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Waneta, "The Charger"

It was this week in 1825 when Sioux Chief Waneta signed the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. It preserved all lands now in Central Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska for the Native American tribes.  Afterward, Waneta traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with President John Quincy Adams. While there, Charles Bird King painted a portrait of the distinguished Chief.

Waneta was a figure who belonged on canvas. He was a handsome man, with a distinctive dress. Combining both traditional Sioux clothing with British garments, Waneta’s fashion sense was unique. He was also described as graceful, dignified, and reserved. 

Waneta was born in 1795 in what would become Brown County, South Dakota. His father, Red Thunder, was the war chief of the Cut Head band of Yanktonai Dakota Sioux. The tribe’s territory consisted of the James River Basin, reaching north to Pembina.

Growing up, Waneta saw many French, British, and American fur trappers come into his people’s territory.  As these nations competed for dominance, promises were made to tribe. Waneta’s people sided with the British, because they had promised to keep the Americans out.

At 17, Waneta fought alongside his father and fellow tribesmen for the British at the siege of Fort Meigs.  Waneta suffered 6 musket shot wounds, including one that entered his chest and exited his back. Despite this, he went on to kill 7 more men in hand-to-hand combat. It was from this bravery that Waneta received his name, “Wa-Na-Ta”, which means “Rushing Man” or “He Who Charges His Enemies.”

Waneta’s skills in battle were so impressive that he was invited to London. In 1814 he met King George III and received medals for bravery and a captain’s commission. However, Waneta’s allegiance to the British did not last, for the promises made to keep the Americans at bay were not kept.

Waneta became chief of his tribe in 1816 and in the coming decades, he would fight a losing battle against the tide of settlement.  In 1830, the Indian Removal Act signed forced Native Peoples further west and encouraged more settlement. Waneta’s people were forced to leave their home in the James River Valley. They then settled near present-day Emmons County, in North Dakota.

By 1840, Waneta’s health had deteriorated, and he passed away between 1840 and 1848. Although accounts are varied, he was reportedly buried near Fort Rice, on the east bank of the Missouri River.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham




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