Unexpectedly, on August 18, 1862, Abraham J. Van Vorhes, editor of the Stillwater Messenger and member of the Stillwater (Washington County, Minnesota) militia home guard, became a Dakota War correspondent.
Deputized by Superintendent of Indian Affairs Clark W. Thompson to deliver the long-delayed 1862 annuity gold to the Sioux Agency, Van Vorhes was among the escort who drove the stage off the direct road to Fort Ridgely to spend the night at a tavern. In an August 20 letter reprinted in the Goodhue County Republican August 29, Van Vorhes reported:
“The party attending Mr. Wykoff, acting Superintendent, who was on his way to the Upper Sioux Agency to make the annual annuity payment, met a messenger about six miles from this place, on Monday morning [August 18, 1862], announcing an outbreak at the Lower Sioux Agency, and the murder of all the whites in the vicinity, except the few who made their escape….”
Van Vorhes and company were trapped inside Fort Ridgely for the duration of the siege. Not certain the messenger carrying his August 20 letter would get through the Dakota lines, Van Vorhes wrote a back-up letter on August 21 recapping the story of the siege.
“On Friday the 22d ult., surrounded by a horde of six or eight hundred savages beleaguering a little band of brave men and three hundred wounded and half-starved refugee women and children –men exhausted by continuous days and nights of battle and labor –with ammunition almost exhausted and the heart sick and faint with hope of reinforcements dying out –seemingly deserted by friends, and being pressed into closer quarters by blood-thirsty enemies –with no light to cheer the gloom except a faith in God and a solemn resolve to die at the post of duty, if die we must —a little band of us –the “Old Guard” of Fort Ridgley—mutually pledged ourselves upon the altar of the Eternal God that if either or all of us escaped from our then perilous situation, we would prosecute a war of utter extermination of the entire Sioux race; —that wherever a member of the race might be found, irrespective of age, sex, or condition, his blood should atone the untold outrages of the past fifteen days on our western frontier. We believe this should be the spirit which should actuate every white man. The race must be annihilated –every vestige of it blotted from the face of God’s green earth. Otherwise our State will be ruined and white men slaughtered or driven from our young State. ANNIHILATION; –that is the word.”
I wrote in my historical introduction to A Thrilling Narrative, we can’t simply dismiss stories like this a racist hyperbole because some soldiers told us they attempted to act out these vows. And Dakota oral history reports that some succeeded.
You’ll meet one of these men in the next post, a citizen soldier named Louis Thiele.