The Crow Creek Long Riders every year sponsor a commemorative motorcycle ride that honors the Dakota and Winnebago people who where removed from their Minnesota homelands via riverboat and train to the Crow Creek reservation in central South Dakota in 1863.
The ride follows their forced journey from Fort Snelling to Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and then finally South Dakota.
The following was taken from the Crow Creek Long Riders Blog, which can be found here.
This piece, written by Roy Cook, tells the story of how the people were sent to Crow Creek in Spring of 1863. It is an excerpt from an article about Abraham Lincoln's legacy.
A country with no regard for its past, will do little worth remembering in the future. — Abraham Lincoln
Some USA groups are planning a celebration of the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth on Febuary12, 2009. There are some bitter views as to his legacy with the First Americans. Also it is a tragic irony that his personage is on display on the Black Hills of the Dakota. Examine the political and legal issues of this tragic Minnesota affair under his watch. It is the largest mass execution of American people in the history of the United States.
In peace and friendship the Dakota ceded 21 million acres, over half the territory of Minnesota, many waters in Dakota language; in the 1851 Traverse des Sioux Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Despite federal promises of protection and assistance, at the Minnesota River reservations, the Dakota Santee were badly mistreated by corrupt federal Indian agents and contractors. This non-fulfillment of treaty promises issue resulted in the Dakota Santee Sioux being found guilty by military court of joining in the so-called “Minnesota Uprising.” This avoidable tragedy was actually part of the wider Indian conflicts that plagued the West during the second half of the nineteenth century. For nearly half a century, the US govt. had been selling land in the west to pay for past and current wars domestic and abroad. Anglo and German settlers invaded the Dakota Santee Sioux territory in the beautiful Minnesota Valley, and government pressure gradually forced the Dakota Indians to relocate to smaller reservations along the Minnesota River.
Abuses continued at the Minnesota River reservations during July 1862 with the agents pushing the Dakota Indians to the brink of starvation by refusing to distribute stores of food because they had not yet received their customary kickback payments. The contractor Andrew Myrick callously ignored the Santee’s pleas for help. He said, “Let them eat grass.” Outraged and at the limits of their endurance, the Dakota Santee finally struck back, killing Anglo settlers and taking women as hostages. The initial efforts of the U.S. Army to stop the Santee warriors failed, and in a battle at Birch Coulee, Dakota Santee Sioux killed 13 American soldiers and wounded another 47 soldiers. However, on September 23, a force under the leadership of General Henry H. Sibley finally defeated the main body of Dakota Santee warriors at Wood Lake, recovering many of the hostages and forcing most of the Indians to surrender. The subsequent five-minute trials of the prisoners gave little attention to the injustices the Indians had suffered on the reservations and largely catered to the popular desire for revenge. Injustice moved very rapidly through the trials of the accused. Here, in its entirety, is Case # 241: Pay-pay-sin
Prisoner states, “I was at Fort Ridgley and stood near the stable. I fired three shots.”
The Military Tribunal found him guilty and ordered he be hanged.
The revered Anglo- Saxon principle of law that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty was reversed in the case of the Indians. Authorities in Minnesota asked President Lincoln to order the immediate execution of all 303 Indian males found guilty. President Lincoln was under heavy political pressure to acknowledge states rights but he objected to what he viewed as wholesale slaughter. Lincoln was concerned with how this would play with the Europeans, whom he was afraid were about to enter the war on the side of the South. He wired the commanding officer to stay the executions and forward the “full and complete record of each conviction.” He also ordered that any material that would discriminate the guilty from the questionable be included with the trial transcripts. Lincoln and Justice Department officials reviewed every case. Episcopalian Bishop Whipple pleaded for clemency but Military leaders and the Minnesota state politicians warned Lincoln that anything less than large-scale hangings would result in widespread white outrage and more violence against the Indians. After review, the president pardoned 265 of the 303 condemned Indians, approving a total of 38 executions. He offered the following compromise to the politicians of Minnesota: If they would pare the list of those to be hung down to 39. In return, Lincoln promised to kill or remove every Indian from the state and provide Minnesota with 2 million dollars in federal funds. This eagerness to buy cooperation from the state in spite of the fact that the Federal government still owed the Sioux 1.4 million for the land is both tragic and ironic.
So, on December 26, 1862, the Great Emancipator ordered the largest mass execution in American History, where the guilt of those to be executed was entirely in doubt. After 38 of the condemned men were hanged on the 26 of December, the day after Christmas, in 1862 in what remains the largest mass hanging in United States history, the other prisoners continued to suffer in the concentration camps through the winter of 1862-63. In late April of 1863 the remaining condemned men, along with the survivors of the Fort Snelling concentration camp, were forcibly removed from their beloved homeland in May of 1863. They were placed on boats, which transported the men from Mankato to Davenport, Iowa where they were imprisoned for an additional three years. Those from Fort Snelling were shipped down the Mississippi River to St. Louis and then up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.
During the Dakota-United States Conflict of 1862, hundreds of Minnesota settlers were killed and homes destroyed during an uprising by certain bands of Dakotas. Much can be said and has been written about the circumstances and cause of the conflict that won’t attempt to be addressed here. The end result however was the hanging of 38 Dakotas and the imprisonment and subsequent extradition of all American Indians within the State of Minnesota, whether they had any involvement in the uprising or not. The Santee Dakota prisoners were sent to a prison camp and eventually to forced internment at the newly created Crow Creek Agency at Fort Thompson.
A dedicated Christian missionary, Mr. John P. Williamson accompanied the Santee Dakotas on their steamboat trip up the Missouri River to the Crow Creek Agency. Mr. Williamson gave this account of the trip, “As they look on their native hills for the last time, a dark cloud is crushing their hearts. Down they go to St. Louis thence up the Missouri to Crow Creek. But this brings little relief… The shock, the anxiety, the confinement, the pitiable diet, were naturally followed by sickness…Thirteen hundred Indians were crowded like slaves on the boiler and hurricane decks of a single boat, and fed musty hardtack and briny pork, which they had not half a chance to cook, diseases were bred which made a fearful havoc during the hot months, and the thirteen hundred souls that were landed at Crow Creek on June 1st, 1863, decreased to one thousand.”
This marked the beginning of three years of great suffering at Fort Thompson. Mr. Williamson further recorded,” For a time a teepee where no one was sick could scarcely be found, and it was a rare day when there was no funeral. So were the hills soon covered with graves. The very memory of Crow Creek became horrible to the Santee’s, who still hush their voice at the mention of the name.”
(The out of print book, “John P. Williamson, Brother of the Sioux”, is an excellent historical book about this time period. Mr. Williamson was used in a very powerful way to save the lives of thousands of Dakotas during this time period. He and his family were also significant in the creation of a written Dakota language, the writing of many of the Dakota language hymns that we still sing every week, and the spreading of the Gospel among the Dakota people. He left a legacy of great Christian revival among the Dakotas of eastern South Dakota, and his example of dedicated service and love is still noted and honored among Dakota Christians today.)
Winnebagos from Minnesota were also moved to the Crow Creek agency at this time. During these early years other bands of Dakota including Brules, Two Kettles, Yanktons, and Yanktonais joined the Santees at the Crow Creek Agency. After three horrific years of suffering the Winnebagos and most of the Santee Dakotas were relocated to reservations further downstream to what is now northeastern Nebraska. Later the Brules and some other tribes were resettled on what is now the Lower Brule Reservation. What remained on what would become the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation were several various bands of Dakotas. The last band to settle at the Crow Creek Agency was a group of Yanktonai Dakota led by their Chief, Drifting Goose. Drifting Goose and his people migrated off and on to the reservation for many years, until finally reluctantly resigning themselves to the Crow Creek Agency in 1883.
Over the coming decades many hardships confronted those on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation. Broken treaties, diminished reservation borders, encroachment by non-Indian homesteaders, introduction of alcohol, and general loss of an entire way of life, are a few of the tragic events. Eventually the federal government would construct a series of large hydropower and flood control dams on the Missouri River, including Big Bend Dam at Fort Thompson. The result of the dam construction was the flooding and loss of the only well wooded areas on the reservation, the lush Missouri River shoreline. Even the community of Fort Thompson was moved from its original location to higher plains north of the old town site.
Peter Lengkeek (Dakota) from the Crow Creek Reservation talks about the improtance of the Ride, the history of Crow Creek, and thanks the Diversity Foundation for thier help.