Wilhelmina Buce Carrigan (1855-1912)
Minnie Buce Carrigan was seven years old in August 1862, when she witnessed the deaths of her mother, her father, and four younger siblings at the hands of Dakota warriors at her home on Middle Creek in Renville County, Minnesota. Carrigan and her ten year old brother, Charlie, were held captive for six weeks.
In 1884,when she was twenty-nine, Carrigan began writing and speaking about her 1862 experiences. Her best known story is Captured by the Indians.
Carrigan’s story about a soldier named Louis Thiele was square one in my inquiry into Indian hating in Minnesota in the wake of the U.S.-Dakota War. More about “Indian Hating” in a moment. First, the story Carrigan recorded, dating to late September or early October 1862:
“One day while she was staying at Camp Release, Mr. Thiele came into our tent. He told Mrs. Krus how the Indians had killed his wife and child. He assured her that her husband was alive and that she would soon see him again. Then he went on talking about how he and a half-breed named Moore, buried the dead. They had buried quite a number before he had courage enough to bury his wife and child. When he came upon their bodies the dogs had eaten most of them and there was nothing but a few pieces of their clothes. He said he knelt down beside them and cried, prayed, and cursed the Indians, all in one breath. He swore that he would shoot Indians all the rest of his life. At last the half-breed could stand it no longer and asked Thiele if he was going to kill him, too. Mr. Thiele did not answer at which Moore threw down his spade and went away, leaving him to bury his dead alone.
After burying what dead he could that day, [Thiele] started for the Fort, not caring where he went. With nothing to eat but corn and wild plumbs [sic], he wandered until he met Sibley’s men. He asked the General to let him have some soldiers to bury the dead. General Sibley could not send a force until two weeks later and there was nothing left of the bodies but bones and clothes. They simply dug a hole beside the skeletons, rolled the bones in and covered them up.”
The story caught my attention for two reasons. First, I thought I had already encountered “Mr. Thiele” –Louis Thiele, who first showed up on my historical radar in 1999 as a farmer from Flora Township, Renville County, listed as a refugee at Fort Ridgely during the war, where he reported that his wife and child had been killed.
Second, researching a very early Dakota War novel, I had read Louise K. Barnett’s classic book The Ignoble Savage: American Literary Racism 1790-1890. In it, Barnett identified a stock character in popular mid-19th century American frontier fiction called an “Indian Hater.”
In 1851, American historian Francis Parkman explained the phenomena of Indian Hating: “It is not easy for those living in the tranquility of polished life fully to conceive the depth and force of that unquenchable, indiscriminate hate, which Indian outrages can awaken in those who have suffered them. The chronicles of the American borders are filled with the deeds of men, who, having lost all by the merciless tomahawk, have lived for vengeance alone; and such men will never cease to exist so long as a hostile tribe remains within striking distance of an American settlement.” (quoted in Barnett, 129)
Louis Thiele was one of the citizen soldiers besieged at Fort Ridgely when Van Vorhes penned the “ANNIHILATION” manifesto on August 22.
But is there proof that Thiele ever did more than threaten to kill Indians in revenge?
Later, I re-read the accounts of the discovery of Justina Kriegher by members of the Birch Coulie burial party. Kriegher, a German settler wounded on the first day of the war and left for dead, survived for weeks on the prairie, too weak to do more than crawl. When two of Sibley’s soldiers saw a figure creeping toward them through the grass, one soldier raised his rifle and took aim at the head of flowing dark hair. The other stopped him. The soldier who almost shot Kriegher, supposing she was an Indian, was Louis Thiele.
Thiele also showed up again as a witness in three of the 1862 Military tribunal trials of Dakota warriors accused of murdering civilians in Flora Township, Renville County. When President Lincoln had the nearly 400 death conviction sifted for evidence of murder of rape, only 39 of the convictions were allowed to stand–including all three against whom Thiele testified. Two of the three were executed on December 26, 1862.
Later in this series, we’ll meet Louis Thiele again in the story of the attack outside New Ulm on the wagons of chained prisoners being transported to Mankato.
150 years and too many wars later, we are more aware of the deep and lingering effects of trauma people sustain when they are victimized or witness the victimization of people they love. I can’t imagine what Louis Thiele experienced in 1862.
But historians currently argue that “moral restraint” was the factor that kept ethnic cleansing in Minnesota from crossing the technical line into genocide in the wake of the war. Isn’t it esoteric to insist that body counts are the sole measure “moral restraint” when we know the camps of soldiers guarding the Dakotas were populated with avowed Indian Haters like Louis Thiele?
Minnie Carrigan’s brother, Charlie (August) Buce, only ten years old when their parents were killed, also grew up to be a soldier, and, it seems, an Indian Hater. Carrigan wrote:
“My brother left for Montana at the age of 19. When we were at Camp Release he came one day and told me that he saw all the Indians that were to be hung but the one who killed our parents was not among them. He cried and said, “Yes, he is a good Indian now. Just wait until I get big I will hunt Indians the rest of my life and will kill them, too, if I can find them.” For two years after we parted he would write to me regularly but then we heard no more of him. I am inclined to think that he was killed at the time Gen. Custer made his last stand, for that spring I received his last letter.”