Published on January 24, 2011 by Amy
Wapasha III is the best known of the Sioux chiefs in this area. He was well known for his red hat, and the red tone of the limestone formation on the top of one of the bluffs above Keoxah (Winona, Minnesota) was called “Wapasha’s Hat” by the early settlers. It is known as Sugar Loaf today. His wife was named Wenonah, as was his eldest daughter. The name, in fact, means eldest daughter. There is no record of Wapasha’s daughter jumping from Maiden Rock in Wisconsin.
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Wapasha III inherited many problems, which proved unsolvable from his point of view, because of treaties his father had signed. In fact, the turmoil had already started from the second treaty of Prairie du Chien, signed in 1830. Under one of the treaty’s provisions, a half-breed reservation was to be established along the Mississippi River in what is presently parts of Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties in Minnesota. When the tract was first assigned, it ran southwest from the present city of Red Wing, then extended through Wabasha County with the boundary line cutting through Chester Township, the town of Zumbro Falls, Hyde Park, Oakwood and Plainview townships. Cutting back toward the river, the boundary line included a portion of northwest Whitewater Township in Winona County. Marriage between Sioux and whites was not uncommon and there was a large number of half-breeds in the area. Both Indian agents and the Sioux requested the allotment of land for those of mixed blood. The establishment of the reservation was never completed, however. A treaty drawn in 1851 tried once again to set the land aside to those of mixed blood. In the 1851 arrangement, the federal government was to purchase the land for $150,000. The U. S. Senate, however, struck the clause from the treaty.
Script entitling the bearer to a certain amount of land had been passed out to half-breeds after the treaty provisions had been drawn up in 1830. Several disputes took place, most settled in favor of the “squatters.” While this transpired in the territory formerly ruled by the Sioux, Chief Wapasha III was trying, like his father and grandfather, to keep his people out of wars. Like his ancestors, Wapasha III was shrewd and cautious and a skilled diplomat. But, in a little more than 10 years of his succession to chief, he would become involved in the first outright conflict over the removal of Indians from the western banks of the Mississippi.
Further trouble came when the Wisconsin Winnebagoes were forced to move to the western side of the Mississippi and in 1846 forced to move again, this time up river to a new reservation north of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Much resistance took place but eventually they began moving. Those traveling by water stopped at Wapasha’s Prairie (now Winona, Minnesota). When joined by the land travelers, they decided to make camp along the slough now known as Lake Winona. As many whites were, the Winnebagoes were taken with the beauty of the area; they decided they wanted to settle on the prairie and offered to purchase it from Wapasha III. The agents, backed by the soldiers, ordered them to move. They paid no heed. The Winnebago, the Sioux and the soldiers all prepared for battle. The Indians danced a war dance the second night of the confrontation but armed conflict did not come. Disillusioned, the Winnebagoes headed up river. For his part in the events, Wapasha was arrested and sent to the prison at Ft. Snelling. He was soon released, however.
The Sioux were allowed to remain on their camps along the west bank of the Mississippi River according to an 1853 amendment to the treaty of Prairie du Chien. Hunger coupled with the anger and frustration of the Indians resulted in what is called the Sioux Uprising of 1862.
The Sioux led by a Mdewakanton chief named Little Crow, swept through the southern part of Minnesota and the north sections of Iowa. By the time the Sioux were finally defeated, somewhere between 400 and 500 white men, women and children had been killed. Reportedly, one of the first victims of the uprising was a trader who responded to the complaints of the Indians’ plight by commenting, “As far as I’m concerned, they can eat grass.” His corpse was found with grass stuffed inside his mouth. The uprising lasted only about one month, the action of the army was swift and firm and no more merciful than the Sioux. Wapasha’s effort in the uprising was half-hearted. Eventually, he was sheltering whites and half-breeds in his camp. He was one of the first to attempt a settlement of the short-lived war, opening contacts with the army while fighting was still at a peak.
Approximately 1,200 Indians were eventually arrested. Most were Sioux. A five-man tribunal was established when 392 were brought to trial. Of these, 307 were sentenced to death and 16 given prison sentences. The list was sent to President Lincoln for confirmation. Lincoln personally reviewed the cases of all those given death sentences. Only 39 of the sentences were upheld, and one Sioux warrior was later reprieved. The remaining 38 were executed December 26, 1862, in a mass hanging at Mankato, Minnesota. The bodies were buried in shallow graves along the river, and Dr. William Mayo, whose sons founded the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, was among the doctors who dug up some of the bodies to use as cadavers.
Payment of all annuities to the Sioux were stopped and the money was given to settlers who had been victims of attacks during the uprising.
After spending the winter in a prison camp at Ft. Snelling, the remainder of the Sioux were sent to reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota. Other Sioux were forced to those reservations by the army in 1863.
Wapasha III died at the Santee Agency Reservation in Nebraska on April 23, 1876. He is said to have spent his last years in sorrow, pondering the dissolution and degeneration of his people.