(From “St. Paul Location-Development-Opportunities” by F. C. Miller, Ph. D., Webb Book Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minnesota, 1928)
In even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not.
--Henry W. Longfellow
In the early fifties, there were still many Indians in and about St. Paul. Perhaps the best known was a Sioux squaw who was called "Old Bets" by the whites. She lived near Mendota and was almost a daily visitor in St. Paul, selling moccasins and bouquets of wild flowers. Old Bets had a friendly smile for everybody. She became, despite her grotesque shape and deeply furrowed face, a great favorite among the people of St. Paul. Hardly anybody whom she accosted refused to buy from her or give her some money when she asked for "kosh-poppy" (Sioux for "money"). Few people who saw her waddle along Third Street thought that this old, unattractive squaw had a romantic past.
Old Bets had been a young, lithesome Indian maid. Many a warrior had cast wistful glances at the handsome, fawn-like girl. She, however, had eyes for only one, a young brave who had distinguished himself not only in the annual buffalo chase but also on the field of battle against the hated Chippewas on the other side of the Mississippi. Her brother, however, a medicine man of great parts and almost supreme influence among the Sioux at the mouth of the Minnesota River, was violently opposed to the warrior's union with his sister. The Indian maid became sad and sorrowful. She, who had been the sunshine of her father's lodge forgot to laugh, forgot to hum the loved Indian tunes.. [1-2 words illegible] silent shadow, shunned her merry, youthful companions, and sought solace for her great sorrow in the deep and dusky forest surrounding the wigwams of the Sioux band.
One day, however, during the Indian summer, when Manitou is always gracious to his dusky children, she met her lover in a dense grove near the bank of the Minnesota
River. The two lovers were delighted to see each other, and both gave fervid thanks to Manitou, the friend of loving couples. Their frenzied joy, however, was tempered by the
thought of speedy parting. Both became sad and sorrowful. But why part? Did the Indian god not favor their love? So the two resolved to flee as a married couple.
Early next morning, long before sunrise, the young warrior and his bride fled westward on fleet Indian ponies. Though anxious and fearsome at the start, they soon became happy and hopeful as the galloping horses put mile after mile between the hard-hearted medicine man and the loving couple.
In the meantime, a little after sunrise, the angry brother had discovered the flight of his sister with the man he hated. With a few trusty warriors, on the fleetest ponies of the Sioux camp, the ferocious medicine man rode furiously, rage and revenge in his heart, on the trail that led westward. The tomahawk concluded the flight and the story, but the bereaved woman never forgot her lover.
In the spring of 1851, a dead Indian was found near Third Street. To judge from the wounds inflicted no white man could have been the murderer. The sheriff, having been informed of the crime, was determined to bring the murderer to justice. Accordingly, he hastened with a strong guard of soldiers to a camp of Indians nearby.
The Indians were quietly cooking their supper and were conversing with one another in low tones when the sheriff arrived. A few stragglers in front of the camp hurried to the approaching official and asked him and his party to come into camp and partake of the supper that was just about ready. The sheriff thanked the hospitable Indians for their kindness and said that he and his party could not, to their sorrow, enjoy the delicacies offered, because he had come on a very serious errand that brooked no delay. In the meantime a number of other Indian warriors had come from the inner camp who were wondering at the presence of the pale-face chief and his soldiers. The situation seemed to become rather serious; still the sheriff's sixth sense told him that the Indians had no intentions of opposing him in doing his duty. At the same time he thought that frankness and promptness would be the best policy. Consequently, he told the throng of savages what had happened and what he wanted. Scarcely had the sheriff finished his short address when a big hulking Indian pressed himself forward toward the sheriff and said in a distinct, matter of fact way: "You want to know who killed the vile carrion you found? I did, pale-face chief. I did. My name is Standing Rock."
The self-confessed slayer submitted peacefully to arrest and quietly followed the dread officer of the law to his carpenter shop, for in 1851 the frontier town could not yet boast of a jail. Here he was detained about ten days till the grand jury met. Standing Rock did not, for a minute, entertain the idea of jail breaking. That was not a man's part. A tenderfoot might have tried and surely would have succeeded, for there was nothing between the prisone and freedom but a rickety windowlatch.
He was indicted for murder, but, upon promising the grand jury to return upon a certain day for trial, he was released. Standing Rock, cutting a number of notches into a stick, equal to the number of days to the date of his trial, quietly withdrew and went hunting with his tribe. To the surprise of everybody, the Indian appeared on the day agreed upon, ready for trial. And, as his case was not called for about a week, Standing Rock came every morning, sat quietly on a doorstep, and awaited the summons of the court. Neither the blazing sun nor two rainstorms could make him budge. When some half-breeds passed by and told him what a fool he was to await pale-face justice, he calmly replied: "A man must keep his word." When he was finally called, he gave a true account of the incident, and the jury, without retiring, found him not guilty. Standing Rock had not committed murder at all. He had simply carried out the order of the tribe, which had found the victim guilty of a crime highly offensive to both the rude pioneers and the simple-minded Indians, and which was punishable by death according to Indian customs.
In the early pioneer days, the Indians were treated with more respect than now. To some extent they were considered fully the equals of the white settlers. The Indians on the Minnesota frontier, though somewhat contaminated by white vices, were still a sturdy, dignified, and haughty race, proud of their blood, proud of their land, proud of their tribal past and traditions, and proud of their honor. They were a people who kept their promises, a people who believed in "a square deal," and a people who did not know what the terms "fear" and "cowardice" meant. These traits which the best of the white pioneers themselves possessed could hardly help but appeal to most of the white settlers. Consequently, in early days Indians and whites freely intermingled, and practically all public places of entertainment and amusement were open to the Indians. Such treatment found a responsive chord in the heart of the Indians, and, accordingly, they always tried to act, speak, and behave, as much as possible, as white gentlemen. History bears out the fact that they did so, unless they were intoxicated or had been taken advantage of by white scoundrels or their tribal animosities against other Indians had been dangerously aroused. It was, therefore, a common sight in the pioneer days to see Indians frequent white hotels, ask for white entertainment, ready to pay white prices.
One day in the early fifties there walked into a St. Paul
hotel "Hole-in-the-Day," a Chippewa chief, a man of imposing presence. With commanding personality, the Indian chief, with his blanket wound about him like a Caesar or a Bruins with his toga, stepped forward, greeted the assembled guests with a friendly "Booshy nechee" (How do friend?) and took a seat in the lobby.
Presently dinner was announced and, while the white guests rushed pell-mell into the dining room, he betook himself to the same place, in quiet manner, in accord with the dignity of a chief of the Chippewas. Taking a vacant seat near an open window the chief sat down and partook slowly of the food placed before him. And then he wondered whether his squaw and papooses would be safe during his short absence, whether the hated Sioux might not make a raid and rob him of all he loved best.
The window opposite his table suddenly being darkened, Hole-in-the-Day looked up and saw a party of Sioux warriors, in full war paint, passing by outside and casting hostile glances at him. A white newspaper man who was sitting near the renowned chief became rather nervous at the sight of shining knives and glittering tomahawks and left the table for a more restful place. Hole-in-t he-Day, however,peacefully proceeded with his meal. Even when the door opened and thirty Sioux braves entered the dining room and paraded with insolent bravado in front of him, the Chippewa chief remained calm. After having leisurely finished his meal, he rose, like Cato in the Roman senate, and, wrapping his blanket about him, walked in front of the bloodthirsty enemies of his tribe, and, slowly lighting his calumet, blew the smoke into the very faces of the hated Sioux and stalked quietly out of the hotel. The dumbfounded Sioux did not dare attack the brave Hole-in-the-Day, lest the Great White Father's braves at Fort Snelling would indict fearful punishment.
Hole-in-the-Day never forgot the deadly danger he had been in on that day, and, swearing bloody vengeance, he is reported to have come frequently to St. Paul in his canoe, where he would cross the river, hide his craft, await passing Sioux, slink u|pon them, slay them, and depart safely with their scalps to the sheltering cliffs of St. Paul.
CHASKA, A FRIENDLY SIOIX
Indians never forgive. They know no such word as apology. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is a fundamental Indian principle.
On the other hand, the Indian never forgets kindness shown to him. Do him a trifling favor and he will be your friend. Feed him when he is hungry, house and nurse him when he is sick or disabled, and he will risk his life for you if you should happen to be in distress or danger.
To the Indian ingratitude is a deadly sin, that Manitou, the Great Spirit, not only frowns upon but punishes with everlasting torture. Bloody revenge for wrongs and undying gratitude for kindness and friendly help are almost the sum-total of Indian philosophy.
What has been said is shown by the following substantially true account of Chaska, the bravest warrior of Little Crow of Kaposia (South St. Paul) and his white friend, George Spencer, a merchant of Yellow Medicine, a small pioneer settlement on the head waters of the Minnesota River.
One winter evening in 1860, just before Christmas, the snow storm that had been raging all day long turned into a blizzard. The wind was howling over the bleak prairies and piling up the snow into almost impassable drifts. Spencer's little store was almost buried under a thick cover of snow and the rude shack was trembling and swaying to and fro. The wind that was coming through the cracks of the rough boards had blown out one candle and Spencer was afraid that the other one also might be blown out. That it might not be blown out, he was just about to put it in an iron pot, when there came a loud knocking at the door.
Mrs. Spencer began to scream. Her husband tried to comfort her, rushed to the door, and shouted: "What is it? Who are you? What do you want?" A feeble voice from outside answered: "Me Indian. Me cold. Open door!"
Mrs. Spencer almost collapsed with fright. "Don't be afraid, Josie. It is some poor Indian. I must let him in. He'll freeze stiff if I don't. Here, sit down. No danger. My gun is loaded. Now, Josie, be quiet. I must let him in."
Spencer opened the door and in fell an Indian, all but dead. Mrs. Spencer, though far from being composed, saw at a glance that no possible harm could come to her. So she helped her husband to make the Indian comfortable. The sturdy savage, accustomed to wind and storm, fully recovered in a day or two.
When he left he thanked his kind white rescuers and told them that he was Chaska from Kaposia, far, far away, on the banks of the Mississippi, that Kaposia was but a short trail from White Cliffs (St. Paul), and that Manitou would not let him forget what his pale-face friends had done for him.
Two years afterwards, the Sioux tribes under Little Crow rose against the whites. They spread terror to the settlers of the middle and upper course of the Minnesota River. Settlers on outlying farms were mercilessly slain. Scalping parties brought horror, dismay, and death to the whole region. Even the towns were not safe. New Ulm
and several other settlements were almost captured by the Indians.
One war-party of Sioux, among whom was Chaska, had gone westward on its bloody trail as far as Yellow Medicine. An early morning attack had been planned. Chaska dreaded the fate of the Spencers. Compelled to keep his desire to save them and their friends from his tribesmen, he hurried on with them, ready to save their lives at any cost. Some of the braves were a little suspicious of him. Though he gave the Sioux war-whoop with the same ferocity as they gave it, they had never seen him kill any white person.
Though Chaska tried to rush on, the warriors crowded about him and kept him back. When Yellow Medicine was reached their blood-thirst got the better of their suspicion and they ran upon the defenseless men, leaving Chaska behind. After a little, he ran with incredible swiftness to Spencer's store. The door had been smashed and the windows were broken. He rushed into the house and was just in time to throw himself between the Spencers and the blood-reeking savages. He succeeded in beating them off and bringing the Spencers to the timbered bottom lands of the Minnesota River. Here he hid them, brought them water and told them to stay until he returned. He himself went back to the fray and at the risk of his life saved a number of other whites from the frenzy of the drunken Indians. Having obtained a keg of "fire-water," the Sioux were soon so drunk that Chaska had little trouble to bring the Spencers and the other survivors of the massacre to safe quarters.
Shortly afterwards General Sibley came with his hastily gathered troops and put an end to the Sioux uprising.
Chaska's tribesmen never forgot what he had done for their pale-face enemies. Afraid to murder him openly, they finally succeeded in secretly poisoning him.
Chaska's widow, shunned and hated by the Indians, was left by them to shift for herself and her papooses. She lived in the Indian village near Mendota.
General Sibley and other St. Paul men tried to secure a pension for her from the government. When they failed in this, they themselves housed, fed, and clothed her and her children. But Lucy, as she was known in St. Paul, was too proud to accept charity, so she made moccasins and trapped game, which she readily sold in St. Paul.
Tell the romantic story of Old Bets.
What good traits did Standing Rock show?
Why did the Sioux not attack Hole-in-the-Day?
What noble trait did Chaska exhibit?