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Little Crow

Part I

Little Crow, or Taoyateduta, or His Red Nation, was born at Kaposia (near Fort Snelling) in about 1810 to Big Thunder and Miniokadawin, or Woman Planting in Water. He received a customary Dakota education and went on trading expeditions to the western Dakota tribes. He married four daughters of the Wahpeton tribe chief. In 1846, he succeeded his father as leader of a Mdewakanton band of Native Americans. Little Crow was a negotiator and signer of the Treaty of Mendota in 1851 and the Treaty of 1858. He also made a trip to Washington, D.C. in 1854 to campaign for well-defined boundary lines for the Dakota reservations. In the 1850s he was recognized as the spokesman for all the Mdewakanton tribes. By the 1860s he had accepted some of the white man’s ways but refused to adopt anything that would compromise his Dakota religious beliefs.

Many myths surround the figure of this man. Little Crow did not initiate the 1862 Uprising or lead the Indian forces into it. Historians claim that he was not a brutal person, yet he played a major role in the war and worked to expand the fighting to include other Sioux tribes once the war began. Little Crow’s place in history is that of an important, intelligent and tragic figure whose political career vividly illustrates the compromises, dilemmas and often impossible situations that evolved in dealing with whites in the 19th century. William Folwell, who researched a four-volume history of Minnesota in 1916, wrote of Little Crow, “Deceived by white men, discredited by his own people, he has been given an unjust character in history which should be corrected … When the bitterness of the survivors of the days of 1862 shall have died out, this will probably be done.”

Little Crow lived in and breathed the air of southwestern Minnesota — this is also where he died. In 1862 (the year of the Sioux Uprising) Little Crow lived in a wood house in the center of his village located 2 miles northwest of the Redwood Agency (near the present site of Morton). There are two recorded accounts of his death. One is given by his niece, the other by the man who killed him. The accounts agree; only the perspective is different.

In 1998, the following piece appeared in the Meeker County Historical Society Newsletter. It was related by Mrs. Harry Lawrence as told to her by her mother. (Mrs. Lawrence was the niece of Little Crow who was her father’s brother): “My mother always told me, ‘Daughter, you must remember this well, because someday you will have to tell this story, and so I am telling it now.'” We have been unable to find out anything more about Mrs. Lawrence — but the account of Little Crow’s death certainly fits in with all the documented history of this Indian leader.

Little Crow My Uncle

On August 17, 1862 my mother’s two brothers and my father had gone to the agency where they worked. Little Crow had gone hunting early in the morning, as it was the custom to hunt for the breakfast. My mother went out into the large cornfield to chase away the blackbirds when she heard a loud commotion near the road. This is between Redwood Falls and Morton, Minn. She heard a lot of men talking, and she heard one say, ‘If we are going to do this, we can get along at least two years.’ She hid herself in a shelter made of boughs, or a bower, and listened to what was happening. She saw a lot of men going toward the agency. Between them there was a large ravine. Soon she heard a shot ring out from the direction of the agency. This was followed by rapid firing. She was very frightened because her two brothers and my father were there. She jumped down and ran home.

When she got home she saw Little Crow coming in. His clothes were all wet, even his moccasins. He took off his wet things and put them out in the sun to dry. While he was sitting there the whole thing happened. He didn’t get up and take a gun or go to the agency or anything. My mother ran out to go to the agency, and when she got as far as the ravine, she saw two men coming along, carrying someone between them. His face was covered with blood. When she got close enough she discovered that it was one of her brothers. He had been at the agency sitting beside a white man as they ate their breakfast. As they sat there the door opened and some Indians burst in and shot the white man, splattering the blood upon the face of her brother. He had fainted, and they were bringing him home.

(Continued next week)

Sources: “Little Crow,” Mrs. Harry Lawrence, Meeker County Historical Society Newsletter, 1998. Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862, edited by Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988; Little Crow, Spokesman for the Sioux, Gary Clayton Anderson, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986.

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