It seems that the Indians had been at the settlement but a brief time when they discovered that the whites had not been able to complete the harvesting of the past season's corn crop on account of the coming of the early and deep snows. Much of the corn had been buried, where the settlers had been content to leave it for husking in early spring. Upon making this discovery the Indians with a will set about gathering corn from the fields. Very naturally the settlers objected and demanded that the Indians desist, which they did after some jangling and expressions of ill feeling. They did not, however, cease their demands for food.
The settlers now assumed a plainly unfriendly attitude toward the Indians, which in turn gave impetus to a change in the temper and attitude of the Indians toward the whites. They soon became sullen and insolent, with a manifest tendency to commit a variety of malicious acts‐probably for the purpose of trying the temper of the settlers. Only acts of a trivial character, however, were actually committed; and so the wiser heads in Smithland were successful in warding off for some time any serious trouble.
Several days after the arrival of the Indians a large drove of elk appeared in the timber on the river bottom. This meant plenty to the nearly famished Indians, and they at once began preparations for the hunt in which all were to participate. When the hunt had gotten well under way an Indian was attacked by a settler's dog which apparently had become over zealous in the chase. The Indian retaliated by killing the dog. Then the owner of the dog sought to even matters by administering a rather severe beating to the Indian, at the same time forcibly disarming him. To a young Indian brave such treatment was an insult calling for retaliation. When the other settlers learned of this reckless action on the part of one of their number they grew alarmed, for they knew Indian character well enough to conclude that the incident was not a closed one by any means.
Meanwhile the petty pilfering and thieving by the Indians continued. Especially annoying were the squaws who, constantly haunting the cabins and other buildings of the settlement, would sometimes carry away grain and hay. Occasionally a settler catching a squaw in the act would give her a whipping‐ which only increased the tension of the situation. Finally, a settlers' council was called, the result of which was an effort to disarm the Indians as an assurance of safety. Failing to realize the full purport of what was being done, the Indians offered little opposition. The guns were hidden, and for a while the settlers breathed easily. But in their alarm, they had really taken a very unwise course.
They probably thought that the Indians would soon come forward and offer some reasonable and peaceful settlement of any wrongs that had been committed. In this, however, the settlers exhibited little appreciation of the character of the Sioux Indian."' Not a little enraged, the Indians committed other depredations upon the settlers; and it was not long before the settlers awoke to a realization of the mistake they had made. But they soon committed a worse blunder in seeking to correct the first. A militia company of twenty-one men was organized among the men of Smithland and vicinity under the leadership of Seth Smith, the founder of the settlement.
Captain Smith was selected as leader of the organization not for his known military ability, but because he owned a "magnificent suit of regimentals, with its quivering epaulettes, gaily bedecked cocked hat and flashing sword. ' Surely these would strike terror to the souls of the Indians. The party was quickly and quietly prepared for a demonstration of military power, after which they marched to the Indian camp and there paraded before the Indians. When the demonstration was ended, Captain Smith demanded of the Indians that they leave at once. This seemed impossible to the Indians, who are said to have replied that the weather was so cold and the snows so deep up north that nothing to eat could be secured by them in that direction. They added, however, that they would like to go on down the river to the camps of the Omahas and treat with them. This the whites did not seem to think would be advisable: they evidently thought that the Indians would visit them again upon their return to the north. When denied the privilege of passing on to the Omahas the Indians flatly refused to leave at all—an action that may have been due in part to the fact that not all of the Indians were then in the camp.
The settlers, finding themselves sufficiently strong after this demonstration of military preparedness, began a series of annoying acts directed toward the Indians, who seemed to submit stoically to these impositions. Finally, one morning the settlers were not a little gratified to discover that the Indians had gone. But the joy was only temporary; for the Indians later reappeared with guns possibly the very ones that had been taken from them by the settlers. How they secured these arms was not known; but it was evident that the reclamation of their property had a marked effect upon their conduct. They now became defiant and openly committed theft to satisfy their wants; for they knew that they were now better prepared for resistance than were the whites.
It was shortly before this time that General Harney had conducted his march through the Indian country in Kansas and Nebraska, thence westward into Wyoming, and back northeastward to or near Fort Pierre in Dakota. Every Sioux knew of him and held him in a sort of superstitious awe or dread. They thought of him as one guided and guarded by the Almighty in his work as an avenger. Aware of the regard with which the Sioux held Harney, it was proposed by the settlers to use him as a means of ridding themselves of their Indian guests. Accordingly a settler donned the soiled uniform of an army officer and at sunset appeared in the edge of the timber on the bank of the Little Sioux opposite the Indian camp. His appearance there was called to the attention of the Indians, along with the suggestion that the stranger was Harney, in all likelihood, in close pursuit of them. The ruse, it is said, was effective: that same night the Indians fled up the river from Smithland. As thev fled it became increasingly evident that they were thirsting for revenge. From suffering indignities themselves they now turned to the infliction of atrocities upon whomsoever chanced to cross their path. While the more level-headed settlers at Smithland regretted the tricks played upon the Indians, all congratulated themselves upon being rid of their unwelcome guests.