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They Met at Wounded Knee: The Eastmans' Story

They Met at Wounded Knee: The Eastmans' Story

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They Met at Wounded Knee: The Eastmans' Story

493 pagine
6 ore
Oct 14, 2020


When Charles Ohiyesa Eastman, a degreed Dakota physician with an East Coast university education, met Elaine Goodale, a teacher and supervisor of education among the Sioux, they were about to witness one of the worst massacres in U.S. history: the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. As Charles and Elaine witnessed the horror, they formed a bond that would carry them across the United States as they become advocates for Native Americans, whistle-blowing the corruption and racism of the nation’s Native American policies.

They used their lives to fight for citizenship and equal rights for indigenous people. Charles built a national organization of and for Native Americans that paralleled the NAACP. He brought Indian ways into the popular scouting movement. They each wrote eleven books, lobbied Congress, made speeches, wrote articles, and protested the steady erosion of indigenous rights and resources.

In this double biography, social and political history combine to paint vivid pictures of the time. Gretchen Cassel Eick deftly connects the experiences and responses of Native Americans with those of African Americans and white progressives during the period from the Civil War to World War II. In addition, tensions between the Eastmans mirror the dilemmas of gender, cultural pluralism, and the ethnic differences that Charles and Elaine faced as they worked to make a nation care about Native American impoverishment.

The Eastmans’ story is a national story, but it is also intensely personal. It reveals the price American reformers paid for their activism and the cost exacted for American citizenship. This thoughtful book brings a bleak chapter in American history alive and will cause readers to think about the connections between Charles and Elaine’s time and ours.

Oct 14, 2020

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They Met at Wounded Knee - Gretchen Cassel Eick



Gretchen Cassel Eick


Reno & Las Vegas

University of Nevada Press, Reno, Nevada 89557 USA

Copyright © 2020 by Gretchen Cassel Eick

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Eick, Gretchen Cassel, 1942– author.

Title: They Met at Wounded Knee : The Eastmans’ Story / Gretchen Cassel Eick.

Description: Reno : University of Nevada Press, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: They Met at Wounded Knee is a historical biography of Sioux physician Charles Ohiyesa Eastman and his Euro-American wife Elaine Goodale who first met at Pine Ridge Reservation a month before the Wounded Knee Massacre. The book draws on their numerous books, speeches, Congressional lobbying, and organization of Indian communities to tell the story of the plight of America’s Indigenous People from 1890 to 1940 and to expose the corruption and mismanagement of U.S. Indian policy—Provided by publisher.

Identifiers: LCCN 2020016821 (print) | LCCN 2020016822 (ebook) | ISBN 9781948908726 (hardback) | ISBN 9781948908733 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Eastman, Charles A., 1858–1939. | Eastman, Elaine Goodale, 1863–1953. | United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs—Corrupt practices. | Dakota Indians—Government relations. | Indians, Treatment of—United States. | Dakota Indians—United States—History. | Indians of North America—Government relations. | Indian physicians—Biography. | Teachers—Biography. | United States—History—1862–1940.

Classification: LCC E99.D1 E445 2020 (print) | LCC E99.D1 (ebook) | DDC 973.8/6—dc23

LC record available at

LC ebook record available at

Manufactured in the United States of America

24  23  22  21  20          5  4  3  2  1

To Michael Poage

the love of my life

who would not let me give up

on this story.


List of Illustrations



1. Beginnings

2. Retribution

3. War of Races and Dakota Conscientious Objectors

4. Mistrials, Death Camps, Flight, and Execution

5. Refugees


6. Sky Farm, Massachusetts, and Dakota Homesteading

7. Pacification, Churches, and Dakota Resistance

8. Reunion

9. The Black Hills and Little Big Horn

10. Parallel Policies: The South and the West

11. Nonviolent Forms of Resistance

12. The Politics of Indian Policy

13. Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee


14. Whistleblowing, Pan-Indian Identity, and Lobbying

15. Scholarship and the New Racism

16. Working for Pratt, at Crow Creek, and Writing

17. Roosevelt and Wanna Be Indians

18. Eastman, Leupp, and Undermining Citizenship

19. Celebrity

20. Writing Separate Spheres

21. Blacks, Reds, Whites, and Writing History

22. War, Repression, Radicals, and Women

23. New World Order, Fractures, and New Alliances


24. Life After, Scandals, Indian Majority Leader, and Collier

25. Recognition, Rebuttal, and Retrospective



Selected Bibliography


About the Author

List of Illustrations

4.1 Captured Sioux Indians interned at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, 1862

4.2 Execution of thirty-eight Sioux, December 26, 1862

7.1 Diagram of US Indian governance

13.1 Elaine Goodale photo of camp on the White River, South Dakota, ca. 1886

13.2 Burial of the dead at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, ca. January 17, 1891

13.3 Big Foot’s camp days after the Wounded Knee Massacre, 1890

16.1 Indian football teams, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, ca. 1899

17.1 Teddy Roosevelt, depicted as an iconic figure

21.1 Booker T. Washington, between 1905 and 1915

21.2 W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois, ca. 1918

21.3 Charles Alexander (Ohiyesa) Eastman, ca. 1890

22.1 Emma Goldman before deportation, 1917

22.2 US Army transport Buford, deporting aliens to Russia, 1919

22.3 Gertrude Bonnin with Pen Women’s League, 1920

22.4 Irene Taluta Eastman, the Eastmans’ second child, ca. 1916–1918

22.5 Ohiyesa II, Charles and Elaine Eastmans’ son, in the Navy, ca. 1918

23.1 Mabel Dodge Luhan, socialite and activist, 1934

24.1 Commissioner John Collier before Senate Indian Affairs Committee, 1940

25.1 Charles Eastman, 1933

25.2 Charles Eastman with Boy Scouts, ca. 1933


Colonization rearranges the thinking of those living under its rule, both indigenous people and settlers. According to its dominant myth, people fit into a binary world of Us or Them, ally or enemy, superior or inferior, European or Other. Military might determines who fits where.

Words create and reinforce the myth. Today the myth is reinforced by the names the US military gives weapons systems and military operations. Enemy territory is called Indian Country. Osama bin Laden’s code name was Geronimo. Weapons systems are named Iroquois (UH-1B/C), Mohawk (OV-1 S-58/H-34), Kiowa (OH-58D), Black Hawk (UH-60), and so forth. Operations are called Thunderbird and Rolling Thunder.¹

For descendants of settlers the myth says that land was provided to their ancestors by God because those who were here before were not using the land efficiently. History, to them, begins with God-chosen settlers, be they immigrants to the American West, British prisoners sent to Australia, Dutch migrating to South Africa, or Jews settling in Israel. There are markers and monuments to the first settlement, as if the only inhabitants were European settlers, as if wars to exterminate the original inhabitants never happened.

The myth views the past as a Single Story, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie lays out in her brilliant 2009 Ted Talk, The Danger of the Single Story.² The myth of the single story is filled with incomplete stereotypes about the Other, who experiences only catastrophes and deserves pity. Indigenous Others are depicted as not equal and unable to speak for themselves. Conquerors expanded democracy, freedom, and economic opportunity. Most of us believe the myth and ask no questions.

This book is a story of the United States from the Civil War to World War II told through two people: Charles Ohiyesa Eastman, a Dakota/Sioux physician who was the best-known Native American of his time, and Elaine Goodale Eastman, his Puritan-heritage wife. In binary thinking one member of this couple was of the dominant white Us, and the other was part of the subjugated Them. They were a mixed-race couple living in a highly racialized time. From the 1890s through the 1930s, they were at the center of conflicts over how Native Americans should be viewed and treated.

Both Eastmans were activists and writers, producing between them twenty-two books and dozens of articles that invited readers to enter their experiences and their historical time. The history of this era is told here through their lives and writings. You will also meet in these pages other Others—red, white, and black—whose stories are interwoven with the Eastmans’.

The Eastmans used their writing to expose the damage done by government policies that were intended to confine, silence, and even exterminate Native Americans. They were progressive reformers who named the corruption that kept most native people in poverty and enriched those who exploited them. Their stories and the history they lived help unwind the myth that continues to dominate many people’s understanding of the American past.

My hope is that you will find these people and this history fascinating. May this book help you see the American past with decolonized eyes.

Note to Readers

European American, Euro-American, and white refer to Caucasian people. Dakota/Lakota/Nakota, Santee, and Sioux refer to Charles Eastman’s people. The origin of Sioux comes from Nadowe Su, an Algonquin word that means Little Rattle. A snake before it bites makes a rattling noise that sounds like su. French fur traders changed the spelling to Sioux and dropped Nadowe, hence Sioux.³ Both Charles and Elaine referred to indigenous Americans as Indian. I also use their terminology.

I use Dakota names in Part 1 to tell the story of the Dakota war against the United States. Eastman referred frequently to this traumatic war. It shaped his consciousness of what it meant to be Indian. His story starts there, one year into the US Civil War between the South and the rest of the United States, August 18, 1862.

Part 1



War distorts childhood. Children who survive war carry memories of violence, dislocation, hunger, and the search for refuge and safety. They also carry memories of the people who kept them alive and the stories that held them together. The collective memories that helped them survive desperate physical circumstances become closely held truths for the rest of their lives.

When he was only four years old, Ohiyesa—later called Charles Alexander Eastman—witnessed the Dakota War against the United States of America that began August 18, 1862. For his family that war was the central event of their lives. It forced them to flee their ancestral home in Minnesota and separated them from family. Some of them were killed. Some were imprisoned. Some died of exposure and hunger. Others, including Ohiyesa, became refugees in Canada.

The same month that the Dakota in Minnesota went to war against the United States, half a continent to the east, Henry and Deborah Goodale began married life at Sky Farm near the small New England town of Mount Washington in western Massachusetts. A little more than a year later, on October 9, 1863—while Dakota families fled the US Army’s campaign of extermination or tried to survive as refugees in Canada and South Dakota or as prisoners of war in Iowa—Deborah Goodale gave birth to the first of their four children. They named her Elaine.

The Goodales were intellectuals and writers. Henry’s heritage was Puritan. Deborah’s ancestors were Anglicans who had received land grants from King George, as Elaine wrote in her book, Journal of a Farmer’s Daughter (1881). Deborah was accustomed to prosperity, but Henry’s attempts to support their family through farming proved unsuccessful. Eventually his wife left him. Their hard times meant that their precocious eldest daughter had to seek paid employment rather than attend college.

Despite this acute disappointment—and her parents’ separation—eighteen-year-old Elaine remembered her childhood in the 1860s at Sky Farm in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts as a time of delicious abandon. She cataloged the delights of each month—maple sugaring, collecting wild strawberries on the mountainsides, picking cherries, picnicking by wild streams, hunting partridge nests in the woods, preparing abundant home-grown food, gathering nuts, snaring rabbits, attending autumn county fairs. G. P. Putnam published her nostalgic narrative of life at Sky Farm when she was only eighteen.

Although they grew up half a continent apart, both Ohiyesa and Elaine idealized their difficult childhoods and wrote about them, Ohiyesa in Indian Boyhood, Elaine in Journal of a Farmer’s Daughter and Sister to the Sioux. Both experienced dislocation as teenagers that helped them identify with indigenous people who were repeatedly dispossessed of their land and forced to move.

Elaine learned of her heritage from the papers and artifacts stored in an old trunk in the attic of the farmhouse that she explored with her mother. Ohiyesa learned his heritage from the stories passed down within his family about his great-grandfather, Mahpiya Wiasta, stories about his Dakota people. Prominent among those stories were Dakota War stories, stories of the war against the United States that had divided his family and made him a refugee.

Mahpiya Wiasta, who the settlers called Cloudman, had raised his children and mentored his grandchildren with the conviction that the Great Mystery (God) always has a good intent for those who seek him. He was in his late sixties in 1862, as the whites counted. Nine years had passed since his band had made its fourth removal to only 640,000 acres of land on the south bank of the Minnesota River. In three major land sessions in 1805, 1837, and 1851, and twelve treaties, the Dakota lost northern Minnesota, about half of northern Wisconsin, and all but a ten-mile strip along the south side of the Minnesota River by 1862.¹ His people especially felt the reduction in land for hunting in the lean months of spring and early summer, before the annual harvest of crops and the arrival of annuities. Thin bodies, drawn faces, and the high number of deaths among infants, children, and the elderly made them acutely aware that their survival was at risk.

Ohiyesa’s great-grandfather, Mahpiya Wiasta, was respected by both whites and Indians for his progressive views. As was not uncommon, three of his daughters had married prominent white men, traders or military men, and settled nearby their parents. His eldest daughter, Anpetu Inajinwin, had married Major Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent in charge of the agency near Fort Snelling, a man respected by both Indians and whites. She had a child with him, but the marriage, like so many of these marriages, did not last long. His second daughter, Hanyetu Kihnayewin, married Scottish fur trader Daniel Lamont. His daughter Wakaninajiwin, also called Stands Sacred and known for her beauty and generous spirit, had married the American soldier Seth Eastman and had a girl child by him. When Eastman was reassigned to Louisiana—long before he would become famous for his paintings of the Dakota people, one of which hangs in the US Capitol—this daughter had moved with her baby into her parents’ home.²

Mahpiya Wiasta’s family with its mixture of Native and European American bloodlines was not unusual on the Great Plains, nor was it unusual for some of the family, including the granddaughter they called Nancy Stands Sacred Eastman, to be baptized Christian.

Nancy Eastman married Tawakanhdiota, a man from another Dakota band, and moved with her extended family to the ten-mile strip along the south bank of the Minnesota River that was the last remnant of Dakota land in Minnesota. There they expected to raise their children. Before the birth of her fifth child, a white man from Baltimore, Maryland, named Frank Blackwell Mayer, visited Mahpiya Wiasta’s village and made sketches of the residents, including Nancy Stands Sacred, granddaughter of Mahpiya Wiasta and daughter of Seth Eastman. Mayer published his sketch of Nancy in his book, With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851. Sadly, a few months after the birth of her fifth child, during the hungering season of spring, 1858, the beautiful young woman died of strep throat. She was only twenty-eight. Death was all too common in the reduced circumstances of the Lower Sioux Reservation, especially for children, the elderly, and women who had recently given birth.³

On her deathbed Nancy directed that her husband’s mother, not her own mother, should be the one to raise her four-month-old son. Nancy’s grandmother, Mahpiya Wiasta’s wife, was furious with their granddaughter’s decision. Their band followed a matrilocal pattern of residence, meaning married couples lived with the wife’s people. Nancy’s deathbed decision meant that their great-grandson would move from her band to his father’s band.

The community respected the dying mother’s decision. The baby was raised by his paternal grandmother, whom he would call Uncheedah (Grandmother). Had the child lived with his mother’s people, he likely would have died in the concentration camp outside Fort Snelling that held them by the end of 1862.

Uncheedah swore she would not let her newest grandson die, and she did not. They called him Hakadah (The Pitiful Last) because of his slim chance of surviving, but he responded to her determined ministrations, ate the gruel of pounded wild rice that she gave him in place of his dead mother’s milk and, against all odds, survived. In late 1862, Uncheedah would flee to Canada carrying her grandson on her back, traveling more than four hundred miles to refuge. She would save his life. His extraordinary achievements began with her.

On July 14, 1862, when the child Ohiyesa was four, five thousand Dakota camped at Redwood Agency hoping to receive their annuities. Agencies were the administrative centers of reservations, where traders and US government officials lived. A US government-appointed agent was in charge and distributed the annuities the US government promised to reservation inhabitants as payment for surrendering their land to the United States However, the annuities were late, again. Two weeks later the Dakota returned to the Agency to receive the promised foodstuffs and cash. Again, they were turned away. White observers commented that the Dakota waiting around the Agency for their annuities

were so pinched for food that they dug roots to appease their hunger, and when [seed] corn was issued to them they devoured it whole and uncooked. Several died from want of food. They [the Indians] determined that when the annuities arrived, [if they were given to the traders who kept the only records of who owed them money—a practice that had occurred regularly in the past] the traders should not receive them [the annuities], and if they insisted, then the Indians would rob the stores, chase the traders from the reservation, or take their lives, as they might deem best.

Frustration multiplied each time the hungry Dakota were turned away empty-handed.

Mahpiya Wiasta’s great-grandson was four and a half in August 1862, when his father, Tawakanhdiota—called by the English, Many Lightnings—made a third trip to the Agency of the Lower Sioux Reservation with the other younger men of the band to collect the US government annuities. The annuities so crucial to their survival were now two months late. Again, their trip was unsuccessful. Two weeks later, desperate for food, they made the trip once more, a fourth time, returning frustrated and angry.

Agent Galbraith was a Lincoln political appointee with no experience working with Indians. He had been on the job only a year. He refused to distribute the supplies that had arrived because he did not want to go to the trouble of making two distributions. He insisted they must wait until everything arrived. He had not calculated how his refusal to distribute any of the provisions that had already arrived would affect the starving Dakota.

The hereditary leaders of the bands and the young warriors engaged in much intense conversation about how the agent treated them. One of their leaders, Taoyateduta (Little Crow), had been present at the Upper Sioux Reservation at Yellow Medicine a few days earlier. There the agent had distributed some provisions to the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota. Taoyateduta asked Agent Galbraith to treat the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands the same way because they were hungry. But Agent Galbraith refused, insisting it was inefficient to make two distributions and saying the cash annuity was expected any day. He seemed oblivious to how inefficient and infuriating it was for the Dakota to make multiple fruitless journeys to the reservation.

In earlier years traders who lived among the Dakota and took Dakota wives would be generous, knowing how desperate the Dakota were for food. But not in August 1862. Now the traders who served the Redwood Agency refused to sell supplies to the Dakota on credit. Some of the warriors threatened to prevent the traders from continuing to take unreasonable profits off the top of the people’s annuity money. Some Dakota predicted that no annuities would arrive because the Civil War was consuming all the US government’s money.

Everyone was talking about what Taoyateduta said to Agent Galbraith after he and the traders refused them relief: We have waited a long time. The money is ours, but we cannot get it. We have no food, but here are these stores, filled with food. We ask that you, the agent, make some arrangement by which we can get food from the stores or else we may take our own way to keep ourselves from starving. When men are hungry, they help themselves. Trader Andrew J. Myrick told the Dakota, If they are hungry, let them eat grass!

The entire gathering fell silent at these insulting words. Then the Dakota men, in a mighty chorus, began making war whoops and left the agency.⁷ The agent and the traders at the Lower Agency who had denied sustenance for the families of the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands would pay a high price for their hard hearts.

Two days after this exchange between Taoyateduta and Agent Galbraith, four teenaged Dakota, hungry and debating the rights and wrongs of eating a white settler’s hen’s eggs, provided the spark that ignited the Dakota War against the United States.

Early on the morning of August 17 word came to the Dakota bands that four young men from Shakopee’s band had returned from the white settlement at Acton greatly agitated. They had found a nest of hen’s eggs. One of them had proposed they eat the eggs because they were very hungry. Another cautioned him not to, that he would get them in trouble since the eggs belonged to a white man. The first youth taunted the others. They must be cowards, afraid of white men. This they hotly denied. To demonstrate their bravery, one proposed they enter the white man’s house and shoot him, which they did. The gunshot roused a nearby household, leading the youths to kill those whites as well. They boasted that they had killed four white men and two women. Then they hitched up a team of horses and rode back to Shakopee’s Village.

Late that night after a long meeting, the warrior society leaders went to Taoyateduta and insisted he support an all-out war against the whites and their mixed-blood allies for the purpose of taking back the Dakota’s land. The timing, they argued, was auspicious with the US Army’s war against the states of the Confederacy going badly. Taoyateduta was reluctant, but their anger and arguments were persuasive to many. Eventually he agreed to declare war on the United States of America.

Elders more experienced with whites, including Mahpiya Wiasta, viewed war with the United States as shortsighted and dangerous. Yes, the territorial governor had recruited mixed-bloods as well as whites to fight in the Civil War in the South, but that did not mean there were no men left to fight an Indian uprising in Minnesota. Yes, the papers reported reverses and defeats for Mr. Lincoln’s army, but that did not mean that the United States would lose its war against the Confederacy. Yes, the Dakota had fought with the British in the War of 1812, but that did not mean that the British would defend Dakota rights to Minnesota. What was more likely was that the Dakota would be defeated, and, as had happened so often in the last 200 years, the whites would then seek revenge against all Red Men, regardless of whether they had supported or opposed this Dakota War. The toll would be terrible. Even this slim strip of Minnesota land would likely be lost to the Dakota.

During the years of treaty-making with the Great Father in Washington, the elders, a.k.a. principal chiefs of the Dakota bands, had exercised their power by being the negotiators. However, their exercise of authority had not prevented drastic reductions in Dakota landholdings. Collusion between the Great Father’s agents and the traders had resulted in great hardship for the Dakota people, which discredited the principal chiefs. The decision to go to war with the whites—made against the judgment of most of the principal chiefs and without consulting them—marked a shift in power to the younger warriors who insisted on war, rejecting their elders who seemed to them timid and fearful.¹⁰

Mahpiya Wiasta and the other elders knew that the young warriors would anticipate the elders’ opposition to declaring war on the United States. They understood Taoyateduta’s predicament.

After all, four years earlier, Taoyateduta had signed an agreement that reduced Dakota land to only a ten-mile wide, ten-mile long strip on the south bank of the Minnesota River, forcing them to give up the rich hunting grounds on the north bank. It was an unpopular decision and the people blamed him for this. If Taoyateduta opposed the majority sentiment of the warriors’ society now, with the agent withholding their missing annuity of food and $71,000 in gold coins, the people might replace him with another.¹¹

Many years later Charles Ohiyesa Eastman wrote about this turning point in his biography of Taoyateduta/Little Crow in his book Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains:

My father, Many Lightnings, who was practically the leader of the Mankato band (for Mankato, the chief, was a weak man), fought desperately for the lives of the half-breeds and the missionaries. The chiefs had great confidence in my father, yet they would not commit themselves, since their braves were clamoring for blood. Little Crow had been accused of all the misfortunes of his tribe, and he now hoped by leading them against the whites to regain his prestige with his people, and a part at least of their lost domain.

There were moments when the pacifists were in grave peril. It was almost daybreak when my father saw that the approaching calamity could not be prevented. He and two others said to Little Crow: If you want war, you must personally lead your men to-morrow. We will not murder women and children, but we will fight the soldiers when they come. They then left the council and hastened to warn my brother-in-law, Faribault, [a mixed-blood] and others who were in danger.

Wowinape, son of Taoyateduta, heard his father speak to the warriors. The boy memorized his father’s words, words that foresaw the probable consequences of going to war: Yes, they fight among themselves [in the Civil War], but if you strike at them they will all turn on you and devour you and your women and your little children just as the locusts in their time fall on the trees and devour all the leaves in one day. . . . You are fools . . . your ears are full of roaring waters. Braves, you are little children—you are fools. You will die like the rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon [January]. [But] Taoyateduta is not a coward; he will die with you.¹²

Once Taoyateduta and the warriors of the Lower Sioux Reservation declared war on the United States, anyone sympathetic to the whites and their mixed-blood allies became enemy. There was no room for neutrality.

Tawakanhdiota, the widower of Nancy Stands Sacred Eastman and father of the child who would become Charles Eastman, joined the war along with his two brothers, breaking with the elders, including his deceased wife’s grandfather, Mahpiya Wiasta.

Ironically, at noon on August 18, $71,000 in gold—the long-awaited annuity payments—arrived at the Fort and the agent was ready to begin the distribution. It was too late. The largest Indian uprising in the history of the United States had begun.¹³



Uncheedah, grandmother of the four-year-old son of Nancy Stands Sacred Eastman and Tawakanhdiota, knew that it was her tenacity that kept her grandson alive during his first four years. Others might call him Hakadah (Pitiful), but she refused to give up on this little boy. When his band triumphed in a lacrosse game just before the start of the Dakota War against the United States, the child received a new name, Ohiyesa, which meant The Winner. The new name indicated a reversal of fortune for the child, which pleased Uncheedah. With the shortage of food and now the war, she knew he would need great good fortune as well as her devoted care to keep surviving. What would become of him—of them all—now? Might it be possible for the Dakota to push the white settlers out of Minnesota forever and reclaim the land they had lost to the United States?

The first day of the war went well for those following Taoyateduta and Shakopee. The first attack they made was on Redwood Agency, the headquarters of Mahpiya Wiasta’s Lower Sioux Reservation. Redwood Agency was a small village built on the top of a hill twelve miles west of the US Army’s Fort Ridgely. The Indian Department’s white clapboard buildings included a boardinghouse, a warehouse, a carpenter shop, and the doctor’s home and office. Twelve other buildings—an enclosed spring, a root house, an ice house, a stable, several traders’ stores, plus the log houses of those who lived at the Agency—clustered around the Council Square or spread out along the road that led to the Upper Sioux Reservation of other Dakota bands. Other traders’ stores were located about a quarter mile west of the agency compound.¹

Dakota warriors attacked Redwood Agency at 7 a.m. with rifle shots and war whoops. Warriors opened fire on the traders’ houses. They caught the families who lived there by surprise and killed the traders, including Andrew Myrick whose words had so offended them. The killing quickly spun out of control.

The chaos that followed was complicated by the confusion of loyalties inevitable in so mixed a community. Most of the traders had Dakota or mixed-blood wives and children. Many full-blood Mdewakanton warriors had kinfolk who were mixed-bloods. In general, mixed-bloods and farmer Indians opposed going to war, although some supported it. The rhetoric of the more radical warriors proclaimed that despite the intermingling of families and identities, farmer Indians, Christian Indians, mixed-bloods, and whites were all enemy. Nevertheless, many including Taoyateduta, the leader of this war, had family married to traders and sheltered specific whites, helping them escape.²

By midmorning terrified survivors from Redwood made their hazardous way to Fort Ridgely. There Captain John S. Marsh quickly put together a forty-six-man unit to cross the Minnesota River to the south bank and relieve those at the Redwood Agency. A rope ferry was the main way to cross the river, and Marsh and his men rode off for the ferry landing. Within a short time, half of Marsh’s command was dead, including the Captain himself, ambushed by the Dakota. Twenty-three stripped, scalped bodies lay where they had fallen until a unit of white and mixed-blood soldiers sent from Fort Ridgely found and buried them nine days later.³

Fort Ridgely was composed of several one-story frame buildings that made up three sides of a square, the river making the fourth side. Only on the east side were the buildings connected by a stockade structure of upright logs. The fort was vulnerable to a sudden assault on the open spaces between the buildings on the south and the west. It was also vulnerable to catching fire from flaming arrows. Those at the fort expected to be attacked and slaughtered the following day because without Marsh’s unit, the fort held only twenty-two men able to defend it.

By dark, more than two hundred desperate refugees crowded into the fort, their number increasing by another hundred the next day. Fortunately for those inside the fort, the Dakota warriors voted down Taoyateduta’s proposal to attack the fort that morning. Instead they attacked the German town of New Ulm, southeast of the Lower Reservation. An attack on Fort Ridgely on the nineteenth would have prevented strengthening the fort’s defensive capabilities. Outnumbering the settlers two to one, the Dakota would surely have taken the fort. Instead, while the Dakota attacked New Ulm, fifty white volunteers with weapons arrived to reinforce Fort Ridgely, hastily training the civilians in how to load and fire the fort’s six-pound cannons, which they moved to the spaces between the buildings.

The Dakota warriors planned to come August 20, from east, south, and west at a common signal, simultaneously assaulting the open spaces between the fort’s buildings. But two of the three attack forces did not immediately respond to the signal, giving the whites at the fort time to use their cannon on the attackers. When more than four hundred Dakota attacked on August 20, the cannon the defenders had placed between the buildings enabled them to fire into the attacking warriors and, although they fought for five hours in a hellish din of continuous firing, in the end, the Dakota retreated to Taoyateduta’s village in a late afternoon rainstorm. There, with their families joining them, they, like the whites and mixed-bloods at the fort, made bullets.

It rained all the next day, making the grass too slippery for a second assault on the fort. Traditionally Dakota men fought so as to show their individual bravery in battle. The killings over the course of the first few days, however, went beyond showing bravery. Small groups of Dakota warriors split off from the larger force and went to white settlements on the north side of the river and beyond where they killed women and children and ransacked the property of those murdered for whatever might be of use. Settlements were attacked across the area between the Mississippi River on the east, the Dakota Territory on the west, and the Iowa border on the south. Widely varying reports claimed as many as four hundred whites killed. The violence was random. Neither Taoyateduta nor Shakopee were directing what occurred.

When most of the Dakota returned to Taoyateduta’s village, the village swelled from a half dozen lodges and tipis to two hundred tipis and more than a thousand people—warriors, their families, mixed-blood and white captives, and mixed-blood and other allies. Taoyateduta addressed the assembled warriors, telling them that killing women and children was not an effective way to win their war and only sapped their strength. Taoyateduta himself had not participated in any of the killing and was convinced that the only hope of expelling the whites from the traditional land of the Dakota was through negotiation—capturing Fort Ridgely and then negotiating from a position of strength. Holding rather than killing captives strengthened their negotiating position. But the fighting had passed beyond his control. The young warriors were clearly in charge.

In the swollen village a cultural revolution was underway. Indian dress became the only acceptable attire, tipis the only acceptable lodging. Goods stolen from the whites metamorphosed into creative new uses—jewelry made from the innards of clocks and colorful banners made from bolts of cloth let loose to fly behind a warrior’s horse. Liquor from the traders’ stocks flowed dangerously in the bodies of people whose culture had developed no tolerance for distilled spirits.

War sounds sliced through the tense stillness along the river where Dakota families waited. The howitzers of Fort Ridgely screamed and spit their twenty-pound cannon balls leaving huge clouds of soot and shrapnel that could be seen miles away.

Uncheedah’s three sons with their teenage sons had left to join the war, and her daughters-in-law had followed them to the Dakota temporary base camp in Taoyateduta’s village. Uncheedah willed this war to succeed. She felt fiercely responsible for her motherless grandson and was determined to protect him.

Some of the women told her what was happening. Good Star Woman had gone beyond the encampment looking for wild berries for her grandchildren. In the distance she saw a wagon full of whites racing their horses with Mdewakanton soldiers close behind them. She was shaken and did not want to think of what had become of those whites.

When the Dakota attacked Fort Ridgely a second time, on August 22, their numbers were augmented by bands from across the region, eight hundred warriors strong, twice as many warriors as there had been in the first attack two days earlier. The battle

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