I believe that Little Crow was a reluctant leader

Mr. LaBatte reflects on Dakota leaders' involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War, and Dakota life at the time.

Audio Chapters

JL: I believe that Little Crow was a reluctant leader. In traditional Dakota society if a person was elected or voted Chief by the soldier's lodge, tradition said they had to take it. Chief Little Crow tried to talk them out of the War. One of the things the government had done was to take the chiefs to Washington D.C. [so they could] see how strong the government was by demonstrating their firepower at the Aberdeen testing grounds in Maryland. Little Crow tried to talk to the Indians who wanted war. There is other evidence that the Indians didn't believe him. His people didn't believe the things that he had seen. And you might say that they wanted war that bad; that they were that angry. But they also didn't believe - I don't think they believed--what he said. They knew that there was a Civil War going on, this was one of the primary causes of the Dakota War. When they saw whites coming down the trail, all the young men were gone. They didn't think the government was strong enough to raise an army. They thought that they could sweep right into Minneapolis, up the river. So I believe Little Crow was a reluctant leader. There's a letter from his daughter later on to one of the white historians that said that had her father not taken the appointment they would have killed him. And Chief Big Eagle offers another clue on that. He said that although he opposed the war his warriors voted in favor of it and he chose to lead them. And he might have been killed too if he hadn't taken the lead.

DL: What's your view of some Dakota who we have talked to who say that their fellow Dakota who became farmers, or scouts for the Calvary or, who aided the enemy in any way were a bunch of sellouts, and that as far as they were concerned, the Dakota in Minnesota were all loyalists, loyal to the U.S. government and basically not even legitimate Dakota? We’ve heard that.

JL: I've heard it too.

DL: I noticed you were smiling.

JL: These were very brave men. For anybody to call them cowards, they don't understand what happened. These Indians who opposed the war were very brave men. They had their families they had to be concerned about, and so they had to be careful. Gabriel Renville had been a Christian and I believe at the time of the War maybe he wasn't. He had four wives and there was trouble with the church because they wanted him to give up three wives. And he said, “No, I will not be a member of your church if I have to do that.” I believe Gabriel Renville, even though he was part white, was probably the greatest Dakota person who ever lived. But I have cousins through Francois LaBatte and also under Gabriel Renville who tell me that there are people who say that Gabriel Renville was a coward and a traitor. I don't know what these people get out of that. I don't know what they get out of criticizing their ancestors. Traditional Dakota people do not criticize their ancestors like that. And so I have to wonder if these people are traditional Dakota people, or what they are. Elden Lawrence may have used a term, "neo-traditional" - people going back to being what they think Indians are. Another person calls them "born-again Indians." And it seems like the Mendota community are born-again Indians. They believe they have to act like Indians in order to get recognized and their goal is a casino.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator John LaBatte Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. I believe that Little Crow was a reluctant leader January 22, 2019. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1070

Viewpoints: All viewpoints expressed on this website are those of the contributors, and are not representative of the Minnesota Historical Society.