On the following morning re-enforcements arrived. The Indians were driven off by shells, or "rotten cannon-balls," as they called them. The battle being ended, the soldiers went up to the wagon, and were perfectly astounded to find Mrs. Kreiger yet alive. The wagon itself was a mass of splinters, and by actual count the blanket which covered the poor woman contained over two hundred bullet holes. This statement was sworn to by Mrs. Kreiger before the United States commissioners. When she reached the fort she was gladdened to find that six of her eight children, inheriting their mother's pluck, had managed to escape.
Three months before the massacre, John Boelter and his wife, Justina, with their little family, settled on a homestead claim on Beaver Creek, in Renville county. They went to make a home from the ground up. While the husband and hired hands felled the trees with ringing ax, and built the rude cabin, the brave young wife prepared meals over a camp-fire. When the house was done, and the little family ensconced in their new home, their simple hearts were thrilled with joy and thankfulness.
The morning of the 18th of August, 1862, found the family situated in a comfortable log cabin. The yard was surrounded by a fence and filled with a garden, both of vegetables and flowers. The family were at breakfast. The delightful morning air which belongs to Minnesota even in the hottest months, poured in through the open door and windows. The sun was just high enough to have driven away the chilliness left by the shadows of the night. Suddenly the little family at the breakfast table were startled by the entrance of a squaw with an ax in her hand. She looked around hurriedly, and ran back to the road, rejoining some other squaws. Surprised at the circumstance, Mrs. Boelter stepped to the door to watch their movements, and was alarmed to hear a succession of shots in the direction of Mr. Reef's house. Informing her husband of the fact, he at once went out to look after his cattle, which he suspected were in danger. As soon as he was gone, three squaws and four Indians entered the house, remained a few moments, and left. A moment later Mrs. Boelter's brother-in-law came running in, and exclaimed, "The report is that the Indians are killing the whites." He then ran on to a field where his father had been at work, to warn him, but failing to find him, started back. It was afterward ascertained that the old man had already been killed.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Boelter, in her fright, took a pan of bread from the stove, and, carefully wrapping the pan up in a cloth, laid it away in the cupboard, and placing the loaves of bread in the dish-pan proceeded to wash them. Without observing her blunder she hung the bread up on a nail and seizing her three children, started down the road. She shortly met her brother-in-law, and begged him to call her husband. At that moment a scream reached their ears. Looking toward Reef's house, they discovered Indians in the act of killing Mrs. Reef and her children who were out in the yard. The piercing screams continued for a moment and then all was still. Her brother-in-law snatched up the baby, and started off on a run. Such was his haste that Mrs. Boelter and her two children were unable to keep, and soon lost sight of him. At this point in her story Mrs. Boelter makes the following touching note: "I never saw nor heard of my husband after he left on the morning of the 18th of August to look after the cattle."
The mother and her two children sought refuge in the woods. For several days they lingered in the locality, subsisting on some raw potatoes, which she found in the cellar of a house which had been plundered. On Friday Mrs. Boelter ventured to the house of her brother-in-law. She was shocked to discover his mother lying on the floor, her head severed from her body, the house plundered, and the furniture and bedding strewn around the yard in wild confusion. In one corner of the yard lay the corpses of five children. Without losing her presence of mind, Mrs. Boelter ran into the garden, hastily dug up some potatoes with her fingers, gathered some cucumbers, and hurried back to her children in the woods.
The unhappy woman remained in the wilderness week after week completely bewildered. Heavy rains set in, and in the fifth week the eldest child died from exposure and starvation. Cold, wet, and starving, the mother sat in the rain, watching the body of her dead child for four days. She and the living child subsisted on grape leaves. The corpse now became offensive and was covered with multitudes of flies. The mother attempted to remove but found herself too weak to crawl a foot. After many trials she succeeded in crawling away about fifty yards. At this time a heavy frost came and killed the grape leaves. The mother, somewhat stronger, crawled through the woods to find some sheltered vine, which the frost had not reached. In this she succeeded and gathered some leaves; but having left her child behind, and her intellect being affected, she could not find it. Though the light of reason flickered feebly in its socket, the instinct of motherhood remained strong. After groping around for a day and a half, the wretched woman was overjoyed to find her child.
Further subsistence upon foliage being impossible, the mother again attempted to crawl to the garden of her brother-in-law's house. She was six hours in traversing the quarter of a mile. She found a few potatoes and a small pumpkin. Unable to carry both at once, she carried the pumpkin some distance and then returned for the potatoes. By alternate stages she finally reached the spot where she had left her child. The trip to the garden, one quarter of a mile away, had taken a day and a half.
A new horror awaited her return. Multitudes of snakes, large and small, had surrounded and covered her child. When she herself came up they crawled over her and covered her. She says in her story, "I found that they did me no harm, and they soon ceased to be an annoyance; indeed, their company became agreeable in my lonely condition after I became accustomed to their presence."
Mrs. Boelter remained where she was another week. It was now the middle of October. The cold became severe. Giving up all hope of being rescued, a dull purpose came into her head to return to her own home. By alternately pushing and dragging her child, she made her way back with infinite trouble to the desolated abode. Shortly afterward a relief party of soldiers pushed open the door of the house, and discovered lying on some rags in the corner what seemed to be a skeleton covered with a yellow parchment. On the breast of this form lay another, much smaller and possessing rather more flesh. The soldiers went up gently to the rude pallet, and found that the two emaciated forms were human beings, almost but not quite dead. The woman raised her eyes, and something like a whisper came from her mouth. A weak broth was hastily prepared. After being nursed for two days the mother and her child gained sufficient strength to be taken to the camp of the soldiers. This was on October 27th, just eight weeks after the massacre. Mrs. Boelter was subsequently removed to Fort Ridgley, and in some degree recovered her health and strength.
During all of the fatal 18th of August the people at the Upper Agency were completely ignorant of any thing unusual going on. Just at sunset the inhabitants were surprised to see a large body of Indians gathered on a hill west of the settlement. In a little while John Otherday, a farmer Indian, came in with news of the terrible massacre which had been raging thirty miles away. The people of the settlement were hastily gathered into the government warehouse, and resolved to defend themselves to the last extremity. Sixty-two men, women, and children remained awake and distressed through the night.
About two o'clock in the morning, a trader named Garvie knocked for admittance. He had been guarding his store and was shot in the bowels, but managed to escape through his garden to the warehouse. Two men, Kennedy and Boardman, were asleep in another store. A man ran and told them to run for their lives. One took to the warehouse, and the other started to Fort Ridgley. In a short time the Indians had killed or driven off all the storekeepers of the place, and instantly began the work of plunder. Peter Patoile was shot through the breast, and left for dead. He crawled to some bushes on the river bank, and remained there all the following day. At nightfall he dragged himself to the shores of the Minnesota River, and forded the stream. Finding a deserted settler's house, he passed the night there, but in the morning, discovering Indians about, seized a blanket and hid in a neighboring ravine. He wandered about through an uninhabited country and finally struck a settlement far up the Sauk Valley, where his wound was dressed for the first time.
At the warehouse at Yellow Medicine, John Otherday, the faithful Indian, remained on watch all night. The shouts of the Indians could be heard in the darkness as they proceeded in their work of plunder and destruction at the trading post, half a mile away. It was evident that to remain where they were meant certain death. The seriousness of the situation was appalling. Slender as were the chances of escape, the resolve was taken to attempt it. Teams were hastily harnessed to such wagons as could be had, and into them climbed the women and children. A small supply of provisions was thrown together, and just at dawn the terrified procession, of which the male members were on foot, crossed the Minnesota River, and, guided by John Otherday, struck across the prairie in the direction of the settlements of the Kandiyohi Lakes. a hard storm overtook the party, during which poor Garvie died.
By the unflinching devotion of John Otherday, a pure full-blooded Indian, who only three years before, had been of the wildest savages, the lives of sixty-two persons were rescued from the massacre. Yielding to his advice to not attempt flight in the direction of Fort Ridgley, where they would be certainly destroyed, the party placed their lives in his hands, and struck into a trackless wilderness, with which he alone was acquainted. On Friday, the 22nd, he guided them safely into Shakopee, Scott county.
The settlers around Yellow Medicine heard the news of the massacre during Monday night. They met with various fortunes. One party started in the direction of Fort Ridgley, and found the place surrounded with savages. Andrew Hunter managed to crawl through the under brush and make his way into the fort. The garrison told him that it was certain death for his company of more than forty people to attempt to make their way through the lines of the Indians into the fort. He returned to his companions with the sad news that they must look elsewhere for safety. Heart-sick, the fugitives resumed their weary march. All around the horizon they could see the red light from burning dwellings.
Four Germans who had joined their party left them on the following morning, going in the direction of New Ulm. They had scarcely proceeded a mile before the main body heard a volley of shots. Later it was ascertained that the men had been killed. The party pressed on in the direction of Henderson. As they journeyed, the sounds of the conflict at New Ulm were borne faintly to their ears upon the breeze. They eventually reached their destination. Three miles below Yellow Medicine lived Leopold Wohler. Joining a party of eighteen persons, on their way to Fort Ridgley, he traveled till overtaken by Indians at Beaver Creek. The whole company was captured, with a single exception. Blair was released on account of his wife's mixed blood. After five days Blair reached the fort, and was at once arrested and imprisoned as a spy. He protested without effect. He was a man of delicate health, and quickly succumbed to his misfortunes, to find quiet in the grave.
Leavenworth was the name of a settlement on Cottonwood River, in Brown county. The alarm reached here on the afternoon of Monday, the 18th. One party of six, on their way to New Ulm, were attacked and killed. Near this settlement lived a Mr. Covill. At four o'clock in the afternoon he hurried from a field, where he had been stacking grain, to his house, and told his wife to get ready for flight, while he roused the neighbors and got a team. Mrs. Covill packed a trunk with clothing, and hid it and herself in the grass, as she was afraid to stay in the house. The party was quickly made up. One of its members was a poor woman from Tennessee. Her child had died that day, and the mother carried the corpse in her arms. The party passed the night at the house of a Mr. Guilder. Nearly all of the people had already gone to New Ulm.
In the morning the party started out again, but, discovering some Indians, they hurried back to the house amid a shower of balls. One old lady had her arm broken by a bullet. The horses were left unhitched in the haste to get to the house, and they ran away. The Indians followed the team, and the party, now consisting of fifteen people, started once more. Their only conveyance was an ox-team. The Tennessee mother sadly left the body of her child behind. This party remained in the woods till Friday, subsisting on raw flour. One of the number died. On the day named a rescuing party from New Ulm reached them.
In the same locality with these people lived Elijah Whiton. On Monday evening a settler stopped and told him that the Indians had murdered a family on the Minnesota River. The Whitons paid no particular attention to the news, and, isolated by the flight of the people from that region, heard nothing further until Thursday afternoon. About four o'clock Mr. Whiton, at work in his field, saw a neighbor running down the road, pursued by Indians. The man's family had been murdered, but he himself escaped. Whiton ran to his house, and told his wife and two children to go to New Ulm through the woods, while he went to warn his brother Luther.
Mr. Whiton was never seen alive by his family again. His wife and children had proceeded but a little way when they saw a band of Indians surround the house, load the wagon with every thing valuable, hitch up the horses, and drive off. As the woman and her children fled through the night, they were terror-stricken to find in the road six corpses, being the entire family of their neighbor Blum. They succeeded in reaching New Ulm on Friday evening. Mr. Whiton, after hunting for his brother, returned to his home only to find it already plundered. Falling in with a man named Daly, who had escaped from Lake Shetek, they traveled together till they came to a deserted farm-house. The men had nothing to eat for forty-eight hours. They entered and found the table spread for a meal. It had been standing for nearly two days, the family having left without touching it. While eating, two Indians entered the house unobserved and shot Whiton dead. His companion escaped.
The extent of the massacre is shown by the fact that at Big Stone Lake, in the county of that name, one hundred and fifty miles from New Ulm, the outbreak was almost simultaneous with that at the places heretofore named. All the people of the settlement were massacred except a half-breed named Gubeau and Anton Manderfeld, who escaped. Gubeau was bound with raw hide, but he was cool and thoroughly acquainted with the Indian character. He was seated on the ground and a ring of yelling savages danced about him. Watching his opportunity, he collected all his strength, and with a single leap, bound though he was with his hands behind his back, sprang over the heads of the dancers, and sped over the prairie with the fleetness of a deer. He headed straight for the lake. His pursuers followed close, firing at him incessantly; but he seemed to bear a charmed life.
Reaching the marsh at the border of the lake, with its tall growth of grass and weeds, Gubeau plunged in and had buried himself in the water up to his chin. The water soon rendered the rawhide soft and slippery, so that he could release his hands. Coming out of his hiding-place, he traveled for days till he reached St. Cloud. Completely worn out, he thought he had reached a place of safety. Not so. The people of the place, lashed into the wildest excitement by the appalling massacre, of which reports had reached them, instantly detected the presence of Indian blood in the veins of poor Gubeau, arrested him as a spy, and prepared to hang him. All his protestations were in vain. Just as he was about to be executed, a gentleman pressed his way through the crowd, recognized and rescued him.
A mile from the store on Big Stone Lake Anton Manderfeld was at work. A man came by on Thursday and told him that there was not a white man left alive on the whole reservation. Just at that moment a hundred Indians came toward the camp. Two of the men were fired upon and killed, but Manderfeld and his cousin took to the prairie and hid in the grass. A little later the cousin insisted on going down to the lake shore. Manderfeld shortly heard three shots. His cousin was dead. It now remained for Manderfeld to escape if possible. He traveled through the country, directing his course toward the Minnesota River.
About nine o'clock one evening he came upon a farm-house. No light shone from the window. Overcome with hunger, he went toward the door, which was open. He was met by a terrible stench. He retraced his steps for a short distance, and again resolved to hunt for some food. Stepping into the door, he stumbled over something in the dark. He stooped down and felt the object. His hand came in contact with some cold and sticky substance. Holding his hand in the moonlight he observed that it was bloody. Another look at the object disclosed that it was the body of an elderly man. Manderfeld shuddered. The stench was intolerable. He passed on into the next room. The moonlight, which came in through the open window, revealed the white face of a woman with staring eyeballs lying on the floor. A great gash had almost severed the head from the body.
Thrilled with horror, Manderfeld turned his face away. There he beheld three other forms. They were those of the children. The heads had been beaten off; only the trunks remained. Afterward it was known that the savages had attacked the place in the evening a day or two before. All the household had been slain. The man fled from the house, preferring not to take anything to eat. As he ran, some cattle and dogs and hogs, which were still alive on the place, but almost famished, delighted to see a human being, took after him, making a great noise. Manderfeld was frightened. The barking of the dogs, the lowing of the cattle, their jingling bells, and the squealing of the hogs, had a strange, unearthly sound. The man ran on and on, but the dumb brutes only followed faster. A troop of hobgoblins could not have frightened Manderfeld more.
Shattered by exposure and hunger, not yet recovered from the awful scene which he had just witnessed in that lonely farm-house in the dead of night, the poor man was almost crazy. The noise was certain to attract the attention of any savages within the range of several miles. He stopped and shouted at the animals. He waved his hands at them. He gathered clubs and stones to beat them off. All was useless. The creatures, as if aware of the terrible things which had happened, were resolved not to be left alone. Not till he crossed a river did he shake off the pursuit, and even then the watch-dog stood upon the bank and howled mournful reproaches after him. Manderfeld at last succeeded in reaching Fort Ridgley.
Lake Shetek is in Murray county, Minnesota, seventy miles west of New Ulm. Here a dozen families had located, far in advance of the line of regular settlements. About five o'clock on Wednesday morning, August 20, 1862, Mrs. Hurd was milking her cows. Her children were in the house asleep. At that moment twenty Indians rode up and dismounted. A man named Voight came to the door with the youngest child in his arms just in time to receive a bullet, which passed through the body of the child and fatally wounded the man. The Indians commenced an indiscriminate destruction of every thing in the house. Mr. Hurd, it should have been said, was away from home. The Indians told Mrs. Hurd that she might take her two children, the oldest boy of four years and go wherever she pleased. Running on through the prairie, she heard the crack of guns behind her and knew that death had overtaken her neighbors.
The journey before her was one of seventy miles through an uninhabited country. The unhappy woman lost her way, and at the end of two days found herself only four miles from her home. Nevertheless she pushed on as well as she could. Unable to carry both of her children at the same time, she would take one for half a mile, lay it down in the grass, and go back for the other. In this way she traveled twelve miles to the nearest house. She was heart-broken to find the place deserted; but a few raw onions and a spoiled ham afforded some relief. Before long, Mrs. Hurd fell in with some of her neighbors, and eventually reached New Ulm, where they found temporary relief. On her way Mrs. Hurd had learned that her husband had been killed.
The Indians passed from Hurd's house to those of the neighbors. The latter catching the alarm, gathered in Mr. Wright's house. The mud was knocked out from between the logs. The women were put up-stairs, while the men prepared below to fight. Shortly the Indians came into sight. The people, unused to savage warfare, were panic-stricken, and seizing their horses, took to flight. Several of the party were wounded. The Indians quickly overtook and surrounded them. From time to time the savages fired, killing the men. Mrs. Eastlick and the other women and children were taken captives. In a few moments the first named woman was shot and left for dead. When the Indians left she crawled back to the scene of the murder, and found the bodies of her friends. She wandered around several days, and finally fell in with the same party which Mrs. Hurd had met. The sufferings of the whole party were fearful. On their way they passed the house of Mr. Brown, in which the whole family had been killed. Mrs. Eastlick reached New Ulm with the rest of the party.
We have been tracing the flight of various fugitives to New Ulm. This place was on the Minnesota River, thirty miles from the Lower Agency. On the morning of the 18th of August a party of volunteers set out from this place to join the Union army at the call of President Lincoln. They had traveled about eight miles, marching to the grand, wild music of war, full of anxious thoughts for those left behind. Suddenly the column halted. The men discovered a number of dead bodies lying in the road, and were, at the same moment fired upon by Indians. They also heard shots in various directions, and saw people running across the prairie. The volunteers turned back to New Ulm, destined to take part in a war somewhat nearer than they had anticipated. The people from the surrounding country soon began to pour into the place, bringing vague and terrible reports of an awful massacre which was taking place up the valley.
The people were wild with panic. For many years there had been no trouble with the Indians in that part of the country. The great part of the settlers had no weapons, and for Indian fighting they were utterly unprepared. At night, the throngs of wretched fugitives, which packed the houses and streets of New Ulm or poured through the place, seeking refuge at points lower down the river, could see the sky lit up by hundreds of burning farm-houses, barns, and hay-stacks. Within a day or two companies of volunteer troops began to arrive at New Ulm from adjoining places, until there were about five hundred to defend the town.
A large force of Indians surrounded the place, which had been supplied with hasty barracks. On Saturday morning a long column of Indians were seen in full career across the prairie, headed for the place. When tolerably near, the column was seen to open like a fan long enough to surround the entire village. A desperate battle was fought. The Indians broke over the barricades, and the place was defended from the houses. The enemy, capturing the lower part of the town, fired the buildings, and the roar and smoke of the flames added horror to the battle. At night the savages withdrew, having burned more than two hundred houses and filled the town with the wounded, dead, and dying. This was the place which hundreds of fugitives had traveled great distances and undergone infinite hardships to reach as one of refuge. On Monday morning it was decided to abandon the place into which two thousand people were huddled together like cattle. One hundred and fifty-three wagon loads of wounded, sick, and helpless filed down the road on the retreat to St. Peter.
Fort Ridgley was, as we have seen, the point toward which great numbers of the people directed their flight. The first news of the massacre reached there about nine o'clock on the morning of the bloody Monday. There were then in the fort about eighty soldiers. One-half of the number at once started for the Lower Agency. The little company reached the ferry at the latter place, and were attacked by five hundred Indians. More than half their number were killed there. Thirteen of the men escaped by swimming the river, and a few more reached the fort at night.
Fort Ridgley was situated on the edge of a prairie, with two wooded ravines on either side of it, and timber land on a third side. On the afternoon of Wednesday the Indians concentrated their forces upon the fort. From the cover of the ravines they poured in a terrific fire. Although the place was called a fort, it was really a cluster of barracks, stores, and barns around a parade ground. The magazine, strange to say, was located out in the prairie, twenty rods from the main fort, in which was very little ammunition. The first task of the garrison was to carry in ammunition from the magazine. The men ran back and forth in the midst of a heavy fire. It was perilous work. Three howitzers were used with great effect in shelling the woods. The Indians never left their cover, and towards night withdrew. On the following day, the men were busily employed in erecting temporary barricades with sacks of oats and piles of cord wood. The wooden roofs of the buildings were covered with earth as a protection against fire.
On Friday the Indians again appeared in great force. They secured possession of some out-buildings, and set them on fire, aiming to leave one side of the place exposed. In the struggle which ensued at this point, the soldiers captured a wounded Indian, and, in their rage, flung him headlong into the burning building, where he perished. The Indians did not withdraw from the fort until it received re-enforcements on August 27th.
Within a day or two the news of the great massacre spread through Minnesota, and volunteer companies of citizens were organized at different points in the State and hurried to the scene of hostilities. Some of these companies met with thrilling experiences. They found the counties bordering on the reservation completely depopulated. In many of the settlements the entire body of inhabitants had been massacred. Here and there, in exceptional cases, small bodies of determined men had barricaded themselves for a desperate resistance. All through the month of September mounted companies ranged the country in search of helpless fugitives, and intent on relieving such of the people as still held out.
While the troops under Colonel Sibley were hurrying to the front with the real military strength which was to crush the great revolt, let us glance for a moment at the condition of the country. It is to be remembered that eighteen counties, populated by forty thousand people, were lain desolate. In all this vast extent of country not a village, not a settlement, had escaped the red hand of the murderer. The blow had fallen simultaneously and without a single note of warning to the victims. Such as had escaped from the first work of death, fled like deer across the country. A stream of fugitives, composed of thirty thousand wretched, homeless people poured down the Minnesota valley. This tide of helpless humanity, on foot, on horse, and in wagons, rolled on and on, spreading panic in their course, until they reached the Mississippi River, and great numbers of them fled from the state, leaving all their property, and never returned.
In our story we have related briefly the experiences of a few of the unhappy people, selected at random, here and there, from this awful procession of refugees. They are but meager and insufficient examples of the sufferings of thousands upon thousands of persons. The whole country, thus depopulated, was given over to the fire and sword.
A glimpse at the town of St. Peter, as it appeared on the morning of Wednesday, August 20, 1862, gives some idea of the distress of the flying people. The natural population of the town was about one thousand. It was a quiet western village, in which the chime of the church bells, the rumbling of the flour-mill, and the musical strokes of the blacksmith on his anvil were the only disturbing sounds. On sunny Saturdays a score of farm wagons would be seen in the streets, but a greater assemblage was, indeed, rare.
On Monday evening rumors of the massacre had reached the place, and the startled citizens were in the streets, discussing the situation. By midnight the tide of fugitives began to surge into the place. Hour after hour passed, and the stream of arrivals thickened constantly. All day Tuesday and Tuesday night the procession of unfortunates rushed and crowded pell-mell into the place. By Wednesday morning the population had increased to many thousands. "Every private house, every public house, every church, school-house, warehouse, shed, or saloon, and every vacant structure, was full. The crowd thronged the public highways; a line of cooking-stoves smoked along the streets, and vacant lots were packed with people, for there was no longer room in the houses. All was clatter, rattle, and din. Wagons, ponies, mules, oxen, cows, and calves were promiscuously distributed among the multitude of haggard men, forlorn women, and weeping children.
"The live stock from thousands of deserted farms surrounded the outskirts of the town. The lowing of strange cattle, the neighing of restless horses, the crying of lost and hungry children, the tales of horror, the tomahawk wounds undressed, the bleeding feet, the cries for food, and the loud wailing for missing friends -- all combined to burn into the soul the dreadful reality that some terrible calamity was upon the country."
Persons who were in the place at the time, say that every hour or two some wild rumor of the approach of Indians, occasioned by the arrival of a new wagon load of wounded and dying people, would sweep through the multitude and drive them wild with panic. Every breeze seemed to bear the echo of war whoops, faint with distance. When, on Friday, Colonel Sibley with fifteen hundred marched through the place, the joy of the people was thrilling. The vast multitude joined in a mighty shout, the soldiers passed on.
The danger of massacre abated, only to be succeeded by the horrors of starvation. Seven thousand people besides the citizens of the place were already packed into the village, and the train of two thousand unfortunates from New Ulm was already on the way to enlarge the multitude. The citizens worked day and night, animated by heroic and lofty impulses. A bakery was established, turning out two thousand loaves of bread per day; yet so inadequate was this for the throng of nine thousand people, that every cooking stove in the place was red hot day and night, for the purpose of baking. A soup house was established, where twelve hundred people could be fed daily. Of meat there was less scarcity, as the live stock of the fugitives afforded a fair supply. But the task of feeding the living did not stop with the human beings. Vast and unruly herds of horses and cattle, furious from fright and crazy with hunger, charged back and forth through the town, breaking down and leaping fences, devouring every thing green, until the place and the country surrounding it was as barren as a desert.
This view of St. Peter is true also for numbers of other places, on which the army of refugees advanced with crushing weight. Meanwhile the expedition under Colonel Sibley gradually drove the Indians from the country. Many severe battles were fought. Throngs of whites were rescued. Large numbers of captives were taken. Of these more than three hundred were condemned to death. Little Crow, and the remainder of the Sioux fled to the mountain fastnesses of the west, far beyond the boundaries of Minnesota. Winter found the war still in progress. On the 24th of December, thirty-eight Indians, the remainder of the three hundred having had their sentences commuted, were led to the gallows. As they marched out, the rattling of their chains, which at first alone broke the solemn silence, was drowned in the wild and plaintive music of their death songs. Even after the white caps were drawn over their faces, the song still continued, though muffled and broken. Some one who understood the language said that their singing and shouting was only to sustain each other. Each one shouted his own name and called on the name of his friend, saying in substance, "I'm here! I'm here!"
The war continued during a part of the year 1863. On the evening of July 3d of that year, while the thunder of cannon at the battle of Gettysburg was shaking the whole earth, and while ranks of the brave and true were falling on all sides, in this, the greatest conflict of the civil war, a gentleman traveling along a road six miles north of Hutchinson, Minnesota, heard a rustle in the bushes near by. Quick as thought he drew his gun to his shoulder and fired. A savage dropped dead. In his hands were found some wild berries, which he had been gathering and eating. Some settlers hurried to the spot, and one of them recognized the dead Indian. It was none other than Little Crow himself. His young son was caught not far off.
Thus at an unexpected moment the arch-conspirator of the Sioux was overtaken by a punishment which he had long deserved. The Sioux themselves were deprived of their lovely home along the Minnesota River, and were given a reservation in south-western Dakota. In this territory lie the famous Black Hills. They were destined, however, to involve the United States in many a subsequent Indian war.
The great Sioux massacre, of which the story has been briefly told, stands completely without a parallel in all the bloody history of the conflicts between the red and white men on the American continent. In its suddenness and extent, in its monstrous atrocity, and its Satanic perfection of details, it must take rank with the greatest massacres of all time. Occurring as it did at a period of time when the people had no more apprehension of an Indian war than do the inhabitants of any farming region of the middle states, it found its victims utterly unprepared for resistance or defense. There are no means of accurately knowing the number of persons who were slain on the terrible 18th of August and the succeeding days. If the estimates of the best authorities are to be received the number ranged between one and two thousand people who were massacred in cold blood. Besides the actual bloodshed, the massacre resulted, as we have seen, in the total depopulation of a territory larger than the state of Vermont.
Strange to say, when the tragedy was enacted it attracted but little attention from the people of the United States. Such reports as found their way into the newspapers were absolutely unread. The great civil war, which was then at its height, so preoccupied the minds of men that the bloody event, which at other times would have thrilled the country with horror, passed unnoticed. When every newspaper and "extra" brought reports of battles in which a hundred thousand men were engaged on either side, and the number of the killed and wounded amounted to almost one third of the combatants, the lesser tragedy was lost sight of in the presence of the greater. Now that the smoke has cleared away from the battle-fields of the war between the States, we may form a juster estimate of the appalling dimensions of the Tragedy of Minnesota.
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The Tragedy of Minnesota
Created October 26, 2001
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