Published on January 20, 2011 by John
Big Eagle (Dakota: Waŋbdí Tháŋka, c. 1827-1906) was the leader of a band of Mdewakanton Dakota Sioux in Minnesota. In 1862 he and his band joined Taoyateduta and took part in a Sioux uprising. He eventually surrendered.
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Waŋbdí Tháŋka, also known as Jerome Big Eagle, was born in 1827 at Black Dog village, in present-day Eagan, Minnesota. His succeeded his father, Máza Ȟóta (Grey Iron) in 1857. He along with the other chiefs and headmen went to Washington in 1858 on treaty business. In the spring of 1862, Wamditanka, Little Crow and Traveling Hail were candidates for Speaker of the Mdewakanton tribe which Traveling Hail won.
Big Eagle lead his band at the second battles of New Ulm and Fort Ridgley and also Birch Coulee and Wood Lake.
The photograph of Big Eagle was taken in Davenport during the summer of 1864. W. W. Hathaway, then the assistant commissary at Camp Kearney (the Indian Stockade, at Camp McClellen, Davenport) described the circumstances of making the File:
“I was also a personal friend of Big Eagle, the chief of the tribe confined in the pen. An amusing incident arose during the summer when I tried to get a photograph of the old chief. There was a mulatto named Jack confined with the Indians and he conspired with me to get the old brave to sit for a picture. Accordingly Big Eagle put on all his finery and paraphernalia and we went down to the studio of a photographer who had opened up his place of business down on the river road at the end of what is still known as “Hog’s Back Ridge.” Everything went well until we neared the place when Big Eagle began to remove his finery. We asked him what the trouble was and he said he would not pose unless we paid him $15″ (Davenport Weekly Democrat, September 28, 1905).
Despite his death sentence, and his tribal importance, President Lincoln pardoned Big Eagle in November 1864 and he was ordered released on December 3 The History of Carroll County, Illinois… (H. F. Kett & Co., Chicago, n.d.), p. 80.
Big Eagle, later known as Jerome Big Eagle, narrated his account of the Dakota War in, “A Sioux Story of the War,” Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society 6 (1894):382-400.