Behind the Victory Flagpole – the story teller

Do you remember the days when the “old folks” used to sit around the camp fire and see who could tell the biggest story? Even the firefighters today, when nothing is going on, sit around the fire house and “shoot the breeze,” as it is called. Well, back in our forefather’s day there were Indian agencies, such as Lac qui Parle and Fort Snelling, where one of the agency physicians, Dr. A.C. Daniels, worked so closely with the Indians that he learned the inside tales of their lives. He was fond of telling the stories of things he had seen and heard.

One such story was about Indian superstition. The flag at Lac qui Parle was kept flying over the agency building during the daytime. After a drought of several weeks that almost destroyed the Indian’s gardens, they came to the conclusion that the Great Spirit was displeased with the flag. A delegation called on the agent and besought him to take down the flag so the Great Spirit would send rain. The agent tried in vain to reason with him, explaining that their Great White Father in Washington expected the flag to be hoisted every day. At last, to pacify them, he agreed to take it down at noon. Soon after the flag was lowered a black cloud appeared and a heavy shower soon followed. This confirmed the Indians in their belief that the flag was responsible for the drought and the agent had to exercise caution in its display thereafter.

Then there was a story about Chief Cut Nose, so called because a small piece was missing from the edge of one of his nostrils. One spring a settler named Wakefield, living near Wayzata, discovered he had a surplus of vegetables in his cellar and invited the women in an Indian village nearby to come and get a supply. This same Cut Nose came along, not to assist in removing the vegetables, but to see if he could find anything for himself. In the cellar Wakefield had a small keg and a two gallon jug filled with maple vinegar. Cut Nose concluded that they contained whiskey. He went away, but returned in a few hours with a large bottle, asking to have it filled with whiskey. Wakefield denied having any, but Cut Nose declared that he had seen a keg and jug in the cellar and knew that they contained whiskey. Wakefield then told him to go and help himself to any whiskey he might find. Cut Nose joyously descended the cellar stairs, sampling the contents of both jug and keg, and finding nothing but a good article of vinegar, threw down his bottle and left in disgust.

The story that agency physician Dr. Daniels liked to tell the most was of an Indian brave who adopted the name of George Washington and on this account imagined that he was a great man. On one occasion, when the Indians had assembled at the agency to receive their annuities, George imbibed freely of “fire water,” which aroused his desire for adventure. Half tipsy, he led a band of his followers to the home of the Catholic sisters to demand food. The sisters saw them coming in time to bar the door, but George was determined to enter. He threw his weight against the door with such force that part of it splintered. Then he started to crawl through the opening, when one of the sisters adopted the role of “church militant.” She seized the nearest weapon, which happened to be a rolling pin, and began raining blows upon the Indian’s head and shoulders.

This was too much for George Washington. He yelled for mercy and tried to extricate himself from his predicament. The splintered part of the door caught in his clothing and held him fast. To add to his discomfiture his woman came running up and commenced to belabor him from the rear, while the sister inside continued the assault. When the women finally desisted, he succeeded in releasing himself, both sober and repentant!

These old stories were probably passed along for generations, whether at the fort, the agency or just around the campfire.

Note: Taken from the book Minnesota and Its People Vol. 2 by Joseph A.A. Burnquist.