By M.I.McCreight, DuBois, PA-1942


      €  Because we came to escape injustices, and were met by original proprietors with a handshake, furnished food and shelter to save us from starvation;

      €  Because we responded to these benefactions, not as Christians would, or were taught by the Man of Galilee to do, but by brutal and unprecedented savagery;

      €  Because we carried on a relentless campaign of extermination of them and all their rights and properties,---modern German style;

      €  Because we carried on this ruthless policy for nearly three centuries---to the Massacre of Wounded Knee---to the final extermination of the race,---except a tiny remnant still held imprisoned in our discarded back-lands called "reservations."

      €  Because nearly sixty years ago, the writer lived and dealt with them during the period of their greatest suffering. He saw, at first hand, the result of centuries-old fighting to take from its original owners the whole of the territory comprising the United States,---and it is to sketch lightly, the personality of some of the men who fought bravely to defend against the unrighteous invasion of their homelands and the lives of their families, that this is written.

November, 1942———M.I.McCreight


WAH-NE-TAH [Waneta]

The Sioux Chief Who Had More Power Than Any Other on the Continent

Waneta was born somewhere in the St. Peters River country, as nearly as can now be ascertained, in 1790. In 1885, when well known by the writer, he said he was 95 years of age. He was a son of the famous Chief Shappa, of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

In early career, he was much under the influence of Col. Dickson, the noted English trader, who came into the upper Mississippi River country in1798 and carried on extensive fur trade with the natives up and down the river for many years.

Following the close of the Revolutionary War, it was well understood by the new American government that the British were conniving with the western tribes to hold them for the profitable fur trade and prevent their pledge of loyalty to the United States under the lately adopted Constitution. For the clearing up of this British treachery, Lieut. Zebulon Pike was sent to the upper Mississippi country to enforce obedience, and obtain oaths of allegiance from the fur traders suspected of disloyalty, among whom, Dickson was most prominent.

When called upon by the Pike military delegation, Dickson professed his loyalty to the new regime and promised cooperation. But Lt. Pike soon learned of the traitorous compact entered into by Dickson, who, later used his utmost influence with the natives to violate their pledges and fight the Americans, and in the ensuing rebellion, Waneta was wounded in one of the battles fought with the Americans.

Tam-a-hay, a prominent Sioux chief from whom Pile had gained a pledge during his visit in 1806, used his power and influence in favor of the Americans. For his loyalty, he was called to St. Louis and sent by the government up the Missouri River to the Sioux Indians there where he cooperated with Manuel Lisa to prevent them joining with the Dickson rebels on the upper Mississippi River country.

Dickson's wife was an Indian, sister of Shappa, therefore the aunt of Waneta---later to become a famous chief, and the subject of this sketch. Colonel Dickson had four children to this Indian wife, and after the failure of his Minnesota rebellion, at the insistance of Tam-a-hay and Lisa's good offices, Dickson came west to the Missouri, bringing with him his family and Waneta to settle among the Yanktons.

In his sketches of pioneers of the Northwest, Constant R. Marks says that Dickson was well known at Sioux City during the fifties. It was on the Big Sioux, James and Red River waters that Waneta had his career as Grand Chief of the Sioux. It was in this section that Col. Long visited him in the late forties, and who speaks of him as having the most power of any Indian on the continent---then about 45 years of age.

In one of the volumes of historic sketches and paintings of famous Indians, published by Bowen in 1849-51, is a color portrait of Waneta in full regalia showing him as tall and dignified, and justifying his comment that "his rule is absolute." (Long's report; McKenny.)

From the middle 1820's on came the series of government treaties, providing for the purchase of their lands and the placing of the various tribes on limited sections called "reservations." It was the government's outrageous forcible removal of the upper Mississippi Sioux from their old home, to Crow Creek on the east bank of the Missouri, there to suffer the torments of starvation and death, that began the bloody outbreaks, including the terrible Minnesota massacres of 1862-63, the Custer battle and the hideous and wholly unjustified "Sioux Wars" of 1865 to 1877, and to continue on thereafter to the government's cowardly murder of Sitting Bull and the unforgivable crime of the army's deliberate slaughter of Big Foot's band of innocent and helpless hungry old men, women and children at Wounded Knee in 1890.

The Crow Creek outrage was the beginning of the end of the reign of Waneta, for after the end of the Civil War in the east, the whole power of the militia was turned loose upon the Sioux because they rebelled at the way they were mistreated at Crow Creek.

Waneta, with the remnant of his warriors, was confined to the Cut Head Reservation immediately adjacent to the Military Post and Fort at Totten on the south shore of Lake Minnewaukan in the northern section of Dakota Territory. Here, with his twelve hundred followers, the reorganized famed 7th Cavalry, which they had so nearly wiped out on the Little Big Horn lately, held them in merciless subjection.

Merciless subjection? Yes! For in 1885-86, the writer was manager, in charge of accounting, cash and crews of the firm which supplied both the Indians and the Garrison their meats and other provisions and he was intimate with Waneta as well as with the commandant and officers of the fort---and knew both sides.

Waneta, then 95 years old, was no longer tall, but walked with elastic step, a little stooped, hair turning grey, teeth worn to the gums, eyes stricken with trachoma and so hard of hearing as to require sign language to be understood in conversation. His former noted chieftain's regalia now was supplanted by white man's ill-fitting clothes, but he still retained his beaded moccasins for footwear, carried his beautiful old beaded tobacco pouch and his redstone pipe---and around his shoulder he wore, over all, his green striped agency blanket.

He looked anything but a man who once wielded a power greater than any before or since. But he was a great patriot and fought to the last for his people; he was honest, and his heart was right. When he found that he had a true friend in the youth of twenty, he would relate the trials that he and his people had been subjected to at the hands of the government agents and soldiers---of the treaties violated, every one; and of the cheating and abuse inflicted upon them, always, until they became beggars and slowly died of starvation and foul diseases.

On one of his semi-monthly visits to the writer's office, the old chief signed that he wished a private talk, alone where no one might invade. A vacant storeroom next door suited the purpose; being sure that no one could come in, he drew from his blanket a package wrapped and tied in many folds of old newspapers which he carefully unrolled and handed over for inspection a large engraved document of parchment, similar to the old-time land-warrants.

It was, so far as time permitted of examination, a copy of a treaty in which his name WAH-NE-TAH was recorded as Grand Chief of the Sioux. It was old and somewhat faded, but the anxiety exhibited by the old man to return it to its wrapper prevented the youth from getting the date or the names of those party to the compact; the chief had accomplished his aim when he pointed to his own name as head chief of the Sioux nation on the precious relic, and he hastily replaced it in his shirt bosom and drew his blanket around him and led the way back to the office, squatted on the floor, lit his long stem pipe and smoked contentedly.

To the public, Waneta was just another Indian; no one knew of his name and fame, except perhaps, Captain Heerman, the oldtime Mississippi River steamboat operator---and one other, a noted English ranchman of the Souris River country by the name Coutts Marjoribanks, who observed the old chief enter the office of the writer and followed him in; he wished to buy the beaded tobacco pouch and pipe from the old man, offering him any price that he might name for them.

The youth interposed to aid in the negotiations, and when the old chief grasped the significance of the offer, he waved him away; the pipe and bag were not for sale to any white man for any price; much money meant nothing to him. And white men of prominence were anathema in his way of thinking of them or in seeing them; it was different with a boy who had befriended him and was considerate of his company and who treated him as his right---as a human being.

With the coming of the great James J. Hill Fat Stock Show on opening of his campaign to build the Great Northern Railroad to the West, the writer was commandeered as treasurer---to sell tickets at the gate and care for the avalanche of cash that poured in from the vast crowds arriving by special trains from Minnesota and special steamers from the fort, and settlers from all the region,---including cowboys, Indians and ranchmen. While this duty barred the writer from taking part in the festivities, it was not until he had provided good places for his friend Waneta and other chiefs like Little Fish and a few less prominent red friends.

Bi-weekly visits to the fort on bill-collecting tours, in summer by steamer, and in winter, when the lake was frozen and covered deep with snow, the trips were made by sleigh, often in more than thirty degrees below zero weather. There it was that ration day saw the Indians congregate at the firm's meat depot for their small allowance of inferior grades of beef, handed out to them in untrimmed chunks handled by dirty hands, smelly and disgusting to see.

It was a most distressing spectacle to witness the long line of women with children clinging to their flimsy skirts, with often a babe sytapped to their heads or enclosed in the blanket close to the breast, as they waited in the bitter cold to get their pittance of food allowance; many of them having to come in the deep snows, from their crude cabins and tepees as much as ten miles away.

Across the high board fence or stockade was the War Department's commissary, filled with choice food supplies for the officers and troopers while surrounding the parade grounds were the fine brick homes and barracks of the men,---all maintained in modern condition with every regard for the health and comfort of the occupants,---even luxury for the officers. The stables, and horses were treated as a palace and its residents might receive in some foreign country; a sad and sorrowful contrast, of which few if any others ever saw or were aware of, for it was the rather odd and wholly unusual duty placed on the writer, that brought him in contact with the Warden and Prisoners of two great races of peoples.

Here, surely, Waneta and his followers were held in merciless subjection! On a return visit a quarter century later, instead of crossing the lake by steamer as was formerly the only mode in summer, the trip to the fort was made in an automobile on dry land. The wreck of the old steamboat lay 152 feet above and beyond the water line. The fort was an Indian school. One lone tepee was visible; and the last Post Trader, tottering with age, said that Waneta's people were reduced from twelve hundred to less than five hundred, mostly from disease and starvation; Waneta had died more than twenty years ago. The only memento of the great chief is the same beaded pouch and redstone pipe which he had handed to the writer as a last goodbye was sealed with a handshake in the fall of '86. It is still a prized relic amongst those of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Iron Tail, Hollow Horn Bear, Rain-in-the-Face, Crazy Horse, Flying Hawk and many other personal effects given the writer as token of their regard, over the half century of association, and as tribute to their white chief, Tchanta Tanka,---last living chief of the Sioux,---all that is left as reminder of the strenuous times lived on the last frontier.

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