Author: Big Eagle
Annotation: During the summer of 1862, Indian warfare broke out in southern Minnesota that left between 400 and 800 settlers and soldiers dead, and provoked military action against the Sioux in the Dakota Territory. In this extract, Big Eagle describes the uprising’s causes, including hunger, official corruption, and delayed annuity payments.
Document: The Indians bought goods of them [traders] on credit, and when the government payments came the traders were on hand with their books, which showed that the Indians owed so much and so much, and as the Indians kept no books they could not deny their accounts, but had to pay them, and sometimes the traders got all their money….
Then many of the white men often abused the Indians and treated them unkindly. Then some of the white men abused the Indian women in a certain way and disgraced them, and surely there was no excuse for that.
All these things made many Indians dislike the whites. Then a little while before the outbreak there was trouble among the Indians themselves. Some of the Indians took a sensible course and began to live like white men. The government built them houses, furnished them tools, seed, etc., and taught them to farm…. Others stayed in their tepees. There was a white man’s party and an Indian party….
As the summer advanced, there was great trouble among the Sioux–troubles among themselves, troubles with the whites…. The war with the South was going on then, and a great many men had left the state and had gone down there to fight…. We understood that the South was getting the best of the fight, and it was said that the North would be whipped….
It began to be whispered about that now would be a good time to go to war with the whites and get back the lands. It was believed that the men who had enlisted last had all left the state, and that before help could be sent the Indians could clean out the country, and that the Winnebagoes, and even the Chippewas, would assist the Sioux. It was also thought that a war with the whites would cause the Sioux to forget the troubles among themselves and enable many of them to pay off some old scores….
But after the first talk of war the counsels of the peace Indians prevailed, and many of us thought the danger had all blown over. The time of the government payment was near at hand, and this may have had something to do with it…. The crops that had been put in by the “farmer” Indians were looking well, and there seemed to be a good prospect for a plentiful supply of provisions for them the coming winter without having to depend on the game of the country or without going far out to the west on the plains for buffalo…. The “farmers” were favored by the government in every way. They had houses built for them, some of them even had brick houses, and they were not allowed to suffer. The other Indians did not like this. They were envious of them and jealous, and disliked them because they had gone back on the customs of the tribe and because they were favored. They called them “farmers,” as if it was disgraceful to be a farmer. They called them “cut-hairs,” because they had given up the Indian fashion of wearing the hair, and “breeches men,” because they wore pantaloons….
At last the time for the payment came and the Indians came to the agencies to get their money. But the paymaster did not come, and week after week went by and still he did not come…. Somebody told the Indians that they payment would never be made. The government was in a great war, and gold was scarce, and paper money had taken its place, and it was said the gold could not be had to pay us…. Still, most of us thought the trouble would pass….
You know how the war started–by the killing of some white people [three men and two women] near Acton, in Meeker County….War was now declared. Blood had been shed, the payment would be stopped, and the whites would take a dreadful vengeance because women had been killed…. Soon the cry was “Kill the whites and kill all these cut-hairs who will not join us”…. Little Crow gave orders to attack the agency early next morning and to kill all the traders….
Source: “A Sioux Story of the War,” Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 6 (1894).