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Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader

Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader

By Dr. Paul N. Beck

Book Review by Bob Reece, October, 2008

All excerpts from Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader, copyright by Dr. Paul Beck and University of Oklahoma Press.

“Few men’s lives have been so wrongly interpreted by history as that of Inkpaduta.”

“When four Dakota men entered the United States Army and prepared to fight in the Iraq War, they chose the symbolic warrior name Inkpaduta.”
                                                              Dr. Paul Beck, Inkpaduta

Today it is quite common to consider Inkpaduta “a caricature of evil on the level of a comic book villain, void of any decent values or virtues”, as Dr. Paul Beck states. I agree. It is how I’ve always pictured this mysterious figure from the American West. I was taken completely by surprise while reading Dr. Beck’s new and most extensive biography about Inkpaduta, Inkpaduta: Dakota Leader (Inkpaduta). For the first time, Inkpaduta is revealed in realistic terms: a human being and not the devil incarnate. He was an American Indian respected by the white settlers who lived amongst Inkpaduta’s people and traded goods between them. Dr. Beck also accurately portrays the enigma that Inkpaduta became when he writes with stark clarity the horrible acts of killing woman and children at Spirit Lake and Springfield.

Dr. Beck, an academic historian, researched his subject for years. His due diligence led him down a completely unexpected path. Primary accounts in the form of letters, diaries, and military official reports demonstrate for the first time that Inkpaduta and the white settlers in Iowa and Minnesota actually had good relations just prior to the Spirit Lake attacks. For the first time, a historian does not rely on second -and third - hand evidence and avoids repeating the same historical untruths about Inkpaduata. The result is an eye-opener. To some, these revelations might be controversial; to others they demonstrate why writers of history need to research properly in order to better serve the public.

The opening act of Inkpaduta is a quick overview of the history of the different bands of the Dakota, their migrations, their governmental system, and geographical divides that aid the reader in fully understanding the events that follow. Dr. Beck does not linger long on this material and quickly moves his story through tribal warfare between the Dakotas and the Sac and Fox. Here, Dr. Beck begins to report the first of historical errors falsely portraying Inkpaduta negatively. The list of errors grows long, which begs one to ask how great and respected historians missed these errors before.

Dr. Beck builds one case after another of Inkpaduta’s positive and trusting relations with the white settlers wherever he lived. One case in particular involved Curtis Lamb, a farmer and trader (with the Dakotas), who lived in the Smithland, Iowa area in 1851. Inkpaduta’s band would spend the cold winters camped near Lamb’s farm. The Lambs lent Inkpaduta traps and traded furs while the Indian women supplied the Lamb family with firewood. When Lamb traveled to Council Bluffs to trade – which kept him from home for days – Lamb trusted Inkpaduta to protect his family. Inkpaduta did more than watch over them, he hunted and provided game to the Lamb family as well.

Dr. Beck begins the second act by presenting the complex issues between whites and Indians concluding with the Spirit Lake Massacres. It is a common story: treaties signed by Indians to give up land, but it was never enough. Small conflicts erupted into major disasters. Dr. Beck clearly expresses how the positive relations between Inkpaduta and the whites deteriorated into death on the frontier. In our interview with Dr. Beck, he states how difficult it was for him to write about the Spirit Lake Massacres. It is hard and sad to read about them: women and children were brutally tortured and murdered.

After the massacres, Inkpaduta’s band fled to the west, but according to the newspapers, he never left. People were rightfully frightened after the word of the massacres began to spread; however, mass hysteria followed, and it can obviously be blamed on the media. Dr. Beck covers countless newspaper articles – some as far away as New York – to reveal the outright and completely false reports of raids and massacres that never happened. Of course, all of these reports blamed Inkpaduta. Inkpaduta became the devil incarnate, raping and killing practically anything that moved, according to every newspaper in the region and beyond.

We are fortunate that it was Dr. Beck who sifted through these many accounts. A completely different book might have emerged in the hands of an amateur historian. Improperly filtering the newspaper reports and taking them as fact would result in a repeat of the same old tired stories and myths about Inkpaduta and inaccurate conclusions made.

The third and final act has Inkpaduta leaving his homeland to travel farther and farther west to avoid capture or death by the authorities in Iowa and Minnesota. He eventually lived with the Hunkpapa. Dr. Beck briefly covers Inkpaduta’s involvement in the Dakota War of 1862, the Punitive Expedition of 1863-64 against the Sioux, and the Sioux/Cheyenne War of 1876. On June 25, 1876 a very old Inkpaduta was living in Sitting Bull’s village at the Little Bighorn when the 7th Cavalry attacked. It is not fully known whether Inkpaduta fought in the battle; at his age, if he did, it was strictly defensive. Inkpaduta eventually made his way to Canada where he lived the rest of his days; he never surrendered, nor was brought to justice for the Spirit Lake Massacres.

Dr. Beck never attempts to excuse Inkpaduta or his warriors for the massacres, and it is impossible for any historian to fully explain why Inkpaduta decided to commit them. However, Dr. Beck – with due diligence – clearly demonstrates that Inkpaduta never hated whites up to the eve of the massacres; misunderstandings between the white and Indian cultures, beliefs, and different needs all contributed to Inkpaduta becoming a killer. Dr. Beck presents the evidence from all sides but allows the reader to make the final judgment.
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Read our interview with Beck

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