Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry B. Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota




LETTER TO THE BOARD OF MISSIONS "Report on the Moral and Temporal Conditions of the Indian Tribes on Our Western Borders"


August 18, 1862, the Sioux Indians began a massacre which desolated the entire western border of Minnesota. Eight hundred people were murdered. Many of these victims of savage vengeance had given me true-hearted hospitality, and my heart was filled with sorrow. I had feared an outbreak. Again and again I had said publicly that as certain as any fact of human history, a nation which sowed robbery would reap a harvest of blood. Thomas Jefferson said, "I tremble for the nation when I remember that God is just." In subsequent pages the causes of these Indian wars will be found.
The Sioux were a warlike people; they had been our friends. General Sibley, who was chief factor thirty years for the Northwest Fur Company, and: "It was the boast of the Sioux that they had never taken the life of a white man. In the earlier days of my residence amongst them I never locked the door of my trading-post, and when I rose in the morning I often found Indians camped on the floor. The only thing which I have ever had stolen was a curious pipe, which was returned by the mischievous boy who took it, after I had told the Indians that if the pipe were not returned I should keep the door locked.". . . .

The history of our first negotiations with the Sioux for the purchase of their lands, which included all of southern Minnesota, I do not know; but white men as well as Indians say that there was much deception connect with it.

I was in the Indian country when the Sioux came and made bitter complaints about the non-payment for the land sold from their reservation. Pay-Pay, an old Indian whom I had known at Faribault, came to me and asked, "How much money shall we receive at this payment?" "Twenty dollars per head," I answered, "the same as you have always received."

A few hours after he brought Wa-cou-ta to me, saying, "Tell him what you said."

I repeated my statement, feeling much anxiety, for it was evident that the Indians had heard that they were not to receive their payment.

When I returned from the Upper Agency, where I found the Indians must turbulent, I said to a trader's clerk, "Major Galbraith, the agent, is coming down to enroll the Indians for payment." He replied: "Galbraith is a fool. Why does he lie to them? I have heard from Washington that most of the appropriation has been used to pay claims against the Indians, They payment will not be made. I have told the Indians this, and have refused to trust them."

I was astounded that a trader's clerk should claim to know more about they payment than the government agent. I had never seen the Indians so restless. Every day some heathen dance took place, --- a monkey dance, a begging dance, or a scalp dance. Occasionally one of the men would refuse to shake hands with me. I knew what it meant, that he wanted to boast that he would not take the hand of a white man, which was always a danger signal.

I left the Sioux country, sad at heart, to pay a visit to the Chippewa Mission, and went as far as Red Lake. There I found the Chippewa much disturbed, showing that a storm was brewing. On my arrival at Crow Wing, Mr. Peake brought a letter from the post-office for Hole-in-the-Day, marked "immediate." I saw that the address had been written by Mr. Hinman. Hole-in-the-Day had gone to Leech Lake, and we asked one of his soldiers to read the letter which said:

Your young men have killed one of my people --- a farmer Indian. I have tried to keep my soldiers at home. They have gone for scalps. Look out.

(Signed)   LITTLE CROW

As the Sioux and Chippewas were bitter enemies it was evident that Little Crow had made some treaty of peace with Hole-in-the-Day. I at once inquired if there were any Indians away, and finding that a family were camped on Gull River, twenty miles distant, I sent for them that night and they were saved. On my return journey, a day from Gull Lake, my Indians saw tracks and told me that the belong to the Sioux. I laughed at them and said, "There isn't a Sioux within a hundred miles." But they refused to go on. They stooped to the ground, and wherever they found traces of a footprint they carefully examined the crushed grass to see if the juice which had exuded were dry or fresh. Suddenly we came to a place where there had been a camp, and one of them picked up a moccasin, which he brought to me, saying, "Is that a Chippewa moccasin?"
"No," I said, "it is a Sioux moccasin."

The moccasins of the tribes are all make differently. The rest of the journey was of unceasing vigilance.

On Saturday I left Crow Wing form St. Cloud and heard of a party of Sioux back of Little Falls. I spent Sunday in St. Cloud, and that day these Indians committed a murder at Acton in order to precipitate a massacre. They reached Little Crow village before daybreak; a council of soldiers was called, and, against the advice of Little Crow, who afterward became their leader, they began their fearful warfare.

The pictorial papers containing the Civil War scenes, which the traders kept on their counters, deeply interested the Indians, who plied questions about the battles and their results. Up to this time, August, 1862, the Union troops had been defeated. Major Galbraith had enlisted a company of Renville Rangers, largely made up of mixed bloods, and many of the Indians supposed that the Government had sent for them to fight because so many of the white men had been killed. They said, "Now we can avenge our wrongs and get back to our country."

The morning of this day of blood, Mr. Hinman was sitting on the steps of the Mission House at the Lower Agency, talking with a man who was building our church, when suddenly a rapid firing was heard at the trading-post a quarter of a mile away. Sun-ka-ska (White Dog) appeared on a run, and when asked what the firing meant, answered: "The Indians have bad hearts and are killing the whites. I am going to Wabasha to stop it." In a few minutes, running at full speed, Little Crow appeared, and the same question was asked him; but he made no answer and ran on to the government barn, where Mr. Wagoner was trying to prevent the Indians from taking the horses. Little Crow cried, "Kill him!" and he was instantly shot.

Mr. Himan hastened to Mr. Prescott, the interpreter, who lived near by, to notify him of the outbreak. Mrs. Hinman was absent from the mission, but Miss West, the missionary, was advised to leave and cross the river, which she did, meeting on the way to the ferry a white woman and child whom he took under her protection. As they reached the bluff, after crossing the river, they met a party of Indians in war-paint and feather, who greeted them pleasantly with "He! Ho! Ho! You belong to the missionary. Washte! (Good!) Where are you going?" Miss West pointed to a house in the distance, and they said, "No, we are going to kill them," and motioned her to take the road leading to Fort Ripley. They threatened to kill the other woman, but to Miss West's statement that she had promised to take care of her they answered, "Ho! Ho!" and parted.

For weeks we had no tidings from the Sioux or Chippewa missions. They were dark days. When news came, we found that both missions had been destroyed; but our hearts were made glad when we learned that the only lives saved during that holocaust of death were by the Christian Indians, or friendly Indians, who had been influenced by the missionaries.

The wily chief, Hole-in-the-Day, had planned for a massacre at the same time on the northern border. But Enmegahbowh had sent a faithful messenger to Mille Lacs, to urge the Indians to be true to the whites and to send men to protect the fort. More than a hundred Mille Lacs warriors went at once to the fort, but meantime Emmegahbowh himself walked all night down Gull River, dragging a canoe containing his wife and children, that he might give warning to the fort. Two of his children died from the exposure. Messages were also sent to the white settlers, and before Hole-in-the-Day could begin war the massacre was averted.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who was at the fort, was so filled with gratitude at the Mille Lacs Indians for their protection that he promised them that they should not only be rewarded by the Government, but should not be removed from their reservation. Pledges to that effect were incorporated in a treaty made shortly after, but the pledges were broken.

It would be too long a story to tell of the heroism of Taopi, Good Thunder, Wabasha, Wa-ha-can-ka-ma-za (Iron Shield), Simon A-nag-ma-ni, Lorenzo Laurence, Other Day, Thomas Robertson, Paul Maza-kute, Wa-kin-yan-ta-wa, and others who, at the risk of life, saved helpless women and children.

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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 appall 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 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 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, leading 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 the 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 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, . . . 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 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 Ripley 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, as made up from other funds to save an Indian war. It was too late! Who is guilty of the causes which desolated our border? 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. . . .

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 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 pled with the Government to reform the system whose perennial fruit is blood. . . .

H.B. Whipple
Bishop of Minnesota
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March 6, 1862

The sad condition of the Indians of this State, who are my heathen wards, compels me to address you on their behalf. I ask only justice for a wronged and neglected race. I write the more cheerfully because I believe that the intentions of the Government have always been kind; but they have been thwarted by dishonest servants, ill-conceived plans, and defective instructions.

Before their treaty with the United States, the Indians of Minnesota were as favorably situated as an uncivilized race could well be. Their lakes, forests, and prairies furnished abundant game, and their hunts supplied them with valuable furs for the purchase of all articles of traffic. The great argument to secure the sale of their lands is the promise of their civilization. . . . The sale is made, and after the dishonesty which accompanies it there is usually enough money left, if honestly expended, to foster the Indians' desires for civilization. Remember, the parties to this contract are a great Christian Nation and a poor heathen people.

From the day of the treaty a rapid deterioration takes place. The Indian has sold the hunting-grounds necessary for his comfort as a wild man; His tribal relations are weakened; his chief's power and influence circumscribed; ad he will soon be left a helpless man without a government. a protector, or a friend, unless treaty is observed.

The Indian agents who are placed in trust of the honor and faith of the Government are generally selected without any reference to their fitness for the place. The Congressional delegation desires to award John Doe for party work, and John Doe desires the place because there is a tradition on the border that an Indian agent with fifteen hundred dollars a year can retire upon an ample fortune in four years.

The Indian agent appoints his subordinates from the same motive, either to reward his friends' service, or to fulfil the bidding of his Congressional patron. They are often men without any fitness, sometimes a disgrace to a Christian nation; whiskey-sellers, bar-room loungers, debauchers, selected to guide a heathen people. Then follow all the evils of bad example, of inefficiency, and of dishonesty, ---- the school a sham, the supplies wasted, the improvement fund or curtailed by fraudulent contracts. The Indian, bewildered, conscious of wrong, but helpless, has no refuge but to sink into a depth of brutishness. There have been noble instances of men who have tried to do their duty; but they have generally been powerless for lack of hearty cooperation of others, or because no man could withstand the corruption which has pervaded every department of Indian affairs.

The United States has virtually left the Indian without protection. . . . I can count up more than a dozen murders which have taken place in the Chippewa County within two years. . . . There is no law to protect the innocent or punish the guilty. The sale of whiskey, the open licentiousness, the neglect and want are fast dooming this people to death, and as sure as there is a God much of the guilt lies at the Nation's door.

The first question is, can these red men become civilized? I say, unhesitatingly, yes. The Indian is almost the only heathen man on earth who is not an idolater. In his wild state he is braver, more honest, and virtuous than most heathen races. He has warm home affections and strong love of kindred and country. The Government of England has, among Indians speaking the same language with our own, some marked instances of their capability of civilization. In Canada you will find there are hundreds of civilized and Christian Indians, while on this side of the line there is only degradation.

The first thing needed is honesty. There has been a marked deterioration in Indian affairs since the office has become one of mere political favoritism. Instructions are not worth the price of the ink with which they are written if they are to be carried out by corrupt agents. Every employee ought to be a man of purity, temperance, industry, and unquestioned integrity. Those selected to teach in any department must be men of peculiar fitnesss, --- patient, with quick perceptions, enlarged ideas, and men who love their work. They must be something better than so many drudges fed at the public crib.

The second step is to frame instructions so that the Indian shall be the ward of the Government. They cannot live without law. We have broken up, in part, their tribal relations, and they must have something in their place.

Whenever the Indian desires to abandon his wild life, the Government ought to aid him in building a house, in opening his farm, in providing utensils and implements of labor. His home should be conveyed to him by a patent, and be inalienable. It is a bitter cause of complaint that the Government has not fulfilled its pledges in this respect. It robs the Indian of manhood and leaves him subject to the tyranny of wild Indians, who destroy his crops, burn his fences, and appropriate the rewards of his labor.

The schools should be ample to receive all children who desire to attend. As it is, with six thousand dollars appropriated for the Lower Sioux for some seven years past, I doubt whether there is a child at the lower agency who can read who has not been taught by our missionary. Our Mission School has fifty children, and the entire cost of the mission, with three faithful teachers, every dollar of which passes through my own hands, is less than seven hundred dollars a year. I

In all future treaties it ought to be the object of the Government to pay the Indians in kind, supplying their wants at such times as they may require help. This valuable reform would only be a curse in the hands of a dishonest agent. If wisely and justly expended, the Indian would not be as he now is, ---often on the verge of starvation. . . .

It may be beyond my province to offer these suggestions; I have made them because my heart aches for this poor wronged people. The heads of the Department are too busy to visit the Indian country, and even if they did it would be to find the house swept and garnished for an official visitor. It seems to me that the surest plan to remedy these wrongs and to prevent them for the future, would be to appoint a commission of some three persons to examine the whole subject and to report to the Department a plan which should remedy the evils which have so long been a reproach to our nation. If such were appointed, it ought to be composed of men of inflexible integrity, of large heart, of clear head, of strong will, who fear God and love man. I should like to see it composed of men so high in character that they are above the reach of the political demagagues.

I have written to you freely with tll the frankness with which a Christian bishop has the right to write to the Chief Ruler of a great Christian Nation. My design his not been to complain of individuals, nor to make accusations. Bad as I believe some of the appointments to be, they are the fault of a political system. When I came to Minnesota I was startled at the degradation at my door. I give these men missions; God has blessed me, and I would count every trial I have had as a way of roses if I could save this people.

May God guide you and give you grace to order all things, so that the Government shall deal reghteously with the Indian nations in its charge.

Your servant for Christ's sake,
Bishop of Minnesota.
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"Report on the Moral and Temporal Conditions of the Indian Tribes on Our Western Borders"

In every instance the original cause which led to our recent wars was conduct which would have been regarded as ample grounds for war by any civilized country on earth. The first outbreak was in Minnesota in 1862. These Indians had sold us a country as large as the State of New York, as beautiful as the eye ever rested upon; it had everything which the bounty of God could give for the use of wild men. Fish and wild game made it an Indian's paradise. Of the first sale I know nothing; the Indians said that after the bargain was made, their chiefs were bribed to sign a provision, which gave the larger part of the first payment to certain white men. They say they were then kept for months in a starving condition, until many of their people died; and it was this which made red men say to the Governor, "I will leave these bones of my people on the prairie, and some day the Great Spirit will look the white man in the face and ask him what has become of his red brother." For some time they were left without a reservation, and then denied the one which had been promised to them. In 1858 these Indians sold the Government eight hundred thousand acres of their reservation. The plea was they needed money for civilization. The treaty provided that no debts should be paid except as the Indians should acknowledge in open council. No such open council was ever held. There was a provision inserted in the treaty, --- of which the Indians say they were ignorant, --- which provided that the Secretary of the Interior might use any of their money as he thought best for them. After four years they had received nothing except a lot of useless goods sent to the Upper Sioux. Of the entire amount going to the Lower Sioux for this immense tract of land, all was taken for claims except about eight hundred and sixty-eight dollars. They waited four years; the story of our broken faith was often the subject of angry discussion. Old Wabasha said to me: "My father, four years ago I went to Washington. Our Great Father said to us, "If you live as white men I will help you more than I have ever done.' Four winters have passed and the fifth is nigh. It is so long a way to Washington the agents forget their Father's words, for they never do as he told us. You said you were sorry my young men had these foolish dances. I am sorry. The reason their wild life clings to them like a blanket is that their hearts are sick. The Indian's face is turned to the setting sun, and he thinks these are long journeys for himself and children. If your great Council at Washington would do as they promised, our people would believe them. The good Indian would become like his brother, and the bad Indian go away. I have heard of your words for my poor people. You have none of my blood in your veins, and I have none of yours; but you have spoken as a father speaks for his child whom he loves well. Often, when I sit alone in my tipi, your words will come back to me, and be like music to my heart."

It was not enough to take the price of their lands; a considerable part of their annuities was taken. The Indians come together for payment in June, at the time the treaty provided. They waited two months; they were starving. Maddened by hunger and the sense of wrong, and vainly dreaming that on account of the rebellion they could repossess the country, they began a massacre which depopulated our border for three hundred miles, ---eight hundred of our citizens lost their lives. Many a friend whose hospitality I had received, is to-day sleeping in a nameless grave. A nation which is too cowardly or too corrupt to redress such wrongs, will be too blind to punish the guilty or to protect the innocent. All Christian Indians were as true as martyrs. There are no more touching instances of fidelity in the history of the Church of Christ. Their deeds of bravery ought to live forever. Those who surrendered and the few who were captured were tried. Forty men had separate trials and were condemned to die in six hours. Three hundred were condemned to be hanged. Only thirty-eight suffered death, but of those some were innocent. The marshal of the prison told me that he went the next day to release a man who had been acquitted on the ground that he had saved a white woman's life. The Indians said, "He is not here; you hung him yesterday." The friendly Indians and the Winnebagoes, who were innocent, were taken to the Upper Missouri. Over one thousand died of disease and starvation. Soldiers tell the sad tale of women picking over the dung of their horses to find half-digested kernels of grain to save their children from death. An officer of the army told me he met a woman, whom he had known for years as a virtuous woman, who told him, with tears, that she had gone one hundred miles to degrade herself, to save her children from death. During this horrible winter a party of Indian women crossed to Faribault, several hundred miles, in the dead of winter, without a human habitation on the route, and living on routes, to tell me of their sorrows . . . .