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.
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).
The writer having occasion to go to the agency on
Sisseton reservation spent a night with Chief Renville, and made the following
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.
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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