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Fate of the Dakota: A Novel and Resource On the U. S. - Dakota War of 1862

Fate of the Dakota: A Novel and Resource On the U. S. - Dakota War of 1862

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Fate of the Dakota: A Novel and Resource On the U. S. - Dakota War of 1862

327 pages
5 heures
Jan 20, 2016


Alfred Riggs was a twenty-five year old son of a missionary who found himself helplessly intertwined in the real life actions, events, and people of a harrowing conflict in the history of Minnesota. Alfred grew up among the Dakota Indians of Minnesota and he developed a profound respect for their people and established a near kinship tie to their leader, Little Crow. When war broke out, Alfred was torn between the safety of his family and friends, and his deep understanding and respect for the grievances and traditions of his Indian neighbors.

Throughout the story Alfred met and interacted with real life participants and witnesses of the war. But, rather than mitigate death and disaster, Alfred found himself in a number of dire situations from both sides of the war. In the end, Alfred was helpless to quell the senseless feud between the Dakota Indians and the white settlers. Ultimately, Alfred was fortunate to escape with his life and finally reconcile with his father.
Jan 20, 2016

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Fate of the Dakota - Colin Mustful




A Novel and Resource on the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862


Copyright © 2015 Colin Mustful

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted by any means—whether auditory, graphic, mechanical, or electronic—without written permission of both publisher and author, except in the case of brief excerpts used in critical articles and reviews. Unauthorized reproduction of any part of this work is illegal and is punishable by law.

ISBN: 978-1-4834-4419-2 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4834-4420-8 (e)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Lulu Publishing Services rev. date: 1/15/2016



Author’s Note

Introduction   Promises Of The Great Father

Chapter 1   Taoyateduta Is Not A Coward

Chapter 2   Death Was Inescapable

Chapter 3   Pa Baska!

Chapter 4   Man Your Post!

Chapter 5   A Very Fine Spectacle

Chapter 6   Puckachee!

Chapter 7   A Night Of Black Despair

Chapter 8   But Die, If Die You Must

Chapter 9   No Grander Sight

Chapter 10   The End Justifies The Means

Chapter 11   Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Chapter 12   Have Him Hanged!

Chapter 13   As Becomes A Dakota

Chapter 14   The Value Of Duty

Epilogue   Enlightenment Through Selfless Tolerance

End Notes



To Emily for your support.

This novel is a republication of a novel previously titled Thy Eternal Summer: The U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862


On the corner of South Riverfront Drive and Main Street in Mankato, Minnesota, there stands a life-size statue of a buffalo. I lived in Mankato for somewhere between three and four years, and I passed by this statue a countless number of times. But, to be honest, I never once stopped to look at it, or determine what it commemorated. Somehow or another, it did inspire in me a sense of curiosity. And, being a so-called historian, I had a certain obligation to discover just what this motionless figure represented in the history of the town in which I lived. As it turns out, though, I never did take the time to stand face-to-face with that buffalo; I did take the time to write a book about it. How much sense does that make?

On December 26, 1862, thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato for their participation in what is now called the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862. This is the event that the buffalo statue commemorates. It happens to have been the largest mass execution in United States history. This is all very interesting, but what does it really tell us? Were these men rightfully accused? What crimes did they commit and more importantly, why? What was the context of this mass execution? What does it tell us about ourselves, about our future?

The questions really could go on forever. For every answer, there are a number of new questions. Furthermore, most questions are truly unanswerable and can only be theorized or speculated upon. And yet, this is the task of this novel.

The Mdewakanton Dakota are a part of a seven tribe Dakota nation who have often been called the Sioux. For centuries they lived in and around the Upper Mississippi and Minnesota River Valleys. The Dakota first encountered white Europeans through the eighteenth century fur traders. By the nineteenth century, the Dakota really began to feel the white presence as settlers from the east began pouring into the region in search of land and prosperity. This migration of settlers included a number of Christian missionaries who sought to educate the Indians and reform their culture and ways of life. Through the expanding influence of traders, settlers, and missionaries, the Dakota began to develop a dependency and even reliance on their new white neighbors that could not be reversed. It was this reliance that eventually led the Dakota to sell their lands east of the Mississippi River in 1837. Over the next twenty-five years, an overwhelming pattern of white settlement set in. Meanwhile, the Dakota hunting grounds became diminished and depleted, which further resulted in an irrevocable dependence on government annuities, which were allotted for the sale of land. Also, during this time, many of the Dakota began to adapt their new white influences, some by choice, but most for lack of a better option. For instance, those who adapted to farming were often rewarded by the government with food and valuable supplies, while those who did not adopt were often faced with starvation and poverty.

In 1862, years of exploitation at the hands of traders and government agents, along with the rapid loss of land, culture, and tradition, led to violent conflict. Ultimately, the Dakota were defeated in their attempt to reclaim their land and postpone the push of western settlement. Many Dakota Indians lost their lives while the rest either abandoned, or were forced to leave, the boundaries of the state of Minnesota forever.

The reasons for and justifications of this conflict and its results are all debatable and open for interpretation. What I present here is not an attempt to answer any questions or make any profound discoveries. What I present is a clear, honest, and inquisitive look into our not-so-distant past. What I seek is personal enlightenment through a thorough and objective search of the events, words, actions, and context of the people and places gone before me. What I have written is, to the best of my ability, a story which conveys those events, words, actions, and context, as I have interpreted them through my exhaustive and genuine efforts. I pass no judgment or make any real conclusions other than what I have developed in my own mind. What I offer to you, the reader, is an opportunity to do the same through, hopefully, a much less exhaustive and time consuming effort. It is the vision of this novel to offer an interesting, compelling, informative, and accurate look into the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, as it might have happened.

I will note here that this is a work of fiction, but that this work holds stringently to historical fact as they were discovered by me through primary and secondary source documents. Any historical inaccuracies are duly noted in the footnotes of this document. If you are at all interested in the events of this story, I encourage you to look into them yourself so that you can make your own discoveries and draw your own conclusion. It is through thoughtful knowledge of the past that we can build a more tolerant, receptive, and productive future.


Promises of the Great Father

Our First Meeting

I met Little Crow in the spring of 1858. This was his second trip to Washington D.C. Immediately I was enamored by his presence, enamored by his grace. His skill as an orator struck me. He was confident and sure, an obvious leader or spokesman as I had heard him called. Despite a delegation of twenty-four Indian leaders, Little Crow evidently stood out as the political head and decision maker for the tribe.¹

I had the great fortune to act as Little Crow’s interpreter during his sojourn to Washington. At first I acted at his side merely during government councils. Little Crow was steady and unwavering during council. He had an indescribable look of determination on his face and his countenance was that of soldier prepared for battle and possibly death. At the same time he exhibited a subtle yet unmistakable mood of sorrow. With each word he spoke and with each protest he expounded it was as if a thousand tears fell from his eyes. He was an intelligent, dignified man, but he was a man, no more, no less. The loss he had experienced, the loss he would experience, is more than any one person can truly comprehend.

After several weeks had passed, Little Crow began to insist that I join him for social events. He would invite me to theatre or dinner parties. He stated that my sole purpose was as his translator, but it was quickly evident that I was becoming his companion. I did not mind his friendly inclinations, in fact I welcomed them. Little Crow, although he often kept to himself, was a generous and austere man whom I greatly admired. I gladly received our time together and often suggested additional meetings outside of the necessary prior engagements. Little Crow had so much to share with me; so much that was utterly new to me. I was indelibly intrigued.

In our time together I could not help but observe Little Crow’s sheer wonderment with the modern societal monument that was Washington D.C. Little Crow could spend hours in quiet surveillance overlooking the city’s landscape. He was drawn by the massive edifices of pure white marble like artificial mountains. He was astounded by the number upon number of people like ants across a field. He would watch and listen and ponder. Sometimes we pondered together. What he pondered I cannot begin to imagine, nor would I dare attempt to express. I can only describe what I know, and what I saw, and what I learned.

At the time the Dakota delegation visited Washington D.C. I was acting as a Congressional Page. Prior to my appointment as a page I was a student at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.² I had not yet completed my college degree and I was acting as an intern. I sufficiently enjoyed my work as a page and I eagerly endeavored upon every task for which I was delegated. The work was menial at times. I was asked to run of documents, take notes, and even to acquire coffee or tea for the Congressmen. But, I learned a great deal about the inner workings of the U.S. legislative system; something I consider invaluable to my education.

Just shortly before the Dakota delegation arrived I learned of their coming and I immediately volunteered myself as an interpreter for Congressional councils. I was quite enthused to learn of their visit and I seized the opportunity to take a larger role in Congress.

Although it was unknown to the delegates, I had grown up alongside the Dakota Indians in what is now the state of Minnesota thereby acquiring a thorough knowledge of the Dakota language. My parents had moved to Minnesota territory and settled along the banks of Lake Harriet in 1837.³ Their purpose was to share the saving message of Christ Jesus with the Dakota Indians throughout the vast and unsettled wilderness of Minnesota. The first task my parents undertook was that of mastering the Dakota language. This was an arduous and unenviable assignment, but one which my parents embarked with great care and faith. Until my father’s arrival in the Dakota Territory, the Dakota language was hitherto unwritten and existed only in sound. Regardless, my father considered it vital to his success as a missionary to master the Dakota tongue and he thusly did so. To his credit, he completed and published a Dakota Grammar and Dictionary which contained over 10,000 Dakota words.⁴ At my father’s request I also endeavored to acquire use of the Dakota language. This, my father asserted, was necessary that I should understand the Indians somewhat and make myself understood by them.

I spent my entire youth then in the wilds of Indian country. Or so it was wild at first. Even in my short years there it became an area transformed. I was born in 1837 and grew up in the Dakota villages surrounding Lac-qui-Parle in what is now southwestern Minnesota. At the time of my birth Lac-qui-Parle was much shut out from the great world. But that was changing. In 1837 the Indians sold their lands east of the Mississippi River. This forced more Indians west toward the region of Lac-qui-Parle. Over the years white settlement continued to increase at a rapid pace and the loss of hunting grounds further compounded the western push. Also, white influence became more abundant and apparent as many Indians adopted a new way of living. Those who adopted change cut their hair, put on European style clothing, built log houses and began farming. Those who did not adopt the white influence often lived in constant fear of starvation because of dwindling wild game. White settlement became so overwhelming that by the time I was just twelve years old, Minnesota became an official territory. I remember my father had a passionate discourse with my mother at the time over the notion expressed by Governor Ramsey to end Dakota ownership of lands within the bounds of the new territory.⁵ To my father, this was an unnecessary extreme.

Little Crow, as I later learned, was never one to give in to the straining white pressures. He was a shrewd and determined leader who sought what was best for his people. I witnessed this first hand during Congressional councils in 1858. Little Crow, before the entire United States Congress and before his entire entourage of Dakota leaders, pointed out the wrongs done to him and demanded they be rectified. On one such occasion Little Crow acknowledged that monies promised in 1851 had not been paid and stated that, if I were to give you an account of all the money that was spilled it would take all night. By the end of his time in Washington, I recall Little Crow saying, we have lost confidence in the promises of our Great Father, referring of course to the U.S. government.⁶ Though Little Crow did not seek to adopt western ways of living, I believe he recognized accommodation as valuable and realistic as opposed to resistance. This is precisely why he made the trip to Washington. And, though anger and grief was obvious in Little Crow’s arguments, he was a man of poise and generosity. He was quite willing to work with whites and see that his people had every opportunity to flourish. I remember when I was still quite young; Little Crow invited Dr. Williamson, who worked as a missionary alongside us, to Fort Snelling. My father was excited because Little Crow’s intention was to open a school and mission. This of course meant my father would be away more, but I supported his enthusiasm. Though I did not realize it at the time, and though it saddened Little Crow, I think he recognized the inevitability of white settlement which is why he extended the invitation.

It is unexplainable that I had not yet met Little Crow until 1858. In the spring of 1848, when I was just ten years of age, my father, mother, brother, sister and I took a trip to Kaposia, which was Little Crow’s village. Kaposia lay just south of St. Paul on the west bank of the Mississippi River.⁷ It was a less than comfortable eight day trip by ox-cart. There was still no road from Lac-qui-Parle and we had to make frequent stops to remove fallen trees from our path. Once we arrived the missionaries welcomed us and were quite hospitable. Kaposia was not a large village. There existed probably a dozen or so bark houses as well as many scattered teepees made of buffalo hide. There were also several log homes which were recently constructed by the missionaries. Despite its quaint size Kaposia was a bustling place. There were always groups coming and going, some putting up teepees, some taking down teepees. Some arrived on foot and others by canoe. I did not mind the changing scenery, as a child I found it invigorating. I got along well with the missionary children and I even enjoyed playing with the Dakota children who were extremely willing to teach us new games. In the evenings over dinner my father and the other adults discussed the meetings of the day. This was the first I learned of Little Crow, although I did not realize it at the first. He was referred to as Taoyateduta which was his Dakota name. After three days of hearing his name my curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask my mother of whom they were constantly speaking. Later in life, after having become friends with Little Crow, I found it ironic that we shared similar Dakota names, in translation anyway. For the Dakota children at Lac-qui-Parle deemed me Zitkadan Washtaz, or Good Bird. I was proud of my Dakota name. But I digress. It was here, when my mother told me of Little Crow, that I learned that he was the chief, leader, and spokesman of the Mdewakaton Dakota and had been since 1845.⁸ My mother had said that as decision maker for the tribe he was pivotal in advancing the purposes of ourselves and fellow missionaries.

We spent a just one week in Kaposia before returning home. I enjoyed my time there and carry with me only fond memories of that place between the rivers. I enjoyed most of my childhood. Though I grew up intertwined with a culture much different from my own, I have never regretted it. The Dakota were and have always been kind, compassionate, and generous people. I also had my share of hardships. The winters were cold and food was not always abundant. There was an ever present danger from warring bands of Chippewa who quarreled with the Dakota from as far back as the beginning of time. And there was the occasional death followed by mourning caused by fire, drowning, or disease. But the hardships were minimal, my greatest perhaps being the eldest of seven siblings. The pleasantries of rural life and the rewards of God’s plentiful work far outweighed any hardships. I learned quickly to get along with the Dakota and rarely had a conflict with them. In boarding school I was looked upon as a mentor for my siblings as well as those Dakota who sought help with English words. I also worked diligently in the field ensuring a harvest plentiful enough to last the winter. There were also construction projects that always needed completing. This was my father’s proudest work because it signified the success and growth of his missionary work. To him it represented the seed he had spread which landed on fertile soil and took root in the hearts of once savage and pagan men.

In 1854 this seed was spread to a new community just south along the river valley. Unfortunately our home at Lac qui Parle burned to the ground and we were forced to build a new home. My father took this opportunity to establish a new mission called Hazelwood. Hazelwood was welcomed by the neighboring Dakota and flourished immediately. It was one of my father’s proudest accomplishments.

It was hard for me to finally leave Hazelwood and the Dakota community I grew up with, but my parents were adamant about providing for me an education and allowing me all the opportunities a proper young man should have. This is why they sent me to Illinois and Knox College and eventually what brought me to the nation’s capital in 1858.

At the completion of the Congressional Councils Little Crow was somewhat sullen and morose. I believe he enjoyed his time in Washington. He spoke excitedly of meeting President Buchanan, of giving a weaponry demonstration before a large Turkish entourage, and of his astonishment at the theatre. But these things meant very little. By the end the Dakota had lost their lands northeast of the Minnesota River and were left with only a ten mile wide stretch along the river’s banks reaching from New Ulm to Lake Traverse. Worse, the government failed to rectify any wrongs from the 1837 and 1851 treaties, something Little Crow fought adamantly for. Little Crow returned to Minnesota in July and he had little to say to me. I believe he feared his return home. He feared the news he needed to deliver to his tribesman. He feared the reactions of ambitious young warriors. He feared the loss of his political prestige followed by scorn and sorrow. Mostly, he feared he let his people down. But, Little Crow was resilient and as he prepared to return home he kept his head held high. Before he departed he presented me with some feathers off his brilliantly arranged head dress and a few ceremonial beads. He asked only that I remember the strength of the Dakota spirit and that I honor and protect it. Little did I know how hard I would have to fight to uphold that request.

Upon Little Crow’s departure I was uncertain when or if I would share his company again. Minnesota had just been granted stateship and I was offered a position on staff with Senator Howry Rice. I accepted the position with alacrity although it grieved me that I would not be returning home to see my family. I was kept busy working for the senator and time passed swiftly. I corresponded little with my family and I corresponded even less with my Dakota friends. Occasionally I would pass along a Dakota land treaty or file Indian agent pay stubs, but other than that my mind was kept free from my previous work with the Dakota people and from my encounter with Little Crow.

It was not until the summer of 1861 upon which I finally returned home. I chose to relinquish my position with the senator and join my father once more in the stewardship of a humble missionary. I packed few things and made my way home as quickly as possible. I received a warm and joyous welcome upon my arrival, but after the reception it was work as usual. Not much had changed in my absence. My brothers and sisters had all grown significantly. Isabella and Martha were gone away to school while even Robert, the youngest of my siblings, was old enough to watch after himself. My father’s work had also grown. There had been a new addition to the school house and several new church missions had been erected. I was stooped in labor immediately following my return. Though the chores were many, I was glad to be back. My father never said it, but I know he appreciated my help. He has always been a dedicated servant, beleaguered as he was.

I had always intended to contact Little Crow and make his acquaintance once more. I greatly admired him and never forgot the fondness we shared. But, just as it had in Washington, time got away from me. An entire year had passed and I still had not seen or corresponded with Little Crow. It was not until June of 1862 that we revived our friendship. It was then, that I received a startling letter from Little Crow. How he discovered my whereabouts I am not sure. I have translated the letter and share it here.

Dear Zitkadan Washtaz (Good Bird),

Many seasons have passed since I first and last made your acquaintance. I feel ashamed at writing to you now, but I have lost myself in agony. I have reached the end of my wick.

I was defeated in the recent election for speaker of the Mdewakatons by Travelling Hail, a farmer Indian. The farmer Indians now outnumber the old, stubborn Indians such as myself. The whites have manipulated and divided us by giving ten times more to those who adopt their ways. As more of us accept their bribes the culture that has protected and nurtured the Dakota nation for centuries will vanish like the buffalo before us. I am nothing now. Like sugar that disappears in water, so am I among my people. My face is blackened and I am in mourning. I write out of self-pity.

Since my time in your capitol, the wrongs done unto my people have not ceased. The misgivings have multiplied until they outnumber the stars and out shine the sun. The Great Father has neglected us and his children are traitors. The Dakota now starve because our land has been stolen and the white man’s promise has less value than the leaves when they fall. Day after day and the paymaster does not come. We are forced to eat roots and shriveled ears of corn like scavenging vermin. I even traded my weapons for a few decent meals. A hunting party has been sent out, but I fear it is for naught. There is talk among us that payment will not come. We see the Great Father is fighting his children in the south and his resources are depleted. There is unrest and commotion among us. We look over the horizon, but we cannot see like the eagle. We envision no relief ahead.

Though I am ashamed at doing so, I plead for your help. We have become like beggars. We howl for food like the wolf when he howls at the moon. Our Great Father’s workman, Major Thomas Galbraith, refuses to quell our hunger pangs. He is arrogant and stubborn and treats us as if we were stray dogs, only throwing his bones under the table. We have pleaded that he open the store houses, but still he says no. He insists on waiting for the annuity payment that does not come. I fear violence is near. When men are hungry, they help themselves.

I urge, please come quickly to help us. You are not like the other white men. You know our plight and you have seen our sorrow. You show compassion and though you are still young you have great wisdom. Take heed and see that Major Galbraith opens the storehouses. My people will wait no longer. They will suffer no more at the hands of greedy men.

I remain, most humbly yours,


I must admit I was surprised at Little Crow’s request. I was unaware that he regarded me so highly. It did not matter though. I immediately informed my father that I must take leave. He did not argue, rather, he helped me to

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