Little Crow, Sioux Chief
Chief Little Crow was the eldest son of Cetanwakuwa (Charging Hawk).
It was on account of his father's name, mistranslated Crow, that he was called by the
whites "Little Crow." His real name was Taoyateduta, His Red People.
As far back as Minnesota history goes, a band of the Sioux called
Kaposia (Light Weight, because they were said to travel light) inhabited the Mille Lacs
region. Later they dwelt about St.Croix Falls, and still later near St. Paul. In 1840,
Cetanwakuwa was still living in what is now West St. Paul, but he was soon after killed by
the accidental discharge of his gun.
It was during a period of demoralization for the Kaposias that
Little Crow became the leader of his people. His father, a well-known chief, had three
wives, all from different bands of the Sioux. He was the only son of the first wife, a
Leaf Dweller. There were two sons of the second and two of the third wife, and the second
set of brothers conspired to kill their half-brother in order to keep the chieftainship in
Two kegs of whisky were bought, and all the men of the tribe invited
to a feast. It was planned to pick some sort of quarrel when all were drunk, and in the
confusion Little Crow was to be murdered. The plot went smoothly until the last instant,
when a young brave saved the intended victim by knocking the gun aside with his hatchet,
so that the shot went wild. However, it broke his right arm, which remained crooked all
his life. The friends of the young chieftain hastily withdrew, avoiding a general fight;
and later the council of the Kaposias condemned the two brothers, both of whom were
executed, leaving him in undisputed possession.
Such was the opening of a stormy career. Little Crow's mother had
been a chief's daughter, celebrated for her beauty and spirit, and it is said that she
used to plunge him into the lake through a hole in the ice, rubbing him afterward with
snow, to strengthen his nerves, and that she would remain with him alone in the deep woods
for days at a time, so that he might know that solitude is good, and not fear to be alone
"My son," she would say, "if you are to be a leader
of men, you must listen in silence to the mystery, the spirit."
At a very early age she made a feast for her boy and announced that
he would fast two days. This is what might be called a formal presentation to the spirit
or God. She greatly desired him to become a worthy leader according to the ideas of her
people. It appears that she left her husband when he took a second wife, and lived with
her own band till her death. She did not marry again.
Little Crow was an intensely ambitious man and without physical
fear. He was always in perfect training and early acquired the art of warfare of the
Indian type. It is told of him that when he was about ten years old, he engaged with other
boys in a sham battle on the shore of a lake near St. Paul. Both sides were encamped at a
little distance from one another, and the rule was that the enemy must be surprised,
otherwise the attack would be considered a failure. One must come within so many paces
undiscovered in order to be counted successful. Our hero had a favorite dog which, at his
earnest request, was allowed to take part in the game, and as a scout he entered the enemy
camp unseen, by the help of his dog.
When he was twelve, he saved the life of a companion who had broken
through the ice by tying the end of a pack line to a log, then at great risk to himself
carrying it to the edge of the hole where his comrade went down. It is said that he also
broke in, but both boys saved themselves by means of the line.
As a young man, Little Crow was always ready to serve his people as
a messenger to other tribes, a duty involving much danger and hardship. He was also known
as one of the best hunters in his band. Although still young, he had already a war record
when he became chief of the Kaposias, at a time when the Sioux were facing the greatest
and most far-reaching changes that had ever come to them.
At this juncture in the history of the northwest and its native
inhabitants, the various fur companies had paramount influence. They did not hesitate to
impress the Indians with the idea that they were the authorized representatives of the
white races or peoples, and they were quick to realize the desirability of controlling the
natives through their most influential chiefs. Little Crow became quite popular with post
traders and factors. He was an orator as well as a diplomat, and one of the first of his
nation to indulge in politics and promote unstable schemes to the detriment of his people.
When the United States Government went into the business of
acquiring territory from the Indians so that the flood of western settlement might not be
checked, commissions were sent out to negotiate treaties, and in case of failure it often
happened that a delegation of leading men of the tribe were invited to Washington. At that
period, these visiting chiefs, attired in all the splendor of their costumes of ceremony,
were treated like ambassadors from foreign countries.
One winter in the late eighteen-fifties, a major general of the army
gave a dinner to the Indian chiefs then in the city, and on this occasion Little Crow was
appointed toastmaster. There were present a number of Senators and members of Congress, as
well as judges of the Supreme Court, cabinet officers, and other distinguished citizens.
When all the guests were seated, the Sioux arose and addressed them with much dignity as
Warriors and friends: I am informed that the great white war chief who of his
generosity and comradeship has given us this feast, has expressed the wish that we may
follow to-night the usages and customs of my people. In other words, this is a warriors'
feast, a braves' meal. I call upon the Ojibway chief, the Hole-in-the-Day, to give the
lone wolf's hunger call, after which we will join him in our usual manner.
The tall and handsome Ojibway now rose and straightened his superb
form to utter one of the clearest and longest wolf howls that was ever heard in
Washington, and at its close came a tremendous burst of war whoops that fairly rent the
air, and no doubt electrified the officials there present.
On one occasion Little Crow was invited by the commander of Fort
Ridgeley, Minnesota, to call at the fort. On his way back, in company with a half-breed
named Ross and the interpreter Mitchell, he was ambushed by a party of Ojibways, and again
wounded in the same arm that had been broken in his attempted assassination. His companion
Ross was killed, but he managed to hold the war party at bay until help came and thus
saved his life.
More and more as time passed, this naturally brave and ambitious man
became a prey to the selfish interests of the traders and politicians. The immediate
causes of the Sioux outbreak of1862 came in quick succession to inflame to desperate
action an outraged people. The two bands on the so-called "lower reservations"
in Minnesota were Indians for whom nature had provided most abundantly in their free
existence. After one hundred and fifty years of friendly intercourse first with the
French, then the English, and finally the Americans, they found themselves cut off from
every natural resource, on a tract of land twenty miles by thirty, which to them was
virtual imprisonment. By treaty stipulation with the government, they were to be fed and
clothed, houses were to be built for them, the men taught agriculture, and schools
provided for the children. In addition to this, a trust fund of a million and a half was
to be set aside for them, at five per cent interest, the interest to be paid annually per
capita. They had signed the treaty under pressure, believing in these promises on the
faith of a great nation.
However, on entering the new life, the resources so rosily described
to them failed to materialize. Many families faced starvation every winter, their only
support the store of the Indian trader, who was baiting his trap for their destruction.
Very gradually they awoke to the facts. At last it was planned to secure from them the
north half of their reservation for ninety-eight thousand dollars, but it was not
explained to the Indians that the traders were to receive all the money. Little Crow made
the greatest mistake of his life when he signed this agreement.
Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the cash annuities were not paid
for nearly two years. Civil War had begun. When it was learned that the traders had taken
all of the ninety-eight thousand dollars "on account", there was very bitter
feeling. In fact, the heads of the leading stores were afraid to go about as usual, and
most of them stayed in St. Paul. Little Crow was justly held in part responsible for the
deceit, and his life was not safe.
The murder of a white family near Acton, Minnesota, by a party of
Indian duck hunters in August, 1862, precipitated the break. Messengers were sent to every
village with the news, and at the villages of Little Crow and Little Six the war council
was red-hot. It was proposed to take advantage of the fact that north and south were at
war to wipe out the white settlers and to regain their freedom. A few men stood out
against such a desperate step, but the conflagration had gone beyond their control.
There were many mixed bloods among these Sioux, and some of the
Indians held that these were accomplices of the white people in robbing them of their
possessions, therefore their lives should not be spared. 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. Twas
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 tomorrow. 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, and others who were in danger.
Little Crow declared he would be seen in the front of every battle,
and it is true that he was foremost in all the succeeding bloodshed, urging his warriors
to spare none. He ordered his war leader, Many Hail, to fire the first shot, killing the
trader James Lynd, in the door of his store.
After a year of fighting in which he had met with defeat, the
discredited chief retreated to Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, Manitoba, where, together with
Standing Buffalo, he undertook secret negotiations with his old friends the Indian
traders. There was now a price upon his head, but he planned to reach St. Paul undetected
and there surrender himself to his friends, who he hoped would protect him in return for
past favors. It is true that he had helped them to secure perhaps the finest country held
by any Indian nation for a mere song.
He left Canada with a few trusted friends, including his youngest
and favorite son. When within two or three days' journey of St. Paul, he told the others
to return, keeping with him only his son, Wowinape, who was but fifteen years of age. He
meant to steal into the city by night and go straight to Governor Ramsey, who was his
personal friend. He was very hungry and was obliged to keep to the shelter of the deep
woods. The next morning, as he was picking and eating wild raspberries, he was seen by a
wood-chopper named Lamson. The man did not know who he was. He only knew that he was an
Indian, and that was enough for him, so he lifted his rifle to his shoulder and fired,
then ran at his best pace. The brilliant but misguided chief, who had made that part of
the country unsafe for any white man to live in, sank to the ground and died without a
struggle. The boy took his father's gun and made some effort to find the assassin, but as
he did not even know in which direction to look for him, he soon gave up the attempt and
went back to his friends.
Meanwhile Lamson reached home breathless and made his report. The
body of the chief was found and identified, in part by the twice broken arm, and this arm
and his scalp may be seen today in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society.by Charles A. Eastman