Monday, March 11, 2013

Sitting Bull And General Sibley At The Battle Of Big Mound

General Sibley's 1863 Punitive Expedition map. 
Sitting Bull And General Sibley
The Dakota Conflict Enters Dakota Territory
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND - The summer of 1863 found many Santee Dakota displaced from their homeland in Minnesota, scattered across the plains of Dakota Territory, into Nebraska or across the Medicine Line, the 49° parallel, into Grandmother’s Land or Canada. The Sioux Uprising, the Dakota Conflict, of the previous year lay heavy in the hearts of Dakota and settlers as everyone braced for General Sully’s and General Sibley’s punitive campaign.

In Robert Utley's book The Lance And The Shield, 1863 is a year filled with angst, confusion and worry for the Indians and the whites. “Dakota refugees fleeing his [General Sibley’s crushing campaign against the Minnesota Dakota in 1862] offensive spilled onto the Dakota prairies, mixing with Sissetons who had taken no part in the uprising, with Yanktonais, and even with Lakota along the Missouri River. The influx of the Minnesota Indians not only added to the unrest of the resident Indians, who were still smarting over the summer’s emigration to the mines [in reference to miners ascending the Missouri River to Fort Benton and beyond in their quest for gold], but so frightened the settlers edging up the Missouri into Dakota Territory that one-fourth of them abandoned their homesteads.”

Chief War Eagle Park, Sioux City, Iowa. The Big Sioux River converges with the Missouri River just below the monument to War Eagle.

A terrible drought in the summer of 1863 drove the bison ganges north, west, south and east across the Mni Šhošhá (The Water A-Stir; Missouri River), the Thítĥuŋwaŋ (Teton Lakota) followed some of the ganges east into Ihaŋktówaŋa (Yanktonai) country. Many of the Teton and Yanktonai had fought alongside US Colonel Leavenworth’s command in the Arikara War of 1823 and many of the Santee under the leadership of War Eagle had protected US citizens in the Northwest Territory during the War of 1812 from tribes swayed by English trade. The Sioux who were “smarting” over the influx of miners also felt betrayed and parleys & treaties afterward were brittle efforts.

Some members of the Cherokee enlisted with the Confederates States of America.

In the first two years of the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America promised congressional representation to Indian nations who took up arms against the Union. The CSA’s promise was undoubtedly intended for tribes in south like the Cherokee, Creek and others. Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner William P. Dole got wind of the CSA’s offer and saw the implications of the CSA’s open offer to all Indian nations:
            The defiant and independent attitude they have assumed during the past season [in reference to the 1862 Minnesota Dakota Conflict] towards their agent, warns us that not a moment should be lost in making preparations to prevent, and, if need be, resist and punish any hostile demonstration they may make. They have totally repudiated their treaty obligations, and, in my judgment, there is an abundance of reason to apprehend that they will engage in hostilities next spring. Like the southern rebels, these savage secessionists tolerate no opposition in their unfriendly attitude toward the whites.

The Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Seven Council Fires; The Great Sioux Nation) had only heard that there was a great fight between the whites of the North and South. They had never heard of the CSA’s offer of congressional representation. 

Inkpaduta (Red End; Red Cap; Red Point), Itancan (Chief) of the Wahpekute (Shooters Among The Leaves) Tribe of the Santee Dakota. Run a Google search of this guy and find out a little more about him for yourself. It was believed that one of his sons stole General Custer's horse, Vic.

Some of the Santee, Inkpaduta’s Band of Dakota, had wintered on an island in Mdewakanton, Spirit Lake (Devil’s Lake) after being chased out of Minnesota the previous fall. Spring broke and Inkpaduta’s band decided to follow Čhaŋsása Wakpa (White Birch Creek; James River) to one of the great directional stone markers just north of present-day Jamestown, ND, then west to the Missouri River and then south towards Fort Pierre with the hope that the Government had relieved them of responsibility for the Dakota Conflict. Since many of the Santee hadn’t participated in the conflict, they believed that they would be forgiven.

Clell Gannon, an artist from the Depression Era, painted this scene of General Sibley's command marching across the Great Plains in pursuit of the Sioux. The painting is a fresco within the south vestibule of the Burleigh County Courthouse in Bismarck, ND.

Sitting Bull, the Huŋkpapĥa and other bands of the Teton encountered the Santee Dakota west of the James River with General Sibley hot on their heels. General Sibley employed Santee Dakota men to serve as his scouts in Dakota Territory. These scouts caught up Sitting Bull’s camp and Inkpaduta’s camp, now one large impromptu congregation who had no intention of squaring off against Sibley’s command of 4000 soldiers. Besides, the Dakota-Lakota camp took the word of the Scouts that Sibley came to take only the Santee who had fought in the Dakota Conflict the previous year.

A beautiful wood engraving of anonymous US Indian Scouts.

It so happened that as the Scouts were in council with the Dakota and Lakota, one of Sibley’s officers foolishly crept away from Sibley’s command to watch the council from a nearby hill and made an easy target. The temptation proved too sweet for one warrior who took aim, shot and killed the officer. Historian, Alexander Adams supposed that this anonymous warrior was one of Inkpaduta’s party.

The impulsive action of one warrior committed the entirety of Inkaduta’s and Sitting Bull’s camps to action. Sibley’s command retaliated immediately and the warriors immediately took up the rear of the retreating camps to defend the hasty and masterful escape of the women and children around pothole lakes and serpentine movement back and forth over the Apple Creek, all of which slowed Sibley’s command.

Sitting Bull counts coup on General Sibley's man and steals a mule, from Sitting Bull's Hieroglyphic Autobiography in Stanley Vestal's Sitting Bull: Champion of the Sioux. The line coming from the figure on horseback's mouth denotes a name, the upright bison bull represents his name, in this case, Sitting Bull. The hairstyle arranged on this figure's head indicates a spiritual man, or medicine man.

The running battle began at the Big Mound on July 24, 1863. Sitting Bull flanked by friendly fire from behind and enemy fire ahead, dashed headlong into General Sibley’s wagon train, delivered a quick rap with a coup stick to the wagon master and made off with one of his mules.

The running battle continued west to where Apple Creek converges with the Missouri River, below present-day University of Mary, Bismarck, ND and concluded with the Dakota-Lakota civilians safely across the Missouri River, and a stand-off with General Sibley’s command which ended on August 1, 1863. 

In a correspondence with Ernie LaPointe, great-grandson of Sitting Bull, Leksi Ernie has no additional oral tradition to add to this story.Visit his website: Sitting Bull Family Foundation.

Read more about the Conflict at Apple Creek.