Minnesota Fiddlers

      The Dakota people became concerned when white settlers began encroaching on Indian lands.  Chief Little Crow went to Washington D.C. to stop the encroachments.  The dispute was considered resolved by the Treaty of 1858, but the treaty only made things worse for the Dakota.  With their lands much diminished, and compounded by a complete crop failure in 1861, they had insufficient land to support hunting and gathering, and the whites were unable, or unwilling, to supply the annuities, which had been promised by the treaties, which would allow the Dakota to purchase food from white merchants.


      One of the most stinging statements came from merchant Andrew Myrick when he said:
      "Let them eat grass or their own dung."  

       A gold shipment was eventually dispatched from Washington to allow the Dakota to purchase food, but not in time to avoid armed conflict in Acton, MN in August 1862.  This expanded to all-out war all along the Minnesota and Red river valleys, as the Dakota attempted to drive the settlers out of their traditional native hunting grounds (along where I94 now runs across the state). 


      Andrew Myrick was one of the first killed at the Lower Sioux agency.  His body was found with grass stuffed in his mouth.


      The war got little press because during the same time the battles of Shiloh and Antietam were also in the news.  In spite of the war in the south Union troops were found to quell the conflict.  On December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, thirty eight Indians were hanged at the largest mass execution in American History.

    Chief Little Crow had been one of the signers of the 1851 Mendota Treaty which opened southern Minnesota to white settlement. The Chief knew that his people's way of life was going to change dramatically, from hunting and gathering to ranching and farming, but he knew that his people had the best land along the Minnesota River.

The Dakota War

     Chief Little Crow avoided capture as he attempted to get other Dakota tribes to the west to reinforce his people.  The tribes in North Dakota refused to help, so Little Crow and his son returned to Minnesota.  On July 3, 1863, while Little Crow and his fourteen year old son were picking berries near Hutchinson, Minnesota, he was shot and killed by a settler.[1] 

     The town of Hutchinson celebrated the fourth of July that summer by scalping the dead Indian and setting off firecrackers in his ears.  The body was dragged through town and beheaded before they learned that the body was that of Chief Little Crow.  Eventually, the chief’s skull and scalp ended up in a display case in the Minnesota State Capital. It wasn’t until 1971 that Chief Little Crow’s remains were finally buried.[2]

     By any measure, this story was a tragedy.  A tragedy that could have been avoided if promises had been kept and the Indians had been treated fairly.

     Joseph Renville, the son of a French trader and a Dakota mother, was born near present day St Paul in 1779.  He studied in Canada, he became a scout, a guide, interpreter, and, eventually, a Catholic priest.  He returned to Minnesota in 1835 and founded a mission at Lac qui Parle.  There the mission house translated the Bible into the Dakota language, and Renville wrote the hymn "Lac qui Parle" which was published in 1842.  Renville died in 1846.


    On Dec 25th 1862 as the thirty eight condemned Dakota warriors were being led to the gallows, they sang Renville's hymn.


    Click here to get the sheet music to "Lac qui Parle"

    Click here to listen to an mp3 of "Lac qui Parle"




by Walter Sigtermans