NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… AUGUST 17
1862 – Sioux Uprising in Minnesota.
A bloody six-week war between four Lakota Indian tribes and white settlers began on this date. Its genesis began much earlier. It followed the usual pattern of broken treaties and corrupt financial dealings within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Land was stolen, promises broken, and whatever payments were due were either late or unpaid. The summer of 1862 was especially difficult for the Indians and many were starving. Warehouses were stacked with food but Indian agents would not release the supplies until annuity payments from the Federal government arrived. The Indians could not understand why, if the food was there and the money to pay for it was part of their treaty, why they could not have it. A government trader, Andrew Myrick, is purported to have said, “If they are hungry, let them eat grass,” and refused to release the food on credit. Whether this statement was true or not, it spread rapidly among the Indians.
Four young Lakota men, returning from an unsuccessful hunt, stopped at a farm to steal some eggs. The encounter turned bloody and five white settlers were killed. Realizing retribution would soon be at hand, Little Crow, leader of the Lakota, reluctantly decided to seize the initiative. In the next six weeks over 500 whites and 150 Lakota would lose their lives. Andrew Myrick was one of the first killed and his body would be found with his mouth stuffed with grass. As word spread of the uprising, farmers fled their homesteads for the safety of larger towns. Many were slaughtered on their way. New Ulm was almost overrun in the vicious battle that took place there. Other battles were fought at Fort Ridgely, where an army relief column was ambushed and twenty-four soldiers killed, and Birch Coulee, where the army suffered sixty casualties and the Lakota two. Former governor, and first governor of Minnesota, Henry Sibley, who was previously sympathetic to the Indians, was chosen to lead a large army against them. Militias were formed and frightened whites all across southern Minnesota, Iowa, up the Red River Valley and into Canada made their towns into fortresses.
One of those forts was at Hutchinson, MN, not far from where I grew up. My ancestors fled to Hutchinson for safety. Family lore has it that one of my great-great uncles, a teenager at the time, having played with Lakota kids, spoke their language. So at night he’d sneak out of the fort and up to the Indian’s campsite where he’d try overhear plans for the next day’s attack. Heroic truth or myth, the veracity of this story can no longer be verified.
Colonel Sibley and his army defeated the Dakota at the Battle of Wood Lake and the Indians were forced to surrender. In doing so they released over one hundred white women and children that had been held captive. Retribution was brutal and swift. 303 warriors were sentenced to death and the population of Minnesota was outraged when President Lincoln commuted the number down to 38. It still ranks as the largest mass execution in U.S. history. 1,600 Indians were interned on Pike Island below Ft. Snelling that winter where over 300 died of starvation and disease. Little Crow escaped to Canada. He returned the next summer with his son and was killed picking wild raspberries near Hutchinson.
I’ve read extensively about the war and the stories are filled with heroism and brutality. There is on interesting book called “Six Weeks in Sioux Teepees” by Sarah Wakefield. She and her two children were taken captive on the first day of the uprising. The fact that her husband was known as a man who treated Indians well helped them survive. Compassionate individuals in an Indian encampment also aided them. One of her benefactors, because of mistaken identity, was among those hung at Mankato. She pleaded his innocence, and because of that, and gossipy rumors on how she survived her captivity, she was treated as a pariah the rest of her life. The Dakota War of 1862 remains a dark and tragic part of Minnesota history.
1957 – The O’Kasick Brothers.
Roger, 26, Ronnie, 24, and Jimmy, 20, tried to rob a Red Owl grocery store the night of August 17th. They stole a 1950 Chrysler from a used car lot and were on their way to the intended robbery site. Two police officers, Robert Fossum and Ward Canfield, spotted the car in south Minneapolis. A chase ensued, ending with the O’Kasicks crashing into a parked car. Shooting began and both officers were gunned down. Fossum was dead and Canfield wounded. In their escape the O’Kasicks drove over the fallen body of Canfield. He survived, after eighteen surgeries and the amputation of one leg. Eluding a massive manhunt, the brothers were on the run for a month. There were a number of supposed sightings throughout Minnesota, but they were hiding and camping out in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. They finally returned to contact some relatives and were sighted near the Carlos Avery Game Refuge, just north of the Twin Cities. The brothers stole another car and took its owner hostage. Lawmen converged on the scene and the brothers tried to hide in the game reserve. When discovered, they killed the hostage and in the following shootout Roger and Ronnie were killed, and Jimmy tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the heart. He survived, but a year later he successfully committed suicide in prison. When it was over and quiet, it was reported that dance music was softly playing from the radio of their car. Thus ended the crime spree of the notorious O’Kasick brothers.
The Jameses, the Youngers, the O’Kasicks: outlaw gangs of brothers do not fare well in Minnesota. I remember the botched robbery, murder, and manhunt. To me, as a kid and not understanding the human toll they were taking, it was exciting. There was a supposed sighting (false) on a freight train that rolled through our area. It was like being part of a real life TV crime drama. In retrospect it was just grimy and tragic, as most of these types of stories are.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.
We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:
* Lead-In Image – Two Teepees (photo) – Helen’s Photos / Shutterstock.com
* Dakota War 1862 (video) – wayne martin / Youtube.com
* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com