Dakota War Causes – Acton
© September 4, 2014, John LaBatte
On August 17, 1862, four young Dakota men killed five settlers in Acton Township, Meeker County, Minnesota. This event was the primary immediate cause of the Dakota War of 1862. It was not the start of the war as some authors think. What really happened at Acton?
Perhaps no other Dakota War subject has so many incorrect statements. In my reviews, I found the following statements on this subject to be incorrect. Many duplicates have been removed.
- Acton is 40 miles north of New Ulm
- The Dakota War broke out on August 17, 1862, near Acton
- The Sisseton/Wahpeton people started the war at Acton
- Young Dakota men were sent out to hunt for food
- The eggs were taken from a nest located near the fence on the Robinson Jones farm
- The war began because a few warriors accused each other of being cowards, afraid to steal a white farmer’s hen’s eggs
- The Indian uprising started over eggs and a farmer who wouldn’t give up some eggs
- Dakota killed 5 settlers over a dispute in a henhouse
- On a dare, a group of young Dakota men stealing chickens were caught and ended up killing a white farmer and his family
- Four Indians returning from a fruitless hunt started arguing over a few hen’s eggs
- They came upon a farm near Acton. They took some eggs. The farmer caught them. The Dakota challenged each other; are you going to stand up to this man?
- Violence erupted when several Dakota men attempted to steal food and ended up killing settlers near Acton, in Meeker County
- Four hungry Indians killed five white settlers at Acton
- After a quarrel, 4 Dakota Indians killed several settlers near the tiny town of Acton
- The Indians were starving and tensions boiled over near Acton Township
- The Dakota had been hunting, but ended up stealing food from the settlement of Acton
- Still stung by the remark that they should “eat grass…”
- Four young Dakota hunters killed 5 settlers who lived along the Minnesota River
- Four young Dakota men murdered five white settlers near Acton Township
- Four young Wahpetons killed several white men and women at the Acton Post Office
- Four Sissetons committed the murders
- 3 Indians killed those at Acton
- Acton was the result of years of growing resentment between the Dakota and white settlers
- On August 17, a Dakota man and a small hunting party killed several settlers after being beaten with a broom
- The Dakota hunters followed Jones to his neighbor Howard Baker’s cottage nearby
- Frustrated that they would arrive home to their hungry families
- A shooting contest ensued
- The four went into the Bakers’ house and killed the occupants
- Three white men, one of their wives and a daughter were killed.
- Four Dakota rushed a white household, killing three men, a woman, and a 15-year-old girl.
- Five whites died during the raid
- The four took a wagon and team of horses, and went back to their village
- After the murders, they found 2 horses and rode double, back to their village
- Fleeing to their village, they begged for protection
- They rode back to the Lower Sioux Agency, where their village was located
- A small child and two women survived to spread the alarm
- An inquest was held on the morning of August 17
- An inquest was held in the evening of August 17
- The Acton Monument marking the location of the Acton murders is marble
- The Acton Monument marks the grave of Roseanna Webster
Acton and the Victims
Acton Township was organized in Meeker County in 1858. It was later reduced to Township 119, Range 32. Acton was named for Acton, Canada where the Ritchie family came from in 1857. Robinson Jones’ cabin was west of Baker’s cabin. Jones ran a tavern, trading post, inn and post office. Acton was a location consisting of 2 cabins belonging to Robinson Jones and Howard Baker. Any reference to a town of Acton is incorrect.
In 1917, Nathan Butler wrote that in June 1857, he and Robinson Jones took a boat up the Mississippi in search of land. They landed at Clearwater, Minnesota and went west. They found what they were looking for in Acton Township – “good rich prairie interspersed with groves of heavy timber and lakes of clear pure water.” Jones took a claim in the northwest quarter of Section 21. Butler took a claim in Section 20. They returned to Minneapolis. Jones bought “a team of oxen, a wagon, breaking plow and other implements and provisions for keeping boarders.” On their way back, they met Howard Baker who joined them. Baker took a claim in the northeast quarter of Section 21, adjoining Jones’ property. They worked on their claims that summer. Jones and Baker built houses with logs taken from their properties. Their floors and roofs were of sawed lumber from St. Cloud.
Robinson Jones came from a lumber camp in Northern Minnesota. Ann Baker, Howard Baker’s mother, also arrived in 1857. In the 1860 US Census for Meeker County, Robinson Jones was 47 years old, the postmaster, and born in New Hampshire. Ann Baker was 48 years old, a cattlewoman, and born in Maine. They were living in separate residences.
On January 4, 1861, Jones married Ann Baker, a widow. On March 4, 1861, Jones homesteaded approximately 80 acres: the south half of the northwest quarter of Section 21 (Acton Township). In 1862, the Joneses adopted a relative’s two children: Clara D. Wilson, about fifteen and her half-brother, Robinson J. Cotton, a year and a half to two years old. They may have been the children of Ann Jones’ daughter, Mary J. Cotton, who died in April 1862. Robinson Jones was a frontiersman, rough and unrefined, but well-liked by his neighbors. He was “a man of powerful and athletic frame, six feet and an inch in height, straight as an arrow, with dark complexion, jet-black hair and whiskers, and fiery eyes.” He ran a sort of public house or tavern. He provided travelers with food and lodging. He kept groceries which he sold and traded with his neighbors and the Indians. He kept whiskey, which he sold by the glass or bottle. He seldom sold whiskey to the Indians except in exchange for their furs. He also farmed.
Howard Baker does not appear in the 1860 U.S. Census for Minnesota. On September 1, 1860, Howard Baker homesteaded about 158 acres: the northeast quarter of Section 21 (Acton Township). In 1862, Howard Baker, his wife Emily Jane and their two young sons, David and William lived in a cabin a quarter mile east of the Jones’ house.
Both Jones and Baker were located on the Henderson-Pembina Trail surrounded by the “Acton Woods”. Baker was about 13 miles west of Forest City, the county seat and about 3 miles south of present day Grove City on U.S. Highway 4.
Viranus Webster and his wife Roseanne, from Sauk County, Wisconsin, arrived at the Bakers’ house about July 26, in a covered wagon pulled by four oxen. They came to seek a homestead. They had furniture, provisions, clothing and a number of cattle. They had no children.
Mrs. Baker’s Testimony
In the afternoon of August 18, 1862, a coroner’s inquest was conducted by A. C. Smith, then Judge of Probate and acting County Attorney. This inquest was conducted on the Baker Farm prior to removal and burial of the bodies. Smith quoted Mrs. Baker’s testimony in his 1876 book:
About 11 o’clock A.M. four Indians came into our house, staid about 15 minutes, got up and looked out, had the men take down their guns and shoot them off at a mark, then bantered for a trade with Jones. About 12 o’clock two more Indians came and got some water; our guns were not reloaded; the Indians loaded their guns in the dooryard; I went back into the house, did not suspect anything at the time; supposed they were going away; next I knew I heard the report of a gun and saw Webster fall; he stood and fell near the door; another Indian came to the door and aimed at Howard Baker and shot; did not kill him at that time; he shot the other barrel of his gun at Howard and he fell. My mother [-in-law] walked to the door and another Indian shot her; she turned to run and fell into the buttery; they shot at her twice as she fell. I tried to get out of the window, but fell down cellar; saw Mrs. Webster pulling her husband into the house; don’t know where she was prior to this; Indians immediately left the house; while I was in the cellar I heard firing out of doors.
Jones said they were Sioux Indians and that he was well acquainted with them. Two of the Indians had on white men’s coats; one quite tall, one quite small, one thick and chubby and all middle aged Indians, one had two feathers in his cap and one had three. Jones said “they asked me for whisky but I would not give them any.”
Mrs. Webster’s Interview
Following the murders, Mrs. Webster and Mrs. Baker went on to St. Cloud where they were interviewed by newspaper reporter M. S. Croswell:
On August 17, Mrs. Webster saw four Indians at Mr. Baker’s house. Shortly after this, Mr. Jones came over and said the Indians had been at his house and wanted whisky, but he refused. Jones traded Mr. Baker’s gun with one of the Indians. They fired at marks. When Jones fired his gun, the Indians turned and shot Mr. Webster, who was standing near the door of the house. They then shot Mr. Baker and his mother who were sitting in the house, one on each side of Mrs. Baker. Mrs. Webster was in their covered wagon, near the house, unpacking. She saw an Indian chase Jones and shoot him as the Indian ran near the wagon pole. The Indians also killed Mrs. Jones’ niece. Mrs. Baker and her children ran into the bushes. The Indians left. Mrs. Webster went to her husband. She asked him what he had done to the Indians. He said, “Nothing; had never seen a Sioux before, nor had anything to do with them.”
Mrs. Webster’s Claim
In the summer of 1863, Mrs. Webster and Mrs. Baker filed claims for their losses with the Sioux Claims Commission. Mrs. Baker’s claim cannot be found.
Mrs. Webster said the four Indians who came to the Bakers’ house said they were Chippewas. Mr. Jones and his wife arrived soon after the Indians. Mr. Jones knew the Indians and said they were Sioux. He lent a gun to one of them the previous winter. Mr. Jones set up the mark and traded Mr. Baker’s gun with one of them. Two other Indians arrived and asked for water which was given to them. Three of the Indians sat down and talked. Another Indian was sitting on the ground with his back to them. Mrs. Webster went to the wagon to get some things. She heard shooting. She saw one of the Indians shoot Mr. Jones. She left the wagon and the Indian that shot Mr. Jones passed her, looked in her face and laughed, and passed on. Mr. Jones was a rod or more from the house when he was shot. Mr. Webster was shot near the door. Mr. Baker and Mrs. Jones were shot in the house. None of the victims lived more than an hour and a half.
Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Baker and her children left on foot, went to Mr. Blackwell’s, but found no one home. They went on to a Norwegian’s, but he could not speak English. They then went to a Norwegian Blacksmith’s and then to Mr. Jackson’s and remained there over night. She returned to the Bakers’ house on Monday with some people from Forest City. They buried the bodies. Indians were seen and the people fled leaving all of her property. She remained in Forest City a few days. She was able to get some of her property, some stock and her oxen. The stock was sold for much less it was worth. She eventually came to St. Paul. Her closest relatives were cousins.
The four Indians said they were Chippewas. Were they planning to kill the whites before they arrived and place the blame on Chippewa Indians?
Mrs. Webster is consistent in her 2 narratives that the Indians arrived at the Bakers’ house before Mr. Jones arrived.
Both Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster state that the Indians asked Mr. Jones for liquor which he refused. Mrs. Baker states that the Indians requested water at the Bakers’ house.
Both Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster stated that shortly after arriving, the Indians wanted to shoot at a mark.
Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster were eyewitnesses. Judge A.C. Smith conducted the inquest and wrote about this in his 1876 book. These accounts should be most reliable. Following are additional accounts arranged in chronological sequence:
August 19, 1862 – Judge A. C. Smith to Governor Ramsey
The victims were all shot on Sunday about noon: three of them in the Baker’s house; Mr. Jones while attempting to get into the woods and Clara Wilson in the Jones’ house about a quarter mile from the Bakers’ house. Previous to the murders, Mr. Jones remarked to Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster that he was well acquainted with the Indians. Mr. and Mrs. Webster and Clara Wilson arrived from Wisconsin about three weeks prior to the murders. There were about twenty Indians in the county and six at the Baker’s house at the time of the murders. The victims were totally unarmed.
August 19, 1862 – George C. Whitcomb to Governor Ramsey
Whitcomb lived in Forest City. He was holding a wagon for one of the Indians that came to Meeker County. Seven or eight Indians committed the murders. On August 17, the Indians entered the Bakers’ house about one or two P.M. Their disposition was not the most friendly. After some consultation, the Indians proposed to go out and shoot at a mark. When the Indians were outside, a signal was given by one of them and all the Indians fired. Robinson Jones was standing just outside the door. Mr. Webster, Mr. Baker and Mrs. Jones were standing inside and near the door. Mrs. Baker escaped to the cellar. The Indians went to the Jones’ house, broke in and killed Clara Wilson.
It is likely that Whitcomb exaggerated the number of Indians at the Bakers’ house at the time of the murders. His description of the disposition of the Indians is not consistent with that of Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster. He incorrectly stated that Mrs. Baker escaped to the cellar. He states that the Indians broke into the Jones’ house. This is disputed later.
1863 – Joseph Campbell
Mixed-blood Joseph Campbell said that eleven young men from Little Six’s band were returning from a hunt. They stopped at a place where some of them had left a wagon. The white man demanded five dollars for the keeping. The Indians offered a coat, but it was refused. Five returned to the Agency and reported that the others were having a quarrel with the whites.
1865 – Isaac Heard
Isaac Heard was the recorder for the military commission that tried the Indians after the war. He heard many testimonies and also did interviews. Heard published his book in 1865.
On August 10th, twenty Indians left the Lower Reservation for the Forest City area to hunt deer. Their leader, Makpeyahwetah had left a wagon with George Whitcomb in Forest City. The leader and four others went to see Whitcomb. The others remained in the Acton area. Four were Upper Indians who had intermarried with the Lower Sioux living at the mouth of Rice Creek. “This band was the worst disposed upon the reservation, and the most violent in its complaints against the whites.”
The eggs were found on the prairie about six miles from Acton. The dispute over who was braver arose between four Rice Creek Indians and the others. After the eggs were broken, the dispute led to the shooting of an ox. The Rice Creek Indians separated from the others. Soon after, they heard shots and assumed the others were killing whites.
They visited Robinson Jones. After refusing to give them whiskey, Jones demanded a gun which one of them had borrowed the previous winter. A heated discussion ensued and Jones told them to leave.
The Indians went to Howard Baker’s house and asked for water and tobacco. They filled their pipes and sat down and smoked. They were friendly until Mr. and Mrs. Jones arrived. The dispute over the gun renewed. Mrs. Baker asked Mrs. Jones if she had given them whiskey. Mrs. Jones replied, “No, we don’t keep whiskey for such black devils as they.” The Indians seemed to understand this and became “very savage in their appearance.” Mrs. Webster asked Mrs. Jones to stop.
Mr. Jones traded Mr. Baker’s gun with one of the Indians for his gun. The Indians wanted to shoot at a mark. Jones accepted, saying that “he wasn’t afraid to shoot against any damned Redskin that ever lived.” Webster had a gun, but did not go out. He loaned the lock of his gun to one of the Indians.
After they all shot, the Indians reloaded and the whites did not. One Indian went off in the direction of Forest City maybe to see if there were any whites in the area. He returned. The Indians had a council, started to leave and suddenly turned and fired.
Following the murders, the four Indians immediately proceeded to Mr. Eckland’s house near Lake Elizabeth, and stole two horses. Two on each horse, rode at a rapid pace to the Rice Creek Village, which they reached before daylight.
Heard did not document his sources in his book. He stated the eggs were found on the prairie about six miles from Acton. The dispute over the eggs occurred between 4 Rice Creek Indians and the others. In addition to water, the Indians asked for tobacco at the Bakers’ house. Mr. and Mrs. Jones arrived at the Bakers’ house after the arrival of the Indians. Mr. and Mrs. Jones used offensive language, which caused the Indians to become “very savage in their appearance.”
1872 – Charles Bryant and Abel Murch
The Indians came to Jones’ house and demanded food which was refused. Mrs. Jones was at the house of Howard Baker. The Indians became angry and boisterous. Mr. Jones took his children, a boy and a girl and went to the Bakers’ house. He left a girl and a boy of twelve. The Indians followed Jones. After shooting at the mark, one of the Indians shot Mr. Jones. Mr. Baker stepped in front of his wife and took the bullet intended for her. Mrs. Baker fainted and fell backward into the cellar. The Indians shot Mr. Webster and Mrs. Jones. The Indians returned to the Jones’ house, killed and scalped the girl. They stopped at another neighbor’s place hitched a span of horses to a wagon and drove off in the direction of Beaver Creek, leaving Acton about 3 P.M.
No mention is made in previous accounts of the following: The Indians asked for food; Jones took his children to the Bakers’ house; the Indians followed Jones to the Bakers’ house; Mr. Baker took the bullet intended for his wife; Mrs. Baker fainted and fell into the cellar. Later accounts stated that no scalps were taken.
1876 – Judge A. C. Smith
Judge Smith provided additional information in his 1876 book:
On August 17, when Mr. Blackwell learned about the Jones’ children, he and others rode to the Jones’ house, arriving after dark. They found Clara Wilson’s body lying partly on her back in a pool of blood. Her body had not been scalped or mutilated in any way. They found Mrs. Jones’ eighteen month old grandson asleep on the floor. He was too young to talk and was totally unconscious of his tragic surroundings. “Whether the Indians considered the child too insignificant to kill, or did not see it at all, cannot be known.” The child was subsequently placed in charge of Mr. Charles H. Ellis of Otsego, Wright County.
Jones had liquor in his house. There were no signs that any had been taken. At the time of the inquest on Monday afternoon, the liquor was poured on the ground.
The murders were premeditated by these Indians and not part of a plan by Dakota leaders. Mrs. Baker’s testimony “shows a deliberate intention to massacre Jones’ family.” The murders may have been instigated by other traders who were angry at Jones. The Indians generally were dissatisfied with all of the traders.
New information provided: Clara Wilson was not scalped; the boy at the Jones’ house was about 18 months old; no liquor was taken from the Jones’ house. It is an interesting fact that Mrs. Jones and Clara Wilson were the only females killed by the Indians.
1888 – Album of History and Biography of Meeker County, Minnesota
The Indians were angry after being refused whiskey by Mr. Jones. When the murdering started, Mr. Baker threw himself in front of his wife to take the bullet intended for her. On Monday, Mr. Jones’ body was found near the corncrib under a wagon-box. “He had torn up the ground all around him in his death agony.” Robinson J. Cotton was the name of the young boy found at the Jones’ house. He was two years old and was found lying in a bed.
The author believed the murders were caused by Mr. Jones’ refusal to give liquor to the Indians.
1894 – Chief Big Eagle’s Account
In 1862, Big Eagle was leader of a Dakota village a few miles west of the Lower Agency. Following the Acton murders, he talked with all four murderers. In 1894, he told this story to newspaper reporter Return Holcombe. This is probably the most often quoted narrative about the events in Acton Township.
The 4 young murderers were Sungigidan (Brown Wing), Kaomdeiyeyedan (Breaking Up), Nagiwicakte (Killing Ghost) and Pazoiyopa (Runs against Something when Crawling). They belonged to Shakopee’s village. They did not go out to kill white people. They went to the Acton area to hunt.
“…on Sunday, Aug. 17, they came to a settler’s fence, and here they found a hen’s nest with some eggs in it. One of them took the eggs when another said: ‘Don’t take them, for they belong to a white man and we may get into trouble.’ The other was angry, for he was very hungry and wanted to eat the eggs, and he dashed them to the ground and replied: ‘You are a coward. You are afraid of the white men. You are afraid to take even an egg from him, though you are half-starved. Yes, you are a coward, and I will tell everybody so.’ The other replied: ‘I am not a coward. I am not afraid of the white men, and to show you that I am not I will go to the house and shoot him. Are you brave enough to go with me?’ The one who had called him a coward said: ‘Yes, I will go with you, and we will see who is the braver of us two.’ Their two companions then said: ‘We will go with you, and we will be brave, too.’”
“They all went to the house of the white man, but he got alarmed and went to another house where there were some other white men and women…The four Indians followed him…” The Indians “…killed three men and two women.”
“Then they hitched up a team belonging to another settler and drove to Shakopee’s camp, which they reached late that night and told what they had done.”
Big Eagle said he talked with all 4 murderers. Big Eagle’s version of the argument over the eggs is similar to Heard’s account, except Heard stated the eggs were found six miles from Acton on the prairie. Big Eagle said the Indians followed Jones to the Bakers’ house where they killed three men and two women. This disagrees with previous accounts.
1893 – Victor Renville
Mixed-blood Victor Renville wrote that members of Little Crow’s band stopped at a farmhouse to ask for some bread. One of them had eggs taken from a nest along the road. The woman saw the eggs, became angry and drove the men out of the house. This ridicule enraged the warriors and one of them fired the shot that started the massacre.
These statements were inconsistent with previous statements: these men were members of Little Crow’s band; they asked for bread; the murders were the result of an insult by a white woman.
1894 – Lorenzo Lawrence
Full-blood Dakota Lorenzo Lawrence said that there were “three wild young men” of a war party that were hungry and stopped at a house. One accidently stepped on a hen under some hay near the stable and broke four eggs. The old white man came from the house and scolded and shoved the Indian. The Indian said it was an accident but the man got worse and kept shoving the Indian. The other two Indians called the first a coward for letting the white man push him. To prove he wasn’t a coward, he shot the white man and the three killed the families at this house and at the next house.
These statements were inconsistent with previous statements: there were 3 Indians; the eggs were under hay near the stable; the murders were the result of an insult by an old white man; the 3 Indians killed the white man and 2 families.
1897 – White Spider
White Spider, Chief Little Crow’s half-brother, said the murders were committed by members of the Rice Creek Band. White Spider denied that the outbreak was premeditated and said that it was precipitated by the murders at Acton. “The Rice Creek Band was composed of half-lawless fellows from the Mdewakanton and Wahpeton under the leadership of On a Cloud, who was killed at Wood Lake.” After Acton, “the Rice Creek Band would have made war on the whites even if the main bands hadn’t joined them.”
Interesting information: the murders were not premeditated; the Rice Creek Band would have gone to war without the other bands.
1901 – Sisseton/Wahpeton vs. U.S.
In 1901, the Sisseton and Wahpeton Indians filed a claim against the U.S. for annuities withheld and land taken from them in 1863. Statements were made regarding Acton.
Thomas A. Robertson said that the murderers were Wahpetons but participated in the Mdewakanton annuities as members of Little Six’s Band.
William L. Quinn said that the murderers were Wahpeton. Many Upper Indians lived with the Lower Indians as result of marriage.
Robert Hakewaste said that four Upper Indians committed the murders. They were Nagiwicakte (ghost killer or spirit killer), Kaomdeniyeyedan (One who scatters), Sungigidan (Yellow wing feathers) and Hepan (Second born male child). They lived on Rice Creek. They had no chief. They formed a band of their own out of Wahpetons and Little Six’s band.
Andrew Huntka (Cormorant) said the 4 men who committed the murders were his nephews. They were Wahpetons married to Wahpeton women. When old Six died, some of the members of his band never recognized Little Six [Six’s son] as chief. A brother of Six took some and formed a band of their own.
These statements provided solid evidence that the 4 murderers were Wahpetons and members of the Rice Creek Village.
1908 – Hubbard and Holcombe
After the Indians were refused whiskey, they became “menacing and threatening.” Jones fled to the Bakers’ house, where Mrs. Jones was visiting. Jones said that he had been afraid of the Indians who had tried to provoke a quarrel with him. The Indians followed Jones. Two of them could speak a little English. Mrs. Webster said the Indians acted very friendly, offering to shake hands with everybody.
Following the murders at the Bakers’ house, the Indians left, without mutilating the dead. They did not carry away any plunder, or Webster’s and Baker’s four horses. As they passed the Jones’ house, they shot Clara Wilson from the roadway as she was standing in the doorway looking at them.
The four Indians arrived at Peter Wicklund’s house, near Lake Elizabeth, about one o’clock. They stole two horses. Then, mounted, two on a horse, they rode southward. They then stole two more horses, and proceeded to their village at the mouth of Rice Creek, forty miles southwest of Acton. They reached their village in the twilight after a swift hard ride, which, according to Jere Campbell, a member of the Rice Creek village, “had well nigh exhausted the horses.” Ho-choke-pe-doota, the chief of the Rice Creek band, “if he really held that position,” took the four to Chief Shakopee.
Area men reached Jones’ house about midnight. Clara Wilson lay on the floor in a pool of blood. Her brother lay in a low bed. When awakened he smiled and prattled that Clara was “hurt,” and that he wanted his supper.
On Monday, August 18, an inquest was held. The verdict was the victims were, “murdered by Indians of the Sioux tribe, whose names are unknown.” The bodies were placed in coffins, taken to the Norwegian (Ness) Church cemetery, and buried in “one broad grave.”
The murders were not premeditated by any other Indians than those who committed the murders. “The trouble started as has been stated – from finding a few eggs in a white man’s fence-corner.”
It is unlikely that Mr. Jones feared the Indians. As stated in previous accounts, Mr. Jones followed the Indians to the Bakers’ house. Another location is given for the eggs.
1912 – Mrs. Baker’s Account as told to Aslak Olson
Aslak Olson was at the scene of the massacre shortly after it occurred. Olson was living a few miles north of Baker and Robinson. Olson told this to Nathan Butler who wrote it down.
On August 17, some six Indians, some on ponies, came to Olson’s shanty and asked for food. They were given bread. They sharpened their knives on a grindstone in the yard. They passed on to the north going to the big woods to hunt deer. “They were quite peaceable, opening and shutting the gates, and keeping back the horses that were in the pastures through which they went with their ponies.” Olson and others went to Forest City on their way to enlist in the army at Fort Snelling. On August 19, Mrs. Baker gave this account to Olson in Forest City.
On August 17, Robinson and Ann Jones went to the Bakers’ house before noon. The Joneses said, “the Indians appeared to be cross and dissatisfied with them.” Soon after, the Indians came to the Bakers’ house. Mr. Baker was in the house. Mr. Webster was in his wagon. Mr. Jones was outside with the Indians. The Indians wanted Jones to swap guns with them. They shot at a mark to try their guns. They found fault with the lock of Jones’ gun. Jones took the lock off his gun. The Indians shot him and he started to run around the east end of the house, when they shot him again. His body was found near the stable, back of the house. “He had died hard, having torn up and bitten the hazel brush.” Mrs. Baker was handing their child to Mr. Baker when Mr. Baker was shot. He told her to go down cellar with the child. She put a pillow under his head, and started to go down when she fainted and fell down. When she revived, the Indians were gone. Webster attempted to get out of the wagon, when the Indians shot him, and he fell to the ground. Mrs. Jones was killed in the house. The Indians then went west to the Jones’ house and killed Clara Wilson.
This account helps to confirm and cast doubt on previous accounts. It is a “third-hand” account. The Indians followed the Jones to the Bakers’ house. The Indians were cross. Rather than a shooting contest, they may have been shooting at a mark to test a gun. Mrs. Baker stated above that as she was climbing out a window, she fell back into the cellar.
1918 – Thomas Robertson
Mixed-blood Thomas Robertson wrote that a hunting party stopped near a farm house to cook a meal. One found hen’s eggs. They had killed some game but needed a kettle and went to the house to borrow one. The woman saw him take the eggs. She ordered him out, then took hold of him and put him out. He became angry, grabbed his gun and with another man, killed the whole family. The three or four who committed the murders at Acton were killed by their own people somewhere in Manitoba.
The immediate cause of the outbreak was the murders at Acton. The outbreak was not premeditated. Acton was a spark that ignited an already combustible situation. The annuity was late. Frauds had been committed by some of the traders. The Acton murders came as a surprise to most of the Indians. “The Indians to this day call it ‘the war of the hen’s nest, or hen’s eggs’.”
This is another version of the egg story. The murders were a result of an insult. Three or four of the murderers were killed by their own people in Manitoba.
1921 – William Watts Folwell
Folwell cites Big Eagle’s account of the dispute over the hen’s eggs. After Jones refused to give the Indians liquor, he fled over to Baker’s, where Mrs. Jones was visiting. “Because he left behind him the two children and because of the friendly interview which followed, it may be doubted whether he went to Baker’s on account of fright.” The Indians followed Jones to Baker’s and appeared friendly upon their arrival. Jones traded Baker’s gun with one of the Indians. The Indians persuaded the white men to shoot at a mark. The Indians reloaded and the whites did not. Without warning, the Indians killed the three men and Mrs. Jones. Following the murders, the Indians did not search for Mrs. Webster and Mrs. Baker, but departed immediately without mutilating the bodies or taking any property. As they passed the Jones’ house, one of them shot the Wilson girl, probably through a door or window. “The murderers conscious of the gravity of their crime, thought of nothing but a headlong return to their village.”
The Indians followed Mr. Jones to the Bakers’ house. Mr. Jones was not afraid of the Indians.
1923 – Marion Saterlee
About nine A.M., six Indians came to the Jones’ house and asked for food, “and no doubt wanted whiskey.” Jones refused to give them anything. One had borrowed a gun from Jones the previous spring, and had not returned it. Jones entered into an altercation with them over the gun. The Indians became angry and left, going toward the Baker cabin. Jones and his wife locked their cabin, leaving the children inside, and taking his gun, went over to the Baker cabin.
Following the murders, Indians “riding double on two horses, with a third holding to each horse’s tail and running, were seen that afternoon going toward the Agency.” That evening, area men covered Mr. Jones’ body with a wagon box to keep off animals.
In a Aug. 24, 1916 letter, Return Holcombe wrote to Satterlee, “The chief, or leader, of the [Rice Creek] band was Red Middle Voice — “Ho(voice) Cho-Kaya (pronounced Cho-Kiya and meaning middle or center) Doota, (red) — commonly called Ho-Choke-ya Doota, or Ho-Choke-pe Duta. He was Shakopee’s cousin.”
The Indians did not mutilate the dead or steal or burn property as was their custom. They did not get liquor at the Jones’ place, so liquor cannot be blamed. “There are but two motives for these murders: A hatred of the whites for their injustice, or as a result of the quarrel with Jones, or possibly of both. Jones had sold Indians whiskey, and was one who had no respect for Indians, or for their rights. He was abusive and domineering, and it is probable that the immediate Acton affair was an outburst of passion, which was capitalized by a long line of abuse preceding it.”
Satterlee does not give sources for his account. Did the Indians ask Mr. and Mrs. Jones for food? Maybe they did. Satterlee believed there was friction between Mr. Jones and the Indians over the borrowed gun. Satterlee agrees with previous statements that the Indians did not mutilate the dead, steal property, burn property or steal liquor. Liquor cannot be blamed for these murders. Satterlee suggests that Mr. Jones had been insulting to the Indians.
1925 – A. H. DeLong
On August 18, A. H. DeLong was running a grist mill at Cedar Mills, when he learned of the murders. He and others went to Acton. Part of one of the cabins had been taken down to make coffins.
1927 – Nancy Huggins
Mixed-blood Nancy Huggins said that Indians stopped at a house to ask for water. There was a dish with turkey eggs on the table. One man accidently jarred the table and an egg fell and broke. The woman struck the Indian and forced him out of the house. The others called him a coward for letting a woman do this. “Women were not considered of any standing with an Indian brave and a woman doing this was much more humiliating that if a man had done so.” The man went back to the house and shot the woman and her husband. The Indians then killed two boys who were mowing a short distance from the house. They took food and went to the next place and killed them also. The cousin of Brown Wing, who broke the turkey egg and killed the wife and husband, told this to Nancy Huggins about the time of the outbreak. This cousin said, “if a woman pushed him out he would do something to her.”
This is another version of the egg story, but they were turkey eggs in a dish on a kitchen table. The murders were a result of an insult by a white woman. The statement that the Indians killed two boys is incorrect based on previous accounts.
1934 – Good Star Woman
Good Star Woman said that four young Sioux, two from near Birch Coulee and two belonging to the Pezutazizi group near Granite Falls went hunting. She told a similar story about the eggs as Big Eagle. Two took a pail to the house to get water to cook their meat. The farmer motioned them to go away. He got his gun and threatened them. One Indian said to the other, “You called me a coward. Shoot this man. If you don’t I’ll kill you right here.” So the Indian shot the farmer and his wife. The two Indians who killed the white farmer [at Acton] were shot by their own people. One was sitting in his wigwam, when an Indian came in and said, “You were the cause of all this suffering, making the women and children suffer so much,” and he shot him dead. The other was shot in the back. One of the leaders said, “This is what we ought to have done in the beginning and then this suffering would not have come, the women crying and the little children having to walk so far.”
The murders were a result of an insult by a white man.
This is what I Think Happened
Dakota Indians went to Meeker County to hunt. Many accounts stated that there was a dispute over chicken eggs. Exactly when and where this happened cannot be determined. The result according to Big Eagle and Heard was murder as proof of bravery. But according to others, it was murder in reaction to an insult. Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster did not mention eggs.
Four Dakota stopped at the Jones’ house. They asked for liquor which was refused. They may have asked for food and the result is not known. A dispute arose because the liquor was not given. There may have been a dispute over a gun that Jones had previously loaned to one of them.
The Dakota left and went to the Bakers’ house, arriving there about 11 a.m. Soon after this, Mr. and Mrs. Jones arrived, leaving their two adopted children at home, possibly expecting trouble. The dispute over the gun that was loaned may have been renewed. Jones said they had asked him for liquor which he refused. The Dakota seemed to understand what was being said among the whites.
The Dakota wanted to shoot at a mark. Mr. Webster did not participate. Mr. Jones traded guns with one of the Dakota. The Dakota reloaded, but the white men did not.
Two more Dakota arrived and asked for water which was given. Four of the Dakota sat down and had a conference.
Without warning, a Dakota shot Mr. Webster who fell near the door. One shot at Mr. Baker who was in the house. A second shot was fired and Mr. Baker fell. Mrs. Jones walked to the door where she was shot. She turned to run. Two Dakota shot her and she fell into the house. Mrs. Baker tried to go out the window but fell back into the cellar. She heard more shots outside. Mrs. Webster was in their covered wagon unpacking when she heard shooting. She saw one of the Dakota shoot Mr. Jones. None of the victims lived more than an hour and a half.
Four Dakota participated in the murders. They left the area immediately on foot. As they passed by the Jones’ house, they shot Clara Wilson. They did not take any scalps. They did not mutilate bodies. They did not steal anything. They did not take any liquor from the Jones’ house. They stole two horses near Lake Elizabeth. There is a Lake Elizabeth in Kandiyohi County about 6 miles southwest of the Jones’ house. Then they stole two more horses. They arrived at the Rice Creek village just before dark.
After their husbands died, Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Baker’s 2 children fled on foot.
On Monday, August 18, hostile Dakota started the war by attacking the Lower Sioux Agency. Acton was the spark. About 6 weeks later, friendly Dakota, allied with the U.S. Army, rescued most of the hostages held by the hostile Dakota and brought an early end to the war.
More than 650 white men, women and children were killed by hostile Dakota. Some were tortured. Bodies were mutilated. Hundreds more died after the war from wounds received and from epidemics that swept the crowded refugee towns.
About 150 Dakota were killed during the war. Thirty-eight were hanged at Mankato. Hundreds more died after the war in the various camps. In 1863, most of the Dakota were removed from the State. Some 222 Dakota men would become scouts for the U.S. Army.
In 1873, Emily J. Greenfield of Waushara County, Wisconsin completed the sale of 80 acres in the Northeast quarter of Section 21 of Acton Township. Mrs. Webster either remarried or changed her name.
In 1878, the State erected a monument in the Ness Church Cemetery to mark the mass grave of the five Acton victims. The dedication was held on September 13, 1878. Judge A. C. Smith was president of the settlers. Former Governor Ramsey spoke. He was the Minnesota State Governor in 1862. He discussed some details of the Dakota War and praised the actions of the government. He said that there was no cause or provocation for the Sioux Outbreak; that the Indians treated others with barbarous cruelty. Following Ramsey, Gen. Andrews spoke. He said that the government was largely responsible for this dreadful massacre. He went on to criticize the actions of the government.
The monument was built of New Hampshire granite by G. W. Herrick of Minneapolis. It is sixteen feet high. The inscription on the South side: “In memory of the first five victims of the great Indian Massacre in 1862 and buried here in one grave. West side: “Robinson Jones, Viranus Webster, Howard Baker, Ann Baker, Clara D. Wilson.” East side: “FIRST BLOOD.” North side: “Erected by the State in 1878 under the direction of Meeker County Old Settlers’ Association.”
In 1909, The State erected a monument on the exact site of the Baker Cabin to remember the victims. About 3,000 people attended the dedication on August 22, 1909. Sixty-three automobiles and hundreds of teams were scattered throughout the area.
The monument is about four feet high, of polished red granite on a base of unfinished granite which rests on top of a large base of concrete and cement. The inscription on the East side: “This Marks the Spot where the “First Blood” was shed in the Sioux Indian Outbreak, Aug. 17, 1862.” West side: “Victims: Robinson Jones, Ann Baker-Jones, Howard Baker, Viranus Webster, Clara D. Wilson.” South side: “Erected by the State of Minnesota on 47th Anniversary, Aug. 17, 1909.” North side: “Bodies of these Victims are Buried in Ness Cemetery.”
In 1909, the tree that held the target was still standing about 230 feet southwest of the monument. It was a large white oak more than three feet in diameter. It stood alone with “scars from relic hunters”, who dug out the bullets on the side towards the house. In 1928, a storm broke the tree off about ten feet above the ground. In 1947, the remaining stump caught and burned.
Was Acton a microcosm of the Dakota War of 1862? What caused these Dakota to act as judge, jury and executioner and kill five seemingly innocent people?
Certainly, conditions on the Reservations were not good. The annuities were late. There were false rumors that the annuities would not be paid and if paid, they would only be one-half. Dakota were starving; babies were dying. Agent Galbraith issued food to the Upper Dakota and promised to issue food to the Lower Dakota and then refused. Some Dakota were talking about war and how easy it would be to kill all of the whites. Many of the fur traders had stopped giving credit to the Dakota. Fur trader Andrew Myrick told them that they could eat grass.
Chief Big Eagle said that the murders happened as a result of a dispute over who was bravest. In Dakota culture, was bravery given such a high honor that this justified murder?
Some say the murders were a result of an insult. Jones refused to give them liquor. Jones demanded the return of a gun that he had loaned one of them. Of the three women, only Mrs. Jones was killed. Two of the narratives say that a white woman pushed one of the Dakota. Did Mrs. Jones do this on this day, or on a previous day? Did someone insult the Dakota at the Bakers’ house? When Mr. Jones arrived, talk turned again to the loaned gun. The Dakota could understand some English. Did they become angry over what was being said about them?
Mr. A. C. Smith suggested that the Dakota were sent by other fur traders to kill Robinson Jones. This does not seem likely. Jones, likely did little harm to their businesses.
Indian Agent Thomas Galbraith wrote that they obtained whiskey from Jones and were drunk when they committed the murders.  But, Jones said he didn’t give them whiskey. Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Webster did not mention the Dakota were drunk.
Were the murders premeditated? Missionary Thomas Williamson wrote, “Whether those who commenced the war by the murders at Acton, were sent there for that purpose, by the conjurors, we do not know; but it is certain that as soon as the latter knew of those murders, they exerted themselves to the utmost to make a general war, a war not of races but of religions, of Gods.” Former Indian Agent Joseph R. Brown wrote, that he did not think an attack on the whites was planned. He believed the first attack would be made on the farmer Indians about Yellow Medicine Agency. If the whites became involved, it would be only through the protection of the farmer Indians. The murders committed by a “few youngsters at Acton, however, precipitated the outbreak and changed its character.”
What other possible reason could there be for these murders? Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple wrote that while he was visiting the Chippewa, there were signs of a Sioux war party. It was this war party that passed through Acton on their way home and killed settlers there. He wrote, “…maybe they didn’t want to be laughed at for returning home with no Chippewa scalps.” But, no scalps were taken at Acton.
And the lingering question remains: Why did four Dakota men kill five innocent whites: three men, one women and one girl? Perhaps it was a combination of late annuities, hunger, insults, honor, rashness of youth and a culture that says these reasons justify murder. But, apparently not all of the Dakota accepted this behavior. As Good Star Woman stated, two of these men were killed by their own people.
There are many versions of the events in Acton Township. To give one version and allow it to stand as the only version is incorrect.