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Account of Some of the Old Grievances of the Sioux

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


Interview Between Red Iron, Chief Of The Sisseton Sioux, And Governor Ramsey, In December, 1852.

Claims had been set up by the Indian traders for $100,000 of the money promised to the Sioux by the treaties of 1851 and 1S52. The Indians declared that they did not owe so much. Governor Ramsey endeavored to compel Red Iron to sign a receipt for it; he refused. He said his tribe had never had the goods. He asked the govern-or to appoint arbitrator's two white men and one Indian; it was refused. He then said that he would accept three white men as arbitrators, if they were honest men: this was refused.

An eyewitness has sketched the appearance of the chief on that occasion, and the interview between him and the governor: The council was crowded with Indians and white men when Red Iron was brought in, guarded by soldiers. He was about forty years old, tall and athletic; about six feet high in his moccasins, with a large, well-developed head, aquiline nose, thin compressed lips, and physiognomy beaming with intelligence and resolution. He was clad in the half-military, half-Indian costume of the Dakota chiefs. He was seated in the council-room without greeting or salutation from any one. In a few minutes the governor, turning to the chief in the midst of a breathless silence, by the aid of an interpreter, opened the council.

Governor Ramsey asked: "What excuse have you for not coming to the council when I sent for you?"

The chief rose to his feet with native grace and dignity, his blanket falling from his shoulders, and purposely dropping the pipe of peace, he stood erect before the governor with his arms folded, and right hand pressed on the sheath of his scalping-knife; with firm voice he replied:

Red Iron, "I started to come, but your braves drove me back."

Governor Ramsey "What excuse have you for not coming the second time I sent for you?"

Red Iron. "No other excuse than I have given you."

Governor Ramsey "At the treaty I thought you a good man, but since you have acted badly, and I am disposed to break you. I do break you."

Red Iron. "You break me! My people made me a chief. My people love me. I will still be their chief. I have done nothing wrong."

Governor Ramsey "Why, did you get your braves together and march around here for the purpose of intimidating other chiefs, and prevent their coming to the council?"

Red Iron. "I did not get my braves together, they got together themselves to prevent boys going to council to be made chiefs, to sign papers, and to prevent single chiefs going to council at night, to be bribed to sign papers for money we have never got. We have heard how the Medewakantons were served at Mendota; that by secret councils you got their names on paper, and took away their money. We don't want to be served so. My braves wanted to come to council in the daytime, when the sun shines, and we want no councils in the dark. We want all our people to go to council together, so that we can all know what is done."

Governor Ramsey "Why did you attempt to come to council with your braves, when I had forbidden your braves coming to council?" Red Iron. "You invited the chiefs only, and would not let the braves come too. This is not the way we have been treated before; this is not according to our customs, for among Dakotas chiefs and braves go to council together. When you first sent for us, there were two or three chiefs here, and we wanted to wait till the rest would come, that we might all be in council together and know what was done, and so that we might all understand the papers, and know what we were signing. When we signed the treaty the traders threw a blanket over our faces and darkened our eyes, and made us sign papers which we did not understand, and which were not explained or read to us. We want our Great Father at Washington to know what has been done."

Governor Ramsey "Your Great Father has sent me to represent him, and what I say is what he says. He wants you to pay your old debts, in accordance with the paper you signed when the treaty was made, and to leave that money in my hands to pay these debts. If you refuse to do that I will take the money back."

Red Iron. "You can take the money hack. We sold our land to you, and you promised to pay us. If you don't give us the money I will be glad, and ail our people will be glad, for we will have our land back if you don't give us the money. That paper was not interpreted or explained to us. We are told it gives about 300 boxes ($300,000) of our money to some of the traders. We don't think we owe them so much. We want to pay all our debts. We want our Great Father to send three good men here to tell us how much we do owe, and whatever they say we will pay; and that is what all these braves say. Our chiefs and all our people say this." All the Indians present responded, "Ho! ho!"

Governor Ramsey "That can't be done. You owe more than your money will pay, and I am ready now to pay your annuity, and no more; and when you are ready to receive it, the agent will pay you."

Red Iron. "We will receive our annuity, but we will sign no papers for anything else. The snow is on the ground, and we have been waiting a long time to get our money. We are poor; you have plenty. Your fires are warm. Your tepees keep out the cold. We have nothing to eat. We have been waiting a long time for our moneys. Our hunting season is past. A great many of our people are sick, for being hungry. We may die because you won't pay us. We may die, but if we do we will leave our bones on the ground, that our Great Father may see where his Dakota children died. We are very poor. We have sold our hunting grounds and the graves of our fathers. We have sold our own graves. We have no place to bury our dead, and you will not pay us the money for our lands."

The council was broken up, and Red Iron was sent to the guardhouse, where he was kept till next day. Between thirty and forty of the braves of Red Iron's band were present during this arrangement before the governor. When he was led away, they departed in sullen silence, headed by Lean Bear, to a spot a quarter of a mile from the council-house, where they uttered a succession of yells-the gathering signal of the Dakotas. Ere the echoes died away, Indians were hurrying from their tepees toward them, prepared for battle. They proceeded to the eminence near the camp, where moldered the bones of many warriors. It was the memorable battleground, where their ancestors had fought, in a conflict like Waterloo, the warlike Sacs and Foxes, thereby preserving their lands and nationality. Upon this field stood two hundred resolute warriors ready to do battle for their hereditary chief. Lean Bear, the principal brave of Red Iron's band, was a large, resolute man, about thirty-five years of age, and had great influence in his nation.

Here, on their old battle-ground, Lean Bear recounted the brave deeds of Red Iron-, the long list of wrongs inflicted on the Indians by the white men, and proposed to the braves that they should make a general attack on the whites. By the influence of some of the half-breeds, and of white men who were known to be friendly to them, Lean Bear was induced to abandon his scheme; and finally, the tribe, being starving, consented to give up their lands and accept the sum of money offered to them.

"Over $55,000 of this treaty money, paid for debts of the Indians, went to one Hugh Tyler, a stranger in the country, 'for getting the treaties through the Senate, and for necessary disbursements in securing the assent of the chiefs.'"

Five years later another trader, under the pretence that he was going to get back for them some of this stolen treaty money, obtained their signature to vouchers, by means of which he cheated them out of $12,000 more. At this same time he obtained a payment of $4,500 for goods he said they had stolen from him. Another man was allowed a claim of $5,000 for horses he said they had stolen from him.

"In 1858 the chiefs were taken to Washington, and agreed to the treaties for the cession of all their reservation north of the Minnesota River, under which, as ratified by the Senate, they were to have $166,000; but of this amount they never received one penny till four years afterward, when $15,000 in goods were sent to the Lower Sioux, and these were deducted out of what was due them under former treaties."
History if the Sioux War, by ISAAC V. D. HEARD.

This paragraph gives the causes of the fearful Minnesota massacre, in which eight hundred people lost their lives.

The treaty expressly provided that no claims against the Indians should be paid unless approved by the Indians in open council. No such council was held. A secret council was held with a few chiefs, but the body of the Indians were ignorant of it. There was a clause in this treaty that the Secretary of the Interior might use any funds of the Indians for such purposes of civilization as his judgment should dictate. Under this clause the avails of over six hundred thousand acres of land were taken for claims against the Indians. Of the vast amount due to the Lower Sioux, only a little over $800 was left to their credit in Washington at the time of the outbreak. Moreover, a portion of their annual annuity was also taken for claims.

Removal of the Sioux and Winnebago from Minnesota in 1863
"The guard that accompanied these Indians consisted of four commissioned officers, one hundred and thirty-five soldiers, and one laundress; in all, one hundred and forty persons. The number of Santee Sioux transported was thirteen hundred and eighteen. For the transportation and subsistence of these Indians and the guard there was paid the sum of $36,322.10.

"The number of Winnebago transported was nineteen hundred and forty-five; for their transportation and subsistence there was paid the farther sum of $56,042.60 making the whole amount paid the contractors $92,304.70.

"The Sioux were transported from Fort Snelling to Hannibal, Missouri, on two steamboats. One of the boats stopped there, and the Indians on it crossed over to St. Joseph, on the Missouri River, by rail. The other boat continued to the junction of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and thence up the latter to St. Joseph; and here the Indians that crossed over by rail were put upon the boat, and from thence to Crow Creek all of them were on one boat. They were very much crowded from St. Joseph to Crow Creek. Sixteen died on the way, being without attention or medical supplies. All the Indians were excluded from the cabin of tile boat, and confined to the lower and upper decks. It was in May, and to go among them on the lower deck was suffocating. They were fed on hard bread and mess pork, much of it not cooked, there being no opportunity to cook it only at night when the boat laid up. They had no sugar, coffee, or vegetables. Confinement on the boat in such a mass, and want of proper food, created much sickness, such as diarrhea and fevers. For weeks after they arrived at Crow Creek the Indians died at the rate of from three to four per day. In a few weeks one hundred and fifty had died, mainly on account of the treatment they had received after leaving Fort Snelling."
MANEYPENNY, Our Indian wards

Food of the Indians at Crow Creek, Dakota, in the winter of 1864
"During the summer the Indians were fed on flour and pork; they got no beef till fall. They suffered for want of fresh beef as well as for medical supplies. In the fall their ration began to fail; and the issue was gradually reduced; and the Indians complained bitterly. The beef furnished was from the cattle that hauled the supplies from Minnesota. These cattle had travelled over three hundred miles, hauling the train, with nothing to eat but the dry prairie grass, there being no settlements on the route they came. The cattle were very poor. Some died or gave out on the trip, and such were slaughtered, and the meat brought in on the train for food for the Indians. About the 1st of January 1864, near four hundred of the cattle were slaughtered. Except the dry prairie grass, which the frost had killed, these cattle had no food from the time they came to Crow Creek until they were slaughtered. A part of the beef thus made was piled up in the warehouse in snow, and the remainder in like manner packed in snow outside. This beef was to keep the Indians until the coming June. The beef was black, and very poor-the greater part only skin and bone. Shortly after the arrival of the train from Minnesota the contractors for supplying the Indians with flour took about one hundred head of the oxen, selecting the best of them, yoked them up, and sent them with wagons to Sioux City, some two hundred and forty miles, to haul up flour. This train returned in February, and these oxen were then slaughtered, and fed to the Indians.

"In January the issue of soup to the Indians commenced. It was made in a large cottonwood vat, being cooked by steam carried from the boiler of the sawmill in a pipe to the vat. The vat was partly filled with water. then several quarters of beef chopped up were thrown into it, and a few sacks of flour added. The hearts lights and entrails were added to the compound, and in the beginning a few beans were put into the vat; but this luxury did not continue long. This soup was issued every other day to the Santee Sioux one day, the alternate day to the Winnebago. It was very unpalatable. On the day the Indians received the soup they had DO other food issued to them. They were very much dissatisfied, and said they could not live on the soup, when those in charge told them if they could live elsewhere they had better go, but that they must not go to the white settlements. Many of them did leave the agency, some going to Fort Sully, others to Fort Randall, in search of food. From a description of this nauseous mess called soup, given by Samuel C. Haynes, then at Fort Randall, and assistant-surgeon in the military service, it is seen that the Indians had good cause to leave Crow Creek. He states that there were thrown into the vat beef, beef-heads, entrails of the beeves, some beans, flour, and pork. I think there were put into the vat two barrels of flour each time, which was not oftener than once in twenty-four hours. This mass was then cooked by the steam from the boiler passing through the pipe into the vat. When that was done, all the Indians were ordered to come with their pails and get it. It was dipped out to the Indians with a long-handled dipper made for the purpose. I cannot say the quantity given to each. It was about the consistency of very thin gruel. The Indians would pour off the thinner portion and eat that which settled at the bottom. As it was dipped out of the vat, some of the Indians would get the thinner portions and some would get some meat. I passed there frequently when it was cooking, and was often there when it was being issued. It had a very offensive odor. It had the odor of the contents of the entrails of the beeves. I have seen the settlings of the vat after they were through issuing it to the Indians, when they were cleaning the vat, and the settlings smelled like carrion-like decomposed meat. Some of the Indians refused to eat it, saying they could not, it made them sick.'"
MANEYPENNY, Our Indian Wards.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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