“For what reason we have commenced this war I will tell you it is on account of Major Galbraith. . . .” Taoyateduta (Little Crow), September 7, 1862
In early September, Col. Henry Sibley tries to negotiate a settlement with Taoyateduta (Little Crow). Sibley hopes to exploit major disagreements within the Dakota community about continuing the war. But Taoyateduta is not ready to quit. He explains why the Dakota started the war, and states that he is willing to release prisoners. Sibley demands surrender. Taoyateduta refuses.
The Dakota leaders reconvene and decide to ambush the U.S. troops. They hide in the prairie grass overnight, anticipating the Army troops’ morning moves. At 7:00 a.m. on the 23th, a group of U.S. soldiers approach an abandoned Dakota village, in search of food. “They came on over the prairie,” said Wamditanka (Big Eagle), “right where part of our line was. At last they came so close that our men had to rise up and fire. This brought the fight on, but not according to the way we had planned it. Taoyateduta saw it and felt very badly.” Some of the U.S. soldiers run back to camp to get help. A fierce fight ensues. The reinforcements fire a cannon non-stop, forcing the Dakota to retreat. In two hours the battle is over, and with it all hopes of Dakota victory.*
This event is a classic, “us versus them” conflict. It is clear that Sibley and Little Crow are the representational heads of the parties of this conflict. We cannot know the hearts of these men, but can see some of it in their actions.
Lord, we are like Sibley. We draw battle lines, and attempt to divide the camp of our enemy. We do battle and demand surrender of those whom we oppose. Will You forgive Sibley the errors of his judgments in this moment? Will You forgive His blood offense to You for the acts of injustice in this battle committed by U.S. troops?
Master, we are like Taoyateduta (Little Crow). We offer concessions to our enemy, yet cannot surrender. We make our stands in conflicts for both just and unjust motives. We reach the point of abandonment where we accept we either live victorious, or die fighting. Will You forgive Taoyateduta (Little Crow) this very understandable and human assessment? Will You forgive His blood offense to You for the acts of injustice in this battle committed by the Dakota?
Give us Your eyes of compassion for these men; they are but leaders trying to the best for their people. We are no different or better than them. The same potential to squelch our offender lives in us. The same potential to make a brave “last stand” is in our hearts today. Have mercy on our conflicts today. May we remember You, the Author of Mercy and Justice, before we demand surrender or fight to the death this day.
Will You take up these mutual offenses, though long past, up from this battlefield, out of the hearts and memories of all ancestors of the Battle of Wood Lake, and onto the Cross of Christ?
*P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org , is fantastic! Check it out!