February 16, 2020 by Pamela Nowak
While most accounts of the Dakota Conflict came from White survivors, some Dakota and mixed-blood individuals did record accounts. Some of these were via interview while others were written records. When interviews were conducted, the influence of translators and recorders must be considered. Some passed on stories orally to their families, which were later preserved, with some details impacted by repeated retelling. Records were also kept of trial testimony, though translation issues were common in the effort. Still, these accounts offer perspectives and detail that often increases understanding of both events and motivations. Sometimes, to discover information about one event, one has to look at the broader picture.
None of the Dakota leaders present at Lake Shetek left accounts of their actions. However, the information left by John Other-Day provides significant insight into some of those involved at Lake Shetek.
John Other-Day (Ampatutokacha/Good Sounding Voice) was a Wahpeton born in 1819 near Swan Lake (Nicollet County, Minnesota). His father and uncle were both considered leaders and Ampatutokacha was a successful warrior in his youth. In 1856, he joined an association of “farmer Indians” known as the Hazelwood Republic and began adopting White customs. In 1857, he assisted in the recovery of Abbie Gardner, a captive taken at Spirit Lake (Iowa) and was part of a treaty delegation to Washington, D.C. in 1858. He married a White woman he met on that trip. When the Dakota Conflict began, Other-Day was leader of a small band of farmers who lived near the Yellow Medicine/Upper Agency.
On August 18, 1862, Other-Day attended an assembly of about one hundred Sisseton and Wahpeton leaders (along with about thirty young Yankton men who had no official voice) near Rice Creek. The group met to discuss how they should react to the previous day’s events (the killing of the Whites by the five young Mdewkakantons near Acton). During the meeting, word came that the Red Wood/Lower Agency had been attacked.
Among those gathered, there was much disagreement. Sisseton leaders (many heading off-reservation villages) generally supported the killing of all whites. They argued that war had already been initiated by the actions taken by the Mdewkakantons and all Dakota would be seen as enemies anyway. Some argued the time was ripe, with many men being away fighting in the Civil War. Wahpeton leaders tended to favor driving the Whites away without killing them. A large portion of those who had converted to farming were Wahpeton.
Other-Day, who had worked closely with Whites and held insight into White culture and politics, advised the group that while they might kill a small portion of Whites, the action would result in the whole of the United States turning on them. He told them the consequences would be severe and would be visited upon all who did not escape to the West. By nightfall, consensus had still not been reached and the Sisseton left the council along with the Yankton and a few of the Wahpeton.
Other-Day retrieved his wife and warned the Whites living near the Upper Agency, urging them to gather at a brick building. He then recruited four relatives to help him defend the building. They later assisted in evacuating a party of fifty Whites to Shakopee.
Other-Day’s efforts in defending Whites were significant but equally as valuable was the information he left. Prior to the leaving the Upper Agency, he spoke with one of the Wahpeton leaders and learned about the actions of others, including specific individuals, and was able to provide testimony that many of the farming Wahpetons had not participated in fighting and offered names of those who had led resistance efforts. One of these leaders, Muzza-moni, revealed that many of the mixed-bloods had been taken captive. This information greatly enhances history’s understanding of events, those who participated, and those who became victims during the conflict.
Other-Day gathered information from many areas of the outbreak and was able to later testify about who was reported as present at particular attacks and who was specifically not present. Later, Other-Day joined General Sibley’s forces as a scout. After the war, he purchased a farm near Henderson then moved to the Sisseton Reservation (South Dakota). He died of tuberculosis in 1869.
Other-Day also left valuable details about those involved in the meeting at Rice Creek. As I researched for NEVER LET GO, this was extremely helpful in providing insight into events at Lake Shetek. Other-Day specifically mentioned that particular Sisseton leaders were present: the chief of Old Sleepy-Eye’s band, the Lean Bear, White Lodge, the son of Limping Devil, and Blue Face. All are recorded as being in favor of killing the Whites. Other-Day also named those who opposed that action.
As I pieced together the events of Lake Shetek, a number of those same leaders were recorded as being there, including Lean Bear (Grizzly Bear), White Lodge, and Limping Devil. Other-Day’s information provided strong clues to their motivations during the attack on the settlement. It also opened the door for consideration of scenarios different than those normally assumed as fact at the settlement. If Lean Bear (Grizzly Bear) was in support of killing all Whites, why were all the settlers not immediately killed?
For me, that significant question had to be related to the relationships the settlers had established with the individual Sisseton who interacted with them regularly—those who were doctored by Aaron Myers, those who traded with Almira Hurd, those who saw Christina Koch’s soft heart, and those who were understood and respected by Julia Wright.
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As I count down to my July 2020 release of NEVER LET GO, I’ll be posting weekly blogs about the history of Lake Shetek, the Dakota Conflict or the people and cultures involved. Or, I may touch on the writing process or interesting tidbits included in the novel.
For more details on the novel, please visit my HOME page.