them and started
toward them, but apparently scenting danger they turned and
fled to the south. They were followed to a marshy run which
they rode through but the settlers could not cross. A party
was then made up, among whom were J. B. Atkinson, A. H.
DeLong, and James McGraw, who followed the Indians for
several miles but could not overtake them.



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR. 355

The bodies were then taken to the Ness settlement ceme-
tery and buried, and the graves are now marked by a mon-
ument placed by the State. The day following the burial, the
news of the massacre reached most of the settlers by means of
a party escaping from the Agency, conducted by John Other
Day, a friendly Indian, and the settlers gathered at Forest
City, where a stockade was erected and a home guard com-
pany organized under Capt. George C. Whitcomb. However,
many settlers in the county of Monongalia (the north half of
the present Kandiyohi county) did not hear the news in time
to escape, and nearly a hundred were killed by the Indians.



THE BATTLE OF ACTON OR KELLY'S BLUFF.

An English soldier said that "the glory of war, for the
private, consists in getting killed in battle and having your
name misspelled in the army reports." This was much the case
of the Minnesota settler who fought off the Indians, either
alone or in assisting army troops. Perhaps had the civil war
been off the map of events, history might have been more kind.
It was not for grand parade that citizens were asked to leave
their families and go into the unknown districts to rescue
friends and relatives from savages; on the contrary, it was to
encounter certain hardship and suffering, and perhaps death
in a terrible form. Neither was there then, as now, a floating
population ready to enter the work from the love of excite-
ment. These men were from the leading business houses and
homes of Minneapolis, and they responded to the call of hu-
manity in the same spirit as the "Boys of '76," when danger
threatened their homes. They went out to meet a foe that
knew no rules of war and gave no quarter in victory. We
know now, that had Fort Ridgely fallen, every Indian tribe in
the state would have been in war-paint and there would have
been a question if the streets of our Twin Cities might not have
flowed with blood as did those of New Ulm. While St. Paul's
contingent went forth, led by the Indian fighter, General H.
H. Sibley, the Minneapolis men were raw recruits, led by an
inexperienced leader. It was a body of men to be proud of,
who consented to face these conditions, stayed the tide of mur-



356 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL, SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.

der, and stopped the rush of settlers from the state. The band
known as Strout's Company, including a part of his Company
B, Ninth Minnesota Regiment, were about one third volunteer
soldiers and two thirds citizens in and about Minneapolis.

In keeping with the spirit of the times a song was written,
commencing thus:

"Brave Captain Strout and Company B,

They will make the redskins flee,

And drive them west into the sea,

And stop the warwhoop forever.

Chorus: The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah,
Kill every Indian, papoose and squaw;
The Indians must be slain or driven to the plain
And silence the warwhoop forever."

While the meter and rhyme are somewhat irregular, the
emotion is too plainly expressed to be mistaken, and the In-
dian warwhoop was " silenced forever," so far as Minnesota is
concerned. It is endeavored here to collect the full data of
this campaign of Indian fighters, and no pains have been spared
to get the names, routes, camping spots, and dates, to a nicety,
and accurate beyond dispute.

General history is very mute regarding Captain Richard
Strout and his men who fought off the Sioux Indians at Acton
on September 3, 1862, for three reasons:

First, the petty jealousy in public work, among leaders, in-
cluding the printed abuse of a former Land Office appointee,
who at the time pretty nearly directed the Indian war, if you
let him tell it.

Second, the company was composed of citizens who went
forth of their own accord, virtually a sheriff's posse, such as
might be picked up now to arrest robbers. About twenty were
newly enlisted, undrilled soldiers, and the rest civilians. This
fact has kept the company out of military history, or, worse,
"damned it with faint praise."

Third, the "tee-hee" crowd, who saw an excruciatingly
funny side to the Indian war, made these citizen soldiers the
butt of much ridicule, despite the fact that, outnumbered more
than four times, they beat off a savage foe, who later annihi-
lated the idolized Custer and his unexcelled Indian-fighting
soldiers. Add to this the efforts of misinformed writers, who,



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR. 357

having no knowledge of the times, Indians, or pioneer condi-
tions, have elaborated or twisted the story until a participant,
as Private DeWitt C. Handy says, "has to scratch his head to
remember if he was in the battle."

It is true that these men w r ere not soldiers, and many were
like A. H. Rose, who says, "I had never fired a gun before the
battle, but they showed me how to load, and I pointed my gun
at the Indians, shut my eyes, and pulled the trigger."

These are the chief reasons that Captain Strout and Com-
pany B are almost unknown in their home city. Many parties
are now dead, and harsh language is unbecoming; but only the
tongue of slander can tell other than this: "Strout and his
men went forth in good faith, and performed their duty boldly
and without wavering, so far as they were able. ' ' For defense
of this position read the story.

On Sunday, August 17, 1862, five persons were massacred
by Sioux Indians at Acton, in Meeker county. This outrage
precipitated the celebrated Minnesota Sioux Indian War of
that year. Word was received in Minneapolis the 19th, and
following this came tidings from the Lower Agency that every
person there had been killed, that Company B, of the Fifth
Minnesota, under Captain Marsh, had been ambushed and
nearly all slaughtered, and that the Indians had commenced
the long threatened "war of extermination." By the next day
the refugees from near settlements came pouring through the
city in mortal fear of Indians, panic-stricken, deserting every-
thing and fleeing for life. Fears for the safety of relatives and
friends on the frontier, and anger at the horrible outrages
committed, created intense excitement. Sunday, the 24th, was
a memorable time at the churches and public gatherings. It
was decided that the state and citizens must act at once, and
not wait for the slow moving general government, or the state
would be depopulated and ruined.

Leading in the earnest movement, Captain Strout, who was
organizing a company for the Ninth Minnesota volunteers, was
ordered to gather what he could of his company (the men were
on leave preparatory to enter the service), enlist citizens for
short term service, and report at Glencoe, McLeod county. On
Tuesday the 26th, at noon, the company assembled at Bridge



358 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.

Square, on Nicollet avenue and Second street, about sixty men
strong, not including teamsters. They were equipped with
discarded, smooth-bore Austrian muskets, no uniforms, nor
sufficient wagon train, but the captain had authority to impress
teams as he might need them. Each member was given his
complement of ball cartridge, and they marched away up the
river, and camped in the northern part of Brooklyn township
that night.

The next morning a team owned by Andrew Smith was im-
pressed from D. B. Thayer's threshing crew, at Osseo, and
others were secured along the route till a good part of the men
could ride. Wednesday night they camped at Monticello in
Wright county, after a hard march. Thursday they made a
fifteen-mile march, camping at night in Clearwater. Friday a
march of thirty-five miles to Forest City ended at dusk. Sat-'
urday they went by way of Greenleaf and Cedar Mills to
Hutchinson, where they camped about the church. On the
day's march they found one place where the people had fled
leaving the table spread for a meal, at another the beds were
thrown open as if flight had commenced in the night. But
they saw no Indians, nor further signs.

Sunday morning, August 31, they marched to Glencoe, their
objective point, and arrived in time for the church meeting.
As matters were reported serious at the settlements lying to
the northwest, it was decided to return to Forest City, so on
Monday they marched back to Cedar Mills, where camp was
pitched. On Tuesday they went leisurely to Acton, and con-
siderable time was spent in repairing a bad slough crossing, a
fortunate job. On that afternoon they entered the Acton
woods from the east, and after inspecting the Baker place,
where four persons had been murdered, they marched on to
the Jones place and pitched their camp. The place was sur-
rounded by timber, and the tents were set in the yard about
the house.

Captain Strout has been criticized for camping in these
woods, despite the fact that no damage resulted from the act.
In reply to his critics, let us note that the Sioux were prairie
Indians, and there is no record of their selecting a battle
ground in timber. Birch Coulie and Wood Lake were fought



NARRATIVES OF THE SIOUX WAR. 359

on the prairie; Ouster's command was slaughtered in the open.
The two latter fields were selected for battle by the Indians.
At Acton the Indians had the command surrounded in the
dense timber, and could have forced battle had they so de-
sired. The opening tragedy of Birch Coulie is a sample of
what Strout might have met had he camped in the open prairie.

The Sioux strong point in fighting was to make themselves
invisible by covering their heads and bodies with prairie grass,
which practice has caused men time and again to testify that
''the Indians seemed to rise out of the ground." Furthermore,
the attack was not made next morning until the company was
a long mile from the woods, though Indians were in the timber
at the time. It is not known that Captain Strout considered
the question, but his judgment is not censurable if he did.

On this Tuesday, September 2, Captain George C. Whit-
comb and a squad of the Forest City Home Guards were at
Hokan Peterson's place, about twelve miles from Forest City.
He was watching Indians at the Acton woods, some three or
four miles off, when suddenly about 150 Indians rose from the
grass a few rods away. The squad escaped in short order but
lost a wagon which stuck in a miry place. On arriving at For-
est City, Captain Whitcomb found Strout 's messenger, saying
that his company would camp at Acton that night. From what
he had seen, Whitcomb knew that the Indians were preparing
to entrap Strout 's command. He at once called for volunteer
scouts to warn Strout of his danger and tell him to examine his
ammunition. Three brave fellows, Jesse V. Branham, Jr.,
Thomas G. Holmes, and Albert H. Sperry, stepped forward.

A digression here is needed for the benefit of the present
generation, regarding conditions of those days. Sioux Indians
on the prairie were as treacherous as snakes in grass. They


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