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Sam “Prairie Paul Revere” Brown

What began as a desperate late night ride to warn of an attack ended poorly for a young military man in Dakota Territory. Sam Brown lost the use of his legs after a fifteen-hour, 150 mile ride one wintry night in 1866 near present day Sisseton, South Dakota.

Legend calls him “Prairie Paul Revere.” He was born on this date in 1845 and raised on the Minnesota frontier. His father was a fur trader and scout, and a major under General Henry Hastings Sibley.

Brown also had Sisseton Sioux heritage through his mother, Susan Frenier. By the time he was twenty-one, Brown had been involved in the Dakota conflict of 1862. He was captured by Santee Sioux in Minnesota and later recovered by Sibley’s troops. His father was appointed special agent to Fort Rice on the Missouri River south of present day Bismarck, North Dakota, and Sam was made chief of scouts, based out of Fort Wadsworth near what is now Sisseton, South Dakota. This is where the legend begins.

A scout told Sam about fresh tracks east of the James River near present-day Jamestown, North Dakota. They assumed they were from Native Americans intent on attacking white settlers. Brown sent a note to the commander at nearby Fort Abercrombie on the Dakota side of the Red River, and lit out at dusk on horseback to warn scouts tenting near present day Ordway, South Dakota. He covered 55 miles in five hours, but upon arrival was told the tracks were related to a call for a peace council at Fort Rice.
Brown headed out again to intercept his dispatch to Fort Abercrombie to avoid a false alarm. He rode through high winds, freezing rain, hail and snow, crossing rivers where he twice spilled from his horse on thin ice. He reached Fort Wadsworth in the face of the storm and collapsed in his cabin, but was able to speak to the commanding officer about correcting his message.

Sam Brown never recovered from the ride. He was disabled for life and never walked again. He became a figure of local history in Browns Valley, Minnesota, and died in 1925 at age 80. The ride of “Prairie Paul Revere” came 91 years and one day after the storied “Midnight Right of Paul Revere” during the Revolutionary War.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


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