Shetek – Massacre at Slaughter Slough

I.
A tragic case of misery and woe,
When cultures clashed and heated tempers flared
In places graced by lakes and buffalo,
When guns and blood was how the grievance aired.

Now consciously this tragedy unplanned,
Had viciousness of which you’d never think.
For eons past the natives loved this land,
Where bison by the millions came to drink.

Oasis cultures found a fall retreat
Where nature made an ancient hunting ground,
A place where pelicans and bison meet,
The shores were dotted with their funeral mounds.

A place to raise the children in their midst
Became home for Ojibwa and Dakota
Where peacefully the tribes could co-exist,
The corner of southwestern Minnesota.

This sacred land of hospitality
Soon known for its blood-hot hostility.

II.
Soon known for its blood-hot hostility,
When white men came and found this lovely place
About the year of eighteen fifty three.
At first the mood of hate was not the case.

For treaty land was purchased free and clear.
The Indians were promised aid and food.
So settlers could move in without a fear,
But greed and prejudice soon changed that mood.

As threats and promises flowed off the tongues
Of Ramsey, Henry Sibley, and Luke Lea
‘Bout pots and pans, food, blankets and some guns.
The tribes assigned their place and sacred area.

But promises were hardly ever filled,
And tribal customs soon were dispossessed.
So, many starved and others hardships killed.
The chiefs and warrior braves were not impressed.

It mounted to a passion-heated brew,
The August days of eighteen sixty two.

III.
The August days of eighteen sixty two,
It started ’round the lake they named Shetek.
When Grizzly Bear’s war party wandered through,
The Koch’s cabin was a total wreck.

John Voigt escaped, the others were forewarned.
They gathered at Wrights cabin for defense.
Old Pawn with warriors were all badly scorned.
Surrounded now, the cabin mood intense.

Inside the settlers pondered what to do.
Old Pawn had always been a friendly sort,
But joined by Grizzly Bear’s large hostile crew
The pressure left him nowhere to resort.

So now he found his tribe was in between.
A likely choice to help negotiate.
White Lodge’s warriors soon came on the scene,
A situation made to complicate.

These chiefs just added way too much commotion,
So soon the fatal deeds were set in motion.

IV.
So soon the fatal deeds were set in motion.
A truce between the whites and Indians
Was offered up to quell the hot emotions,
If they just trust the red Samaritans.

Old Pawn presents the peace truce as a friend.
He guaranteed safe passage with his clan.
Could friendships finally sway them in the end?
At least that’s how the chief laid out the plan.

The redskins promised they would be unharmed.
If they just left and let them loot and take.
The settlers thought it best. They were well armed.
They left their things, set off along the lake.

The men, the women, and the children too,
On foot and wagon headed for New Ulm.
Six families on the Prairie, trekking through,
When arrow shots and bullets broke the calm.

Exposed the settlers only had one chance.
In grasses by the slough, they made their stance.

V.
In grasses by the slough, they made their stance,
Where blades grew tall and heavy fletch was thick.
Somewhat protected from both bow and lance,
It couldn’t shield them from a bullet nick.

The battle hotly raged beyond four hours
As deadly bullets whistled back and forth.
Lean Grizzly Bear was killed beside the flowers,
But homestead blood flowed free and soaked the earth.

Fifteen had died, a dozen more were caught,
Some lay wounded, others made their escape.
The captive women, sadly overwrought,
Were faced by wanton cruelty and rape.

Tom Ireland was wounded, lay dead cold,
Still walked for miles, five days of foodless trials.
Young Merton Eastlick, just eleven old,
Hand carried baby brother fifty miles.

The warriors left, and once the smoke had cleared,
The victim’s fate was worse than most had feared.

VI.
The victim’s fate was worse than most had feared.
The dead were left for days, exposed to rot.
The captive kids and women disappeared,
Survivors grieving hard accessed their lot.

A friendly tribe paid ransom for the slaves.
Returned them back to their society,
But that meant little to the white enclaves
Who blamed all red men for atrocities.

Gov’ Ramsey stated all Dakota “Go”,
So Henry Sibley gathered up the troops,
Revenge for fight known as the “Slaughter Slough”,
Defeated all the warring native groups.

Three Hundred injuns were condemned to hang.
Mankato’s prison filled with sentenced souls.
Their families were grouped in marching gangs
To pens along the Mississippi shoals.

And so the war’s resulting contribution,
A masse of warriors waiting execution.

VI.
A masse of warriors waiting execution.
Were closed up in Mankato’s prison cells.
The local people seeking retribution
Would heap harsh treatment where the warriors dwell.

But Bishop Whipple thought poor precedent
Of hanging some who never shot their guns.
He wrote a letter to the president
To beg he please forgive less guilty ones.

So Lincoln finally heard this fervent plea,
And had his legal men review the case,
To give an ample opportunity
For justice to prevail in time and place.

Eyewitness testimony duly heard,
With written statements from the families,
Determined that the numbers were absurd,
Some qualified as brutal nominees.

With expectations high all over town,
Came tensions as the verdict handed down.

VII.
Came tensions as the verdict handed down,
With only thirty nine sentenced to death,
The hot-head whites could only curse and frown,
While Indians were given second breath.

Since it was seen that they had been provoked,
The numbers were reduced by quite a few.
Those known for murder/rape would be those choked,
Condemned to hang December, sixty two.

Four thousand people came to see them fall.
It turned out to be only thirty eight.
They climbed the scaffold stately, one and all,
Then sang their death songs, certain of their fate.

As they held hands, bags placed upon their heads,
Bill Duley, wounded at the slough, presides
To pull the lever, cut them down when dead.
He gained as much as justice done provides.

Thus ends a tale as true as stories go,
A tragic case of misery and woe.

Synergy of Poetry and Verse. Author, Poet, Photographer

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