Column: St. Clair, Little Turtle, Little Crow, and Little Six

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Mr. Thompson, Professor of Public Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is the author of Legalized Gambling: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara and Denver: ABC-Clio, 1994 and 1997-2nd ed.).

The events of September 11 are unprecedented in so many ways, yet they call out for a search for any historical parallels and lessons--perhaps unlearned, perhaps yet to be learned. The recent tragedies do not represent the first time that the United States's interests and people have been attacked on our own soil. They do not represent the first time that an adversary has inflicted massive casualties upon civilian populations.

The nature of two incidents in history and their aftermath deserve reflection: the defeat of General (and Governor) Arthur St. Clair at the hands of Little Turtle and allies of Tecumseh and Blue Jacket in 1791, and the Sioux Uprising in Minnesota in 1862.

On October 25, 1791 President George Washington proclaimed"it is sincerely to be desired that all need of coercion in the future may cease." He was talking about relationships with Native American tribes and settlers in western lands of the United States. His tone was to change in a very short time. He was soon to learn of events in Ohio.

The Shawnee Little Turtle along with Blue Jacket (a white man raised by Natives), and Tecumseh refused to recognize Ohio land deals made with white settlers--some by treaties (with other tribes), some by purchases from French and British. As a result of the imbroglio, President Washington had authorized that an expedition to protect settlers and subdue Shawnee excursions onto the lands be led by the governor of the Northwest Territories, General Arthur St. Clair. St Clair had a force of 1400, mostly untrained militia. Perhaps, it is possible some were conscripts from the settlements, as the Letters of St. Clair specifically ask that he be allowed to draft soldiers. He placed the troops on a vulnerable plateau above the Upper Wabash River in western Ohio on the evening of November 3, 1791. The next morning using great stealth, Little Turtle attacked. His forces were trained for the fight. The U.S. military suffered it worse defeat ever on American soil (excepting the Civil War), as 623 soldiers were killed along with 24 civilian muleskinners. The wounded numbered 172. The casualties were nearly three times as great as those suffered by George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn in 1876.

St. Clair survived the battle, but he was replaced in command by General"Mad Anthony" Wayne in 1792. The United States government sought a peaceful conclusion to the disaster, but a treaty party was murdered by the Native Americans in 1792. In 1793 a peace meeting was held, but it only resulted in an ultimatum from Little Turtle that the settlers abandon all lands north of the Ohio--an unacceptable (and unenforceable) demand. Wayne prepared to do battle--and he knew how to prepare his armies. Congress gave its full support to his plans, and President Washington had lost his conciliatory mood. Hoping for the support of the British (who contrary to the Treaty of 1783 had not left the region), Little Turtle attacked Wayne. The result at first was a stalemate, but when the British refused to join ranks with the Shawnee and their allies, the tide turned. Wayne led a daring and decisive charge against the Native Americans at Fallen Timbers (south of present day Toledo) on August 20, 1794. This was the real end for the Native Americans in the area known as the Northwest Territories. In 1795, the Treaty of Greenville ceded all of the land in the Territories to the United States with the proviso that the tribes have reservations and that they be given food supplies in recognition of limitations on complete open access for hunting and fishing.

The treaty basically held with the exception of the activity of Tecumseh and his brother who with their peoples refused to retreat to reservations. In reaction to the threats from Tecumseh, General William Henry Harrison established himself as an American hero by decimating Tecumseh's village on the Tippecanoe River, near what is now Lafayette, Indiana. Hail to the Old Gold and Black. Harrison, whose fame was eventually to lead to a short term as President, chased Tecumseh into Canada, where again the Native leader thought he would have some British support. Tecumseh was killed by Harrison's army in 1812. The defeat of St. Clair was fully avenged. (Not"justice," but avenged).

(Interestingly, the officer credited -- perhaps self-credited -- with firing the bullet killing Tecumseh was Richard Johnson, who used this moment of fame to win the vice presidency as a Democrat in 1836; four years later Harrison, a Whig, won the presidency. Whigs reasoned that if the man who may have killed Tecumseh could run for vice president, better yet to run the man who defeated his army for president.)

The Greenville Treaty led to a pattern of reservations and promises of food and supplies. As settlers moved to areas near the Native reserves, they expected that there would be peaceful coexistence. This did occur in many places. However, in June 1862, the Sioux in Minnesota were experiencing food shortages. The Indian Agents of the U.S. Government, who were known to be corrupt, refused to distribute provisions. The Sioux, on the brink of starvation, begged, but thieving agents had already stolen many of the provisions. When a person manning a storehouse suggested to the Native peoples that they could"eat the grass," it was too much. Some young Sioux killed the storehouse attendant and raided the supplies. Others then killed local merchants in town.

When the word reached Little Crow, he was very hurt. He had always hoped for good relationships with the settlers. He knew that a line had been crossed and that the army would hold the full tribe responsible for the killings. He acquiesced in the violence, and soon there were more raids and a general uprising of the Sioux against the American settlers. About 1000 civilians were killed. The U.S. Army reacted expectedly, although the demands of the Civil War tugged at them as well. A force near the" cities" was brought together and sent westward to subdue Little Crow. Little Crow arranged an ambush, but it was not effective. On September 23, 1862, Colonel Henry Sibley's forces fought off Little Crow, and the tribal army disbanded. Sibley called for them to surrender and three days later Little Crow considered that he had no option. The tribe released 370 settlers it was holding, and 2000 surrendered.

It was not a happy ending, as a military tribunal condemned 303 to death, and 1700 to prison. President Lincoln was asked to intervene, and he commuted many of the death sentences; nonetheless, 38 were hanged in the most massive group execution in U.S. history. One was Little Six who many agree was not involved in the uprising in any violent manner. Other Sioux were rounded up and expelled from the state, being sent into the Dakotas to places like Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. There they had another uprising that resulted in massive losses of land after they had engaged and defeated General Custer. Today the residents of the South Dakota Sioux reservations are the poorest communities in America. In retribution for their attacks, the Sioux were essentially destroyed as a strong culture and as a viable self sufficient people. They persist in poverty.

Lessons. Retribution follows attacks on America. Little Turtle and Little Crow each showed his"hole" card. In Las Vegas that is not the way to gamble. So too have the Arab Terrorists exposed their hand. If history has a lesson, they are history--and it won't be soon enough. And I pray we won't be giving them"justice."

POSTCRIPTA remnant group of the Sioux hid during the time of the round-up and expulsion. In the Twentieth Century they won recognition as a tribe and were given a reservation in Shakopee, Minnesota, a Twin Cities suburb. The Mdewkanton Santee Sioux number but a few hundred, but they claim to be a sovereign nation. Until very recently they had been very poor people, then"bingo." Or, should the word be"jackpot." They were permitted to have a casino--the only casino in a metropolitan area of three million people--a market"to salivate for." The Mystic Lake Casino and Little Six Bingo Hall win over one half billion dollars a year from gamblers. Each tribal member receives a cash bonus in excess of $800,000 a year. Justice! Maybe, maybe not. I would certainly recognize that casinos are a good way for taking some Native peoples out of poverty--a positive thing. But, unfortunately, we have here a"new" nation of 200 or so people who seem not now to be related to thousands of the poorest people in America, people with whom they feel no obligation to share their wealth. Hey, I'm a white man, I wouldn't share my wealth would I? Except I do pay my income taxes. A big time sharing goes on there. Moreover, my culture did not have the"potlatch" (Native Peoples do). This is a ceremony of giving wealth of the richer people to the poorer people in the community--actually, though we (my people) do have a religious value structure not at all alien to the potlatch. The casino is but one more American vehicle that may be used to break the true spirit and the value structure of the Sioux people. Perhaps the Mdewkanton Santee are the ultimate victims of the retribution dispensed to people who attack American.

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