A Sioux story of the war by Wamditanka: a short review

This is a journal article, not a book, although it’s available as an ebook from the Internet Archive.

This article offers a different perspective on the Minnesota events reported in Theodore Potter’s Autobiography, which I’ve recently reviewed here. The “author,” also known as Big Eagle, was an officer on the Indian side during the second battles at New Ulm and Fort Ridgely. Big Eagle talks about the reasons for the war, the tribal politics of the decision to go to war, and gives accounts of the battles he participated in. The narrative generally rings true, and is therefore interesting, but there are some problems.

The first problem is that it’s a translated interview. The interviewers and the interviewee had no common language. While the transcription appears to be a good-faith effort, the method is problematical. Nonetheless, it appears to be a good effort.

The second problem is that the interview occurred over 30 years after the events described. Of course, Potter’s account was written even further from the events, but age and subsequent events often make the past hazy, even for first-person accounts.

The third problem is Big Eagle’s need to constantly proclaim his Christian faith, and to contrast it with his former heathen beliefs. This is distracting, and does not contribute much to the story; it also tends to undermine the reader’s confidence in the interview subject’s perspective.

It’s a short article, and well worth reading if you’re interested.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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