Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Alma Dora Dustin & the ‘Great Sioux Uprising’ During the American Civil War

Next year, the ‘Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War’ begins in earnest within the United States. Numerous commemoratory events will transpire throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere, yet few realize that bloodshed, hardship, and even atrocities, were not events experienced only by residents living within the confines of the North and South. Other dramatic & tragic occurrences were transpiring within what is now the state of Minnesota.

For example, in June of 1863, little Alma Dora Dustin, age six, had witnessed it all--and was found by the rescue party alive—days AFTER the event, and though physically uninjured, one wonders of the emotional and psychological scars which may have haunted her throughout her remaining life--- since her mother, father, grandmother, and one brother, lay dead or mangled, tomahawked, scalped or “transfixed” with arrows by their murderers, who incidentally had also ‘cut off her father’s left hand and carried it away,’ as part of a bold, unprovoked attack on an innocent family.

As published by the Annual Report of the Attorney General, to the Legislature of Minnesota, Executive Documents of the State of Minnesota, For the Year 1863, little Alma Dustin:
At the commencement of the attack, {she} had crept under the seat occupied by her father, and his blood flowed over her, covering her hands and her face, saturating her hair and her garments to their utmost capacity of absorption, and even filling the shoes on her feet.
Writers such as Larry McCurty in his popular work, Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 {NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005), has plenty to say about the well-known and frequently written accounts of atrocities committed against Native-Americans by the military or white settlers, such as the famed ‘Sand Creek & Wounded Knee’ tragedies.

However, it is almost entirely forgotten in the annals of American history, nor mentioned within college textbooks, though widely reported in the nation’s newspapers at the time (and just a few years ago by Hank H. Cox in, Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862 {Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 2005), that one of the greatest massacres of ‘innocent’ civilians occurred in the United States; but not against Native Americans, but upon white civilians by Native-Americans, with the slaughter of over 800 individuals, including numerous women and children. These events would culminate in the deaths of the family of Amos Dustin, in what is now McLeod County, Minnesota, on June 29, 1863, as they made their way by ox-cart to start a new home.

Though the assassins of the Dustin family were never brought to justice, the murders by the Sioux in 1862, resulted in the largest mass hanging in American history. Thirty-nine Native-Americans were executed at Mankato, under the direct order of President Abraham Lincoln, as being responsible for the murders of so many settlers and residents of Minnesota. The names and crimes of the guilty parties were printed for example, within the pages of the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, for January 2, 1863.

Though many, including myself, have enjoyed Kevin Costner’s highly acclaimed movie, Dances With Wolves, and its Hollywood portrayal of life among the Sioux during the Civil War era, one should always take into account the time-worn truism of the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, who remarked centuries before Christ that, “Sad to say, most people will believe the first story they hear.”

Human nature has not changed since Thucydides spoke those words so long ago. Most people today still believe to a large degree what they see at the movies, read in a newspaper or scholarly journal, or hear from a professor in a university class, and forget that there are always, two-sides to any given event.

Thus individuals have existed among every race, culture, or ethnic group, who were either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in their relationships with one another or with outsiders. The early settlers and Native-American Sioux in Minnesota and elsewhere were no different. Thus these comments should not be misconstrued into believing that I feel ALL the Sioux were barbarous murderers. Equally, neither were all colonists, settlers, or military personnel ‘white savages.’ I relate this account in order to give the reader a balance to a subject, which is quite often one-sided in its portrayal of American pioneer history, and our history in general.

My wife and I still cherish the hand-made little moccasin booties, made many years ago, by a dear friend of ours, who happened also to be a female shaman of the Sioux, originally from South Dakota. I have made that tribe’s fascinating history, culture, and folklore, one of my life-long pursuits.

Thus in pursuing historical inquiry, one should be more concerned about accuracy rather than what happens to be academically fashionable or politically correct. To do otherwise, is an injustice to all peoples and cultures. The same is true when it comes to speaking of events which transpired during the Civil War, or any other given time frame within American history.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great perpective that we don't ever hear about! Both good and bad in all cultures....that is the great equalizer among the human race.

Douglas S. Noble said...

In human history there are definitely two sides to the story. One must consider, although often lost the intellectual motivation of the players and the extent of their reactions being based on fundamental necessity to survive, anger over broken promises, or human emotional response ranging from anger based on emotional perspective, be it racist motivation, retribution for past events, or that prehistoric tribal tendency to draw the line between groups of people as conflict between "Them and Us".
Political Correctness is nonsense as it masks the true cause and effect of why things happen.