above very interesting and graphic article, originally appeared
in an eastern periodical a number of years ago, and was copied by
others quite extensively. It was anonymous, but in its style bears
conclusive evidence that its author was Wm. J. Snelling, (son of
Col. Josiah Snelling). Those who are familiar with his writings
need no other proof. Moreover, it must have been written by some
one who was an eyewitness of the incidents, which Mr. S. was --
and one of the very few spectators capable of so graphically describing
it. Joseph, (or as, for some reason, he usually wrote himself) Wm.
J. Snelling, was a son of Col. Josiah Snelling by his first wife.
He was born in Boston, Dec. 26, 1804; spent some time at West Point,
and when his father took command of Fort St. Anthony he repaired
to that post, where he lived seven years. He mixed constantly with
the Dakotas, "living in their lodges" as he says, "sharing
their food and blankets," thus acquiring a very perfect knowledge
of their habits, language, religion and legends, as his subsequent
writings show, He acted as a guide and interpreter for Maj. Long's
expedition in 1823, when he was only 19 years old. After leaving
the frontier he went to Boston, and led a literary life, contributing
to periodicals and newspapers. In 1830 he published an interesting
work entitled "Tales of the North West; or Sketches of Indian
Life and Character." This valuable contribution to our knowledge
of the Dakotas was also anonymous, and is how rare. Mr. Snelling
died in 1848, his latter years impaired by his addiction to an unfortunate
vine which alone prevented him from attaining the fame as an author
that his real genius warranted. --In vol. 3, Minn. Historical Collections,
p. 16, Mrs. Van Cleve, an eye-witness of the tragic events described
in this article, has also given a very interesting account of the
same, in some portions with more circumstantialitys than Mr.
Perhaps some of our readers may have seen Carver or Schoolcraft's
Travels. If they have, it may be that they know, albeit neither
of the books is worth a brass pin as authority, that the Chippewa
and Dakota tribes have waged war against each other so long that
the origin of their hostility is beyond the ken of man. General
Pike persuaded them to make peace in 1805, but it lasted only till
his back was turned. The agents for the government have brought
about several treaties between the tribes, in which forgiveness
and friendship for the future, were solemnly promised. Indian hereditary
hate is stronger than Indian faith, and these bargains were always
violated as soon as opportunity occurred. Nevertheless, our Executive
gave orders, in 1825, that a general congress of all the belligerent
tribes on the frontier should be held at Prairie du Chien. They
flocked to the treaty ground from all quarters, to see the sovereignty
or majesty (we know not which is the better word) of the United
States, ably represented by Governors Cass and Clark, who acted
The policy of the United States on this occasion was founded on
an error. It supposed that the quarrels of the Indians were occasioned
by a dispute concerning the boundaries of their respective territories.
Never was a treaty followed by more unhappy results, at least as
far as it concerned the Dakotas.
They concurred in the arrangement of their boundaries proposed by
the Commissioners, as they do in every measure proposed by an American
officer, thinking that compulsion would otherwise be used. But they
were not satisfied, nor had they reason to be, for their ancient
limits were grievously abridged. All the Indians present had, or
imagined they had, another cause of complaint. They had been supplied
with food, while the congress lasted, by the United States, as was
the reasonable practice, for they cannot hunt and make treaties
at one and the same time. Dysentery supervened on the change of
diet. Some died on the ground, and a great many perished on the
way from Prairie du Chien to their hunting grounds. Always suspicious
of the whites, they supposed that their food had been poisoned;
the arguments of their traders could not convince them of the contrary,
and hundreds will die in that belief.
Moreover, they did not receive such presents as the British agents
had been wont to bestow on them, and they complained that such stinginess
was beneath the dignity of a great people, and that it also showed
a manifest disregard of their necessities. They were especially
indignant at being stinted in whiskey. It behooved the Commissioners,
indeed, to avoid the appearance of effecting any measure by bribery,
but the barbarians did not view the matter in that light. To show
them that the liquor was not withheld on account of its value, two
barrels were brought upon the ground. Each dusky countenance was
instantly illuminated with joy at the agreeable prospect, but they
were to learn that there is sometimes a "slip between the cup
and the lip." Each lower jaw dropped at least six inches when
one of the Commissioners staved in the heads of the casks with an
ax. "It was a great pity," said old Wakhpakootay, speaking
of the occurrence, "it was a great pity! There was enough to
have kept me drunk all the days of my life." Wakhpakootay's
only feelings were grief and astonishment, but most of his fellows
thought that this making a promise to the eye in order to break
it to the sense was a grievous insult, and so they continue to regard
it to this day.
The next year, a small party of Chippewas came to St. Peters, (about
which there are four Dakota villages,) on pretence of business with
"their father," the agent, (Maj. Taliaferro,) but in reality
to beg ammunition, clothing, and, above all, strong drink. The Dakotas
soon gathered about the place with frowns on their faces and guns
in their hands. Nevertheless, three of the Chippewas ventured to
visit the Columbian Fur Company's trading house, two miles from
the Fort. While there, they became aware of their danger, and desired
two of the white men attached to the establishment to accompany
them back, thinking that their presence might, be some protection.
They were in error. As they passed a little copse, three Dakotas
sprung from behind a tog with the speed of light, fired their pieces
into the face of the foremost, and then fled. The guns must have
been double loaded, for the man's head was literally blown from
his shoulders, and his white companions were spattered with his
brains and blood. The survivors gained the Fort without farther
molestation. Their comrade was buried on the spot where he fell.
A staff was set up on his grave, which became a landmark, and received
the name of "The Murder Pole." The murderers boasted of
their achievement and with impunity. They and their tribe thought
they had struck a fair blow on their ancient enemies, in a becoming
manner. It was only said that Toopunkah Zeze of the village of the
Batture aux Fievres, and two others, had each acquired a right to
wear skunk skins on their heels and war-eagles' feathers on their
A winter passed, and the murdered man was not revenged. * * * In
the following autumn, another party of Chippewas came to St. Peter's
and as they remembered what had happened the year before, they took
care to arrive just at, day-break, and proceeded directly to the
fort. There were twenty-four persons in the band, eight of whom
were warriors; the rest were women and children. The chief was Kweeweezaizhish,
or the Flat Mouth, the great man of the Sandy Lake Chippewas. He
led his little troop straight to the fort, where he unfurled and
planted an American, flag, and then demanded an interview with the
agent and commanding officer.
Dakotas soon learned what was passing, and by the time the gates
were opened, a considerable number of them had assembled to gaze
upon the enemy. Presently the officers came forth, and desired the
visitors to enter. "Be not angry, father," replied the
Flat Mouth, "but I would rather say something here, before
I enter your wigwam or eat your bread. I desire that these Nahtooessies
(enemies) should hear it."
The Colonel (Snelling) sent for the Chippewa interpreter, and when
he had come desired the chief to say on.
said the chief, "you know that more than a year since, we made
peace with your Nahtooessie children, because you desired us. We
have kept the peace and listened to your advice, as we always do,
for our American fathers are wise men, and advise us for our good.
These men know whether they have done so or not. I speak with a
sick heart. We are but few here, and these men will not keep the
peace with us. We ask you to protect us, as we would protect you,
if you should come into our country."
The Colonel replied that he could have no concern with the quarrels
of the Dakotas and Chippewas. If they fought anywhere else, he could
not help it; but while they remained under his flag they should
not be molested, provided they did not molest others. He bade them
pitch their lodges on a spot within musket shot of the walls, and
there, he said and thought, they would be safe. He would make their
cause his own if any harm should come to them there. This speech
being expounded to the Dakotas, they all exclaimed "Hachee!
Hachee! Hachetoo!" --that is it! That is right!
The Flat Mouth then entered the Fort and partook of American hospitality.
He then explained the object of his visit. It was the old story,
repeated the thousandth time. They were very poor; they had left
their friends at home with heavy hearts, and hoped that their father
would give them something to make them glad. In short, the endless
catalogue of Indian wants was summed by a humble petition for a
little of their father's milk (whiskey) "to make them cry"
for certain friends they had lost. This shameless beggary should
not be taken as proof of want of spirit. The main point in their
political code is equality of property; he that has two shirts thinks
it a duty to give one to him who has none. He who has none thinks
it no shame to ask one of him who has two. The effect of this system
is, that they are always in want of everything, and the application
of their own principle of action to their white neighbors makes
their company excessively troublesome. It is true that they are
willing to reciprocate, as far as lies in their power, but then
they never have anything to give.
On the occasion in question, our Chippewa friends got, if not all
they asked, yet more than they had expected. Then, after having
entered the garrison with the Buffalo dance, they left the Fort,
and set up their lodges as they had been directed.
In the afternoon Toopunkah Zeze arrived from the Batture aux Fievres,
with seven of his own band and one other. They went directly to
the Chippewa camp and entered the largest lodge, where it happened
that there were just nine persons. The young Dakota above named
held in his hand a pipe, the stem of which was gaily ornamented
with porcupine's quills and hair stained red. The Chippewas spread
skins for his party, shook hands with them, invited them courteously
to be seated. They also directed the women instantly to prepare
a feast of venison, corn and maple sugar, all of which articles
were mixed together and placed before the Dakotas in brimming bowls
When the entertainment was over, Toopunkah Zeze filled the peace-pipe
he had brought and passed it round. None rejected it, and all might,
therefore, consider themselves pledged to peace, if not to love.
The conversation then became general and amicable. The Chippewa
women coquetted with the Dakota youths, who seemed in no wise to
consider them as enemies.
No Dakota is suffered to wear a war eagle's feather in his hair
till he has killed his man. Toopunkah Zeze wore one for the Chippewa
he had so treacherously slain the year before, as we have already
related. One of the fair Chippewas noticed it. "You are young
to wear that," said she.
shall wear another before I am much older," he replied.
Certainly after so reach friendly intercourse and so many demonstrations
of good will; no one could have suspected any sinister purpose.
The Chippewas, too, might have relied on their proximity to the
Fort. But "the heart of man is desperately wicked." The
Dakotas had shook hands and smoked the pipe of peace with their
former foes, had eaten of their fat and drank of their strong. At
last, at sunset, they took their guns and rose to depart. The eight
foremost halted outside the door, while the last held it aside with
his foot, and all discharged their guns into the lodge, excepting
one, whose piece missed fire. The assassins gave the Indian cri
de joi, and fled like deer.
guns were heard in the Fort, and the news soon reached the commanding
officer, who immediately ordered an officer [Note Mrs. Van Cleve
says that her father, Capt. Nathan Clark, was the officer entrusted
with this duty. Neill so slates, also, in his history, page 392.
W.] to proceed to the nearest village with an hundred men, and apprehend
as many Dakotas as possibly he could. No time was to be lost, for
the night was fast coming up the horizon. The Chippewas, who were
not hurt, joined the party. Circumstances proved favorable to the
enterprise; just as the party left the gate, upwards of a hundred
armed Dakotas appeared on a low ridge near the Fort. The captain
divided his force, and dispatched one party round a small wood to
take the enemy in the rear, while he advanced upon them in front.
The Dakotas kept their ground firmly. Some covered themselves with
the scattered scrub oak trees; others laid down in the long grass.
Guns were already cocked when the detached party appeared in their
rear. Then the Indians gave way. Most escaped, but thirty were taken
and speedily conveyed to the Fort, where accommodations were provided
for them in the guardhouse and the black hole. The Chippewas, too,
removed their lodges into the Fort, and the wounded were carried
to the hospital.
Eight balls had been fired into the Chippewa lodge, and every one
took effect. The wounds were the most ghastly that we ever saw made
by bullets. The party had been lying or reclining, on their mats;
for there is no standing in a Chippewa lodge. Consequently the balls
passed through their limbs diagonally tearing and cutting more than
it is usual for pieces of lead to do, though as ragged as chewing
can make them. One woman was killed outright, one man was mortally,
and another severely wounded, the latter being shot through both
ankle joints and crippled forever. All the rest were women and children,
and more or less severely wounded. [Note In Mrs. Van Cleve's account,
before referred to, it is stated that a little girl was mortally
There was weeping and wailing in the Chippewa lodges that night.
The noisy lamentations of the women broke the rest of the whole
garrison; but no one desired them to be silent, for the rudest soldier
there respected the sincerity of their sorrow. Never were Indian
knives driven deeper into squaw's flesh in token of grief than on
that occasion. The practice of mortifying the body, on the death
of friends, seems to be, and to have been common to all rude people.
The Jews clothed themselves in sack cloth and threw ashes on their
heads; Achilles refused to wash his face till the funeral rites
had been performed over the body of Patroclus. Now, the male Chippewas
blackened their faces, indeed, but they did not gash their arms.
A soldier who spoke their language asked of the why they did not
conform to the ancient usage of their nation. "Perhaps we shall
have use for our guns to-morrow," replied the Little Soldier.
"We must lose no blood, though our hearts bleed, for we must
be able to see straight over our gun barrels."
The Little Soldier was right in his surmise and precaution. At early
day dawn the commanding officer visited the wounded Chippewas, and
asked them if they could recognize any of their aggressors, in ease
they should appear before them. They replied eagerly in the affirmative.
He then asked them why they had not been more on their guard. "We
respected your flag," replied the mortally wounded man, "and
thought that our enemies would do the same." The Colonel then
asked whether they had given the Dakotas no provocation. "None,"
said the Chippewa, "but we endured much." He presented
the peace pipe, which the Dakotas had brought with them, and said
that the hair with which it was ornamented had belonged to a Chippewa
head. We know not how he made the discovery, but it is well known
to all who have lived on the frontier, that an Indian, on seeing
a scalp, can tell, with unerring certainty, to what tribe it belongs.