Great Grandfather Warren Wakefield told pleasant stories about the Dakotah men and women with whom he spent time, including tales about the important Mdewakanton leader, Cut Nose!
by Charlie Leck
My wife’s great grandfather, Warren Wakefield, even though he died many years before I was born, has become a special friend of mine. That’s what can happen when one leaves memoirs and journals behind. I don’t know how many other people have gathered up Warren’s writings, but I have and I’ve read them all carefully. Grandpappy Warren was a bright fellow and he was also stubborn. He was a bit of a radical thinker and he was suspicious of banks and bankers and most big business (probably another reason why I regard him as a friend). It was more than ironic that one of his sons, Lyman, would become a big time banker and a corporate leader in Minnesota in the 30s and 40s – long after Warren had died of course. There are copies of some humorous correspondence between them right after Lyman launched his banking career as a teenaged teller and janitor at a small bank down in Austin, Minnesota.
As for Warren, he arrived in Minnesota a couple of years before it became a state. He was just a boy of seven or eight; yet he was an eager and curious lad. He wanted to know everything about his new home near Lake Minnetonka and everything about everyone who lived in the area. That included the Dakotah men, women and children who lived in the area for parts of the year. Some of these Native Americans set up a camp on a small hill that overlooked a small body of water that we now call Long Lake, which was part of the land his father and mother, Bradford and Maria, had claimed and settled. The little hill is now a historic cemetery that opened in 1862, given to the community for one dollar by Warren’s parents. The cemetery was quickly established and dedicated in preparation for the bodies of local boys who would die in battle with the Union Army in the American Civil War.
The boy, Warren, use to often find his way up to the knob, which locals had begun calling Teepee Hill, so he could visit with and learn from the brave Dakotah people who camped there. He had begun to learn a smattering of their language and he was proud of that. One of Warren’s favorite characters among the Dakotah was a fellow named Cut Nose, who was a leader among the Mdewakanton tribe. Cut Nose had been in Warren’s family’s little settlement house and Warren had bartered with him up there on Teepee Hill.
In my 2007 book, The Wakefield Pioneers, I reprinted a couple of stories that Warren once wrote about Cut Nose.
The young Warren remembers a Native American named Cut Nose and often writes about this man he called a native chief and frequent visitor in their home.
“One spring we had a cellar full of vegetables that we could not use, so father invited all the squaws who lived near us to come and get some. They came and took them away. In the cellar also was keg and a two gallon jug of maple vinegar. Cut Nose, one of the finest specimens of manhood I have ever seen, tall, straight and with agreeable features in spite of the small piece gone from the edge of one nostril, was their chief, and came the next day with a large bottle, asking to have it filled with whiskey. Father said he had none, but Cut Nose said he knew there was a jug and keg of it in the cellar. Father told him to go and take it if he found any. He sampled first the jug and then the keg with a most disgusted expression and upon coming upstairs threw the bottle on the bed and stalked out. This maple vinegar was made from maple sugar and none could be better. “ [Anecdotal History of Minnesota: Warren Wakefield, unpaginated]
Warren called Cut Nose a braggart and believed most of the chief’s tales were hyperbolic.
“He was very fond of telling how he shot the renegade Inkpadutah. This was all imagination. He had an old flint lock musket with the flint gone and would illustrate his story by crawling and skulking, generally, to the great delight of the boys. One rainy day my mother was sick and was lying in her bed which was curtained off from the rest of the living room. As Cut Nose, who did not know this, told his oft repeated story, illustrating it as usual, he thrust his gun under the curtains and his face and shoulders after it to show how he shot the renegade chief from ambush. My mother dashed out with a shriek, but was no more frightened than Cut Nose, at the apparition of the white squaw.” [Anecdotal History of Minnesota: Warren Wakefield, unpaginated]
In 1862 everything changed, however. The terrible and angry reaction of the Dakotah people in that year to all the broken promises and mistreatments they had endured brought violence upon the land and ended, for a long time to come, the friendliness between white settlers and the Dakotah Indians. The story of Minnesota in 1862 is filled with much about which we can take great pride, but it’s also a year that tells a shameful story of our treatment of the people who had lived in this place long before white settlers came to claim the land that had been so sacred to the natives that it was beyond claim of ownership.
The best telling of this story that I’ve ever encountered is the one by Mary Lethert Wingerd in North Country: The Making of Minnesota* in the chapter called Cataclysm on the Minnesota. Cut Nose is, unfortunately, one of the central characters of the story. I find myself wondering about how grandpappy must have felt when the details of the violence, sensationalized as they were, appeared in local newspaper accounts and on national cartes de visite.**
To understand Ms. Wingerd’s account of the outbreak of violence, one must have carefully read her previous chapter, The Roads to War. In it she explains the broken treaties with the Dakotah and the unfulfilled promises to them. The details that follow are gleaned from Ms. Wingerd’s extraordinary book.
In 1861, at Fort Sumter, the long expected war between the states was begun. Only by coincidence, Minnesota’s Governor, Alexander Ramsey, was in Washington when the news of the war’s outbreak spread rapidly through the streets. The Governor rushed off to the State Department in a frenzy of patriotism and pledged that 1,000 Minnesota men would soon arrive to fight with the Union Army. Through this coincidence the young, young state became the first in the nation to volunteer troops to fight. The Minnesota Volunteers would go on to establish an extraordinary record of bravery and success in that awful war.
Governor Ramsey had his own problems back in Minnesota. The Native Americans of that state had watched droves of new white settlers pour into their land. Ownership grants of huge parcels for very little money were granted to the new settlers by both the federal government and the young state. This was land upon which the Dakotah Indians had existed for many centuries. They didn’t claim to own the land because they didn’t believe ownership of it was possible. The land was sacred and only owned by the Great Spirit. Several times, large tracts of land were set aside or “reserved” for the native people. Time and time again, these “reserves” were disregarded and ignored and land grants were made to newly arriving white settlers. The sizes of reservations were reduced several times to make more of the rich and productive land available for arriving European settlers. Payments to the Dakotah, which had been guaranteed by the treaties of 1837 and 1851, were to a great extent ignored and, when not, often arrived very late. Agencies that were set up to trade with the Dakotah and to sell them provisions were run by men who were not always scrupulous. The natives were often cheated and sometimes significantly so. A careful, historical look and analysis of the various treaties made with the Dakotah make it abundantly clear that they were often cheated and the conditions and terms of the treaties were often ignored. In 1858, new terms were negotiated with leaders of Dakotah, but, as Wingerd says in her book, it made little difference.
“The promises of 1858 proved no more durable than those of earlier treaties and nearly a year passed before Congress bothered to take up the issue of payment.”
From the agreed price the government paid out, most of it went to traders who claimed various Native American groups owed them money for previous services. And, in the end, the Dakotah people received almost nothing and lost most of their “reserved” land. They were forced on to much, much smaller pieces of land “reserved” for them. Their former reservation had extended all along and ten miles out from the Minnesota River. After 1858 they found themselves forced on to small tracts called the Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies. There they awaited their payments from the government so they could purchase supplies of necessity from generally dishonest agency traders.
As Wingerd writes in opening the two seminal chapters of her book:
“By the Spring of 1862 conditions on the Dakotah reservations had deteriorated alarmingly. Both friend and foes agreed that the Indians were in ‘an extremely destitute condition.’ After a brutal winter, hunger stalked the villages. Most storekeepers, worried than annuity payments might not be made, were withholding credit, even to the farmer Indians. One or two traders, like mixed-blood David Faribault, honored Dakota traditions of reciprocity and continued to provide credit, but what they could offer was not nearly enough. According to Faribault’s wife, Nancy, he ‘had trusted them [the Indians] for very nearly everything he had, for they were very hard up, and the other stores would not trust them for anything.’ Dakota agent Thomas Galbraith had tried to help with supplemental rations over the winter, but by spring his storehouses had run low and he spent much of his time away from the reservation. The hungry Indians haunted Fort Ripley and New Ulm, performing traditional ‘begging dances’ in hopes of food or money. Settlers in the surrounding counties complained that Indians were ‘pests’ and ‘a nuisance.’ Their begging was bad enough, said the settlers, but the Indians also were competing for game and even killing farmers’ cattle and hogs. For the proud Dakotas, all this was humiliation heaped upon humiliation. They were barely hanging on, counting the days until their annuity payments arrived.” [Wingerd, pps. 301-302]
June, July and August passed and still no payments were distributed to the Native Americans. During the month of July, Galbraith and another white official tried to convince the Mdewakanton and Wahpetkute leaders to accept greenbacks rather than the gold that the treaties guaranteed. The chiefs refused. Out at the agencies there were provisions under lock and key. For various reasons, the Native Americans were refused those supplies.
Wingerd then tells of the famous , or infamous, exchange of words between the storekeeper, Andrew Myrick, and a number of braves.
“The Indians warned Myrick, who had cut off all credit, ‘not to cut another stick of wood or to cut our grass.’ The arrogant Myrick responded, ‘You will be sorry. After a while you will come to me and beg for meat and flour to keep you and your wives and children from starving, and I will not let you have a thing. You and your wives and children may starve, or eat grass, or your own filth’ ‘Let them eat grass’ became a rallying cry in the ensuing conflict, a symbol of all the injustices and humiliations that could no longer be borne.” [Wingerd, p. 302]
In early August of 1862, men, women and children of the starving Sissetons, Mdewakantons and Wahpetkute were dying in large numbers. On the fourth day of the month, a few hundred braves stormed the warehouse at the Upper Agency in Yellow Medicine. There were troops there to meet them. Galbraith, who was probably drunk, remained locked up within the storehouse. A missionary from the area and the soldier in charge of the troops negotiated with leaders of the braves. The soldier insisted that Galbraith open up and distribute whatever provisions were inside.
Down at the Lower Agency in Redwood, Chief Little Crow was insisting on the same treatment. Galbraith refused even though Little Crow had warned that men who are hungry will ‘help themselves.' Soldiers stationed in the area and employees at the agency knew there was going to be trouble.
“The following day, August 17, as the early Sunday morning sun began to warm the valley, no one could have predicted that by nightfall Minnesota would be forever changed. On their scattered farmsteads families gathered together for morning prayer. At the Redwood Agency, farmers, storekeepers, teachers, and missionaries began their usual Sabbath routines of work or worship. Little Crow attended services at the Episcopal chapel at the agency and shook hands with everyone there. Galbraith and his rangers spent the day in New Ulm, ‘celebrating’ before beginning their trek to Fort Snelling. And four young Wahpeton braves from the Rice Creek band were heading for home empty-handed, after scouring the countryside for several days in vain search of a deer or some small game to bring home to their village.” [Wingerd, p. 304]
The young braves, hungry, thirsty and tired approached a farmhouse near Acton and probably begged for food and water. Something went terribly wrong there – perhaps the braves were both refused and insulted or perhaps the braves just reached the very end of their tethers. The seven members of the family were found dead in their yard. The braves raced on to Shakopee and their own encampment for protection.
Little Crow was approached by the Indians in Shakopee and he was begged to lead them in a war against the whites. The proud chief knew that such a war was hopeless, but he could not talk the angry, desperate men out of a clash. They called him a coward. It was an incredible insult. He declared a warning and an oath to them.
“You will die like the rabbits when hungry wolves hunt them in the Hard Moon. Taoyateduta is not a coward; he will die with you.” [Wingerd, p. 304]
The war began with an attack led by Little Crow at the Lower Agency in Redwood. No women, children or mixed bloods were killed there. The attackers were very selective in killing only agency employees. Twenty were left dead and another ten were taken as captives. Andrew Myrick was one of the dead and he was found with his mouth stuffed with grass.
As word of the attack spread among the Indians, others of them were encouraged by their pent-up rage to join the violence. Whites who were encountered were killed, sometimes savagely. Only a fraction of the Native American population, perhaps a thousand men, participated in the violence. Quite a few of those Indians who did not join the warring braves did what they could to warn the white citizens of the dangers or actually joined in fighting against their tribal brothers. Somewhere between 400 and 1,000 whites were killed in the brief uprising. A party of 46 troops that had come out of Fort Ripley to quell the violence was wiped out. The Fort itself was attacked but managed to withstand the assault. The braves also attacked the community of New Ulm and met a strong defense, but 26 of the town’s defenders died before the attackers withdrew.
The war went on in some form for more than two weeks. White communities had drawn themselves into fortified buildings. Nevertheless, braves would attack various towns and destroy the vacant homes and other establishments and ignor the dangerous, fortified positions. An army of about 1,600 troops was roaming the countryside in search of fighting braves. They finally met in an encounter at Wood Lake, just south of Yellow Medicine. By this time there were only about 300 braves with any fight left in them and they were led by a reluctant Little Crow.
In the aftermath of the brief war, though Little Crow had escaped to Winnipeg, many innocent, warrior Indians were arrested and hauled to a prison in Mankato. The caravan moving these Indians to Mankato was savagely attacked as it skirted the town of New Ulm, where so many had died in the raid some weeks earlier. The attackers included men, women and children who armed themselves with guns, knives, stones, pitchforks and other tools of farming. Two of the Indians died in the attack and probably more than 75 percent of the others were injured. In Mankato they awaited a trial that was to turn into a kangaroo court. Many of the Native Americans who had assisted white settlers, and risked their own lives in the process, were sent to trial and convicted. The legal panel that tried the accused Indians was made up of the very military men who had been in combat against the Indians only days earlier. The 400 prisoners were convicted and condemned to die.
Imprisoned in Mankato, the convicted men were still not safe and they had to be guarded by troops day and night in the face of threats by vigilante groups.
The orders for the hanging had to be individually approved by President Lincoln. When the reports from the trial were read to his cabinet there were serious questions raised. Lincoln stayed the executions and it caused a wild uproar of objection all over Minnesota. Criticisms of Minnesota's mistreatment of innocent Indians were raised all over the nation. Lincoln was caught in the middle.
“Lincoln struggled to find a solution that would temper the draconian sentences, yet be severe enough to discourage another outbreak and satisfy the howls from Minnesota.” [Wingerd, p. 304]
Lincoln scoured the lists and examined the charges and, in the end, ordered the execution of forty Indians that had been charged with the murder of unarmed civilians. Those who were condemned were moved to Mankato for execution. The remainder were ordered taken to Fort Snelling, which stood high above the point where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers joined, where they would await transfer out of Minnesota to some areas on the western plains. As the caravan passed through Henderson, Minnesota, it was attacked by citizens of that community and innocent Indians were beaten severely – no matter whether they were men or women or children. An undetermined number of the Native Americans, including a small baby, died from the beatings. Those who were gotten safely to Fort Snelling had to be kept in fortified quarters and guarded by soldiers to prevent citizens of the surrounding communities from killing them.
On Christmas eve day in 1862, down in Mankato, carpenters and soldiers built the hanging gallows in the center of town. On December 26, the 39 condemned men were hanged after showing incredible signs of bravery as they approached the gallows. As they died, they were singing traditional Dakotah death songs.
Among those who were hanged that day in Mankato was Cut Nose. He had confessed to murdering 18 women and children and 5 men. Grandpappy Warren would later write that even that was probably some of the usual hyperbole common to Cut Nose. This minor chieftain who had been in the little Wakefield home in Orono, who had chatted humorously with little Warren, was deeply reviled in most of Minnesota even after his death and was not allowed to rest in peace. The pit into which his body was dumped was invaded on the very night of his execution. Cut Nose was carted off by grave robbers that included the famous founder of the Mayo Clinic, Dr. William W. Mayo and his two sons, Charles and Will. The skeleton of Cut Nose was kept hanging in Mayo’s office throughout the doctor's life and then passed into the hands of his sons who used it for teaching and instruction at the Clinic. In the year 2,000, the Dakotah community won claim over the skeleton and it was removed and taken back to the Lower Sioux Community, near Morton, for burial.
Fifty years after the execution, writing for the Wayzata weekly newspaper, Warren Wakefield would say this about Cut Nose:
“Cut Nose was also a member of Shakopee’s band. He was truly a ‘Big Indian’ and a fine specimen of physical manhood. More than six feet tall, young and finely proportioned, he was in appearance the Indian of romance. He was hanged with thirty-seven others at Mankato after confessing that he murdered eighteen whites with his own hand. It was he who murdered the Dustin family at Moore’s Prairie only thirty miles west of Wayzata. The proximity of this murder started the building of the block house at Long Lake, a huge log building was hastily rolled up on the ridge just west of the Redeen residence, which was prepared for occupancy and defense should the occasion require it, but the fort was never occupied and it was afterward moved to the low ground and converted into a stable.” [Wayzata Record: 18 July 1912]
Indeed, this was not a proud time in Minnesota’s history and it has often been glossed over or polished up in other histories; however, Ms. Wingerd carefully documented every thread of this story and tells it bluntly and unflinchingly in her remarkable history of the period.
* Wingerd, Mary Lethert: North Country: The Making of Minnesota [2010, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis)
** Carte de visite (carte de visité) were small cards, the size of contemporary playing cards, and were precursors of the postcards to come. They were sold as souvenirs of visits to new places or of historic events. The photograph of the Mdewakanton warrior, Cut Nose, used in the heading of this blog, was originally published on a carte de visite by Joel Witney of St. Paul. Witney sold the cards in his retail shop for 28 cents each.
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