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Little Crow

Little Crow
Taoyateduta, known as Little Crow
Born c. 1810
Kaposia (now in South St. Paul, Minnesota)
Died July 3, 1863(1863-07-03)
Known for Chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota people
Spouse(s) 1 wife
Children 1 child

Little Crow (Dakota: Thaóyate Dúta; ca. 1810–July 3, 1863) was a chief of the Mdewakanton Dakota people. His given name translates as "His Red Nation," (Thaóyate Dúta) but he was known as Little Crow because of his grandfather's name, Čhetáŋ Wakhúwa Máni, (literally, "Hawk that chases/hunts walking") which was mistranslated.

Little Crow is notable for his role in the negotiation of the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota of 1851, in which he agreed to the movement of his band of the Dakota to a reservation near the Minnesota River in exchange for goods and certain other rights. However, the government reneged on its promises to provide food and annuities to the tribe, and Little Crow was forced to support the decision of a Dakota war council in 1862 to pursue war to drive out the whites from Minnesota. Little Crow participated in the Dakota War of 1862, but retreated in September 1862 before the war's conclusion in December 1862.

A contemporary description of him when he was in his forties was as follows "The chief is a man of some forty five years of age and of a very determined and ambitious nature, but withal exceedingly gentle and dignified in his deportment. His face is full of intelligence when he is in conversation and his whole bearing is that of a gentleman." Little Crow was shot and killed on July 3, 1863 by a settler.


  • Early life 1
  • Dakota War of 1862 2
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Little Crow at Traverse des Sioux, 1851

Little Crow was born at the Dakota settlement of Kaposia, near what is modern-day South St. Paul, Minnesota. His father died in 1846 after accidentally discharging a gun. Tribal leadership was disputed between Little Crow and his brother, which resulted in an armed fight that saw Little Crow shot in both wrists, leaving permanent scars that he concealed with long sleeves for the rest of his life. By 1849, however, Little Crow was able to take control of the tribe.

In 1851, the United States negotiated the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and the Treaty of Mendota with the Dakota people. Little Crow was present at Traverse des Sioux and signed the Mendota treaty,[1] by which the tribes agreed to move to land set aside along the Minnesota River to the west.[2] The treaty as ratified by the United States Senate removed Article 3 of the treaty, which had set aside this land.[2] The tribe was compelled to negotiate a new treaty, under threat of forcible removal to the Dakota Territory, and was only granted land on one side of the river.

Little Crow tried to get along with the customs of the United States.[3] He visited President James Buchanan in Washington, D.C., replaced his native clothing with trousers and jackets with brass buttons, joined the Episcopal Church, and took up farming. However, by 1862, stress built up in his community as cheating by traders came to light and Congress failed to pay the annuities mandated by treaty in exchange for the land. As the tribe grew hungry and as food languished in the warehouses of the traders, Little Crow's ability to restrain his people deteriorated.

Dakota War of 1862

Little Crow, c. 1862

On August 4, 1862, about five hundred Dakota broke into food warehouses at the Lower Agency. The agent in charge, Thomas J. Galbraith, ordered defending troops not to shoot and called for a council. At the conference, Little Crow pointed out that the Dakota were owed the money to buy the food and warned that "When men are hungry, they help themselves." The representative of the traders, Andrew Myrick, replied, "So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung."

Within weeks, on August 17, 1862, a band of Dakota crossed paths with a group of white civilian settlers. The Dakota killed 5 of the white civilians and mutilated their bodies.

The tribe's need for food and hatred for the white settlers led to the Laura Ingalls) had witnessed the killing and scalping of his father Jedidiah and the simultaneous capture of his three sisters-at the outset of the conflict. By late spring 1863, Little Crow and his followers were camped near the Canadian border. The boys were ransomed in early June 1863, for blankets and horses.[5]


Deciding that the tribe must adopt a mobile existence, having been robbed of its territory, he returned to steal horses from his former land in Minnesota. On the evening of July 3, 1863, while he and his son Wowinapa were picking berries,[6] in a clearing in the Big Woods, they were spotted by Nathan Lamson and his son Chauncey. The four engaged in a brief firefight in which Little Crow fired twice, once wounding the elder Lamson, while Lamson and his son both shot and mortally wounded Little Crow. The chief then told his son to flee. The Lamsons were separated, and each went the nearly 12 miles to Hutchinson, Minnesota to raise the alarm. The next day, the search party returned to the scene to find an unidentified dead Dakota man. The body wore a coat belonging to a white settler (James McGannon) murdered two days prior. First the scalp and later the body were brought back to Hutchinson. His body was dragged down the town's Main Street while firecrackers were placed in his ears and nose. The body was ultimately tossed into a pit at a slaughterhouse, and the head was later removed.

On July 28, 1863, Wowinapa was captured by US Army troops in the vicinity of Devil's Lake, Dakota Territory. He informed the troops of Little Crow's death, which prompted exhumation of the body on August 16. Little Crow's identity was verified by the scarred and malformed wrists. The next year, the Legislature awarded Nathan Lamson $500 for 'rendering great service to the State'.[7] Chauncey Lamson received a $75 bounty for the scalp, although the adjutant general's bounty on Dakota warriors was not declared until July 4, 1863.[8]

The Minnesota Historical Society received his scalp in 1868, and his skull in 1896. Other bones were collected at other times. In 1971, Little Crow's remains were returned to his grandson Jesse Wakeman (son of Wowinapa) for burial. A small stone tablet sits at the roadside of the field where Little Crow was killed.


Sculpture mask of Little Crow at Minneapolis

In 1937, the city of Hutchinson erected a large bronze statue of Little Crow in a spot overlooking the Crow River near the Main Street bridge access to the downtown business district. In 1982, sculptor Robert Johnson and the sculptor of the original statue, Les Kouba, created an updated statue; the original statue is now at the McLeod County Historical Society and the new statue still overlooks the Crow River.[9][10]

A mask commemorating Little Crow is near the waterfall in Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis.[11]

The American historian Gary Clayton Anderson has written Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux, published in 1986 by the Minnesota Historical Society.[12] A contributor to New Mexico Historical Review calls Anderson's book a "major contribution to our understanding of an Indian tribe that profoundly influenced the course of history in the upper Mississippi Valley, partly at least through the personal role played by its most famous leader."[13] Anderson has also written on Sitting Bull.[14]


  1. ^ Mayer (1986), pp. 149, 202, 242.
  2. ^ a b "Treaty with the Sioux — Mdewakanton and Wahpakoota Bands, 1851". Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  3. ^ Brown, Dee (1970) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, ISBN 0-330-23219-3, chapter 2: "Little Crow's War"
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Dakota War Hoop" pgs 308-9, "A History of the Great Massacre by the Sioux Indians in Minnesota" pg 131 Bryant & Murch,"South Dakota Historical Collections", Vol 5 pgs 304-5 footnote #65 by the South Dakota State Historical Society.
  6. ^ First Peoples by Colin Calloway (2008)
  7. ^ Minnesota Special Laws 1864, Chapter 84
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ "Little Crow statue". McLeod County Historical Society. Archived from the original on 2007-12-18. Retrieved 2008-03-22. 
  10. ^ "Where's Little Crow?" Editorial in the Hutchinson Leader, 7 May 2009. Accessed 26 Oct. 2012.
  11. ^ "Minnehaha Park". Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Retrieved February 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux.  
  13. ^ "Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux". Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  14. ^ Sitting Bull and the Paradox of Lakota Nationhood.  


  • Anderson, Gary Clayton (1986) Little Crow, spokesman for the Sioux. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
  • Carley, Kenneth (2001) The Dakota War of 1862. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
  • Clodfelter, Michael (1998) The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.
  • Mayer, Frank Blackwell (1986) With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851. Saint Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87351-195-6.
  • Nix, Jacob (1994) The Sioux Uprising in Minnesota, 1862: Jacob Nix's Eyewitness History. Gretchen Steinhauser, Don Heinrich Tolzmann & Eberhard Reichmann, trans. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, ed. Indianapolis: Max Kade German-American Center, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and Indiana German Heritage Society, Inc.
  • Schultz, Duane (1992) Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Swain, Gwenyth (2004) Little Crow: Leader of the Dakota. Saint Paul, MN, Borealis Books.
  • Tolzmann, Don Heinrich, ed. (2002) German pioneer accounts of the great Sioux Uprising of 1862. Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Pub. Co.

External links

  • Little Crow Trail
  • Minnesota Historical Society History Topics: Dakota War of 1862
  • Documentary on Little Crow on Google Video
  • Dakota Blues - The history of The Great Sioux Nation
  • Little Crow Monument by Les Kouba, Hutchinson
  • Flickriver Photo Gallery
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