Little Crow, or Taoyateduta (His Red Nation), was the chief or spokesman for the Mdewakanton tribe of the Dakota Nation from 1849 until 1862. Little Crow played a prominent political role in the history of his nation and its relations with the United States Government. In particular, Little Crow helped negotiate the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851; he organized and led a military expedition in order to capture and punish the culprits of the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857; and he reluctantly agreed to lead his young braves in war against the settlers, government officials, and soldiers of southern Minnesota during the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862.
While fulfilling his role as spokesman for the Mdewakanton Dakota, Little Crow proved to be a capable and mindful leader who, as a result, was revered and respected. One traveler, writing in 1851, described Little Crow as having “a very determined and ambitious nature, but withal exceedingly gentle and dignified in his deportment.” Little Crow was known to have successfully mediated several potential conflicts and he made two trips to Washington D.C. including a three month long period when negotiating the sale of half the Dakota reservation in 1858. During these negotiations he fought hard to protect the rights of his people at one point admitting, “We have lost confidence in the promises of our Great Father,” and that, “bad men have nearly destroyed us.”
Despite Little Crow’s efforts to preserve and uphold his nation’s culture and tradition, he could not prevent the deterioration of his people’s way of life and the wretched conditions that provoked the tragic events of the U.S. – Dakota War. Following the war, Little Crow fled west and was never captured. But, he returned to Minnesota along with one of his sons. In July, 1863, while picking raspberries near Hutchinson, Minnesota, Little Crow was shot and killed by a farmer. It was a sad end for the Dakota leader who ultimately was left with nothing. History though, remembers his legacy of diligence for his people and leadership for his nation.
Bertha L. Heilbron, Ed., With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851: The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986).
Gary Clayton Anderson, Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux, (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986).