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Aug. 27, 1862: The Dakota Conflict

  • Blog Post by: Ben Welter
  • January 31, 2012 - 7:33 PM
 
One hundred and fifty years ago, the U.S.-Dakota War erupted in the Minnesota River valley and ended with the largest mass execution in American history. More than 400 soldiers and settlers and an unknown number of Dakota were killed in the conflict. The New York Times published these St. Paul Pioneer accounts of Dakota attacks on white settlements and the U.S. Army's response.
 

THE TROUBLE WITH THE INDIANS.

Terrible Barbarities Practiced by the Savages

Proclamation of the Governor.

 
The St. Paul Pioneer, of Aug. 22, publishes a number of documents, detailing the particulars of the recent raids upon the frontier by the Indians. Under date of Fort Ridgley, Aug. 20, Mr. A.J. VAN VORHIS writes:
 
"It is well known that dissatisfaction has existed in the various tribes for some weeks past, in consequence of the delay of the Government in making the annual payment; but no one dreamed of a well organized and systematically arranged outbreak,embracing tribes which have ever been hostile to each other. This fact, in connection with circumstances which have come to my knowledge within the past few days, convince me that it is a part of the plan of the great rebellion. The Government will be convinced of this fact, should it prove that this is a systematized raid all along the border, from Pembina to the Missouri River.
 
The party attending Mr. WYCOFF, Acting Superintendent -- who was on his way to the Upper Sioux Agencies to the annual payment -- met a messenger about six miles from this place, on Monday morning, announcing an outbreak at the Lower Sioux Agency, and the murder of all the whites in the vicinity, except the few who had made their escape. Upon our arrival here, we found the statement confirmed. Upon learning the facts, Capt. MARSH immediately set out for the Agency, with forty-five men of his command -- leaving some twenty at the garrison. In the evening, seventeen of his men returned. At the ferry opposite the Agency, Capt. MARSH encountered a large body of warriors, who opened fire upon him. After a few volleys, a large body of Indians, ambushed in his rear, also opened upon him immediately, killing a number of his men. A retreat was attempted, in which it was thought expedient to make a crossing of the river. While in the water a volley was fired upon Capt. MARSH, who immediately went down. Beside the Captain, three sergeants and four corporals are known to be killed, and a large number of his command. Up to this time but four additional soldiers have returned -- three of them mortally wounded.
 
Monday night was a night of anxiety and peril to the little band at this garrison. Every man became a soldier, and every precaution was taken to protect the fort. Lieut. GERE, of Company B, did all in his power, whose efforts were seconded by every civilian. The lights of burning buildings and grain stacks lighted the entire horizon. Escaped citizens came in during the night, giving accounts of horrors too terrible for the imagination to conceive or appreciciate. Mothers come in rags and barefooted, whose husbands and children had been slaughtered before their eyes. Children come, who witnessed the murder of their parents or their burning in their own houses. Every specie of torture and barbarity the imagination can picture, seems everywhere to have been resorted to. I am no alarmist and would not excite the public mind; but these things are true, and unless met with the most energetic and thorough resistance by Government and people, God only knows when the end will be. Our entire frontier border will be sacrificed unless immediate assistance is given.
 
On Monday morning a messenger was dispatched for the company under Lieut. SHEEHAN, of Company C, stationed at Fort Ripley, who had been here some weeks with his command, awaiting the payment, but who had been ordered back to Ripley on Saturday. He was overtaken twelve miles from this place. With commendable promptness, he immediately turned back, and arrived here yesterday morning at 10 o'clock, making a forced march with his gallant men of forty-two miles in the incredibly short space of nine hours. Never a set of gallant men were received with more heartfelt gratitude than the command of Lieut. SHEEHAN. Men and women and children expressed their gratitude with tears and blessings upon them all. The first movement of Lieut. SHEEHAN, tired and worn out as he was, was to examine the picket posts and take prompt and energetic steps to strengthen his position. The little squads of Indians who had been skulking about the groves and bluffs adjacent, were immediately shelled and dispersed by Sergeant JONES.
 
Last evening Major GALBRAITH, who was on his way to Fort Snelling with fifty recruits and had reached St. Peter, arrived -- having learned the state of affairs and secured arms at that place. We now have about 250 armed men, and can hold the post against any probable contingency, but with this force, no assistance can be given the suffering thousands all around us. One or two regiments should be dispatched with proper equipments -- otherwise this border will be desolated.
 
The roads between here and the Agency, and in the direction of New-Ulm, are lined with murdered men, women and children. From three to four hundred citizens are now in these barracks, claiming protection, live of whom are wounded, two of them children of six or eight years of age.
 
The hospital is already filled. Dr. MULLER, the post Surgeon, is doing all that his acknowledged skill can suggest for their relief.
 
P.S. -- The enemy is now advancing in force from the north, and the cannon and howitzers are playing upon them.
 
 
A postcard version of Anton Gág's painting of the fighting in New Ulm in August 1862. Gag was the father of the author and illustrator Wanda Gág. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)

 

THE MURDERS NEAR NEW-ULM.

 
From the St. Paul Pioneer, Aug 22.
 
Mr. JOHN J. PORTER, of Mankato, a member of the last Legislature, arrived in this city yesterday on a mission to the Governor from the citizens of that place, to procure arms for their defence. Mr. PORTER gives us the following reliable news of the murders near New-Ulm:
 
On Monday morning the people of Mankato heard of the first murder of the Indian outrages, but having been previously alarmed without cause, many disbelieved the reports. A meeting was called, however, and Mr. PORTER, Mr. DUKES and Mr. TATE were appointed a committee to go to New-Ulm, and ascertain the truth as to the reported murders.
 
Mr. PORTER arrived at New-Ulm on Tuesday morning, and found the people making preparations to bury five persons who had been murdered between the Agency and the town, and that others were being constantly brought in, their bodies most horribly mutilated.
 
Mr. PORTER went into a room and saw four wounded persons, likewise mutilated, in the agonies of death. They were cut with hatchets in the head, arms. &c. One little girl was cut across the face, breast and side; a little boy was dreadfully cut up; also, a middle-aged woman.
 
In an adjoining room, Mr. PORTER saw a child with its head cut off, and sixteen other gashes upon its person, and eleven others similarly mutilated, most of whom, it was thought, would soon expire. Their names Mr. PORTER did not obtain. They were mostly Germans, Mr. PORTER was informed that forty persons had been killed in the neighborhood, and it was supposed that not less than two hundred had been killed, whose bodies had not been recovered.
 
The only persons known to have escaped from the agency are J. REYNOLDS, of Shakopee, D.C. MARVIN, of St. Paul, and the child of Dr. HUMPHREYS.
 
When Mr. PORTER left New-Ulm -- 2 P.M. Tuesday -- the people were fully aware of their danger, but had resolved to defend the town to the last. The women were taking care of the wounded, but all the men were in the street, drilling with such arms as they possessed. A portion of them had fowling-pieces and rifles, and others were learning the bayonet exercise with pitchforks. Mr. PORTER promised to make their situation known, and returned to Mankato.
On his way down, Mr. PORTER was overtaken by a man who left New-Ulm at a later hour, and reported that the Indians attacked the town at about 5 o'clock the same afternoon, and had burned five buildings on, the outskirts, including the brewery. The Indians numbered about two hundred, and were mounted on ponies. Firing was going on, and several citizens were seen to fall, but no Indians. The people were all gathered in the thickest settled part of the village, and had barricaded the streets. This is the latest news from New-Ulm.
 
Mr. PORTER got one hundred stand of arms from the Governor, and they will be shipped to Mankato this morning.

TROUBLE WITH THE CHIPPEWA INDIANS.
 
There are reports of a serious outbreak among the Chippewa Indians. It is said that a plan was laid by them to capture Mr. WALKER, the Agent, and that he received information of it in time to get out of their way. It is also said that he thought it would be a piece of brilliant strategy to take HOLE-IN-THE-DAY as a hostage for the good conduct of the rest of the tribe, and that HOLE-IN-THE-DAY got wind of this, and attempted to escape with home of his wives. He crossed the river, and when he arrived on the opposite bank, the soldiers who were detailed to take him appeared in sight. HOLE-IN-THE-DAY drew his pistol, according to the report of the soldiers, and fired, and was answered by a volley. He fell, and rising, limped a few rods, and fell again, and was removed by the Indians.
 
News of this affair and other indications of trouble were dispatched to Indian Commissioner DOLE and Superintendent THOMPSON, who were encamped a short distance from St. Cloud, and they immediately broke up their camp and came into town.
 
PROCLAMATION OF THE GOVERNOR.
EXECUTIVE CHAMBER,
ST. PAUL, Aug. 21. 1862.
 
The Sioux Indians upon our Western frontier have risen in large bodies, attacked the settlements, and are murdering men, women and children. The rising appears concerted, and extends from Fort Ripley to the southern boundary of the State.
 
 
  Gov. Alexander Ramsey 
In this extremity I call upon the militia of the Valley of the Minnesota, and the counties adjoining the frontier, to take horses, and arm and equip themselves, taking with them subsistence for a few days, and at once report, separately or in squads, to the officer commanding the expedition now moving up the Minnesota River to the scene of hostilities. The officer commanding the expedition is clothed with full power to provide for all exigencies that may arise.
 
Measures will be taken to subsist the forces so raised.
 
This outbreak must be suppressed, and in such manner as will forever prevent its repetition.
 
I earnestly urge upon the settlers of the frontier that while taking all proper precautions for the safety of their families and homes, they will not give way to any unnecessary alarm. A regiment of infantry, together with 300 cavalry, have been ordered to their defence, and with the voluntary troops now being raised, the frontier settlements will speedily be placed beyond danger.
 
 
NOTE: A few weeks later, the Times published a chilling account of the hangings of 38 Dakota men convicted of "murder and other outrages" against settlers.

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