Two letters from a Minnesota militiaman who fought against the Sioux follow their barbarous attacks upon settlers and witnessed the hangings of the warriorswho had committed the worst atrocities
Two letters from a Minnesota militiaman who fought against the Sioux follow their barbarous attacks upon settlers and witnessed the hangings of the warriorswho had committed the worst atrocities
Two letters from a Minnesota militiaman who fought against the Sioux follow their barbarous attacks upon settlers and witnessed the hangings of the warriorswho had committed the worst atrocities

Two letters from a Minnesota militiaman who fought against the Sioux follow their barbarous attacks upon settlers and witnessed the hangings of the warriorswho had committed the worst atrocities

Camp Sibley (Henderson) and Fairmount, Minnesota: 1862 and 1863. Unbound. Stephen’s first letter—on campaign stationer featuring John Fremont—was written from Camp Sible, Lower Sioux Agency. Its patriotic envelope-featuring the popular song, The Girl I Left Behind Me—was postmarked at Henderson, Minnesota on November 5, [1862]. The letter is in nice shape with repairs at some folds; a postage stamp has been removed from the envelope. The second letter, without envelope, was written on patriotic stationery featuring Columbia holding a flag, was sent from Henderson, Minnesota on January 4th, 1863. It is in nice shape.

Stephens, apparently a recent Minnesota settler, first reports to his niece in Pennsylvania:

“The Indian troubles are over for this time. I enlisted the 13th of August and should have been south long before this if it had not been for this outbreak. I could not begin to tell you of the depredations they have committed here; the most horrible sights I ever saw.....when I get into winter quarters I will write you again it may be south; a soldier is not presumed to know what he is going to do. . . ."

And later remarks:

"Olive did you have a good Christmas and New Year? I never shall forget mine: Christmas. I went to Mankato to see the Indians hung. I sent Eliza a paper that gave all the particulars. . . . I don’t believe the Seventh Regiment will go south. They say we have got to follow the Indians to the Rocky Mountains next summer. . . .”. Very good. Item #009278

Although the Sioux had agreed to reservation life in exchange for a vast sum of money to be paid over a period of years, in 1862 payments were not delivered in a timely manner in part due to the ongoing Civil War in the east compounded by a corrupt local Indian Agent who was stealing some of the funds. Although the agreed upon annual treaty payment finally arrived on 16 August, it did not relieve the anger that had built up within many of the Sioux who were already depressed by failed crops and a shrinking wildlife population, as well the condescending superiority and callous indifference to their plight expressed by government officials. The uprising began on 17 August when a small party of Sioux treacherously murdered most of a settler family after first feigning goodwill. The following day, a war council was held, and the leader of the southern Dakota band, Little Crow, ordered attacks upon all white settlers to drive them out of Minnesota. Over the next month, the southern Sioux committed the most heinous campaign to exterminate as many white settlers a possible and terrorize the remainder into leaving the region.

The “depredations” to which Stephens referred were truly horrific. White male settlers were usually taken by surprise and shot from a distance after which the attacks on family members were truly horrific. Numerous first-hand accounts by survivors report deaths by clubbing, facial and genital mutilations, rapes, amputation of limbs and breasts, disembowelment, the nailing of a baby to a tree, decapitations, and more. Hundreds of women and children who were not massacred where taken captive. Over 800 whites were killed and over 40,000 settlers fled their homesteads.

Lilttle Crow’s initial success was due to the miniscule Army presence in the region. However, just before the attacks, Minnesota had begun to raise volunteer regiments to fight in the “south” during the Civil War. Military records reflect that Stephens enlisted as a private in Company A (Colburn’s Company), Filmore County Militia. The Filmore County Militia, commanded by Colonel Charles Flandrau, proved itself defending the town of New Ulm during an attack by an overwhelming force of Sioux, and Lincoln appointee, General John Pope, was soon able to reorganize the volunteers into several infantry regiments which, which under the leadership of a former fur trader and Minnesota governor decisively defeated the Sioux at the Battle of Wood Lake. Although many, if not most, of those who perpetrated the atrocities escaped westward, Sibley rounded up over 2,000 warriors and established a military tribunal that examined each case and determined that only 400 of them had participated in the settler attacks and would stand trial for murder.

Once the trials began, they were rapid concluded, and 303 (or 306 depending upon the source) of the 400 were found guilty and sentenced to death. President Lincoln personally reviewed each conviction and reported to Congress, “"Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females. Contrary to my expectations, only two of this class were found. I then directed a further examination, and a classification of all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles. This class numbered forty, and included the two convicted of female violation. One of the number is strongly recommended by the commission which tried them for commutation to ten years' imprisonment. I have ordered the other thirty-nine to be executed on Friday, the 19th instant." As Stephens reports, he witnessed this hanging of the Sioux in a mass execution at Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862.

With the statewide military reorganization, Stephens was assigned to the 7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment and did, indeed, spend the next year fighting remnants of the waring Sioux in the West. Eventually the 7th did travel “south” to participate in the Civil War where it fought with distinction at the Battles of Tupelo, Nashville, and Spanish Fort.

For traditional histories of the uprising see, Bryant and Murch’s "A History of the Great Massacre by the Sioux Indians," 1864; McConskey’s "Dakota War Whoop,"1864; Cox’s "Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862," 2005; or any number of personal survivor narratives including those by Carrothers, Earle, Krieger and especially Schwandt and Burghold. For recent revisionist reinterpretations that ignore, discount, or question the traditional histories, first-hand narratives, and the actual conflict and instead focus on the trial or pre-uprising mistreatment of the Sioux, see Chomsky’s 'The United States-Dakota War Trials: A Study in Military Injustice' in "Stanford Law Reviews," 1990 and Anderson’s "Through Dakota Eyes," 1988. For the most impartial modern recountings of the uprising see Andrist’s 'Massacre!' In "American Heritage," July 1961 and Carley’s "The Dakota War of 1862," 2001.

Two exceptionally scarce Sioux Uprising letters. As of 2019, OCLC shows no institutional holdings from soldiers who fought in the uprising or witnessed the hangings, although two institutions contain letters from volunteers in Iowa and Wisconsin units that were alerted but did not engage in the conflict, and two institutions contain letters from civilians (and their relatives) who fled Minnesota during the uprising. Nothing remotely similar for sale in the trade or identified in auction records at the Rare Book Hub.

Price: $1,500.00

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