Did Marie McLaughlin, the wife of James McLaughlin, the Indian agent at Standing Rock, prevent a major uprising in the early 1890s? I will lay out what happened and then let you be the judge.
On the morning of Dec. 15, 1890, 39 Indian police officers approached the house of Sitting Bull to arrest the spiritual leader of the Hunkpapa Sioux. The police were sent on this mission by James McLaughlin, with the explicit order, “You must not let him escape under any circumstances.”
At first, Sitting Bull agreed to go with the policemen, but then appeared to change his mind. A gunfight between the police and supporters of Sitting Bull took place, and a number of people from both sides were killed, including Sitting Bull.
“The Sioux in the village were enraged” about the death of their spiritual leader, and 200 members of the Hunkpapa band left the reservation. Both the military and a large number of Native Americans believed that open hostilities would soon occur.
Two weeks later, overzealous officers and soldiers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, under the command of Col. James Forsyth, massacred 300 Indians near the Wounded Knee Creek, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in present-day South Dakota. Over 200 of the Indians who died were women and children.
However, a large uprising on the part of the Sioux/Dakota never materialized, which was documented by a report from Valentine McGillycuddy, the former Pine Ridge Indian agent. A month after Sitting Bull died, he wrote, “No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested, or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed.”
To launch an uprising that had any modicum of success during the early portion of it would need a strong leader who could unify the rebelling Indians. Chief Gall was such a leader at the Standing Rock Reservation. Sitting Bull had been his mentor and “he had been Sitting Bull’s chief lieutenant.”
Reportedly, there had been efforts made by disgruntled Sioux to recruit Chief Gall, and he was considering it. According to Mary Collins, a teacher and congregational church missionary on the Standing Rock Reservation, Marie McLaughlin confronted Gall. She told him, “Gall, I am fairly disgusted with you. You have known me for over 10 years now and did I ever tell you a lie? And you hear about Agent McLaughlin and all those things runaway Indians tell, and you feel half inclined to join them yourself.”
Marie concluded by cautioning Gall not to fall in with those who would make more trouble. Chief Gall, out of his deep respect for Marie, may have taken her advice and remained loyal to the McLaughlins. It was later written, “Gall became James McLaughlin’s favorite Indian leader at Standing Rock. He adopted many of the white man’s ways, serving as a district farmer and a judge on the Court of Indian Offenses.”
Marie, who was one-quarter Sioux, was a great asset to her husband on the reservations where he served as agent. She spoke the Sioux language fluently, assisted in carrying for the ill, taught the women many domestic skills and even adopted a Native American child who had lost her parents.
She “had become a mother to the Indians because of her warmth and personality.” It was also written, “Sitting Bull’s groups affectionately referred to Marie as mother, or Ina, a clear indication that they viewed her as a relative and thus a good Dakota.”
Marie Louise Buisson was born on Dec. 8, 1842, in Wabasha, Minn., to Joseph and Lucy Nancy (Graham) Buisson. Marie’s father, Joseph, along with her maternal grandfather, Duncan Graham, founded Wabasha and named it after Chief Wapasha I, grandfather of Graham’s wife.
In 1815, Graham established a trading post along the shores of Devils Lake and was the first white person to live in the area. Marie’s mother, Lucy, was about 7 years old at the time and had many memories to share with her daughter about her experiences there. Little did Lucy realize that, over 50 years later, she would once again be living in the area of her childhood.
In the mid-1840s, Joseph Buisson went to work for the American Fur Co., headquartered in Mendota, Minn., and he moved his family there. When Marie was 14, she was sent to school at Prairie du Chien, Wis., and after graduation, she returned to Mendota.
In 1863, Marie met James McLaughlin, who was born and raised in eastern Ontario, and was working odd jobs in the Mendota area. James and Marie fell in love and were married on Jan. 28, 1864. The McLaughlins lived in Owatonna, Minn., for four years and then in Faribault, Minn., for three years, where James went into business as a blacksmith.
While there, they learned that William Forbes, who was married to Agnes (Faribault) Forbes, one of Marie’s cousins, had been named Indian agent for the Devils Lake Indian Reservation. Since the agency would need a blacksmith, James was hired. Another cousin of Marie’s, George Faribault, Agnes’ brother, was hired by Forbes to be the agency farmer.
In July 1871, the McLaughlin, Faribault and Forbes families, along with Lucy Nancy Buisson, journeyed to Devils Lake, where they were met by Antoine and Mary Jane Buisson, two of Marie’s siblings. Marie was quickly accepted by all of the Native Americans living on the reservation.
In 1875, William Forbes died, and James was named as his replacement. With Marie’s assistance, James became one of the most respected agents in the country.
In 1880, Chief Gall, one of the Indian heroes at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, brought 250 of his starving followers down from Canada, where they had fled to after the battle, and surrendered. They were transported to the reservation at Standing Rock on May 21, 1881, and the Commission of Indian Affairs knew they needed an extraordinary agent to oversee these once hostile followers. The commission reasoned that if they chose James, Marie would be assisting him, so they offered him the position.
In June, the McLaughlins eagerly accepted the offer. Gall and his followers feared that they would be treated as prisoners at the reservation, but because of the kindness and concern shown by Marie, many indicated that they felt like returning prodigal children. Gall was so impressed with the treatment his followers received that he encouraged his people to follow all of the instructions given by the McLaughlins, and he also converted to Christianity.
Later in 1881, Sitting Bull and his followers also surrendered and, eventually, were also placed at Standing Rock. Sitting Bull’s followers also appreciated the way they were cared for by Marie.
Largely because of the unexpected, relative tranquility that followed the killing of Sitting Bull, James was promoted to Inspector for the Indian Department, within the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Since James would be traveling most of the time, Marie believed she would be the happiest and most productive remaining with the Native Americans, the people she knew, trusted and loved, so she remained on the Standing Rock Reservation.
In 1916, she wrote the book "Myths and Legends of the Sioux," and she died on Aug. 5, 1924.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curtis Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at firstname.lastname@example.org.