“I’ll die with you. Because I’m not a coward.”

Dr. Lawrence reflects on Little Crow and how he decided to lead some Dakota into war.

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To me war came as a result of people being reduced to their most basic instincts and deciding that the only way to go about this was to kill each other off. We are done negotiating, we are done talking; they won’t listen, we won’t listen; they don’t see our way, we don’t see their way. And I think that the conclusion is that we don’t have any other choice and we have to do this. And so I think it’s an act of futility, that even though you can see the outcomes, you’re going to do it anyway, because they think they don’t have any choice. That’s what Little Crow, that was his final decision, when he came to his final decision he talked about how it was going to end up. He told them they were going to be killed off. And he said, “You people are just like young kids, you’re like dogs barking at the moon, at the hot moon.” And he said, “They’re going to come and you’re going to all die.” And then when they had called him a coward, of course that’s that traditional value; you violate that traditional value and something is going to happen. And with him, he said, “I’ll die with you. Because I’m not a coward.” And so he went against all of his logical conclusions and decided that he would go to war and that he would probably die.

Little Crow was actually an ousted leader and he was hurting from that at the time that they came to him and asked him to lead. The warrior faction couldn’t get any of the people to lead them. They had said no, this is foolish. But they didn’t quit.It’s like over in the Mideast countries; they don’t quit, they’re going to keep on until somebody comes and helps them, and the United States is doing that. But they had the soldiers who wanted to go to war; they decided that they were going to go to war, but they didn’t have a leader. They had to have a political leader to say, "Okay, the people are behind you." And the political leader is the one who goes before the people and talks to them and says we are going to have to go to war here, and he explains it to them. And finally, by consensus, they agree; okay, then we’ll go to war. And consensus in those days meant anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the people agreed with it because they knew that a simple majority was not going to work. That’s what we got in the United States, you know, a 51 percent majority and you gotta go. And that means half of your people disagree with it and half agree. You’ve got a divided country, and divided people will not stand. They knew that, and so you’d have to get 80 or 90 percent of your people that would vote in favor of it before you did something like that. And so they needed that, and they didn’t have any way of convincing the people that they could go to war. They couldn’t even convince the leaders that people had asked. So they went to Little Crow, though he was the ousted leader. They went to him and asked him to be the leader. And he told them, “Go to the man you elected.” Because he was smarting from the loss of that election, because he thought sure he was going to win. But they said, “He’s a coward, he won’t lead us. He doesn’t want anything to do with it.” So he argued with them and told them, this is useless, you guys know better than this. And yet they kept at him until they called him a coward. “The only reason you don’t want to lead us is because you’re a coward.” And that’s the ultimate insult you could give a Dakota at that time, and probably now, is to call him a coward, because that’s the most treasured of their four values, is bravery. And to have someone tell you you’re not a very brave person, or to have somebody come and say, “That was a very brave thing you did,” that makes you feel good. And so bravery was a high value, one of the most treasured values. And to have someone call you a coward, well it is enough to prompt you to do something, and so he did.

Oral History- Interview | Narrator Elden Lawrence Interviewer Deborah Locke made in New Ulm, MN | Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society. U.S. - Dakota War of 1862. “I’ll die with you. Because I’m not a coward.” June 13, 2024. http://www.usdakotawar.org/node/1299

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