Army Officers and Dakota Women on the Minnesota Frontier, Part 4

Rockford   Wright  County Minn July 25 1863

Samuel J. Brown, Esq.

Dear Sir

Not having anything in particular to do and thinking that it might interest you to know where the Bloody Co. “I” is stationed, I take this opportunity of now informing you. On our arrival in St. Paul we were ordered up to Mananah 12 miles west of Forest City from there I was ordered with 15 of the boys down in through the Big Woods on the Scout after Indians where we have been ever since and have had some good times and some bad here on account of the mosquitoes and flies and long marches and at times very little to eat at others we have had plenty when we make [ ] onslaught on some farmers for chickens. I tell you Sam the Boys of Co. “I” can’t be beat on robbing their roosts.

I hope you have a good time up amongst the Indians. I wish you would scalp a few of them Sam and send the scalps along this way as scalps are worth $75.00 here now to anyone who takes one. Send a few along and I will go halves with you. I expect you and [torn page; three words missing] Maj. must have a dull time of it up there.

Sam I want you to do me a favor by going and seeing Sinte for me and find out how herself and the young one is getting on up in that God-forsaken country. I expect it must be hard times with her. Sam I want you to write me all the news from your place —how you get along with the Indians and all about matters and things in general if there is anything in particular Sinte wants me to do for her you will please let me know and if convenient I shall do it. By complying with the above requests and writing at your earliest convenience you will confer lasting favor on

Yours Truly

Jas. Gorman

address: Lieut. Jas Gorman Co. “I” 10th Regt. M.V. Mananah, Meeker Co. Minn

note on jacket in Samuel J. Brown’s handwriting: “Captain James Gorman of Renville Rangers”


Sometimes even I don’t know what to say, you know?

James Gorman was the brother of Minnesota Territorial Governor, Willis A Gorman. Before August of 1862, when he signed up for a company of Minnesota volunteer infantry that would become known as the Renville Rangers, James Gorman was employed on the Upper Sioux Reservation in west-central Minnesota.

This letter suggests that while living on the reservation, Gorman had a relationship with a Dakota woman named Sinte and that Sinte and her child (Gorman’s?), had been exiled from Minnesota to Crow Creek, South Dakota.

Gorman’s friend, Samuel J. Brown was stationed at Crow Creek in the summer of 1863, as Dakota interpreter for the Federal Indian Agency. On the heels of his suggestion that hunting Indians for their scalps would liven up the monotony of duty at Crow Creek, Gorman asked Brown to send news of Sinte and her child but was interested in helping them only if it was convenient.

It wasn’t a trivial reference to scalps and bounties. Little Crow (although his body had not yet been identified) had been killed and scalped about 20 miles away from where Gorman was stationed, three weeks before Gorman penned this letter.


Source: Photocopy in binder “Samuel J. Brown, Frontiersman,” compiled and loaned to me in 2003 by Alan R. Woolworth. Possibly copied from the Joseph R. and Samuel J. Brown Family Papers, the Minnesota Historical Society.

This entry was posted in Dakota Exile, James Gorman, Samuel J. Brown, scalping, Sinte. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Army Officers and Dakota Women on the Minnesota Frontier, Part 4

  1. Gorman’s scalp comment is so disgusting it’s hard to comprehend that anyone could actually admit to such a thing. I suppose he may have thought he was just kidding and perhaps Samuel took it that way but it makes my skin crawl. It’s as though there were two different kinds of Indians in his mind – ones like Sinte, who apparently warranted at least some expression of concern – and ones like these” others” who were less than worthy of life of any kind. I suppose in Gorman’s racist world, they were all to be considered and treated as one would treat an animal. Reminds me of the current horse breeders who tie their own beloved saddle horses up outside the slaughterhouses where other horses are being killed. Two different sets of behavior, morality and compassion for the same species but with decisions based solely on personal preference, not on any recognition of an innate right to be treated humanely.

  2. Nancy Goodman says:

    This is weirder than you know, Carrie. Sinte is a nickname (Animal’s Tail). I have been trying to identify the woman called Sinte who was the former wife of Joe Brown’s half-brother, Nathaniel Brown. Nathaniel Brown’s daughter, Emma Brown, was raised with his white family, but was known to be the daughter of an earlier marriage to an Indian woman. In a letter from Nellie Rogers to her cousin Samuel Brown, Emma W. Brown’s parents are identified as “Uncle Nathaniel and Sinte.” In the History of Co. E. of the 6th Minnesota (1899) it states “At the request of Major [J.R.] Brown we took his sister-in-law, a squaw by the name of Sinte, wife of Capt. James Gorman of the Renville Rangers, into our wagon.”
    N. R Brown had married, in the Indian fashion, in the late 1850s, sisters of the Sisseton Five Lodge band, Winona and Tunkangiiciyewin. By each of them he had two daughters, none of whom are called Emma in the affidavits that Walt Bachman dug up in his researches. So I have been unable to find out if either or neither is Sinte and been unable to decide which of the four daughters is Emma. Or if there may be another Indian wife out there. Another interesting facet is that Nathaniel R. Brown was in Captain Gorman’s company, Co. I of the Tenth, doing frontier guard duty after the uprising.

    • Carrie Zeman says:

      Nancy, This story reminds me of the saying that history is is stranger than fiction! So Gorman was asking Sam Brown for news of a Brown relative! This is the only reference to Sinte I have encountered so I had no idea who any of her relatives were. I think we consulted the same scrip records on Nathaniel Brown’s wives and children. I’ll copy that note from A Thrilling Narrative below in case the names are useful to anyone. I had a similar problem to your “Emma.” John and Mary Renville only ever called the daughter of Nathaniel Brown who grew up in their family, “Lillie” and I found no Lillie in the scrip records. (On the other hand Mary Renville herself eluded me for years because her given name was actually “Adeline.” So who knows??) Every indication is that Lillie was older than John and Mary Renville’s biological daughter, Ella, and John’s scrip application for Ella is on record. So I think it reasonable to think Nathaniel Brown wouldn’t have missed the chance to apply for Lillie and Emma –that they were born before the late-filed deadline. Thank you for helping contextualize this letter!

      Here are the names of Nathaniel Brown’s wives and children as identified in scrip documents copied from note my 116 on p. 258 of A Thrilling Narrative: “Nathaniel Brown was married to two Sisseton women (sisters) simultaneously. He had four children: Lydia, born February 1854 (mother Winona); M’Dazizi (mother Winona); Ellen, born November 1857 (mother Tunkangiiceyewin); Mary, born December 1860 (mother Tunkangiiceyewin). See RG 75 E 529, Late-filed Lake Pepin Scrip Affidavits 1860, NARA. The author thanks Walt Bachman for sharing this source.”

      • Nancy Goodman says:

        I have Lydia Ann Brown (Lillie?) b. 2/24/54 and M’dazizi Brown b. 3/4/57. Ellen E. Brown was born in late November 1857 (to make it look like two distinct marriages?) and Mary M. Brown was born in December 1860. By the way, J. R. Brown filed these affidavits. And there is more! In 1916 a woman named Berdie Brown Williams wrote to “uncle” S.J..Brown and refers to her mother as Lydia Ann Brown “a half blood,” her grandfather Nathaniel Brown “a white man” and her grandmother Winopeska “a full blood Indian. According to Berdie, her mother Lydia Ann Brown lived with the John Otherday family and Winopeska died at the Yankton agency. The birth date on Emma’s death certificate is Nov. 5, 1857, which would align best with Ellen E. Brown. (Lydia Ann was the name of Nathaniel’s sister). Just to toss out one more item: Lydia Ann Brown age 6, Mdewakanton and William Brown, age 3 Mdewakanton were among the claimants entitled under the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1830, Schedule A filed 1855. So there is at least one more candidate for Lillie.

      • Do you have anymore information on Mary, born December 1860 to Tunkangiiceyewin or of Tunkangiiceyewin herself? I have been researching a Mary Brown, who is my great-grandmother and have come to a dead end till I saw your book.

      • Carrie Zeman says:

        Hi, Wayne. In my scrip records I should have a copy of the National Archives document I referred to in the note. Let me look it up and see what it contains. Some of the genealogical references in this set of records, which has never been microfilmed, are glancing. But others contain some detail. I will hope for the latter for you and will email you to let you know what I find! If it turns out to be of interest to you I’m happy to mail you a copy.

  3. Loretta Meyer says:

    Sinte was my great-greatgrandmother. She had a daughter with James Gorman, Mary Gorman. We don’t know for sure what happened to her. The family lore is that she was killed by the other Indians because of her soldier husband. The little girl was picked up and adopted by another family, the Roy’s and she grew up on the Sisseton-Wahpeton Reservation in SD. The story is that when they went on the run, James Gorman held the soldiers back as long as he could to give them a chance to get away because he knew Sinte and the littler girl were in the group.

    Loretta Meyer

    • Carrie Zeman says:


      Thank you so much for sharing your family story. My heart is all mixed up reading it: Sadness for Sinte; Gladness to know Mary’s name and that the Roys adopted her; So conflicted about James Gorman. Human beings typically are not gifted with foresight. I imagine he and Sinte had no idea of the tragic turns their story would take at the time they met….and yet it sounds as if people in your family line exist today because of their relationship, which makes it a very special story. Thank you, again, for sharing it with us.

      • Loretta Meyer says:

        You’re welcome. Yes, I, too, am conflicted by James Gorman. On the one hand he voices his concern of his Indian wife and daughter and on the other, he is interested in profiting from Indian scalps! I guess just because you have a child with a “savage”, it doesn’t make them any less a “savage”. We have traced him to San Francisco where he married a woman named Maggie Butterfield and had a son named Marcus. I would love to meet any members of his family that exist, I’m sure they would be surprised to learn of his days in the Army.

  4. Richard Hill says:

    Very interesting. My father’s name was Harold Gorman Hill. He was raised by his grandmother, Mary Gorman, the daughter of Sinte and James Gorman. Mary Gorman would marry Louis T. Hill and would have 7 children. My Dad described Mary Gorman as almost six feet tall, light skinned with blue eyes and never spoke a word of English. She taught him the Dakota language.

  5. says:

    Richard, your father and my father are first cousins, you probably know him, Sampson Hill. I met your father once when I was in Sisseton with my Dad. I also have heard many things about Mary Gorman Hill. My Dad’s mother was a full blood, so the Dakota language was his first language. Unfortunately, he attended boarding school from first grade so he doesn’t retain much of the language.

  6. Colette Eagle says:

    Mary (Bunty) Brown was a member of the Moose Woods Indian reserve in Moose Woods, Saskatchewan, Canada (her family has a note that she was born in 1860 and her father was Nathaniel Brown, an Indian trader). This information is invaluable on her mother’s and grandmother’s names. I would love to access the scrip documents noted by Carrie Zeman post and the RG 75 E 529, Late-filled Lake Pepin Scrip Affidavits 1860, NARA.

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