“In the Footsteps of Little Crow”
Curt Brown, Star Tribune Newspaper, August 12-17, 2012
Reviewed on November 23, 2012
Items of Interest
This 6-part series appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Newspaper from August 12 to August 17, 2012. Refer to “Links” in the menu above.
- Beginning with the title, these essays lack balance. The majority of this text is about the Dakota Indians. The Dakota War was about both Dakota and Whites. Why do the author and the Star Tribune ignore this White history?
- This is a fine example of how not to write history. There is too much novelistic text. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Sources are not cited; so cannot be checked. It would not be wise to quote from this text.
- The author makes sweeping generalities that either aren’t true or cannot be proven.
- The author states opinions as if they were facts. The author does not need to embellish this history. The truth is sad enough.
- The author omits discussion of traditional Dakota warfare atrocities
- The author is clearly prejudiced against the fur traders. I challenge him to provide primary sources that justify these attacks.
- The author cannot decide what to call the Dakota who went to war. He refers to them as warriors, fighters, soldiers and foot soldiers
Most Objectionable Statements
August 12, 2012 – Part 1 – A man lost in history
“Propelled by years of broken promises, insults and watching their children starve to death on the reservation, Dakota fighters had gone to war with historic vengeance.”
—Incorrect – Causes of the war are more complicated than this.
—Incorrect – How many years were children starving to death?
—Incorrect – The author doesn’t say that the majority of the Dakota opposed war.
“Along the ravines and bluffs of the Minnesota River valley, homesteads smoldered in ruins. Mutilated bodies of more than 200 settlers bloodied the prairie.”
—Incorrect – This was not only along the ravines and bluffs.
—Disrespectful – No one can say how many bodies were mutilated
“On Monday, Aug. 18, 1862, his [Little Crow] fighters had swept down on the settlers with speed and surprise, killing nearly everyone in their path – women, children and old people, as well as the swindling traders and soldiers…”
—Disrespectful – Which traders were swindling the Indians? Were the Dakota and mixed-blood traders also swindling the Indians?
—Incorrect – They were also killing men other than traders and soldiers
“Estimates put the eventual toll of soldiers and settlers at 600.”
—Incorrect – The white death toll was more than 650 according to Curtis Dahlin.
“For the next 30 years, similar scenes would repeat, tribe by tribe…as native people struggled against a genocidal east-west tide of white settlement and federal policy.”
—Unbalanced – Who committed genocide in 1862? Did the whites or the Dakota who killed more than 650 innocent white men, women and children?
“The Dakota lost roughly 100 warriors on the battlefields. But a far greater toll was coming for them in the wake of the war.”
—Incorrect – They lost more than 100 soldiers according to my research.
—Unbalanced – What about the death toll of the whites in the wake of the war?
“White leaders of the era, men such as Gov. Ramsey and Col. Sibley would be memorialized in grand statues, their names emblazoned on schools and counties across the state.”
—Unbalanced – There are statues, cities and counties also named for Dakota leaders.
“Always bubbling beneath the surface of the war was potential for a civil war between the militant and peaceful Dakota.”
—Unbalanced – More needs to be said on this subject.
“Susan Brown was from the Sisseton band…Little Crow…recounted years of reneged treaties, insults, corruption and mistreatment from traders, officials and white immigrants invading the land the Dakota had called home for generations.”
—Incorrect – Are Little Crow’s comments to Susan fact or fiction – What is the source?
“Two days in, only half a dozen Dakota were dead. Little Crow was pleased that 17 of the first 20 white victims were the corrupt traders he blamed for causing this clash.”
—Incorrect – It is not possible to say how many Dakota were dead.
—Incorrect – It is not possible to say how Little Crow felt.
—Incorrect – It cannot be proven that 17 of the first 20 were fur traders.
—Disrespectful – This is an example of the author’s prejudice against the fur traders.
“Dakota fighters struck far and wide that first day, from Renville to Nicollet counties.”
—Incorrect – They ranged beyond this.
“The whites who had invaded the land with their lies, insults and cruelty would be driven out.”
—Disrespectful – Who was lying, insulting and cruel? Were there no good whites?
“…some Dakota regard it [Fort Snelling] as a concentration camp, where 1,600 of their ancestors were penned…shivering, starving and dying from disease in the cramped conditions?”
—Embellishment – What would have happened had they been left at Camp Release?
—Incorrect – Some call Fort Snelling a concentration camp to evoke images of Nazi concentration camps. Fort Snelling was not a concentration camp.
—Incorrect – They were not penned in. Walls protected the Indians from angry whites.
—Incorrect – They were not starving
“Emotions remain raw for descendants on all sides even fifteen decades later… “These were the first true Minnesota patriots who fought for this land, their people and their way of life,””
—Incorrect – Not all descendants have raw emotions after 150 years.
—Incorrect – There were Iowa, Cheyenne and other tribes who defended and lost their land to the Dakota. Weren’t they Minnesota patriots before the Dakota?
“Other leaders, Dakota and Non-Dakota, insist that blaming and shaming are misplaced. They grapple with ways…to heal long-festering wounds they link to heightened suicide rates, alcoholism and diabetes…”
—Incorrect – How can current suicide, alcoholism and diabetes be blamed on an event that occurred 150 years ago? The causes of these problems are more complicated than this.
“…the treaties were largely unfulfilled and payments were claimed by white traders for debts allegedly owed.”
—Disrespectful – What does “largely unfulfilled” mean?
—Disrespectful – “allegedly owed” suggests the traders were lying.
—Disrespectful – The mixed-blood and full-blood Dakota traders also claimed debts.
Map – the Minnesota river valley, August 1862
—Incorrect – At least 4 Indian camps are not identified
—Incorrect – Upper Sioux Agency was not a military fort/camp
—Incorrect – Lower Sioux Agency was not a military fort/camp
—Incorrect – Redwood Ferry is in the wrong location
—Incorrect – Mankato is shown in the wrong location
—Incorrect – “remaining reservation lands” – there were 2 reservations
—Incorrect – New Ulm did not border the Lower Reservation
—Incorrect – Wood Lake Battlefield is in the wrong location
“Relegated to a reservation 10 miles wide…the Dakota had traded millions of acres of land for government payments that often were late or did not arrive.”
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations
—Incorrect – Not mentioning these reservations were 150 miles long shows prejudice.
—Incorrect – How often were the payments late and which payments never arrived?
August 13, 2012 – Part 2 – “Born to lead”
“As a young man, Little Crow…travelled to the far corners of what would become Minnesota.”
—Incorrect – Little Crow did not travel to the far corners of Minnesota
“…One day, Sibley would be handed the task of quelling Little Crow’s revolt.”
—Incorrect – It wasn’t Little Crow’s revolt.
“Little Crow was optimistic that in exchange for those huge tracts of land, the Dakota would acquire a strip of reservation land along the Minnesota River where at least they could still live as a sovereign nation. The $3 million the U.S. government put on the table would pay for food, schools, farming equipment, blacksmith shops and goods to ease his people into the new reality that seemed inevitable.”
—Incorrect – It isn’t possible to know what Little Crow felt unless he stated this.
—What does “live as a sovereign nation” mean?
—Incorrect – They were to receive much more than this
—The interest payments for 50 years amounted to more than 3 million
Sibley and Ramsey and “their trader friends pushed the Dakota to accept promises of millions of dollars to help feed their people in exchange for moving all of the Dakota onto the reservation.”
—Incorrect – The money was in addition to the food provided by the treaties.
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations.
“…they were directed to another barrel to sign what they assumed was a copy of the treaty.”
—Incorrect – Some did know what they were signing. We don’t know how many knew this.
“…traders swarmed in after the treaty signing to try to get the bands to sign traders’ papers…”
—Disrespectful – “traders swarmed in”?
Chief Big Eagle…later explained that the traders hovered over annual annuity payments to the Dakota with alleged records of debts. “As the Indians kept no books, they could not deny their accounts and sometimes the traders got all the money.”…After the treaty signing, the traders insisted a third of the money belonged to them for old debts.”
—Disrespectful – Big Eagle also said, “I do not say that the traders always cheated and lied about these accounts. I know many of them were honest men and kind and accommodating.” Why don’t the author and the Star Tribune want the readers to know this?
Treaty of 1858: “During the hot summer months, the chiefs were locked in stuffy meeting rooms where they were told that if they didn’t agree to sell even more of their land, the U.S. government could seize it all. Under that threat, Little Crow signed away the half of the reservation north of the Minnesota River in exchange for $25,000 to pay trader debts.”
—Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
—Incorrect – The treaties were concluded on June 19, 1858.
—Incorrect – More than $25,000 was paid
—Incorrect – Unless there is a direct quote from Little Crow, we cannot say why he signed.
—The Sisseton and Wahpeton also signed a treaty in 1858.
“They were barely surviving on the thin ribbon of reservation land.”
—Exactly what does this mean?
—Incorrect – It is not possible to know how many were “barely surviving.”
“…we examine the life of Chief Little Crow, which spanned the final, fragile years of Dakota culture…”
—Incorrect – Dakota culture continues today
August 14, 2012 – Part 3 – “When men are hungry, they help themselves”
“It was Aug. 4, 1862. Little Crow would ride for about six hours from his house near the Lower Sioux Agency at one end of the reservation to the Upper Sioux Agency more than 30 miles northwest. The rocky sliver of land bordering the Minnesota River was now the sole refuge of the Dakota people in Minnesota.”
—Incorrect – Little Crow’s house was not near the Lower Sioux Agency.
—Incorrect – The LSA was not at the end of the reservation.
—Incorrect – There were two reservations
—Incorrect – “rocky sliver of land” is an embellishment.
“As Little Crow, now almost 50 rode toward the chaos, his hold on his position as spokesman for the Dakota was slipping.”
—Incorrect – He wasn’t spokesman at this point
—Incorrect – He had been spokesman for the Mdewakanton not all of the Dakota
“Deer and other game were vanishing as settlers cleared the land.”
—Incorrect – Deer and other game had been vanishing before settlers cleared land.
“A plague of cutworms in the fall of 1861 had ravaged reservation crops that could have been stored. Late treaty payments made buying food impossible. Dakota women and children moaned with hunger, their muscles wasting, arms thin as sticks, abdomens distending with the classic symptom of extreme malnutrition. They began to die of starvation.”
—Embellishment – Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
—Incorrect – We do not know how many Indians were in this condition.
—1862 promised a bumper crop. Corn was ripening in August. Soon there would be plenty.
Sarah Wakefield wrote: “These poor creature subsisted on a tall grass which they find in the marshes, chewing the roots and eating the wild turnip…Many died from starvation or disease caused by eating improper food. It made my heart ache. I remember distinctly of the agent giving them dry corn, and these poor creatures were so near starvation that they ate it raw like cattle.”
—Incorrect – This does not mean that all Dakota were in this condition.
On July 1, 1862, Bishop Whipple…had heard plenty of complaints about broken treaty promises and traders swindling money.”
—Disrespectful – Which traders were swindling the Indians? Were the Dakota and mixed-blood traders swindling the Indians?
“When money did flow, the traders hovered over the pay tables and grabbed most of it, claiming debts were owed.”
—Disrespectful – “claiming debts were owed”
—Incorrect – “Traders hovered over the pay tables and grabbed most of it.”
“The gold payments promised in the treaties rarely materialized.”
—Incorrect – Name one gold payment that did not materialize.
Regarding Riggs’ and Williamson’s letter to Congress warning of the situation:“ They were right. Their letter was ignored.”
—Incorrect – We cannot appreciate how busy Congress was with the Civil War.
Galbraith refused to [issue food] until the gold arrived.
—Incorrect – Galbraith issued food to the Upper Indians.
“Listening to Little Crow speak through a translator, Galbraith asked the storekeepers what he should do. They shrugged and turned to store owner Andrew Myrick. Disgusted by the whole mess, Myrick walked away until Galbraith demanded a response.”
—Incorrect – Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
“That same morning, four young Dakota men were returning from a failed hunting trip… frustrated that they would arrive home to their hungry families…still stung by the remark that they should “eat grass…” On the road back, at Acton Township they came upon a hen’s nest with eggs near the fence of a trading post and inn. One of the hunters warned the others to leave the eggs, because they belonged to the white man. The others heckled him, calling him a coward. They headed over to the home of innkeeper Robinson Jones…Jones and the Dakota traded words and the hunters followed him to his neighbor Howard Baker’s cottage nearby. A shooting contest ensued…Three white men, one of their wives and a daughter were killed…A small child and two women survived to spread the alarm…”
—Incorrect – There are 11 statements in this paragraph that aren’t true or cannot be proven.
Little Crow was “chief speaker for the Mdewakanton tribe.”
—Incorrect – Little Crow was not chief speaker
—Incorrect – The Mdewakanton were a band
“But he [Little Crow] listened as they repeated all the reasons justifying war: the broken promises, the late treaty payments, the abuse of their women by the traders, the cheating and corruption, and their starving families. But his chance to lead, so recently stripped from him, had suddenly reappeared. The taunt of being a “coward” pushed Little Crow toward his destiny.”
—Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
—Incorrect – We don’t know if the chance to lead was a factor in his decision.
Little Crow was “pivotal in treaty negotiations…leaving them a narrow strip of reservation land…But promised payments were late and claimed by traders who said the Dakota owed debts. The Dakota and their children were starving by the summer of 1862.”
—Incorrect – At 10 by 150 miles, this was hardly a narrow strip of land
—Incorrect – Traders neither claimed nor took all of their payments.
—Incorrect – Not all of the Dakota were starving.
August 15, 2012 – Part 4 – Terror Spreads Across the Prairie
“…in the brutal war 150 years ago that defined Minnesota. In six key battles, both sides would exact a heavy price in lives.”
—How did this define Minnesota?
—Incorrect – There were more than six key battles
“In return for being crowded into the reservation along the Minnesota River, the Dakota had received little of what the chiefs thought they had negotiated in payment.”
—Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
—Incorrect – There were 2 reservations
Impatience from watching their own families suffer had hardened them against the settler families, who they saw as part of a giant wave of white people bent on eradicating the Dakota.”
—Incorrect – What is the source that they saw the settlers bent on eradicating the Dakota?
“More than 200 women and children had been taken captive. Rumors spread of captives being raped, fueling growing anger among the settlers, but only two cases ever led to convictions.”
—Incorrect – Men were also taken captive
—Just because only 2 were convicted, does not mean there weren’t more rapes
“…the Dakota had received little of what the chiefs thought they had negotiated in payment. What did get through was often late or grabbed by the traders to pay the debts they claimed.”
—Disrespectful – More statements condemning the traders without proof
Battle of Birch Coulee
“…the first group surprised 150 U.S. soldiers and settlers trying to bury their dead at…Birch Coulee…”
—Incorrect – They were not burying their dead at Birch Coulee
“Instead, the Dakota prevailed again…60 soldiers and settlers were slain.”
—Incorrect – Fewer than 60 were slain at Birch Coulee.
“He [Little Crow] complained bitterly about…the defrauding traders.”
—Incorrect – Little Crow named fur traders Myrick, Forbes and Roberts.
“…the reports of abuse made it less likely white leaders would negotiate over the hostages. Little Crow knew the officials would not see starvation of Dakota children and abuse of Dakota women as equivalent outrages.”
—Incorrect – Where did Little Crow state that starvation of Dakota children and abuse of Dakota women were equivalent to the murder of more than 650 whites?
“The Sisseton and Wahpeton chiefs who chose not to fight had managed to wrest control of the hostages from Little Crow during the battle of Wood Lake.”
—Incorrect – It wasn’t only Sisseton and Wahpeton chiefs who rescued the hostages.
August 16, 2012 – Part 5 – In Little Crow’s Wake, Horrors for the Dakota
—Unbalanced – Where is “Horrors for the Whites”?
“About 1,600 women, children and men unconnected to the violence would be force marched more than 100 miles from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling.”
—Incorrect – They were not force-marched
Brown’s narrative of the attack on the Indians in Henderson, the killing of the baby and the placing of the dead baby in a tree
—Unbalanced – Where is the graphic details of Indians attacking whites and killing babies?
“The Dakota had no lawyers to explain the proceedings and defend them.”
—Legally, it was not required that they have lawyers.
Whipple “detailed the fraud, annuity siphoning by traders, the devastation of alcohol sales to the Dakota, and other outrages that spurred the war.”
—Disrespectful to the traders
—Is this fact or fiction? What is the source?
—What evidence did Whipple give?
—Which fur traders? Did this include the mixed-blood and Dakota fur traders?
“Lincoln outraged Sibley, Gov. Ramsey and many Minnesotans by paring the number of Dakota to be hanged from 303 to 39…”
—Incorrect – Were Sibley and Ramsey outraged? What is the source?
“There wasn’t enough rope to make all the nooses, so the hangings were delayed until the day after Christmas.”
—Incorrect – While they needed more rope, they also needed more soldiers in Mankato.
Duley whacked the rope with a large knife…springing the trap doors…”
—Incorrect – Duley used an axe.
—Incorrect – there weren’t trap doors – there was a platform that dropped
Indian children were dying at Fort Snelling
—Unbalanced – What about the white children who died during and after the war?
“Private Levi Neill of Eden Prairie was patrolling up and down the Minnesota River valley…By the time a splotchy rash revealed he had the measles, the disease was spreading through Fort Snelling.”
—Unbalanced – What about the whites who died from measles after the war?
At Fort Snelling: “It remains unclear precisely how many Dakota died at the camp, mostly from malnutrition and disease. The Rev. Thomas Williamson, a missionary who regularly visited, estimated 10 percent or roughly 160 Dakota between Nov 13, 1862 and the early days of 1864. Many historians agree with that number, although some estimate the death count as high as 300.”
—Incorrect – Prove that anyone died from malnutrition.
—Incorrect – Thomas Williamson did not visit Fort Snelling regularly.
—Incorrect – Williamson’s estimate included the hangings and the Mankato prison camp
—Incorrect – Williamson’s estimate included the early days of 1863.
—Unbalanced – How many whites died from wounds received and from epidemics?
“Some mixed-bloods crowded into the stockade possessed vouchers entitling them to 640 acres of land under treaty terms. Many sold them to buy food and avoid starvation…”
—Incorrect – They were not entitled to more than 160 acres per person.
—Incorrect – They were getting a surplus of food from the U.S.
“The new law dissolved the reservation in Minnesota and canceled the treaties.”
—Unbalanced – Dakota descendants were paid in the 1970s for land and annuities taken.
The state set a bounty for Dakota scalps
—Why did the State set a bounty?
—How many bounties were paid?
—Unbalanced – Little Crow’s soldiers’ lodge also set a bounty for white scalps.
—Unbalanced – Does not mention how many bounties were paid.
“In the end, a couple of hundred Dakota who cooperated with the Army in identifying the warring Dakota were allowed to remain.
—Incorrect – Not all of those who remained helped to identify warring Dakota.
“Most of the proceedings were cursory affairs with trials lasting as little as five minutes.”
—Unbalanced – What about the Dakota trials of white victims? – There weren’t any.
“Sibley spent the next two years leading soldiers on what were known as punitive raids into the Dakota Territory. He was no longer merely looking for Dakota involved in the bloodshed of the summer of 1862.”
—Incorrect – Sibley did not participate in the 1864 expedition
—Incorrect – Sibley was looking for Dakota Indians who committed atrocities in 1862
“…the legacy of the white, male monopoly over the historiography of the Dakota War lives on. Minnesota has Pope, Ramsey and Sibley counties. There are several sites, including Sibley State Park, whose namesakes belong to the deceivers of both Wakefield and the Dakota.”
—What does this mean?
—Disrespectful to Pope, Ramsey and Sibley
—Unbalanced – There are also counties and sites named for Dakota.
August 17, 2012 – Part 6 – Little Crow’s spirit finally comes home
“Nathan Lamson, out deer hunting with his son Chauncey, didn’t know the elder Dakota he saw near his land was Chief Little Crow. But the 62-year-old farmer knew there was a state bounty on Dakota…if a private citizen brought in a scalp.”
—Incorrect – A state bounty was not being offered when Little Crow was killed.
“Dakota leaders have called for revising the curriculum to more fully explain the plight of the Dakota and the scurrilous conduct of traders and government agents that precipitated the war.”
—Disrespectful to traders and agents
Near Birch Coulee: “In the chill of a February morning, Mary McConnell… joined a group of settler descendants…to share stories and research. Standing on those farm fields 150 years later, some wept, wondering if their ancestors’ bones, buried where they fell might be in the dirt beneath their feet. “You hear the military stories and how the government corruption impacted the Dakota, but we don’t often hear the settlers’ voices anymore,” said McConnell…“These poor people were noncombatants who just wanted to improve their lot in life and were caught unarmed and by surprise.”
Unbalanced – Small bit on the white descendants and then back to the Dakota.
“The federal law banishing the Dakota from Minnesota remains on the books…”
—Incorrect – This was a removal law for those at Fort Snelling. It permitted friendly Indians to remain.