The trials were elaborately conducted until the commission became acquainted with the details of the different outrages and battles, and then, the only point being the connection of the prisoner with them, five minutes would dispose of a case.
If witnesses testified, or the prisoner admitted, that he was a participant, sufficient was established. As many as forty were sometimes tried in a day. Those convicted of plundering were condemned to imprisonment; those engaged in individual massacres and in battles, to death.
If you think that participation in battles did not justify such a sentence, please to reflect that any judicial tribunal in the state would have been compelled to pass it, and that the retaliatory laws of war, as recognized by all civilized nations, and also the code of the Indian, which takes life for life, justified it. The battles were not ordinary battles. The attacks upon New Ulm were directed against a village filled with frightened fugitives from the surrounding neighborhood, and the place was defended by civilians, hastily and indifferently armed, and were accompanied by the wanton burning of a large portion of the town, and by the slaughter of horses and cattle, and the destruction of all property which came within the power of the enemy. A number of persons from the country, who endeavored, while the attack was progressing, to make their way into the town, where alone was possible safety, were shot down and horribly mutilated. The attacks upon the forts were also accompanied by similar acts.
The battle of Birch Coolie commenced with an attack, just before daylight, upon a small part of soldiers and civilians who had been engaged in the burial of the dead at the Red-Wood Agency, by over three hundred Indians, who started for the purpose of burning the towns of New Ulm, Mankato, and St. Peter, and butchering the inhabitants. The war party to the Big Woods marched a distance of eighty miles on a general raid through the settlements. They murdered and mutilated a number of unarmed fugitives, burned many houses, stole a large quantity of horses and cattle, killed a portion of Captain Strout's company at Acton, and partially destroyed the town of Hutchinson. On all these occasions, as they were attacked by largely superior numbers, the whites would have surrendered could "quarter" have been expected. It was with the utmost resistance and despair that the defense of Fort Ridgely and New Ulm was sustained after the burning of all the outbuildings, and an attempt to set fire to the fort itself. The timely arrival of re-enforcements alone saved the part at Birch Coolie from total massacre. One hundred and four bullet-holes through a single tent, the slaughter of over ninety horses, and the loss of half the party in killed and wounded, indicate the peril of their situation. The purpose of these Indians, as frequently stated, was to sweep the country as far as St. Paul with the tomahawk and with fire, giving the men "no quarter;" and these battles were but part of the general design, and rendered the acts of one the acts of all. The fact that those engaged in such a mode of warfare acted together in organized bands, and directed their attempts against a large number of whites, was not a matter of mitigation, but of aggravation, arising from increased ability and opportunity to accomplish their purpose.
Besides, most of these Indians must also have been engaged in individual massacres and outrages. Those who attacked New Ulm on the second day after the outbreak, and Fort Ridgely on the third day, were undoubtedly parties who had scattered through the neighborhood in small marauding bands the day before. The extent of the outrages, occurring almost simultaneously over a frontier of two hundred miles in length and reaching far into the interior, and whereby nearly one thousand people perished, can not be accounted for without their participation. The fact that they were Indians, intensely hating the whites, and possessed of the inclinations and revengeful impulses of Indians, and educated to the propriety of the indiscriminate butchery of their opponents, would raise the moral certainty that, as soon as the first murders were committed, all the young men were impelled by the sight of blood and plunder--- by the contagion of example, and the hopes entertained of success--- to become participants in the same class of acts.
In at least two thirds of the cases the prisoners admitted that they fired, but in most instances insisted that it was only two or three shots, and that no one was killed; about as valid an excuse as one of them offered who was possessed of an irresistible impulse to accumulate property, that a horse which he took was only a very little one, and that a pair of oxen which he captured was for his wife, who wanted a pair. In regard to the third who did not admit that they fired, their reasons for not doing so were remarkable, and assumed a different shape every day. One day all the elderly men, who were in the vigor of manly strength, said their hair was too gray to go into battle; and the young men, aged from eighteen to twenty-five, insisted that they were too young, and their hearts too weak to face fire. The next day would develop the fact that great was the number and terrible the condition of those who were writhing in agony with the bellyache on the top of a big hill. A small army avowed that they had crept under a wonderfully capacious stone (Which nobody but themselves ever saw) at the battles of the fort, and did not emerge therefrom during the fights; and a sufficiency for two small armies stoutly called on the Great Spirit (Wakan-tonka), and the heavens and the earth (patting the latter emphatically with the hand), to witness that they were of a temper so phlegmatic, a disposition so unsocial, and an appetite so voracious and greedy, that, during the road of each of the battles at the fort, New Ulm, Birch Coolie, and Wood Lake, they were alone, within bullet-shot, roasting and eating corn and beef all day! A fiery-looking warrior wished the commission to believe that he felt so bad at the fort to see the Indians fire on the whites, that he immediately laid down there and went to sleep, and did not awake until the battle was over! Several of the worst characters, who had been in all the battles, after they had confessed the whole thing, wound up by saying that they were members of the Church!
One young chap, aged about nineteen, said that he used always to attend divine worship at Little Crow's village below St. Paul, and that he never did any thing bad in his life except to run after a chicken at Mendota a long time ago, and that he didn't catch it. The evidence disclosed the fact that this pious youth had been an active participant in some of the worst massacres on Beaver Creek.
All ages were represented, from boyish fifteen up to old men scarcely able to walk or speak, who were "fifty years old," to use the expression of one, "a long time ago, and then they stopped counting." Two of these old gentlemen were once brought in together, who were direct opposites in physiognomy--the face of one running all to nose, which terminated sharply, giving him the pointed expression, while that of the other was perfectly flat, and about two feet broad, and fully illustrated (which I always considered a fable) the fact of persons being in existence who couldn't open or shut their eyes and mouths at the same moment. This specimen was apparently asleep the whole time, with his lower jaw down; and closed eyes being his normal condition, he had to be punched up every two minutes, when the president of the commission was interrogating him, as he wished to look in his eyes to judge if he was telling the truth.
"Wake him up! stir him up!" was the continual injunction to the interpreter. This lively little proceeding kept the old gentleman's face in continued action, eyes and mouth alternately opening and shutting with a jerk. If he was simply told to open his eyes, the operation was slow. The lids peeled up like those of some stupid noxious bird gorged with carrion, and would shut again before they were fairly open, the mouth following suit pari passu. Nothing was proved against him, and the president said, in a loud voice, "Lead him out." The startled tones awakened him, but the eyes shut again, and they led him away wrapped in profound slumber.
Another equally antiquated specimen, but by no means terrific in appearance, and not of the smallest account to himself or any body else---sore eyed, and of lymphatic temperament---astonished the court by stating that he was the sole cause of the Sioux difficulty; that he was living near New Ulm upon the charity of the whites; that the whites were, in fact, lavishly kind to him, and to such an extent that the other Indians were jealous of him, and became so excited thereby that they brought on the war.
Two semi-idiots were tried. Nothing was elicited concerning one of them except that he was called "white man," and was picked up when an infant alone on the prairies. He claimed to be a white, but looked like a "Red" at that. The other had wit enough to kill a white child, and, unfortunately for him, the plea of idiocy was not recognized by the commission.
An innocent-looking youth was tried was tried on a charge of robbery. The following examination took place:
Ques. "What goods, if any, did you take from Forbe's store?"
Ans. "Some blankets."
Q. Any thing else?"
A. Yes; some calico and cloth."
Q. Any thing else?"
A. Yes; some powder, and some lead, and some paint, and some beads."
Q Any thing else?"
A. Yes; some flour, and some pork, and some coffee, and some rice, and some sugar, and some beans, and some tin cups, and some raisins, and some twine, and some fish-hooks, and some needles, and some thread."
Q. "Was you going to set up a grocery store on your own account?"
A. A stupid and inquiring look from the Indian, but no words.
Ten years in prison was given him to meditate on his reply.
Let it not be supposed, because facetiae were sometimes indulged in, that the proceedings were lightly conducted. The trial of several hundred persons for nearly the same class of acts became very monotonous. The gravest judge, unless entirely destitute of the juices of humor, sometimes a while
"Unbends his rugged front
And deigns a transient smile."
Many cases there were where there was occasion enough for display of solemn sorrow.
The most repulsive-looking prisoner was Cut-nose. . . . He was the foremost man in many of the massacres. The first and second days of the outbreak he devoted his attention particularly to the Beaver Creek settlement, and to the fugitives on that side of the river. I will give a single additional instance of the atrocity of this wretch and his companions. A part of settlers were gathered together for flight when the savages approached; the defenseless, helpless women and children, huddled together in the wagons, bending down their heads, and drawing over them still closer their shawls. Cut-nose, while two others held the horses, leaped into a wagon that contained eleven, mostly children, and deliberately, in cold blood, tomahawked them all---cleft open the head of each, while the others, stupefied with horror, powerless with fright, as they heard the heavy dull blows crash and tear through flesh and bones, awaited their turn. Taking an infant from its mother's arms, before her eyes, with a bolt from one of the wagons they riveted it through its body to the fence and left it there to die, writhing in agony. After holding for a while the mother before this agonizing spectacle, they chopped off her arms and legs, and left her to bleed to death. Thus they butchered twenty-five within a quarter of an acre. Kicking the bodies out of the wagons, they filled them with plunder from the burning houses, and, sending them back, pushed on for other adventures.
Many of those engaged in the Patville murder were tried. Patville started from Jo. Reynolds's place, just above Red-Wood, for New Ulm, on the morning of the outbreak, with three young ladies and two other men, and on the way they were attacked by the Indians, as detailed by Godfrey. Patville was killed near the wagon, and the other men at the edge of the woods, while trying to escape. One of the girls was wounded, and all three taken prisoners and brought to Red-Wood. Here the three were abused by the Indians; one, a girl of fourteen, by seventeen of the wretches, and the wounded young lady to such an extent that she died that night. Jo. Campbell ventured to place her in a grave, but was told that if he did so, or for any of the other bodies which were lying exposed, his life should pay the forfeit. The two other young ladies were reclaimed at Camp Release, and sent to their friends, after suffering indignities worse than death, and which humanity shudders to name.
Others were tried who belonged to a band of eight that separated themselves from the main body which attacked the fort in the second battle, and went toward St. Peter's burning the church, the Swan Lake House, and other buildings, and murdering and plundering. They attacked one party, killed all the men, and them one of them caught hold of a young girl to take her as his property, when the mother resisted and endeavored to pull her away. The Indians then shot the mother dead, and wounded the girl, who fell upon the ground apparently lifeless. An Indian said she was not dead, and told her first captor to raise her clothes, which he attempted to do. Modesty, strong in death, revived the girl, and she attempted to prevent it, but as she did so the other raised his tomahawk and dashed out her brains---a blessed fate in comparison with that which was otherwise designed.
An old man, shriveled to a mummy, one of the criers of the Indian camp, was also tried, and two little boys testified against him.
One of them, a German, and remarkably intelligent for his years, picked him out from many others at Camp Release, and had him arrested, and dogged him till he was placed in jail, and when he was led forth to be tried, with the eye and fierceness of a hawk, and as if he feared every instant that he would escape justice.
These boys belonged to a large party, who came from above Beaver Creek to within a few miles of the fort, where the Indians met them, and said if they would go back with them to where they came from and give up their teams, they should not be harmed. When they were some distance from the fort, they fired into the party, and killed one man and a number of women, and took the remainder prisoners. The old wretch was made to stand up, looking cold and impassable, and as stolid as a stone, and the boys, likewise standing, placed opposite. The stood gazing at each other for a moment, when one of the boys said, "I saw that Indian shoot a man while he was on his knees at prayer;" and the other boy said, "I saw him shoot my mother."
Another was recognized by Mrs. Hunter as the Indian who had shot her husband, and then took out his knife and offered to cut his throat in her presence, but finally desisted, and carried her away into captivity . . . .
The female sex was represented in the person of one squaw, who, it was charged, had killed two children. The only evidence to be obtained against her was a camp rumor to that effect among the Indians, so she was discharged. Her arrest had one good effect, as she admitted she had taken some silver spoons across the river, and ninety dollars. . . , which she had turned over to an Indian, who, being questioned concerning it, admitted the fact, and delivered the money over to the general. -- from Isaac Heard, HISTORY OF THE SIOUX WAR AND MASSACRE (1863)