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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 7, 2004 - Issue 106


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The Troubles of 1827

(Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 1)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

The amicable relations existing between the government officers and the Dakotas received a severe shock in 1827. A party of Chippewas having descended the Mississippi, on a visit to the commanding officer of the Fort, were allowed to encamp on the outside of the walls, and under the protection of the guns. During the night they were fired upon by a small number of Dakotas, and two of their party wounded. Col. Snelling was informed of the outrage, and on the following morning he paraded his men under arms, marched toward the prairie, where a large number of the Dakotas were assembled, and seized some of the principal men as hostages, for the surrender of the guilty parties, and placed them under guard. During the next day, three of the young men, said to have participated in the night attack, were brought in and delivered up. They were immediately turned over to the Chippewas, who put them to death in the presence of the troops; and two days after a fourth, having also been surrendered, met a like fate. The bodies were suffered to remain where they fell, without burial, until, becoming offensive, they were thrown over the steep bluff, near the Fort. It subsequently appeared that but two out of the four were really guilty. One of the innocent men had sacrificed himself to shield his brother, who was a mere boy, and the other was not of the attacking party. The excitement, which was produced by so unusual a proceeding, was prodigious, not only among the Dakotas, but also among their white friends in the country. The commandant was charged with unjustifiable haste in the summary execution of innocent men, and for a short time there was a fair prospect of an Indian war. Col. Snelling justified the steps he had taken, on the ground that the American flag had been insulted; by the violence offered to Indians under its immediate protection, and it was his duty to punish the offenders.

As a mere question of policy, there is no doubt that Col. Snelling committed a grave error, in sacrificing four Dakota lives as an atonement for the wounding of two Chippewas, both of whom recovered. True, the severity of the measure tended to prevent future outbreaks of a like kind, in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, but it also excited a far deeper exasperation in the minds of the Dakotas against their hereditary enemies the Chippewas, and a spirit of revenge against the soldiers, both of which found vent in blood.

Many a Chippewa scalp was torn from the reeking head by the friends of the victims, which, but for their unhappy fate, would have remained where Providence had placed it--and a number of American soldiers, supposed by their officers and comrades, to have shamefully deserted their colors, had in reality been ruthlessly slain, and their bodies concealed by Dakota hands.

Several of such eases were brought to light in after years, by the traders, and avowed by the Indians themselves. One soldier was shot, and his body secreted near Lake Calhoun, another was disposed of in like manner, about two miles below Mendota--and I myself discovered the skeleton of a white man, not far from my present place of residence, which bore the mark of a bullet in the skull, and which was recognized as the remains of a soldier, by the strips of clothing found in the immediate vicinity. On one occasion, Alexander Faribault, while descending the Mississippi in a boat, in company with others, found, at the head of Lake Pepin, four dead bodies of soldiers, partly devoured by birds of prey. The fate of these men elicited but little sympathy, for they were engaged in all attempt to desert, when they were set upon and butchered, by certain Dakotas of the Red Wing Band.

Other instances no doubt occurred of the same kind, for the desire of revenge when once aroused in the savage breast, is not easily satiated.

Our fellow Citizen, Joseph R. Brown, was at Lake Travers, when the Dakotas were delivered over to the Chippewas for execution, and on his way back he narrowly escaped death, at Lac qui Parle, Travers de Sioux and Six's Village, it being the avowed intention of the friends of the victims to destroy him.

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