Project Canterbury

Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate
Being Reminiscences and Recollections
of the Right Reverend
Henry Benjamin Whipple, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Minnesota

New York: The Macmillan Company, 1899.

Chapter XI

I WAS in St. Paul when news of the outbreak came. At the request of General Sibley I rode all night to Faribault to ask Alexander Faribault to join him with a company at St. Peter. I reached Faribault at sunrise, and at once sent a boy ringing a bell through the streets, with a message to the citizens to meet me in front of the hotel. I told them briefly of the massacre, took the names of volunteers, the names of those who would furnish guns and horses, and in a few hours they were on their way to join General Sibley.

A few days after I went to St. Peter and found it filled with refugees, many of whom were badly wounded. With the aid of a few devoted women we organized a hospital in the Court House. The only physician was Dr. Asa W. Daniels, who set the fractured limbs and performed amputations while I sewed up wounds. The gratitude of some of the sufferers not only overpaid me, but saved me from the hatred which border people felt for an Indian sympathizer. One German woman softened the hearts of her neighbors by declaring, "Dat bishop is no pad man; he haf sewed up my wounds and made me well; he is one goot Christian man."

At the time of the burning of the Mission House the wife of Good Thunder crept in and seized the Bible from the altar, wrapped it in a surplice, and buried it in the forest. As soon as she was able to do so she sent the message to me: "Me saved the book of the Great Spirit, and buried it. When can me send it to you? Great Spirit's book best thing in mission, must not lose." This Bible was given to our mission by the Landgrave of Hesse and is a double treasure because saved by this faithful Indian woman who was at that time a heathen and thought it the only Bible in the world.

The following article I wrote directly after the outbreak, calling things by their right names; and while the truth of my statements was not denied, I was bitterly abused.

FARIBAULT, September, 1862.


The late fearful massacre has brought sorrow to all our hearts. To see our beautiful state desolated, our homes broken up, and our entire border stained with blood, is a calamity which may well appal us. No wonder that deep indignation has been aroused and that our people cry vengeance. But if that vengeance is to be more than a savage thirst for blood, we must examine the causes which have brought this bloodshed, that our condemnation may fall on the guilty. No outbursts of passion, no temporary expediency, no deed of revenge can excuse us from the stern duties which such days of sorrow thrust upon us. ...

In all our relations with the Indians we have persistently carried out the idea that they were a sovereign people. If it is true that a nation cannot exist within a nation, that these heathen were to send no ambassadors to us and we none to them, that they had no power to compel us to observe a treaty, and that we did not look to them for inherent power to observe it for themselves, then our first step was a fatal step. They did not possess a single element of sovereignty; and had they possessed it, we could not, in justice to ourselves, have permitted them to exercise it in the duties necessary to a nation's self-existence. The second most fatal error was a natural inference from the first. Because we had treated with them as an independent nation, we left them without government. Their own rude patriarchal government was always weakened and often destroyed by the new treaty relations. The chiefs lost all independence of action, and sooner or later became the pliant tools of traders and agents, powerful for mischief, but powerless for good. Nothing was given to a supply the place of this defective tribal government.

The only being in America who has no law to punish the guilty or protect the innocent, is the treaty Indian. . . . The only law administered by ourselves was to pay a premium for crime. The penalty of theft was deducted from the annuity of the tribe, leaving the thief to profit by his ill-gotten gains. These evils have been increased by bad influences, and even fostered by the careless unconcern of the Government. We have taken no steps to restrain savage warfare among tribes at variance. They have murdered each other in our streets, fought beside our villages, even shaken gory scalps in our faces, and we did not know that we were nursing passions to break out in violence and blood. There was no mark of condemnation upon their pagan customs, for even high officials have paid them to hold heathen dances to amuse a crowd.

The Government, instead of compelling these men to live by honest labor, has fostered idleness, encouraged savage life by payment of money, by purchases of scalping-knives and trinkets, and has really given the weight of influence on the side of heathen life.

The sale of fire-water has been almost unblushing, when it was known that while it made drunkards of white men, it made devils of red men.

The system of trade was ruinous to honest traders and pernicious to the Indian. It prevented all efforts for personal independence and acquisition of property. The debts of the shiftless and indolent were paid out of the sale of the patrimony of the tribe. . . . The Government has promised that the Indians' homes should be secured by a patent. . . . But no patent has ever been issued. Every influence which could add to the degradation of this hapless race seems to be its inheritance.

Such a mistaken policy would be bad enough in the hands of the wisest and. best men, but it is made a hundred-fold worse by making the office of an Indian agent one of reward for political services. It has been sought, not because it was one of the noblest trusts ever committed to men to try and redeem a heathen people, . . . but because, upon a pittance of salary, a fortune could be realized in a few years.

The voice of this whole nation has declared that the Indian Department is the most corrupt in the Government. Citizens, editors, legislators, heads of the departments, and the President alike agree that it has been characterized by inefficiency and fraud. The nation, knowing this, has winked at it. We have lacked the moral courage to stand up in the fear of God and demand a reform. More than all, it was not our money. It was a sacred trust confided to us by helpless men, where common manliness should have blushed for shame at the theft. . . .

It hardly needed any act of wrong to incite savage natures to murderous cruelty. But such instances were not wanting. Four years ago the Sioux sold the Government part of their reservation, the plea for the sale being the need of funds to aid them in civilization. ... Of ninety-six thousand dollars due to the Lower Sioux not one cent has ever been received. All has been absorbed in claims except eight hundred and eighty dollars and fifty-eight cents, which is to their credit on the books at Washington. Of the portion belonging to the other Sioux, eighty-eight thousand, three hundred and fifty-one dollars and twelve cents were also taken for claims. . . . For two years the Indians had demanded to know what had become of their money, and had again and again threatened revenge unless they were satisfied. Early last spring the traders informed the Indians that the next payment would be only half the usual amount, because the Indian debts had been paid at Washington. They were in some instances refused credit on this account.

It caused deep and widespread discontent. The agent was alarmed, and as early as May he wrote me that this new fraud must bring a harvest of woe, saying, "God only knows what will be the result." In June, at the time fixed by custom, they came together for the payment. The agent could give no satisfactory reason for the delay. There was none to give. The Indians waited at the Agencies for two months, dissatisfied, turbulent, hungry, and then came the outbreak. . . . The money reached Fort Kipley the day after the outbreak. A part of the annuity had been taken for claims and at the eleventh hour, as the warrant on the treasury shows, was made up from other funds to save an Indian war. It was too late! Who is guilty of the causes which desolated our border f At whose door is the blood of these innocent victims? I believe that God will hold the nation guilty.

Our white race would not be proof against the corrupt influences which have clustered round these heathen. It would make a Sodom of any civilized community under heaven.

The leaders in the massacre were men who have always been the pliant tools of white men. When men like Little Crow and Hole-in-the-Day desired to open their budget of griefs, they could cite wrongs enough to stir savage blood to vengeance.

There is no man who does not feel that the savages who have committed these deeds of violence must meet their doom. The law of God and man alike require it; the stern necessities of self-protection demand it. If our inefficient system had not permitted the Spirit Lake murderers to go unpunished, if we had not refused to regard them as subjects of law, we should not have suffered as we have in this outbreak.

But while we execute justice, our consciousness of wrong should lead us to the strictest scrutiny, lest we punish the innocent. Punishment loses its lesson when it is the vengeance of a mob. The mistaken cry, "Take law into our own hands.'" is the essence of rebellion itself.

As citizens, we have the clear right to ask our rulers to punish the guilty. The state has the right to arraign these men in her Courts, but anything like mob violence is subversion of all law. It is a question for the judges to weigh calmly, how far any man, who was driven into this by savage leaders, and who committed no violence nor murder himself, shall be deemed guilty; and whatever that decision is, we ought to bow before the majesty of the law. There are others who, like Taopi, Good Thunder, Anagmani, and Wabasha, have a peculiar claim to our protection. Conscious of wrongs suffered, they resisted the outbreak, and to the last refused to join it. It was due to them that the captives were rescued and the guilty delivered up. In the face of death they were the white man's friend. Are we to reward their fidelity by a cry of extermination? . . .

As one whose life must be spent in Minnesota, whose home cannot be changed at will, whose lot for good or ill must be identified with her weal or woe, I feel a deep solicitude that our settlement of this war shall be such as to call down the blessing of God. The nation cannot afford to be unjust. No one could have a more heartfelt sympathy for the innocent victims of this massacre., or a deeper indignation at the guilty actors in the bloody drama. And it is because I would forever prevent such scenes, that for three years I have plead with the Government to reform the system whose perennial fruit is blood. . . .
Because we fear God, let us fear to cover up iniquity; because we hope in His mercy, let us reform the system which has proved so pernicious, and which has developed like results under all administrations. . . .

Concerning the propriety and necessity of the removal of the Indian tribes of Minnesota, I will say, that if this course is deemed the true policy for ourselves and for them, it ought not to be done--as it has so often been done--without a thought of justice. As to any scheme for concentrating the thousands of Indians in one reservation, I believe that it would only prove a large powder-magazine; that it would give bad men the power to organize a larger force to lay waste the border; and that under any system like the present one, it would prove itself mischievous and wicked--alike destructive to them and to us.

Many of these Indians have been removed again and again, and each time have been solemnly pledged that their homes should be theirs forever. If a removal were to take place, we ought to see that our nation does its whole duty, that the Indians shall have a strong government, an individual right in the soil, a just system of trade, a wise system of civilization, and honest agents. It is due to them and to ourselves that these systems shall no longer be the foster-parents to nourish savage blood. Such a reform demands the calmest thought of the best men of the nation.

H. B. WHIPPLE. Bishop of Minnesota.

This massacre led to a general war between the Sioux and the whites which lasted for over a year. The refugees from the two Agencies and our mission and many settlers were besieged for three weeks at Fort Ridgely, where there were no troops. The Indians were kept at bay by Captain John Whipple and Sergeant Jones. After three weeks of peril the beleaguered fort was relieved by Colonel Shehan, who had made a rapid march from Fort Ripley to Fort Ridgely, and the Indians then fled.

The next terrible engagement was at Birch Coulee. A party of soldiers under Major Joseph Brown, of which Dr. J. W. Daniels was the surgeon, went out to bury the dead who had fallen victims in the massacre. They camped for the night at Birch Coulee, and at break of day they were surrounded by a large body of Indians, who opened fire upon the camp, and most of the command were killed or wounded. The next battle was at Bound Lake, where the Indians were signally defeated. It was while the hostile Indians were engaged in this battle that the friendly Indians rescued the white captives, and after the battle delivered them to General Sibley. I have a letter from General Sibley with reference to the disposition of the hostile Sioux, and at the end he bears the following testimony to the Christian Indians:--

I respectfully suggest that for those individuals of the Sioux who remained faithful to the Government through all the bloody scenes referred to, and with unexampled heroism exposed their own lives and property to destruction while engaged in saving the lives of white men, women, and children, special and liberal provision should be made, which will place them beyond the reach of want and suffering. Such an exemption from the common lot of their kindred they have well and richly earned. They are comparatively few in number, and their names can readily be ascertained.

A little later a large body of Indians surrendered to General Marshall. Three hundred were condemned to death by Military Court. The President commuted the sentences of all but thirty-nine, who were hanged at Mankato. The Rev. Dr. Riggs, who was present at the trial, said that it was conducted with haste and that forty men were tried in one day.

An officer told me that one man was hanged for lying, the circumstances having been that the man, who was not at Yellow Medicine during the outbreak, boasted upon his return that he had killed Garvey, an Indian trader, with an arrow. "As we knew," said the officer, "that Garvey had been killed by a bullet, we hung the rascal."

The marshal of the prison told the Rev. Dr. Knickerbacker and myself that a man was hanged by mistake. "The day after the execution," said the marshal, "I went to the prison to release a man who had been acquitted for saving a woman's life, but when I asked for him, the answer was, 'You hung him yesterday.' I could not bring back the redskin."

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