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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Inkpaduta (Scarlet Point)
(ca. 1805–ca. 1879)

–a renegade Wahpekute Dakota Indian chief and perpetrator of the so-called Spirit Lake Massacre, the principal clash between American Indians and whites in Iowa's history—was the son of chief Wamdisapa. When Inkpaduta was born in present-day southern Minnesota, the Wahpekute, numbering only about 550, ranged out of their main village near present-day Faribault, Minnesota, to hunt and trap. Their conditions were worsened by traditional warfare with the Sauk and Meskwaki to their south and by the disastrous 1837 smallpox epidemic.

    Tasagi, the leading Wahpekute chief, favored ceding tribal lands to the federal government under the abortive 1841 Doty Treaty. Possibly because of tribal contention over the agreement, Tasagi was murdered. Inkpaduta was complicit enough to be forced into exile by Tasagi's adherents. For the next 16 years Inkpaduta and his small band hunted, trapped, and foraged in present-day northwestern Iowa, southwestern Minnesota, and southeastern South Dakota.

    Because Inkpaduta did not participate in the 1851 treaties under which the Dakota (Eastern or Santee Sioux) ceded their lands in Minnesota and Iowa for annual government payments and reservations on the upper Minnesota River, his band had to continue to live off the land. Subsistence became much more difficult as whites began to settle northwest of Fort Dodge. Pioneers' complaints about begging and stealing by followers of Inkpaduta and Sintomniduta, a brother-in-law of the prominent Sisseton Dakota chief Sleepy Eyes, exacerbated tensions.

    Relations deteriorated further after the murder of Sintomniduta by a white ruffian and the government's abandonment of three-year-old Fort Dodge in 1853. Threatened with starvation in the cold, snowy winter of 1856-1857, Inkpaduta and his dozen or so men killed some settlers between West Okoboji Lake and East Okoboji Lake on March 8, 1857. Within a few days, they killed 32 settlers. The affair was soon widely publicized as the Spirit Lake Massacre, because the entire lake complex was historically identified only as "Spirit Lake."

    While Inkpaduta's band was escaping to the west, fear of a general Indian uprising gripped the Iowa-Minnesota frontier. Panicky newspaper editors made Inkpaduta an instant villainous celebrity. Although Inkpaduta did not play a significant role in Minnesota's Indian War of 1862, in which some 450 settlers were slain, the government's failure to apprehend him helped cause it. Some Dakota concluded that the government was incapable of responding to Indian attacks.

    The army's offensive in Minnesota caused hundreds of Dakota to flee into Dakota Territory and Canada. Sympathy for their cause and white incursions during the Montana gold rush caused the Nakota (Middle Sioux) and Lakota (Western or Teton Sioux) to expand hostilities. When the federal government sent several thousand troops into Dakota Territory, Inkpaduta and his band were living with the Yanktonai, a branch of the Nakota. Inkpaduta participated in Sioux defeats at White Stone Hill (September 3, 1863) and Killdeer Mountain (July 28, 1864).

    After the Killdeer Mountain setback, Inkpaduta became associated with Sitting Bull, prominent medicine man of the Hunkpapa Lakota. Inkpaduta was involved in the Lakota resistance to white advances in the upper Missouri country for over a decade before the epochal Great Sioux War of 1876. During that conflict, he was at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in which Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse led the annihilation of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer's 220-man command. The aged and blind Inkpaduta did not participate in the fighting, but two of his sons distinguished themselves.

    After the battle, Inkpaduta fled to Canada. He died several years later in the vicinity of present-day Brandon, Manitoba.

    Although early white historians portrayed Inkpaduta as the devil incarnate for the Spirit Lake Massacre, his reputation has been somewhat resurrected by recent historical reinterpretation that places more emphasis on his uncompromising resistance to the white takeover of Indian lands.
Sources A short scholarly biography of Inkpaduta is in Mark Diedrich, Famous Chiefs of the Eastern Sioux (1987). Another well-researched account is Peggy Rodina Larson, "A New Look at the Elusive Inkpaduta," Minnesota History 48 (1982), 24–35, derived from her master's thesis, "Inkpaduta-Renegade Sioux" (Mankato State College, 1969). The most detailed coverage of the Spirit Lake Massacre is in F. I. Harriott's five-part article in Annals of Iowa 18 (1932–1933), 243–94, 323– 82, 434–70, 483–517, 597–628; Abbie Gardner-Sharp, History of the Spirit Lake Massacre and Captivity of Miss Abbie Gardner (1885); and Thomas Teakle, The Spirit Lake Massacre (1918). The hysteria caused by the Spirit Lake Massacre and inconsistencies in firsthand accounts about it are presented in Mary Hawker Bakeman, ed., Legends, Letters and Lies: Readings about Inkpaduta and the Spirit Lake Massacre (2001). The only full-length biography, Maxwell Van Nuys, Inkpaduta- The Scarlet Point: Terror of the Dakota Frontier and Secret Hero of the Sioux (1998), is flawed by numerous errors, suppositions, and bias.
Contributor: William E. Lass

Cite as: Lass, William E. "Inkpaduta (Scarlet Point)" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 19 September 2014