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Little Crow.

Tahetan Wakawa Mini
Little Crow

Mdewakantonwan Dakota
(ca. 1810-1863)

Little Crow was born Tahetan Wakawa Mini in 1810 in the Mdewakantonwan Dakota village of Kaposia. He was the first son of Chief Wakenyantanka (Big Thunder) and his wife Minneakadawin (Woman Planting in Water). Little Crow's grandfather was Chetanwakuamani; he was noted for signing the Zebulon Pike Treaty of 1805.

Little Crow grew to be an ambitious man and one without physical fear. He acquired a reputation of being a brave warrior. During these years, he also learned to read and write English.

After his father accidentally shot and killed himself in 1846, Little Crow became the chief of his band. Two of his half-brothers attempted Little Crow's assassination shortly thereafter. However, they only succeeded in wounding him. Little Crow banished them, and when they returned, he had them executed.

When treaty negotiations began at Mendota in 1851, Little Crow was elected as the speaker for his people. After these negotiations were completed, he became the first chief to sign the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux. Little Crow thought this treaty would enable his people to "never be poor."

This was not the case. Almost immediately, trouble began. The government did not want the Sioux to own their own land, which was one of the stipulations in the original treaty.

Although they protested, the chiefs had no choice but to sign a revised treaty. Part of the money from the land's sale was paid to traders instead of to the tribes. These funds were to be held in "trust" for future purchases. However, the Indians never saw any returns from the money.

In 1858, Little Crow and the other lower Sioux chiefs traveled to Washington D.C. in hopes of convincing the government to redress the broken promises of the last treaty.

Instead, the government threatened to take the land they wanted by force and so coerced the chiefs into signing away a 10-mile tract of their reservation. Although Little Crow had spoken for the entire delegation, tribal resentment over signing the land away caused his popularity to decline.

During the following years, unrest among Little Crow’s people grew as the provisions and annuity money promised by the treaties was often too late, too little or not at all.

When news of the Spirit Lake Massacre committed by Inkpaduta and his band threatened to cause a war, Little Crow stepped in once again. He volunteered to lead a war party against Inkpaduta’s small band. In doing so, the group brought back four scalps and several women captives. Indian superintendent at the time, William J. Cullen, admitted Little Crow’s intervention helped advert the real possibility of war.

When the Sioux heard of the white man’s Civil War in the spring of 1861, they were very curious about what it would mean to them. Some worried the Confederates would enslave the Indians if they won.

Tensions among the Dakota increased in the summer of 1862, when the annuity payments were not made on time. In August, starving Indians broke into the agency warehouse. They forced the Indian Agent, Thomas Galbraith, to give them provisions. The tribe soon called for the election of a new speaker. They felt Little Crow had failed them.

However, four days later, on August 17, Little Crow awoke to terrible news. Four young Wahpetons had killed several white men and women at the Acton Post Office. The tribe needed Little Crow’s experience with the white men to handle the situation.

Little Crow knew the white men would take vengeance for their slain women. The chief had only two plausible options: turn over the murders, or go to war.

The first option was discarded after much discussion. The civil chiefs were divided over the war issue — Wabasha, Traveling Hail, Taopi and Wakute opposed war. Big Eagle, Red Legs, Mankato and Little Six supported war.

Despite all of the confusion, Little Crow lead a number of warriors to the Redwood Agency early the next morning and killed about 20 white men. This action began the Dakota Uprising.

Many of the Dakota began rampaging across the countryside, killing white settlers. Little Crow disapproved of killing people who had not harmed them and pleaded with the warriors to spare the women and children.

Little Crow led ineffective attacks on Fort Ridgely. He led the attack on New Ulm. He succeeded in burning most of the town. Then, he raided Hutchinson and Forest City.

When Henry Sibley’s army arrived in Yellow Medicine, where the Dakota were camped, Little Crow knew this could be the last fight.

On the morning of September 23, the Dakota attacked and were driven back by Sibley’s skirmishers, mostly Civil War veterans. Mankato - a chief - was among the 30 Indians killed.

Little Crow could no longer rally the warriors. He retreated up the Red River with some of his people. He continued his attempts to rally support among other bands but had little success.

On June 10, 1863, Little Crow left his sanctuary at Devil’s Lake to make a raid into Minnesota. He went to gather horses for himself and his family. He took several men and one woman with him.

The group soon split up, leaving Little Crow and his 14-year-old son alone in the "Big Woods." On the morning of July 3, 1863, Little Crow and his son, Wawinape stopped to pick raspberries near Hutchinson.

A settler named Nathan Lamson spotted the two Indians while he was hunting with his son. Lamson shot and killed Little Crow. Wawinape was injured but managed to return to his people at Devil’s Lake.

Wawinape was later captured and sent to Davenport, IA, where he converted to Christianity and took the name Thomas Wakeman. He became the founder and first Secretary of the Y.M.C.A. among the Sioux. Wawinape had four sons and two daughters: Solomon, Ruth, John, Jesse, Ida, and Alex.

Son John was a Presbyterian preacher. Jesse succeeded his father at the Y.M.C.A. Alexander was an American Marine in France during World War I and later graduated from an Eastern medical college. He went on to become a prominent practicing physician. Ida discovered her grandfather's (Little Crow) bones hanging in a Minnesota museum. She returned home and told her brother, Jesse, who in turn went to the museum to see for himself. Then, he proceeded to "fight" for the return of his grandfather. Eventually, the bones were returned to the Wakeman family, and Little Crow was buried in 1971.

Sources: Diedrich, Mark. Famous Chiefs of the Eastern Sioux. Minneapolis: Coyote Books,1987: 62-75. Hughes, Thomas. Indian Chiefs of Southern Minnesota. Minneapolis: Ross&Haines, Inc. 1969: 52-58.

Photograph, Joel Emmons Whitney; courtesy of the South Dakota Historical Society.


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