Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dakota War of 1862: Pembina's Role

You'll notice the title of this post is "Dakota War of 1862". I almost used the more well-known "Sioux Uprising", but decided to go with the less inflamatory (and in my opinion, more accurate) title above. It's not that "Sioux Uprising" is inaccurate, and there was certainly an uprising - and horrific killings that arose from it - but there were equally horrific reasons for it coming to the point that the native tribes felt they had to act - or rather in this case, REact.
The prevailing attitude of the US government and the majority of the settlers in 1862 is represented by a famous quote from one of the government traders who operated in our territory. "If they are hungry," said Andrew Myrick, "let them eat grass or their own dung." They weren't hungry, they were starving due to government corruption, and most felt that of the two options available to them, fighting was better than starving to death.

From Honest Abe? by Fern Eastman Mathias
Hostilities in northwestern Minnesota

Further north, the Sioux attacked several unfortified stage stops and river crossings along the the settled trade route between Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) and St. Paul in the Red River Valley in northwestern Minnesota and eastern Dakota Territory. Many settlers and employees of the Hudson Bay Company and other local enterprises in this sparsely populated country took refuge in a prairie "fort" known as Fort Abercrombie, located in a bend of the Red River about 25 miles south of present day Fargo, North Dakota. Over a period of six weeks, the Indians launched several attacks on Fort Abercrombie which were repelled by the white defenders and which came to be known as the "Siege at Fort Abercrombie". Steamship and flatboat trade on the Red River came to a halt, and mail carriers, stage drivers and military couriers attempting to reach the Pembina and Fort Garry settlements and St. Cloud and Fort Snelling were killed by the Indians. Eventually the garrison at Fort Abercrombie was relieved by a United States Army company from Fort Snelling and the civilian refugees were removed to St. Cloud.

The Chippewa or Ojibwa Indian bands from Pembina and Red Lake were awaiting a treaty goods shipment for a contemplated land cession of 1862 along a ford of the Red River near the junction with the Red Lake River near present day Grand Forks. The shipment never arrived, and the treaty negotiations were postponed until 1863, when the Treaty of Old Crossing (1863) was consummated near Huot, Minnesota, a ford of the Red Lake River utilized by oxen-drawn Red River carts. The Ojibwe at times were accused of complicity or direct involvement in the attacks, but no evidence exists that any of the atrocities associated with the conflict between Indians, whites, and half-breed settlers of 1862 were perpetrated by anyone other than the various bands of the Sioux Indians.

From Sioux Uprising

After seeking sanctuary in Canada with other Dakotas, he was confined as a Prisoner of War at Fort Pembina in early 1864, and from there imprisoned in Iowa. It was during his incarceration that he converted to Christianity and became known as Jacob Eastman, adopting his late wife Mary's surname. Two other leaders who had been captured and held at Fort Pembina around the same time, Chiefs Shakopee and Medicine Bottle, didn't survive the kangaroo court and were hung. It is said that as he stood on the gallows Shakopee heard one of the first trains arriving in our country and said, "As the white man comes in, the Indian goes out."

From Honest Abe? by Fern Eastman Mathias

In April 1863, Little Crow and a group of 60 men traveled to St. Joseph, Canada, some 30 miles west of Pembina where he attempted to follow up on overtures other Dakota had made to the British in Canada. He also requested Canadian assistance in freeing the Dakota still held prisoner in Minnesota. Little Crow's men also wore British medals given the Mdewakanton for the assistance they gave to British forces during the War of 1812. A British official present wrote that the Dakota spoke of, "great friendship to the people [of the colony], but they vowed vengeance on the Americans." Little Crow then moved on to Pembina were he tried to enlist the Pembina Ojibway in his war. Red Bear, the Ojibway leader was not interested and met Little Crow while draped in an American flag.

From Punishment of the Dakota

The horror of the Sioux uprising so infuriated the whites that with one sweep the standing debts to this tribe were abrogated, those under arrest were driven onto barges, and after great hardship were unloaded far beyond the existing boundaries of the white man's land. Not content with banishment, Minnesota officials, with the aid of the War Department, carried out punitive expeditions against the escaped bands far out in the Dakotas. Sibley's expedition of 1863 to the region of Devils Lake, and the winter skirmish of Hatch's Battalion at Pembina the following winter, were highly publicized drives that did little to correct the depredations within the State itself. But not until still more troops had been sent to join Sully's expedition in 1864-65 did Minnesota lose interest in wholesale acts of vengeance and turn to the less spectacular business of bartering with the Chippewa.

From First Americans