150 years ago today, as the Civil War was in its second year, here, in Minnesota, a small band of men who had been lied to, stolen from, cheated and deceived took desperate measures rather than see their wives and children starve any longer. It was 18 August, 1862 in southwestern Minnesota that what was called The Great Sioux Uprising started. A little less than four years ago I wrote about the plight and the terrible outcome that the Dakota suffered at the hands of the very same government they foolishly trusted and came to be totally dependent on. And the Dakota peoples, many who were innocent and saved many whites from their enraged brethren, suffered mightily because of the treachery of the Federal government and its agents. The Star Tribune has had a pretty good series on Chief Little Crow and his leadership. The start was in Little Crow’s vision that he accurately saw that there was a coming flood of white settlers and what that future looked like for his tribe. So, he decided to strike as good a bargain as possible while times were not in hostile conflict. And the treaties were signed. And the chain of events started. What I find interesting is in the irony that the Star Tribune misses in the series on Little Crow and the sesquicentennial of the Great Sioux Uprising. They see it as an article on the mistreatment of Native Americans (I also am a Native American was born here in America) which it is. I agree wholeheartedly that not only the Sioux/Dakota but other tribes were treated despicably. What the Star Tribune, with all its leaning left/ the only bad government program is defense, what the Strib misses entirely is the cause for the Great Sioux Uprising- the failure and danger of relying on the government. That agents and bureaucrats can and do wantonly and capriciously use the power of their office (TSA stories anyone?). The Strib sees the trees and entirely misses the forest. Here is my original article from 2008:
Please click on the below image and look over the map, drawing your attention to the area dated 1851. Look at the incredible area outlined. Just eyeballing it, it appears to be about 1/2 of the entire current area of the state of Minnesota.
When I was in sixth grade, we studied Minnesota state history, including the Treaty of Travers de Sioux which was signed just north of what is now St. Peter. Five years ago I was coming back from a gun show in St. Peter and decided to stop by the Treaty Center. As I walked in, I saw a similar map on the wall next to a copy of the treaty signed in 1851. The price for the ceded area was $1,650,000. Works out to be about 7¢ an acre. The government then went ahead and sold it at $1.25 an acre to the white settlers. This infuriated the signers of the treaty and ruined their reputations in the tribes (more on that in a bit). Oh, and the Sioux never received the full amount (further reputation destruction if not outright hostility to whites. By destroying the reputation of these men, the government had eroded if not destroyed its ability to reason with and within the various tribes). I remember thinking, as I read that last statement “Yup. They did it to you and they doing it to us also.The only thing that’s changed is time and they’ve gotten better at their craft.”
One of the provisions in the treaty was that the Sioux on their reservations be able to have access to their traditional hunting grounds. The Senate, however, changed the treaty more than once (on all treaties here). The Senate eliminated the reservations set aside. It then insisted that the tribes accept the new provisions or there would be no more monies paid. The tribes were desperate for food, goods and the money promised by the treaty having abandoned the land. Millard Fillmore agreed that the tribes could occupy what had been the original reservation land until ” it was needed for white settlement.” In 1858 the Sioux who lived along the Minnesota River were pressured to cede their land also. They did and were granted reservations called the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies. Without access to their traditional hunting grounds, they were forced to depend on the government for their very sustenance (anyone see a warning flare here?). The Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies contained incredibly rich farm land and one the agents said that the land was being settled with “great rapidity”. Surprisingly enough, the landowners and Indians were very fond of each other for the most part. It was the agents who ran the warehouses that were the problem. Payments to the Sioux were usually late. Goods and services were denied or were sold by the agents to those outside the agencies. However, after a failed crop in 1861, by 1862, the Sioux were incredibly desperate. They were starving. One agent, who when the Sioux came to him pleading their case, was quoted as saying “Let them eat grass and dung!” The Sioux had reached a breaking point and rebelled in what is called “The Great Sioux Uprising“. The aforementioned agent was found dead. His mouth had been stuffed with grass.
The white settlers ran for towns, starting with New Ulm. Many made it. Many did not. Years ago I was in a very small town in SW Minnesota called Currie. In preparation for a pig roast, my friends from Curry and I went out of town to pick sweet corn (I was admonished, as a city boy, that I had wandered into and was picking the field corn). My friend Paul asked me if I knew where I was. “Outside Currie, trying desperately to distinguish between sweet and field corn?” He said,”This area is called Slaughter Slough. This where a number of white settlers who were trying to get to New Ulm were caught and killed in the Great Sioux Uprising”. I was standing on blood soaked ground. Fifteen settlers had been killed where I stood.
After cessation of hostilities, there was a trial for over 300 of the tribal members. Well, not really a trial. It was a military tribunal, many times having no witnesses, no legal representation or explanation of the charges. Many were summarily convicted and sentenced to death within five minutes. President Lincoln reviewed the sentences and commuted all but 38 of the convicted. They were executed enmass on this day in Mankato in what is still the largest mass execution in the United States. I remember travelling down highway 169 as a child with my Mom and Dad on the way to visit my grandparents in SW Minnesota. One time we went through downtown Mankato, across the river to the east side near the railroad underpass. As we stopped, I looked out the window. There was a plaque that read on this spot 38 Indians were hanged as a result of the Great Sioux Uprising. That plaque has been removed.
Those hangings took place on this day, 26 December 1862, 146 years ago.
And so I reflect on this day about men who were starving, desperate, watching their children suffer, who had been lied to, cheated on, deceived by that very same government they depended on, when men who were left with no alternatives took action.
One thing more: when I read how the Senate changed the treaty it reminded me of two Supreme Court decisions: There does not, repeat , does not exist a contract between the government and citizens concerning Social Security. Two Supreme Court decisions.
So, when you hear politicians say how “we need to honor the contract we have with the American public” remember: no, they don’t. No, they haven’t.
And , if needed, they can and are perfectly willing do to you as they did to the Sioux and Dakota fifteen decades ago.
So, hang in there…so to speak.