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Colonel Stutsman


August of 1862 marked the beginning of the US-Dakota Conflict, resulting in the death of several hundred Minnesota settlers. When US troops moved against the American Indian forces, they pushed them west into Dakota Territory. The effect on the territory’s capital city, Yankton, was almost immediate, worsening the relationship between local Native Americans and the rapidly expanding white settlements.

When word reached Yankton of the murder of a Sioux Falls judge and his young son, capital-city residents feared the worse. The governor and other members of the territorial government fled, leaving 300 terrified settlers in a hastily constructed earthen stockade around Yankton.

Some local leaders refused to leave, including Enos Stutsman. On first appearances he seemed an unlikely leader in the military defense of a city. Enos Stutsman was born with no legs, relying on custom-made crutches. But despite his physical limitations, Stutsman was a powerhouse with a quick mind, powerful upper-body and deadly accuracy with a gun.

Although his official designation during the crisis remains unclear, sources suggest he may have been appointed paymaster general of the militia, with the rank of colonel. But Stutsman had no intention of remaining a mere administrator during the defense of the city. Known widely for his shooting prowess, he was fully prepared to use his skill in defense of his home. One US Cavalry sergeant later remarked that Stutsman “was throughout the trying ordeal constantly to be found at the post of danger with his rifle swung across his back and his revolver strapped to his waist, from which…position its muzzle dragged on the earth…” “And no man,” the cavalry sergeant continued, “was more ready to sacrifice his life, if need be, in the defense of the settlers, women and children, although he had neither kith or kin among them.” Another witness described Stutsman “as one of the most active, courageous and sensible members of the defending force.”

After several weeks, the threat of attack passed without incident, but Enos Stutsman’s reputation had been secured. He continued to carry the title “colonel” the rest of his life. Colonel Stutsman went on to have a distinguished career in law and politics, representing Pembina in the territorial legislature before his death on this date in 1874.

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall


Gibson, Dale. Attorney for the Frontier: Enos Stutsman. The University of Manitoba Press, 1983.