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Unit 3: Set 3. Armed Conflict - Two Accounts of the Battle at Heart River

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

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

  1. A Santee woman named Red Blanket related this version of the battle at the Heart River to Joseph Henry Taylor, a frontiersman who settled in Washburn.

When Sibley’s soldiers started back up Apple Creek our chiefs and head men commenced to look about them. We had many camps scattered along Heart River and some on Square Butte Creek. We found no buffalo and but few elk and deer. The Uncpapas who had been living there scared or killed everything. Three days later the soldiers disappeared we commenced recrossing the big river at the foot of the high bluffs. Buffalo were plenty on the east side and that was why we returned. We made a large camp in a deep coulee facing the river with some timber and a large sandbar in front of some low willows. Besides our own (See) band were many lodges of Yanktonnais and Sissetons. I think it was six days after our return that, in the company of several women, we went to the river to bathe and wash some clothes. There was a narrow, swift running chute near the shore and beyond this a hidden bar, then deep water again. On this morning, at the entrance of the chute from the main river, sat an old man, a Sisseton, fishing. The morning was calm. Up the river we could hear voices and the sound of paddles. After some time a large boat full of people came to view and were drifting near shore. We saw that they were white people and started to run away.

At this time they were near rifle shot of the old man. He arose and made the blanket signal to keep out in the main stream. Next came a puff of smoke and a rifle report from the boat and then the old man fell over. Then we all screamed and ran until we met our husbands and brothers with their guns, bows, and arrows. Then us women hid in the edge of the bushes. The long boat stopped in shallow water at the entrance of the narrow channel. More of our people came swarming out from the timber and the shooting became almost continuous, when the loud report of cannon from the boat scared us all. We were afraid soldiers from Sibley’s Army might be coming again upon us, the one loud report sounding over and over so many times. Then came what we feared, wounded and dying men. We women picked them up and carried many from the bar to the lodges up the coulee. One woman was killed in trying to save her husband. I had a brother killed. It sent my heart to the ground. Several of our fighters procured logs and rolled them across the bar toward the boat, firing from behind. Others screened along the cut bank of the chute. It was in the middle of the afternoon when some one shouted that the old white man dressed in black had fallen. It was he who had killed so many of our people. He hid in one corner of the boat. He would rise at times and look about him. Our warrior believed he was a priest or medicine man. When the shout went up that the medicine man was killed everyone rushed upon the boat. All were not yet dead, but we soon killed them. One woman was found under the big box, dragged forth and cut to pieces with knives. She looked terrified but did not cry. A crying baby was taken from her arms and killed I did not see the little girl though she might have been there for all I would know. I helped kill the woman. They had killed my brother. . . . We stripped many bodies of their clothes and in so doing found belts of what we thought was wet or bad powder. It was thrown away. We lost near thirty men altogether. Some did not die right away, but those who did were placed in the trees, beyond the village. The old Sisseton fisherman went to his death trying to save trouble and lives by warning the boatmen to put out in the main stream that they might quietly pass by unnoticed. The white men mistook the motive perhaps, so killed him and paid forfeit by losing their own lives. Those who knew the Sisseton best say this was the motive that impelled the signal.

  1. In 1876, Taylor met an Arikara named Whistling Bear, who told him yet another version of the Heart River battle (which he placed at Burnt Creek)

About two weeks after the white men belonging to the boating party were killed on Burnt Creek Bar some Uncpapa friends of the Mandans came into our village at Fort Berthold and told us about it. Girard, the trader, being my brother-in-law, and with whom I talked about the story, advised my getting together a small band of trusty men and go hunt up the place where the fight took place. He explained further that unless some of the Sioux knew gold dust by the color there must be abundant gold dust, either laying about among the effects in the boat or in belts upon the bodies of the slain, and then I was shown a sample so that no mistake would be made. In the early morning of the closing day of the ‘cherry moon’ we left our village at Fort Berthold for the perilous trip. There were ten of us in all. We followed the river close, and on the third day we noticed the soaring buzzard on the river near the mouth of Burnt Creek. A misty line of fog that followed the curved line of the channel-water at sunrise rose high in the air as we reached the sand bar at Burnt Creek. The big black appearing boat was seen at last. It was partly sunken. We saw no cannon. The bodies of the dead, partly dismembered, were being fed upon by buzzards. Upon some of them we found belts filled with gold dust. On other bodies near by the sacks or belts of buckskin had been cut open and contents spilled upon the sand. At the boat we found a coffee pot which we filled with gold dust. There were no Sioux seen. We visited their deserted camps in the coulee back from the timber grove. In the trees were many blanketed dead. We then made our way back to our village at Fort Berthold. To Girard we gave the gold. He in turn presented me with a large horse, and a few presents, and a feast to my companions on the trip.

(from Kingsbury, p. 309-311)

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