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Unit 3: Set 3. Armed Conflict - Historian’s Account of the Heart River Battle

Introduction | Heart River Battle | Battle of Whitestone Hill | Activity

Battle Accounts: Kingsbury | Two Accounts of Battle | Horatio Larned | Fire Heart

The following is the report by Dakota Territory historian George Kingsbury on the encounter between Sioux Indians and gold miners returning from the Montana gold fields.

“At the mouth of the Heart River a party of Sioux came along the bank and beckoned them to come inshore. They responded by firing the cannon three times, the Indians returning the fire vigorously. The continuous fire of the cannon caused the boat to spring a leak, and but for that unfortunate circumstance they might have escaped. The Indians were driven back from the shore, but renewed the attack, and during the second fight the boat leaked so badly that it sank in shallow water. The battle was begun in earnest between the miners and nearly two hundred Indians, many of them armed with guns. A portion of the whites made their way to the shore and succeeded in driving the redskins back to shelter, but it was apparent that without reinforcement the white men were doomed to extermination. It was in vain that the half breed Sioux plead[ed] with the savages and offered them a variety of valuable presents. Ten of the miners fell, killed outright or badly wounded. Finally their ammunition gave out, when the savages rushed upon the remainder with a terrific yell. The whites clubbed their guns and beat off their assailants, until overpowered by numbers, when all were slain. Frenzied with excitement over their victory, the savages then slew the half breed, the women and children. The Indians then rifled the boat and the bodies of the slain. Mr. Delay [another gold miner] stated that the miners had over one hundred thousand dollars in gold, and that two of the men had a false bottom constructed in the vessel wherein was stored a very large quantity of gold dust and nuggets. Delay did not believe the savages discovered this, but that it was still in the boat which had been partly buried in the sand. . . .

“The Indians afterwards acknowledged that the miners fought desperately, admitting their own loss to have been thirty-six killed and thirty-five wounded. The Indian said they got from eighteen thousand to twenty thousand dollars in gold and some greenbacks [dollar bills] which they used in purchasing ammunition from Red River traders.”

- Kingsbury, p. 308-309 “The Heart River Massacre”

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