Little Crow reluctantly led Dakota Conflict

Quite a few years ago a new resident opined that there seemed to have been a severe lack of imagination when names were being given to certain places in the county. Little Crow would seem to hold a substantial lead should there ever have been a contest. While it is an interesting name, one would wonder how much each or any of the namers knew about the person to whom it had originally been given. In fact, he was the fifth and last “Little Crow” of his line. His real name should have been Charging Hawk, like his father, but somewhere along the line it was mis-translated to Little Crow.

The young man, who was born around 1810, and would come to be known by whites as Little Crow was, in fact, named Taoyateduta, which translates to His Red People. His father was Big Thunder, the chief of the Kaposia band of the Mdewakanton tribe which settled at what is now known as Dayton’s Bluff, on the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. Paul until Little Crow’s village (Kaposia) moved across the river shortly after his birth. This location, along with his father’s tribal position, gave him access to several other bands of his tribe as a youngster.

His childhood was like that of every other Dakota youth. The Dakota were a deeply religious people and he learned the ways of Wakan and about an after life at an early age, along with learning that every member of the village was kin, as he learned his other tribal responsibilities. Growing older he left childhood games and activities behind while he was approaching manhood, Once he passed the rites of the coming of age, he was an eager hunter and participated in the band’s bison hunts and hunted deer and elk on his own.

It wasn’t too many years after the move that his father was killed when his gun accidentally discharged.

Big Thunder had three wives — not unusual in polygamous Dakota society. Little Crow was the son of the first wife, and he had four half-brothers, sons of the other two wives. The two sons of the second wife wanted to keep the tribal leadership within the family — more particularly the sons of their mother. They decided to remove Little Crow, who was the heir apparent, and shot at him but a young brave diverted the gun with a hatchet so the shot only broke his arm, which remained crooked the rest of his life.

The would-be assassins were tried for attempted murder by the tribal council and executed. Little Crow took over the leadership of the band.

It wasn’t many years before the tribe sold most of its land to the federal government through a very explicit treaty. Under its terms the Dakota gave up most of their vast lands, which had supported them well over many years, and went to live on a strip of land 10 miles wide on each side of the Minnesota River from near the Yellow Medicine Agency to close to New Ulm. In return the government would send people to teach them how to become farmers and pay them the interest on the sale money which was being held by the government and the interest on which was to be paid annually for 50 years, after which the principal was to revert to the government. This arrangement was to take care of several thousand people.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. The traders, including some who would become governors of the new State of Minnesota, sold the supplies which the govenment sent to the Dakota at high rates and took the treaty money, when it arrived each year, in payment for the goods which had been sold, leaving the tribesmen little or nothing on which to live.
In desperation they left the reservation to hunt, which frightened the settlers, so they petitioned the governor for protection.

The Dakota Conflict is a story in itself — only Little Crow’s part in it will be told here. A great deal of detail will be lost in the telling this way, but there’s not enough space for the whole story. We’ve told it and there are books available for those who want more information.

Little Crow had gone to Washington as a guest of the government when the purchase of the land was first proposed. He knew the size of the governmental sources, and he knew the Dakota had to submit if they had any hope of retaining their own way of life.

When four of the young men of the tribe stole some eggs from a farm near Acton they realized, too late, what the consequences would be. They hurried back to their village to tell Traveling Hail, their chief, what had happened. He took them to Little Crow and other young men went along. They wanted to fight and drive the whites out of the land they’d purchased. But these young men had done too much. In addition to taking the eggs they had killed five settlers. They’d challenged the white men to a target shoot and, possibly, a rifle swap. The target was a gnarled old oak tree just about out of range. The young Dakotas let the whites shoot first, then they shot the whites, and left for their village in a hurry. Now, as they made their way to Little Crow’s home they were joined by others until there was a sizeable gathering in and outside the chief ’s home.

The young men wanted war. The elders, several of whom had also been to Washington, were advising against it. All night long the argument on. Some accusations of cowardice could be heard. Finally, Little Crow conceded defeat. Wowinape, his son, had learned the skill of story telling — instant memorization of what is said, so he could translate it and pass it along to the others. This is, according to Wowinape, part of what his father told the young men:

“Braves, you are fools, You cannot see the face of your chief; your eyes are full of smoke. You cannot hear his voice; your ears are filled with roaring waters. Braves, you are little children — you are fools. You will die like the rabbits when the hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon.

“Taoyateduta (Little Crow) is not a coward. He will die with you.”

The war parties started their attacks at dawn. In the next month, before the War had ended in utter defeat for the Dakota, hundreds of settlers had been killed. The Dakota had heavy casualties, too. Little Crow had led his men in some of the attacks but the heavily armed white militia men were too much for the Dakota.

Finally, after their defeat at the Battle of Wood Lake, many surrendered. Others, determined to carry on the fight fled to the West in a futile effort to ask those tribes to join and help them.

Little Crow, accompanied by Wowinape and a few friends went to safety in Canada where they remained until the next summer. Then Little Crow headed back to Minnesota, where he planned to surrender to his friend, former Gov. Henry Sibley.

On July 3, 1863, Little Crow and his son Wowinape, were in a brushy area north of Hutchinson, eating some berries which they had just found, when they were surprised by an area farmer named Lamson who opened fire. Little Crow was fatally wounded. Lamson headed for Hutchinson to get help. When the party returned they found Little Crow’s body, but Wowinape had disappeared. Not knowing the body was that of Little Crow the party brought it back to Hutchinson, where some citizens took it in hand, hitched it to a horse, dragged it through the streets and tossed it onto a livery stable manure pile. Town officials took possession of the body and recognized it to be that of Little Crow by the crooked arm and second row of teeth. It was brought to St. Paul where Lamson collected a $500 bounty, and turned the corpse over to the state Historical Society, where it was preserved and put on display briefly. It was then removed and stored until it was returned to the Dakota who interred it at Flandreau in the mid 20th century.

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