St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lower Sioux Agency, Minnesota, construction arrested by the Dakota War, photographed by Adrian Ebell in late fall, 1862.
On July 4, 1862 Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple laid the cornerstone for St. John’s, the Episcopal chapel at the Lower Sioux Agency. Sunday the 5th, he had a long talk with Lower Chief Wabasha, whose home was a farm on the Lower Reservation east of the Agency. The dates in Whipple’s diary suggest he recorded Wabasha’s words within hours of hearing them.
Wabasha, who was pro-acculturation and who, in the weeks of war to come would become the leader of the Lower Dakota peace party, was not out of touch with how Dakota traditionalists were faring under the government’s “civilization” program.
Listen in as Wabasha tells Whipple how it feels to be a Dakota living on the reservation on the eve of the Dakota War of 1862.
Excerpt, Henry B. Whipple Diary, Vol. 4: 1862. Episcopal Church Diocese of Minnesota Papers. Minnesota Historical Society. Paragraphing mine.
Visited Wabasha & had a long conversation in which I expressed my love for the Dakotahs, told him all I had in my heart spoke of their foolish dances & especially of the opposition of their Medicine men to the mission — lately they have taken pains to get up a dance on every Lord’s Day to keep the people from Church — They say their religion is in dances & these are a part of the Grand medicine ours is in praying — they will have theirs & we may keep our own — The design is to keep all wild Indians from religious worship —
Wabasha listened with great attention & especially to my words of love & my description of my letter to their great father at Washington and the law passed by congress to secure his home by a patent — he then made this very beautiful speech which was expressed with much grace —
“Your words have made my heart very glad. You have spoken to me as a father speaks to the child whom he loves well — You have have [sic] often come to see us & you know that the Indians are not like their white brethren — they have not your ways nor have you our ways — Our Great Father at Washington bought our homes and promised to help us to become like our white brothers he said to us when in Washington go home & try to live like your white brothers & in five years we will help you more than we have ever done — Four winters have passed & the fifth is nigh at hand — we think our Great Father may have forgotten his Red children & our hearts are very heavy — the Agents he send to us seem to forget their father’s words before they reach here for we often think they disobey what he has said.
You have said you are sorry to see my young men engaged still in their foolish dances. I am sorry — I wish they would be like white men — sometimes I think they have these old customs hung around them like a garment of their wild life — is because their hearts are sick. They don’t know that whether these lands are to be their home or not. They have seen the red man’s face turned towards the setting sun and feel afraid that many more long journeys are for themselves & children — This makes them weary and they never try to be different.
If the Great Council at Washington would do as they promised then my people would see they meant what they said. The good Indian would be like the white man & the bad Indian would seek another home — I have heard of your wise words to our Great Father and that he will now give the Indians who live like white men deeds for their land, and my heart is glad — You have none of my blood in your veins but you have been always a true friend to the Dacotah — I will repeat your words to the wise men of our people & often when I sit alone in my tepee they will come back to me and be like sweet music to my heart” —
Photo credit: St. Cornelia’s Church [sic] Minnesota National Register Properties Database, the Minnesota Historical Society, via Google Images.