Military and Indian Reservations, Marshall County, South Dakota

Military And Indian Reservations


     The military reservation lies in the eastern part of Marshall County and contains about 128 square miles or 82,000 acres of land. Fully one-third of this area is splendid farming land, while the other two-thirds are good grazing and farming lands. There are numerous lakes, of which Skunk, Four and Nine Mile Lakes, are the largest. There is still considerable timber in the vicinity of the lakes and in the gulches. All the heavy timber has been used at the fort during the last twenty years. The scenery is grand and picturesque in many localities, especially in the vicinity of Ft. Sisseton.
     Pierre Bottineau, a Frenchman and uncle to Chas. Dugas, of Day County, was for many years a government scout, and well acquainted with Dakota. In 1864 he acted as guide for the military commission sent out to locate a fort west of the Sisseton reservation; the present site was selected in July the same year. At the time the fort was built the site was nearly surrounded by lakes and looked like an island; since then the water in the lakes surrounding the fort has receded. The commanding position of the fort with its timber and lakes makes a grand scenery. These lakes were known by the Indians as Kettle Lakes, where they, long before the advent of the white mars, held their councils and feasts. Chief Renville informed the writer that, along in the fifties, the lakes referred to were higher than has been known since. It appears that the continual evaporation has materially decreased the volume of water in the lakes.
     The barracks and barn are built of substantial stone; the hospital and officers' quarters of brick manufactured on the premises and of hardwood, sawn on the reservation. There are usually from eighty to one hundred soldiers, including officers, stationed here. In 1884 the white soldiers and officers were removed to Ft. Totten, and colored troops, with white officers from Ft. Hale, now occupy the fort. The colored soldiers are of all shades, from the nearly white to the blackest of black Africans; but all speak good English and apparently an intelligent class of soldiers.
     The government usually keeps from two to four Indian scouts at the fort. When a prisoner or deserter has but twelve hours the start his chances are indeed small to escape; the scouts, like bloodhounds, follow the trail, and in a day or two run in the rascal or bring him in a corpse. Last June a colored servant stole Capt. Vander Horck's favorite pony, old Prince, and skipped, and has not been captured. In 1883 old Prince was stolen in open daylight, by a boy fifteen years old, and run into Brown County. Chas. gander Horck followed him, secured Prince, but let the boy escape in Waverly Township.
     The soldiers have no arduous duty to perform, and there is no apparent reason why the fort should not be abandoned and the reservation thrown open for settlement.
     Capt. Vander Horck is a native of Germany, and has for eight years been Post Trader at the fort. He is an old time soldier and took an active part fighting Indians during the Minnesota massacre (see closing paragraphs of Indian reservation).

Indian Reservation

     The writer having occasion to go to the agency on Sisseton reservation spent a night with Chief Renville, and made the following notes:
     Chief Renville was born on the east side of Big Stone Lake in Minnesota, sixty-one years ago. He is six feet tall, with regular features, showing traces of Caucasian blood. He is a descendant of a French trader by that name, and is an intelligent, shrewd man. He, like a few more of his tribe, still clings to polygamy, having three wives. He is the father of twenty children of whom fifteen are living; During the late Minnesota massacre he with quite a number of friendly Indians of his tribe did much to save white people and hunt hostile Indians. He was chief scout under General Sibley, and in 1866 was elected chief of the Sisseton and Wahpeton tribes, and has documents showing his appointment as chief by our government for his valuable services rendered during the outbreak.
Red-feather, hereditary chief, being the son of Standing Buffalo, is living upon the reservation and quietly cultivating, his farm.
These tribes made a treaty with the government ceding their lands in Minnesota, and accepting their present reservation. They have received in annuities nearly a million of dollars for their ceded lands, and now receive only appropriations from congress. This should cease, as they are as able to support themselves as any fifteen hundred souls in any other locality. Their reservation contains nearly one million acres of land. Chief Renville thinks that they will sell the government the west half of their reservation and put the money on interest. The east half of the reservation contains the best land, timber and water.

Indian Government

    Thanks to Col., Thompson, Indian agent, for information concerning the Indians and their government.
     The Indians adopted a constitution January, 1884. The government of the reservation consists of a legislature, comprising council and House of Representatives, all chosen by the people. The reservation is divided into ten districts. Each district is entitled to one councilman and two representatives. The executive power is vested in the chief (who is chief during life) aid the headmen of the tribes.
The judicial power of the reservation is vested in a supreme court consisting of five judges. Each of the ten districts has also a justice of the peace.
     There is also a committee on education of five members. All male Indians who are twenty-one years old are legal voters.
     The agent stands between the Indians and the government and sees that everything goes right. It sometimes happens that the agent and a large number of Indians get at loggerheads, perhaps a majority of Indians siding with the agent while the other side is active in their endeavors to remove him. The agent informed the writer that as a rule the Indians are not given to quarreling among themselves nor thieving. Many of them live in comfortable houses, while others live in small log huts and usually farm from ten to, fifty acres. In the spring one of their number will kill a cow or beef of some kind, and his neighbors come with their teams and put in his crop in a day, and have a jolly time feasting This is repeated until each one has his crop in the ground.
     Twenty years is comparatively a short period of time in which to civilize a savage race of people. The Indians upon the reservation have made a wonderful progress during this period. They retain but two of their practices, viz: A grass dance, in which most of their toilet is dispensed with and the aboriginal costume is donned. They keep up a dismal sound upon an excuse for a drum and in a circle keep up a performance by courtesy called a dance. They have these dances more frequently when a few of the leaders desire to put some scheme on foot and gain favor. After dancing they have a pow-wow, and generally the chief is invited but not always. In these powwows the wily leaders endeavor to work up the feelings of their neighbors and friends.
     They Eat Canines and canine soup at their feasts with apparently as much relish as civilized persons would a fatted calf. Defunct horses and mules do not come amiss as our genial friend Sam Denton can testify.
     The writer is under obligations to Prof. Crossfield and Mrs. Crossfield for courtesies extended during a brief visit. We also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Dr. Fay, a gentleman recently from Washington, and in western parlance a tenderfoot, who occupies the position of medicine man among the Indians.
     The Indians nave a magnificent school house one mile from the agency. During the past year one hundred and thirty-five pupils have attended school. At present there are only about eighty. Their sleeping apartments are a model of cleanliness and it was a treat to see them troop into the dining hall for dinner, the girls on one side of the table and the boys on the other and about ten to each table. After they had all seated themselves grace was said by one of the ladies, and from the appearance of the tables we judge that their food in quality and quantity will compare very favorably with the best class of our farmers. Prof. Crossfield says that his pupils are as apt as white children when we take in consideration that they must learn the English language. They leave school July 1st and are again brought in September 1st, and (luring their vacation drift into rags and filth and by their native associations forget much that they had learned the previous year. For obvious reasons their progress is slow, yet much is accomplished.
     The mechanical department is under the supervision of Mr. J. M. Phillippi. The larger boys are taught harness and shoemaking. We saw some very good specimens of their workmanship. They are also taught the proper way to farm.
The mission school has about forty pupils, and a female school taught by Mrs. Renville has about twelve pupils. The three-schools have the past year had about two hundred pupils which leaves only a very small per cent of pupils of a school age that have not attended school.
     The writer made the acquaintance of an old Indian at Waubay Lake known as Short--In-The-Abdomen, who was one of the trio that entered the stable at Abercrombie to steal horses during the siege in '62. The other two were bayoneted 'in the barn and this old sinner escaped by rolling clown a steep bank into the river. He says they were such fine fat horses that they wanted a few of them. We interviewed Captain Vander Horck to find out the truth of the above episode. This called to the captain's memory those terrible days in August, 1862, when he as commander with eighty soldiers was cooped up in Fort Abercrombie, besieged by perhaps fifteen hundred hostile savages the siege began Aug. 16. On the 18th or 20th Breckenridge was sacked and burned by the Indians. September 3d the Indians attacked the fort and the captain was wounded early in the day, but the savages were kept at bay. A few days prior to this the Indians stampeded 140 head of stock but the soldiers recaptured about 40 the next day. Many settlers with their families had fled to the fort for protection. They were in a perilous position, and we can hardly realize the joy felt by citizens and soldiers when the captain announced the arrival of reinforcements and the sudden disappearance of the redskins.

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