Edge of the Wilderness - By Stephanie Grace Whitson


My soul is weary of my life.

—Job 10:1


He had bent his back against the winter wind and slumped over his pony’s neck, trusting the animal to take him to safety in the midst of a blizzard. He had huddled in a muddy niche high above an iced-over creek while sleet pelted the countryside. But never, in his almost twenty winters of life, could Daniel Two Stars remember cold like this. It seeped through his blanket, penetrated his skin, and left him stiff like the ancient man he had begun to hope he would never live long enough to become. The only good thing in it was that when he was awake, the cold numbed even his thoughts. The effort to survive kept him from roaming through the past collecting bitter memories.

The man shackled to him was his friend. Both in body and mind he was the strongest man Daniel Two Stars had ever known. But since the beginning of the new year the whites called 1863, even Robert Lawrence, formerly known as the merciless warrior Little Buffalo, had given up encouraging those around him. He had become like the rest of the prisoners, crowding around pathetic fires every morning until their day’s supply of wood was gone, shivering through the afternoons and evenings. The only relief came when the guards passed out bug-ridden bread and gruel made with half-rotten meat declared unfit for soldiers. But the half-starved Dakota shoved it into their mouths with trembling fingers, hoping it would stay down, not really surprised if it didn’t.

They were in prison because of something begun by a half-dozen braves six moons ago. An argument over a few stolen eggs ended in war, with hundreds of Dakota taking vengeance against the whites encroaching on their traditional way of life. No one knew how many had died, but everyone knew stories of atrocities. No one cared if all the stories were true or not. Everyone in power wanted the Indians gone from Minnesota. Many wanted them all dead.

Daniel Two Stars was among the dozens of Dakota men who had refused to fight. A recent convert to Christianity, he did what he could to protect his family and his missionary friends. He managed to avoid disaster—until he made the mistake of trusting the army. Leaving the girl he loved and the children she cared for safe at Fort Ridgely, Daniel had returned north to the Dakota camp planning to interpret for his Dakota friends who did not speak English and the army commission conducting trials. What he did not know was that the army of the Great Father in Washington had redefined justice. Those in power had decided that every Indian was guilty—unless proven innocent.

The irony of his rescue still made Daniel smile a little. While everyone expressed their outrage at the way captive women had been treated, one of those captive women—a spinster missionary—strode up and defended him. “Captain,” Miss Jane Williams had said, putting her hand on Daniel’s shoulder, “if you harm this man I will shoot you myself!”

Thanks to Miss Jane’s testimony, Daniel was declared innocent of any crimes. Again, he stayed to help his friends. But then the missionaries all left to untangle their own devastated lives. Daniel Two Stars’s identity was confused with another man named Rising Star. Based on eyewitness reports about Rising Star’s crimes, Daniel was forced into prison along with the guilty. Initially he protested. “I know Rising Star. I saw him ride out of camp with Little Crow and the rest of his warriors. He is gone from here.” He gave up protesting when an irate soldier named Brady Jensen nearly broke his jaw with the butt of his rifle.

After the trials concluded, the Dakota were divided into two groups. Hundreds of women and children and old men were sent, upriver to Fort Snelling. Guilty of nothing, they were still sentenced to life inside a stockade until the powerful could decide what to do with them. Three hundred “guilty” Dakota men were driven like cattle through the streets of New Ulm, a town twice attacked by Little Crow and his hostile warriors during the uprising. White people came out to meet them, raising clenched fists in the air as they screamed for vengeance. Daniel kept his eyes on the road, trying not to hear the words as the throng raged, “Exterminate them!” “Savages!” “Murderers!” He was nearly knocked unconscious when a woman screaming, “They killed my family, they killed my family!” hurled a