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DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Finlander on the Warpath

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

September 2, 2019 — The Bisbee Gazette published a story about an event that took place, on this date in 1911, titled “Finlander on the Warpath.” The article read, “Saturday evening a bunch of Finlanders loaded up on snoose and Hofman drop and then started in to carve each other in the usual way among those fellows. The affray took place in the alley in back of the telephone central office about ten o’clock in the evening and came near ending fatally for one of the participants. One fellow had several gashes cut about his head and neck,” the story read, “(with) one being within a half inch of the jugular vein. Nightwatch Hanlon happened to be near when the affair started and soon had the knife artist under arrest.”
The story went on to say, “Judge Durston communicated with the states attorney and the fellow was to have had his hearing Tuesday, but when Hanlon went to feed his prisoner Monday morning, the cell was empty. A broken lock told the story of the fellow’s getaway. The lock was but a flimsy affair and the fellows who lent their assistance found but little trouble in smashing it and liberating the prisoner.
“It is said,” the article continued, “that the row started over a refusal of the injured man to buy more Hofman drop for his companions. According to his story he had bought 2 bottles during the day and they had made a concoction of the drug, snoose and water and had all gotten beastly drunk or crazy and when he refused to buy again the butting began.”
Finland had gone through a rough time in previous years, suffering famine, persecution and pressure to join the Russian army. During the 1800s, many immigrated to other countries. In America, many found jobs as miners, because Finns were known as hard workers. It wasn’t surprising, then, that Finns were resentful and agitated when they were paid less than American-born workers. As the 19th century blended into the 20th, a number of these miners moved to an area on the North and South Dakota border that includes Ellendale in Dickey County.
Prejudice toward Finns over here carried over from the old country. Other Nordics didn’t understand the Finnish language, and many considered Finns to be Mongolians. Also, the Finnish settlers’ belief in co-ops led many to consider them socialists or communists. North Dakota Swedes and Norwegians said Finns were clannish, drank too much and liked knives. Finns drank no more than other Scandinavians; in fact, they formed their own temperance movements here. Yet, prejudice toward Finns can be seen in the story from Bisbee, which ended with, “On the whole this kind of harvest hand laborers seem to be of the most undesirable kind. They don’t seem to care to work or if they do they’ll work but a day or two then come to town and loaf.”
Getting back to what got the Finnish harvesters in trouble… Hofman drop or Hoffman’s drops. Norwegian Ole Rynning wrote an emigration guide in 1838 titled “True Account of America for the Information and Help of Peasant and Commoner.” In case of sickness during the voyage over, Rynning recommended taking along brandy, vinegar, several bottles of wine, raisins and prunes, sulpher powder, ointment for “the itch” and… Hoffmans drops. Hoffmans drops, along with hard liquor, was a popular contraband often used to sweeten the deal in reindeer trading.
What were the drops made of, you ask? Ether: the anesthesia once used to put people under prior to surgery.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.


DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Sully at Whitestone Hill

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm
September 3, 2019 — More than 150 years ago, a man named Sam Brown wrote to his father, “I hope you will not believe all that is said of ‘Sully’s Successful Expedition,’ against the Sioux. I don’t think he aught to brag of it at all, because it was, what no decent man would have done, he pitched into their camp and just slaughtered them, worse a great deal than what Indians did in 1862, he killed very few men and took no hostile ones prisoners…and now he returns saying that we need fear no more, for he has ‘wiped out all hostile Indians from Dakota.’ If he had killed men instead of women and children, then it would have been a success, and the worse of it, they had no hostile intention whatever, the Nebraska 2nd pitched into them without orders, while the Iowa 6th were shaking hands with them on one side, the soldiers even shot their own men.”
He was referring to the Battle of Whitestone Hill, which took place on this date in 1863 near present-day Ellendale. Brown was a 19 year-old translator at Crow Creek, where the Indian prisoners – 32 men and 124 women and children – were jailed. And where they later died.
General Sully and General Sibley were in Dakota searching for a band of Santee Sioux who had participated in the Minnesota Uprising the previous year. They had one mission: trap the Santee between them and make them pay. Sully had come up empty and was returning home, when a scouting party led by Major Albert House discovered a Sioux encampment on a small lake below Whitestone Hill. Major House sent word to General Sully, moved in closer and discovered the camp was larger than he thought – approximately 1,000 people.
The Indians sent a delegation of elders out to meet the scouting party. Vastly outnumbered, House negotiated for almost three hours. Historic accounts differ about whether any Santee were hiding in the camp. It is known that House demanded total surrender, but the elders refused.
Historian LaDonna Brave Bull’s great, great grandmother was a 9 year-old living in the camp. She said the men were out hunting, and during those three hours, the women prepared to flee. Tipis were dismantled, and travois carrying children and provisions were quickly hooked up to ponies and dogs. When the people saw Sully’s command arriving, they panicked and ran. Sully saw them leaving, sent others to cut off their escape routes and charged directly into the camp. The Indians scattered, but were cut off, and hundreds were slaughtered as the sun went down.
The State Historical Society reports, “The light of the following day revealed a field of carnage. Dead and wounded men, women, and children lay in the campsite and in the ravine. Tipis stood vacant, or drooped in various stages of destruction. Camp equipment and personal items, tools, utensils, weapons, toys, and injured or dying horses and dogs littered the ground. Injured women protected babies and the little children. As the soldiers looked after the wounded and gathered the dead…other men were put to work…destroying the village and Indian possessions.”
Brave Bull says 289 villagers were killed, most women and children. Some babies were found strapped to dogs that had carried them away. One baby, who later visited the site as an old woman, was found trying to nurse from her dead mother. Brave Bull’s great great grandmother was shot in the hip but survived.
The village was peaceful Ihunktonwan (ee-HOOnK-tooN-wahN) or Yankton Sioux, not Santee. Two Bears, a chief of that village, was the strongest voice for peace around Fort Rice one year later. Brave Bull says that, for her people, Whitestone Hill is their Wounded Knee. She writes, “…it is said in my family that my great great grandma screamed in her sleep until the day she died.”
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.


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