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"The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their way of life and live like white men--go to farming">

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"The whites were always trying to make the Indians give up their way of life and live like white men--go to farming, work hard and do as they did and if the Indians had tried to make the whites live like them, the whites would have resisted, and it was the same way with many Indians."



The Santee Sioux Reservation, one of the three reservations in Nebraska, was established through an executive order issued by President Andrew Johnson in February of 1869. The Santee's arrival in the northeastern Missouri River region in Nebraska completed their tragic removal from their homeland in Minnesota to South Dakota and finally to Nebraska. The prejudice exhibited by the Minnesota people coupled with deceptive government treaty negotiations brought the Santee to Nebraska, a place they did not choose to make their home.

The Santee Sioux were the "frontier guardians of the Sioux domain" that ranged from the Santee's home in Minnesota across the plains and to the northern Rocky Mountains in Montana and south through the northwestern part of Nebraska. Four bands comprised the Santee division of the Sioux Nation. They included the Mdewkantons, Wahpeton, Sissetons and the Wahpekutes. Unlike their nomadic neighbors to the west, the Santee Tribe was basically a woodlands tribe, living in permanent villages and engaging in some farming. Hunts were conducted twice a year. However, their culture would eventually resemble that of their plains cousins due to their forced relocation from Minnesota to the plains.

The Santee originally lived in the north central part of Minnesota. The first recorded contact with whites occurred in the latter half of the 17th century when the Santee lived along the northern Mississippi River. The Santee's defeat by the Chippewas at the Battle of Kathio in the late 1700s forced them to move to the southern half of the state which would bring them into close contact and eventually conflict with the white settlers. From that point on, survival for the Santee Tribe would become a daily struggle.

The first treaty between the Santee and the government was signed in 1805. Unlike the treaties of "peace and friendship" initially signed with other tribes, the Santee ceded one thousand acres of land in exchange for two thousand dollars (or two cents an acres). Fort Snelling built in 1819 allowed further white settlement though contrary to treaty specifications. The 1837 treaty authorized the Santee cession of all their land east of the Mississippi River. Lands west of the Mississippi were to be allotted exclusively for the Santee. Altogether, the Santee gave up 35 million acres, an area larger than the state of New York, which was said to comprise the "garden spot of the Mississippi Valley." The government only paid eight cents an acre. Unfortunately, the Santee people never received the benefit of their land sale as the government held most of the money in trust. The 1837 treaty also designated a tract of land in southwest Minnesota for the Santee's reservation although they were told they would have to relocate in another five years. Following the treaty negotiations, Congress failed to appropriate the money for the annuity payments due to the tribe. Nor did the government provided the agricultural supplies and implements as promised in the treaty. With the absence of game and insufficient means to raise adequate crops, the tribe faced eventual starvation. Most frustrating perhaps was the fact that without their annuity payments, they could not purchase the food and supplies from the agency traders. These factors contributed to the paranoia and mistrust felt by both sides as isolated outbreaks of violence occurred between the settlers and renegade bands of the tribe.

These factors led to the events which triggered the Santee uprising of 1862. The armed conflict was precipitated by the so-called "Action Massacre." An argument developed between two young Santee men over the courage to steal eggs from a white farmer. The test for courage became a dare to kill. When they finished with their test of courage, they had killed three white men and two women. Santee leaders, Little Crow, Medicine Bottle, Shakopee and Big Eagle debated whether to take the offensive against the "bluecoats." The young men, hungry and cynical, eventually convinced their disillusioned leaders that their fate was inevitable. However, not all of the Santee participated in the uprising and many of those that did, helped some white people escape their people's vengeance.

The uprising was short lived. Despite the Union conflict in the south, the government managed to send enough reinforcements to quell the rebellion. However, the lack of unity among the Santee willing to fight equally negated the force of their attack. The younger men were anxious to attack white settlements whereas Little Crow and other tribal leaders felt they should try to dislodge the Army from their forts. Unfortunately, Little Crow was unable to control his young men who plundered several small towns, diffusing the strength of the Santee's attack on Fort Ridgely, an important Army fort.

Events following the surrender of the Santee and the release of their white captives permanently stained American history. Colonel Henry Sibley, commander of the U.S. troops in Minnesota imprisoned 1,800 Santees. Many had surrendered believing that they would receive just and fair treatment as promised by the Colonel. However, and Army commission was formed to prosecute the Santee "conspirators." The Santees were also denied access to legal counsel. Consequently, over three hundred Santee were charged with either rape or murder and in most cases both. All three hundred were sentenced to death. Protest by a handful of concerned missionaries and individuals brought the matter to President Lincoln's attention. After reviewing the cases, the President commuted all but thirty-eight sentences. Five additional Santee were granted reprieves before the scheduled execution. In December of 1862, thirty- three Santee were mass executed in Mankato, Minnesota. The following year, Congress passed legislation which abrogated all existing treaty agreements between the Santee and the government. The legislation also exiled the tribes which included the Winnebagos and the Chippewas, beyond the boundary of any known state. Government treatment and policy towards the tribe following the uprising bordered on genocide. For example, several reservation sites suggested included an island off the Florida coast and the Isle Royale in Lake Superior. A compromise was finally reached with the selection of a site in South Dakota called Crow Creek. Two thousand Santee refugees were herded on boats and shipped upstream to their new home in South Dakota. The tribe suffered over three hundred deaths during the first months at Crow Creek. Most of the people died from disease and undernourishment. Supply trains with food and other provisions were essential to survival as the soil was dry and unsuitable for cultivation. One soldier assigned to one of the supply trains reported that the women were forced to make soup from "half digested kernels of corn found in horse manure."

Recognizing the unfeasibility of making Crow Creek a permanent reservation site, the government attempted to obtain another reservation site for the tribe. Both the Otoes and the Omahas were asked to sell part of their reservation land to the government. However, both tribes refused to cede any more of their lands to the government. The government would later obtain land from the Omahas to establish a reservation for Winnebagoes who had shared the Crow Creek Reservation with the Santee. A reserve in northeastern Nebraska along the Missouri River was finally chosen and the Santee again moved to a new home. President Andrew Johnson's executive order set aside four townships in what is presently Knox County. The reservation originally consisted of 115,075 acres. Later, the land was allotted which significantly reduced the tribe's total acreage.

A report issued by a government agent at Santee in 1867 best summarizes the Santee's history prior to their removal to Nebraska.


All treaties with these Indians have been abrogated, their annuities forfeited,

their splendid reservation of valuable land in Minnesota confiscated by the government, their numbers sadly reduced by starvation and disease, they have been humiliated to the dust, and in all of these terrible penalties the innocent have suffered with the guilty.


Nebraska Indian Commission

Lincoln, Nebraska

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