Sunday, February 16, 2020

Red Bird's War: What Really Happened in 1827, Part 2

By Monette Bebow-Reinhard

Editor's Note: Last week, Western Magazine Digest (WMD) featured part 1 where the stage was set for further problems between the Whites and Red Bird's tribe, leading to his demise. Today, we feature part 2. Thank you for reading WMD! -Al Colombo

Captain Lindsay gave no reason why the two boats parted company.
About four in the afternoon on the 30th, [the Perry] was attacked by the Winnebagoes at or near the Bad Axe, and maintained a desperate conflict with them until sunset. The particulars are known; two of the crew were killed and four wounded and the Indians acknowledge a loss of eight killed and one wounded.
After writing about the ineffective attack on the second keel boat, Lindsay added the following:
I have been induced to publish this statement by a report, which appears to have been widely circulated, that the crews of the boats were the aggressors. I can solemnly aver that, from our departure to Prairie du Chien down to our arrival at the Leaf’s village this was not the case. In ascending, the two boats never parted company, and I was an eye witness to all that passed. It has been said that some of their women were taken forcibly from the Indians.
Observer did not say that women were taken forcibly. Observor only referred to “Venus” as a subtle reference to lovemaking. So the idea that the women were abducted came from Lindsay himself.
I commanded the Ashley myself, and would neither have done such an action, nor permit it to be done by others. Were a party of thirty free Americans to suffer such an outrage to be perpetrated by any of their number, they would better merit the name of savages than the Indians.

Lindsay did not know his American history. Richard White in The Middle Ground wrote that in the late 1760s two soldiers were killed by the St. Joseph Potawatomis to revenge two Indian women who were raped. Glenda Riley in Women and Indians on the Frontier wrote about Winnebagoes who killed two of Whistler’s soldiers at Fort Howard in 1819, for possibly the same reason. And the Paiute War in Nevada in 1860 was started by drunken miners raping Bannock women.
It is true, that it might possibly have been committed by the crew of the Perry, after she parted with us, descending – but it could scarcely have been, for when she arrived at the camp the Indians were dancing round the scalps of their victims at Prairie du Chien.

This last line must have been what led to the fabled dancing with Gagnier attack scalps.

Joseph Snelling, passenger on the keelboat that wasn’t attacked, wrote: “One or two Frenchmen, or half-breeds, observed hostile appearances on shore and advised the rest to keep in the middle of the stream but their counsel was disregarded. Most of the crew were Americans, who, as usual with our countrymen, combined a profound ignorance of Indian character with a thorough contempt for Indian prowess. The boat was within thirty yards of the shore when suddenly the trees and rocks rang with the blood-chilling, ear-piercing tones of the war-whoop, and a volley of rifle balls rained across the deck.” Snelling referred to this as an aggressive attack and nothing more.

Nothing else happened in Red Bird’s War. Red Bird was not at the keel boat attack.

Dodge wrote from Galena to John Connelly, sub-agent for the Fox Indians, on July 5th: “Unequivocal acts of hostility having been committed by the Winnebagoes, it is highly important to take such measures as may be necessary, as well for the general defence of the country, as to prevent the other tribes from joining the disaffected party. On my way here I had an interview with the Fox chiefs at Dubuque mines, and explained to them the situation of the Prairie and my desire that a party of their young men should proceed there and aid the inhabitants in its defense. On arriving with them at the prairie, you will employ them as circumstances may require in defensive measures, until other assistance reaches there. This proceeding will not only add to our effective strength, but it will overawe the Winnebagoes and secure the Foxes from all danger of joining them.”

Marsh heard that Red Bird and his people were gathering around the portage, and that Red Bird sent word to Winnebagoes at Rock River that they must carry on the war, now that it was started, and better to die bravely with weapons in our hands, for we will die anyway. This is highly doubtful; Red Bird was never said to be a part of the keel boat attack. They had been heading for council at Butte des Morts and stopped, probably hearing the army was after them.

The Winnebagoes didn’t want to give Red Bird up at council. He’d done nothing more than retaliate for wrongs committed on their people. But he agreed to surrender to save the lives of their people and, according to a Ho-Chunk historian, to preserve the honor of their women.

Red Bird and Wekaum, who was also involved in the Gagnier deaths, surrendered on September 3rd in the Portage area. McKenney wrote of watching their approach:
All eyes were fixed on Red Bird and well they might be – for of all the Indians I ever saw, he is, without exception, the most perfect in form, face and gesture. Red paint marked half his face, the other half was green and white. He was dressed in his finest regalia – bleached buckskin jacket and leggings that were heavily fringed and decorated with blue beads. On each shoulder, like epaulets, was the skin of a red bird.

Red Bird said to Major Whistler: “I do not wish to be put in irons. Let me be free. I have given away my life – it is gone.” With a graceful motion, he stooped, scooped up a handful of sand, tossed it in the air, and watched it fall to the ground. “I would not take it back. It is gone.”
(Photo is of Red Bird dedicated to his surrender, and stands at a state park outside Appleton, Wisconsin.)

Red Bird was imprisoned, never stood trial, and died eight months later, still in prison, of disease.

John Reynolds wrote this in his autobiography 28 years later.
The Cause of this small speck of war was a great outrage committed by the whites on the Indians; which was of such brutality that it is painful to record.

Two keel-boats of a contractor to furnish provisions for the troops at the falls of St. Anthony stopped at a large camp of the Winnebago Indians on the river not far above Prairie du Chien. The boatmen made the Indians drunk - and no doubt were so themselves - when they captured some six or seven squaws, who were also drunk. These squaws were forced on the boats for corrupt and brutal purposes. But not satisfied with this outrage on female virtue, the boatmen took the squaws with them in the boats to Fort Snelling, and returned with them. When the Indians became sober, and knew the injury done them in this delicate point, they mustered all their forces, amounting to several hundreds, and attacked the boats in which the squaws were confined.

The boats were forced to approach near the shore in a narrow pass of the river, and thus the infuriated savages assailed one boat, and permitted the other to pass down in the night.
Reynolds noted that the Indians retrieved their women from the boats, which means they had been held captive from around the 21st, or the date of the drunken party, to the 30th.

To save the women, and his people, from further war, Red Bird gave up his life. To an Indian, being imprisoned was worse than death. He deserves to have those lies about the war erased.

Editor's Note: Thank you for reading Red Bird's War, part 1 and 2. To read part 1, Click Here.

Additional Readings & Documentaries:

Red Bird Documentary by Grandchild:
About the Author Monette Bebow-Reinhard is an established book author, specializing in historical accounts, issues, and events. She began writing movie scripts in 1975 and from 1992 to 1995, she co-wrote scripts for the Bonanza series. She has won several minor awards and Monette has several novels on the market. Her latest is entitled "Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders, a historical works involving the American Civil War, now available through Amazon (click here). To connect with Monette Bebow-Reinhard, send an email.


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