Incredible fall of 1863 seven page letter of Gen. Sibley's Minnesota Indian campaign with great battle descriptions! Written by Capt Rollin Carolus Olin, who was serving on General Sibley's staff when he wrote this while in the field.
Incredible content, Olin is extremely descriptive while describing his armies fights with and property destruction of the Sioux Indians. See below for Olin's biography. Minor fold splits easily repaired, otherwise in very good condition. Here is a complete transcription:
Head-quarters District of Minnesota
Department of the Northwest
In the field Camp Williston Aug. 5th, 1863
My dear Brother
Your letter of the 21st July, was just handed me by the half-breed mail carrier, who arrived in camp a short time ago from Camp Atchison.
We are now on our return from the Missouri River, this being our fifth day out, and since we left Camp Atchison we have received no mail until now. We welcomed it is a thirsty man does water.
Having heard, by a miracle almost, that the Indians were concentrating among the hills of the Missouri Coteau. Genl Sibley determined to leave all that would be likely to embarrass his march at Camp Atchison, and from that point push on with the picked men and overtake and give fight to the savages. We therefore started on 20th July, Monday, with about 1800 or 2000 serviceable men, six pieces of artillery and twenty five days rations. Our course was S.W. nearly. We had marched nearly five days, and had begun to think we should have to go to the Missouri River before finding Indians. When on the afternoon of the 24th our scouts came hastening in with the news that the Indians were all around us and that the hills were black with them, we made
hasty preparations to receive them and in an hour the fight commenced. They must have greatly outnumbered us for they felt their ability to overpower us saying they would show those St Paul merchants a thing or two. But they did not fulfil their boast, we whipped them easily and then the route commenced. Our Cavalry chased them that night for fifteen miles and the ground for that distance was fairly covered with robes, tents, jerked meat, Tepee poles, and everything else belonging to a large camp of Indians. We killed a large number of them, forcing them to leave many of their dead on the ground. They lost all the provisions they had accumulated for the coming winter. We burned and destroyed thousands of pounds of buffalo meat, cut up their robes and poles, nothing but their transportation was saved to them. Our men and animals were so much fatigued by this days work that we could not follow them far the next day, but on Sunday the 26th we again took up the line of march on their trail. About noon while we were watering word came back from the front that a large body of their mounted men were preparing to make a dash upon us. As we could not go any further that day, on account of the weak condition of the mules and as there was not water for many miles we went into camp. The Indians to the number of two or three hundred, splendidly mounted, came on and as they were reinforced from time to time by fresh men we had quite a lively scrimmage for a couple of hours. We killed quite a number of them and lost but one man, killed. They kept too far out of range
to do much damage to us, or have much done to them. Their ponies are very fleet, but few of our best horses being able to keep up with them. This attack was made no doubt to prevent us from going any further that day so as to give their families time to escape across the Missouri. The attack did not stop us but want of grass and water in advance, did. The next morning however we went on and marched twenty miles, over a dry and barren country. That night we encamped on a small lake. The grass for miles around had been cropped short by an immense herd of buffalo. Our poor horses and mules could get nothing. We started the next morning very early to overtake the Indians while they were crossing the river. The scouts had left camp, and the Genl and I were following closely when all at once whole of the Indian warriors of the Dacotah and Minnesota Sioux came yelling and shouting over the crest of the hill not more than a quarter of a mile in advance. They were all mounted and numbered from 2000 to 2500 men. We soon sent them back however a great deal more quiet then when they came on, after two hours more fighting they withdrew as they saw that even this formidable demonstration did not stop us. During the fight we formed our train and moved right on towards where they had left their families to come and attack us. It was their last desperate attempt to stop us and they did not halt again until they had put the Missouri between us and themselves. They crossed the river that night about ten o'clock and we reached it
about ten o'clock the next morning.
Our animals, both horses and mules gave out here completely. They had no rest and but very little feed for several days. Our men too were nearly exhausted with the long march and needed rest, and so although it was tantalizing in a great degree to turn back as long as a red skin was left, yet we were obliged to do so. If Sully had been where he should've been he could have taken up the trail with his fresh grain fed horses and finished the work we have so commenced. We have already done more than what is laid out for us to do, we have not heard from Genl Sully and do not know where he can be. But we do know if he had cooperated with us as was intended we could have killed two thirds of the warriors of the Sioux nation East of the Missouri River. But as it is the Indians have learned a lesson they will not soon forget. They are terrified at our force and the bravery with which our soldiers fight. The whole of this territory has been swept clear of them and even if they are not followed up by Genl Sully they will not venture to bring their families this side of the river again for years. None of these fights were as hot as the battle of Wood Lake last fall though several times the number were engaged they do not care to come very close, our troops fought well advancing over the crest of the hills which the savages try to hold, and a double quick and they yelled as loud as the redskins did,
The howlings of the “Press” and “Central Republican” and papers of that ilk, will now be brought to an untimely end. Genl Sibley has found the enemy and has whipped them in three successive battles. The whole tribe except perhaps a few scattered Warriors have been driven west of the Missouri. All they possessed has been destroyed and they must starve and freeze to death this coming winter. They could not get their transportation across the river and we cut up over 150 wagons on this side. They are now as poor a people as could well be, and all this is owing to the determination and energy of Genl Sibley. We have pushed on over obstacles which would have stopped almost anyone else but I will venture to assert that the above mentioned papers will not give Genl Sibley any of the credit due him.
It is strange to witness the cowardice of some of the settlers on the frontier. The papers received today are filled with terrible account some Indian depradations in the settlements and the fear which the people are living in. Why don't they get together and hunt them as they do wolves and other dangerous vermin? The men of this command would not fear to meet five times their own number. Indians are bold and quick to see any advantage but they are really cowards. They will not face
danger like a white soldier. A few good hunters would soon rid the frontier of all those straggling Indians who are now creating so much alarm and confusion.
Major Parker has just told me that three horses were stolen by them near Northfield lately, and that one of the thieves was killed and all the horses recovered. The chief conspirator Little Crow is certainly dead so we have just captured his son who was with him at the time. We will hang him as soon as we reach Camp Atchison, which will probably be on next Saturday.
I have been thinking of your proposition about buying the land, and I like it. I have got one to make and I would like to have you think of it.
Land in Rice Co. is certain to be valuable soon. The railroad will soon connect Northfield with good markets. It is desirable therefore that the land should be purchased immediately, before the rise in property takes place. I also want to be interested in a piece of land so that when I leave the army, if alive, I can go to farming. Now you know there is strength in union, and my proposition is to join hands with father or you or both (which I think is better) because we can all work together better than alone. Purchase Mrs. Clintons property. Stick to the other piece of University land until we get ready to open it. Then the Hoyt farm ought to be added to the home farm, and we should then
have land enough for a good business. Of course it will take time and money to do it but I believe it can be done. We must work together. We can do that certainly. Just think of it in a little while. In the meantime buy Mrs. Clinton's place. I have not the $100.00 by me now, but you can get it there in Northfield until I get home in October, when I will take it up, I hope to have more to use the same way then and if necessary I think I can get more on time.
We have some more short jobs to finish up before we return, I think we should reach St. Paul by the 1st October. Where I shall be ordered from there I have not the slightest idea. Genl Sibley may resign and then I may leave the army. If I get a commission in the Regular Army my pay will help to carry out our plan for getting a farm. I can safely agree to put in from $60.00-$80.00 per month, towards clearing the debt.
I shall not have time to write to anyone else until we reach Camp Atchison when I will write to Carrie. Please tell her where I am and that I am well. By the time you receive this the St. Paul papers will contain Genl Sibley's report. It will contain more than I have time to write.
Count me one at the Olin gathering.
Give my kind regards to all friends,
Very truly yours Rollin
Written above on Page 5 is the following: “Be sure and buy the Clinton Place whether you want it alone or not. I will let you have the $100.00 and more if I can”
$2995.00 plus shipping
Captain R. C. Olin:
One of the military commission officers (judge advocate) who presided over the Dakota War Trials in 1862; veteran of the Indian Wars campaign against the Dakota 1863-1865.
He was the oldest son of Thomas H. and Sara A. (Church) Olin. When he was five years old, he moved to Northfield, Minnesota with his parents. He graduated from Northfield public schools, and continued his studies at Carroll College for one year. He became a teacher and entered the State Normal School at Winona, Minnesota. At the end of his second term, the Civil War began and in August, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company B of the 3rd Minnesota Infantry.
He was promoted to 2nd Lieutentant, then 1st Lieutenant, and then took part in the battles of Pittsburgh Landing, Shiloh, and Murfreesboro. At Murfreesboro, his regiment was captured. All the officers then present except Lieutenant Olin and two others were sent to Libby Prison. Lieutenant Olin was paroled with the regiment and went to the parole barracks at St. Louis, remaining until September, 1862, when the regiment, with himself as the only commissioned officer present for duty, was ordered to the Minnesota frontier "to aid in subduing an insurrection of the Sioux Indians". His command formed part of the Army of the Northwest, commanded by General Pope.
He commanded eight of his regiment's companies in the battles of Wood Lake and Yellow Medicine River, gaining the attention of General Sibley.
After the campaign, he was appointed Judge Advocate of the military commission which tried nearly four hundred Sioux Indians for "murder and other outrages" against citizens of the U. S. There were no defense lawyers or prosecutors; only the military commission of officers, one of whom was Olin. He was only 22 years old and had no legal training, but had some assistance from Ramsey County prosecutor Isaac Heard, the military commission's trial recorder.
The trials were held at Camp Release and the Lower Agency in Minnesota from September 28-November 3, 1862. The verdicts were 323 defendants: guilty and 70 defendants: not guilty. Today, it is recognized that the Dakota were tried in a kangaroo court. The defendants were often convicted on unreliable hearsay evidence, had "trials" that only lasted 5 to 10 minutes, and were not provided with defense attorneys, translators, or other customary criminal trial rights.
President Lincoln reviewed each of the individual cases himself, and commuted the death sentences of all but 38 Dakota who were sentenced to be hanged; 90 defendants were sentenced with imprisonment.
After the Dakota War trials ended, Olin was appointed on General Sibley's staff as Adjutant General, with the rank of Captain. He served in this capacity during General Sibley's subsequent expedition against the Indians on the Missouri river. He accompanied Sibley during the Indian Wars campaign of 1863 across the Dakotas, during which the battles of Pah-Ha-Touka or "The Big Hill," Rice Lake, Stony Lake, and at the crossing of the Missouri River were fought. In 1864, he married Georgia A. Dailey of St. Paul, Minnesota. He continued in the frontier service until February, 1865, when he resigned.
After he was mustered out of the military, he worked as a book seller (1867), bookkeeper in a bank (1865-1872), and grain buyer (1873-1874). In June, 1877, he graduated from the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, earning his M. D. degree in homeopathic medicine. His first wife died in 1881. He married Grace Eugenia Hillis at Syracuse, New York on June 15, 1887. He then engaged in the practice of homeopathic medicine at Detroit, Michigan.
He was a former president of the Detroit Homeopathic Medical Society and of the Michigan state Homeopathic Medical Society.
He was a member of the medical staff of Grace Hospital in Detroit, the American Institute of Homeopathy, Michigan State Homeopathic Association, Detroit Practitioners' Club, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Michigan, Detroit Post No. 318 of the G.A.R., Loyal Legion, and Michigan Commandery. He also belonged to the Lake St. Clair Fishing and Shooting Club.