Other Native American Accounts of the Troubles on the Plains



Many other native peoples' experienced similar troubles during and after the Civil War to those experienced by the Dakotas in Minnesota. Most spectacularly, the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864 galvanized Native American discontent. Among the western Sioux of the plains, many leaders described problems very much like those that caused the Dakota war. In 1865, a subcommittee of the U.S. Congress journeyed to the west, to take testimony from Sioux leaders. The chairman of the subcommittee, Senator James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin, agreed that many of the Sioux complaints were valid. "Many agents, teachers, and employees of the government," he observed, "are inefficient, faithless, and even guilty of peculations are fraudulent practices upon the government and upon the Indians."

Here, then, are several speeches by Sioux leaders at the end of the Civil War to the visiting Congressmen. Strike the Ree and Medicine Cow are Yanktons, while Passing Hail is a Dakota.




Strike the Ree, Medicine Cow, and Passing Hail


Speeches to the Special Joint Committee on the Condition

Of the Indian Tribes, 1865





Strike the Ree spoke as follows:

"My grandfather, Mr. Redfield, the first agent, did not tell me the same things that my grandfather [the President] told me, neither did Agent Burleigh, but both of them told me lies; they filled my belly with lies. Everybody has got a copy of the treaty I made with my grandfather, I suppose. I suppose you are sent by my grandfather [the President of the US] to represent the great council [Congress?]. I am here to represent my great council. The money my grandfather sent me has been thrown away. You know who threw it away. The guns, ammunition, wagons, horses, and everything have been thrown away. I can tell who threw them away. The reason the whites have trouble with the Indians is on account of the agents. When the goods come they are not according to the treaty; they never fulfill the treaty. When the agent goes away he says he is going to leave these things to be done by his successor. When Agent Burleigh came he made fine promises of what he would do. I asked for my invoice, but he would not let me have it; and I told him what my grandfather told me. I think the agents are all alike. The agent puts his foot on me as though I were a skunk. And the agents are all getting rich and we are getting poor.

"My friend, what I am telling you is the truth, and what I have seen. What the agents have done in the night, I cannot tell. That is the reason I am telling you this; I want you to report it to my grandfather. I want to go to Washington; and I wish you to do all you can with my grandfather to induce him to let me come there next winter. I want to see my grandfather to ascertain how much money and goods have been sent me, and that I may know how much has been stolen and who stole it. I would like to have the agents there with my grandfather when I talk to him, that they may hear what I have to say. If there was a bible there for them to swear upon, they could not swear that they had not stolen the goods....

"Friends, my people are friendly to the white man. Our grandfather promised us [referring to previous treaties] money, a school-house, and blacksmith shop. I have seen neither, but I believe that it is no fault of our grandfather, he has done all in his power to keep his promise. I believe our money is being kept for us, and when it is paid we shall receive the interest with it; you should pay it. My young men, squaws, and children are starving; the black spots you see on the hills before you are the graves of many of my people. When we receive anything from the white man it is given as you would throw it to a hog. The Indian stands as upon a snow-bank; the sun of prosperity shines brightly for others, but it is gradually melting away his support and by and by all win be gone. Our grandfather at Washington promised that we should be raised up, but his young men put their feet on us and keep us down; that is the way the white man treats us.




Medicine Cow spoke as follows: . . .

"I am glad you are here. You know the cause of the murders in Minnesota; if you do not, I do; the agents were the cause. Our agents never give us what our grandfather sends us. I think when the whites make an agreement with each other they do as they agree with each other. If the whites did as they agree with the Indians, there would not be so much difficulty. The agents bring goods, but do not give them to us. When the agent brought us money we asked him to let us see it; but more than half was carried back to the house and we never received it. One time he got and told us that he would keep it until winter, but he never let us have it. The blacksmith won't work for the common Indians, but works for the chiefs and all white men. If the common Indians go to him he will tell them to go away.

"I think all the work Doctor Burleigh had done was done for himself. He purchased lots of cattle and things. When he came there he only had a trunk, but now he is high up - rich. Once in a while I went and asked Doctor Burleigh about the money, and he said he saved it for all the Indians, and we did not get it.

"When Agent Conger came there he and Doctor Burleigh were together, and we felt bad to see him with the new agent. We went and told Doctor Burleigh that we wanted him to give us the money which he had taken from us; but he would not. I told him if he did not I would tell my grandfather when I went to see him.

"I think a great many of our tribe have frozen to death, and a great many have died of starvation. When I was talking that way to Doctor Burleigh he said he did not care what I said to him; that all up and down the Missouri river all the big men and generals were on his side. The reason I talk this way, the governor said I must not talk so hard against a young man. The doctor told me I was against him. I answered, 'Yes; you are always against the Indians; you never try to do anything for us.'"

"Another time Doctor Burleigh came and brought us money, and gave us two dollars in paper money and some three and some one dollar, and we don't know what he did with the gold money, but we want to know, and we want to know if that is the way our grandfather does with us. I think if they had asked the young men to learn at school they would have done so; they would willingly attend the school and learn, but they have never had an opportunity. For my part I think the agents have been an injury to us. When we moved here we had to dig the ground with our fingers. We have done as the whites told us. When Burleigh told us to be soldiers we became soldiers; we burnt the dirt lodges, as he told us; but we were not paid for being soldiers. We tried hard to please the whites. We have often told the same things to the big men before, but it made no difference; but we are glad to see you and hope you will do us some good. One time the doctor (Burleigh) came up and said he had got plenty of goods to keep us all winter; that he had 4,000 sacks of flour, and plenty of blankets; but we found out that he was not telling the truth; he put it into the store and we had to buy it. One time he told us he was going to keep seven large boxes of goods (one containing traps) for another time, to be distributed to us; but we never received any of these goods excepting three of our young men got three guns and three suits of clothes as a reward for killing a Santee [that is, a Dakota war refugee], and that was all we got. I asked Burleigh to do right; but Burleigh's interpreter would not tell him right. I told him to get another interpreter. Things are no better now. The new agent has come, but he is like a man in the middle of the prairie. Burleigh cleaned the agency of everything, and the new agent has nothing to go on with; no cattle, no wagons, no ploughs, in fact nothing; everything has melted away like a snow bank in the summer's sun. I think our grandfather don't know what is done with the money, from what you say to us today. I think everything on the agency is gone, and one saw mill does us no good; there is no one to attend to it. It is the business of the agent to attend to it. It would take a month to start it. We have no lumber. There is no one to attend to our blacksmith shop, nor the carpenter shop; all the tools are gone. Sometimes the blacksmith does some things for the Indians, but works mostly for whites. Since the new agent came there is a good blacksmith. When Burleigh came to the agency there were two mules there, and they are there now; and there were also two horses, but Burleigh went away and swapped them away for two bob-tailed horses, and the Indians have never since seen their horses or the bob-tails."


Chief Passing Hail [a Dakota] says:


"It has been a long time since I have heard such talk, and I am very glad. Myself and three of these chiefs with him here were at Washington, and heard what the grandfather told them, and we know we live by what the government gives them, and we abide by what the government does for us. At Redwood they took all the young and smart men and put them in prison, and they took all the chiefs and women and children and put them in Fort Snelling [after the defeat of the Dakota uprising]. They done with us as they would grain, shaking it to get out the best and then brought our bodies over here; that is, took everything from us and brought us over here with nothing.... When the provisions were brought here the agent told us the food was to be divided between us and the Winnebagoes, and only five sacks of flour were given us per week through the winter; they were issued to us each Saturday. They brought beef and piled it up here; they built a box and put the beef in and steamed it and made soup; they put salt and pepper in it and that the reason these hills about here are filled with children's graves; it seemed as though they wanted to kill us. We have grown up among white folks, and we know the ways of white folks. White folks do not eat animals that die themselves; but the animals that died here were piled up with the beef here and were fed out to us; and when the women and children, on account of their great hunger, tried to get the heads, blood, and entrails, when the butchering was being done, they were whipped and put in the guard-house. It is not right for me to omit anything. The heads, entrails, and liver were piled about here in the stockade, and the agent would keep watch of them, and when he wanted some work done he would pay for the work with the most rotten part of it. He employed the Indians to work, and paid them with the most rotten part, as above stated. Last fall the agent told us to go out on a hunt, and while they were out on the hunt the goods came, and we suppose the reason he wanted us to go on the hunt was, that he did not want us to see what was done with the goods. Last fall the agent called the chiefs and said he would give us the goods. The next day we came up, and the agent, from the top window of the warehouse, threw out the goods; he threw out a dress for each woman and a blanket for each family. I think there were over one hundred blankets given out at that time. They brought us here to a windy country, and we supposed the wind had blown the goods away; but we heard afterwards that there were some round in the houses in the stockade. We heard that the agent traded some of our goods away, and we suppose he traded them for robes and furs. We think if he had not traded them away there would have been plenty to go round, and the women would not have been crying with cold. You told me that you wanted me to tell all that the agent did...."

"The President gave us some laws, and we have changed ourselves to white men, put on white man's clothes and adopted the white man's ways, and we supposed we would have a piece of ground somewhere where we could live; but no one can live here and live like a white man. I have changed my body to a white man's body. I have not told any lie. You told me to tell the truth, and I have done so. . . ."



Finally, on another occasion, Strike the Ree had this to say about the Dakota uprising:

"You blame the Minnesota Indians. They did wrong, but you do not know the cause. We know it! We know it! You do not. For long winters and summers they had been cheated and robbed by the agents and traders. They complained, but the Great Father would not make it right. Their hearts became bad; they thirsted for blood; they got plenty. We have the same cause to kill as our friends in Minnesota. But this [pointing to his crucifix] keeps my heart right. I will not let my young men fight. The Yanktons have never killed a white man. . . ."