Sioux City Journal
ST. JAMES, Neb. (AP) _ The tall, stone monument stands amid a quiet, wooded area disturbed only when a vehicle passes by on the county road nearby.
The peaceful setting is in stark contrast to the violence that occurred on this remote Cedar County site 150 years ago, when, on July 24, 1863, five of Henson and Phoebe Wiseman’s children were killed on the Wiseman homestead, located on a bluff overlooking the scenic Missouri River valley.
The tragedy is still known as the Wiseman Massacre, and it recalls a time of tension between Indians and white settlers. Yankton and Santee Sioux Indians were blamed for the killings.
Old newspaper references to the event use terminology that today would be considered politically incorrect. Some might even be sensitive to the deaths being a called a massacre.
If so, it hasn’t manifested in protests or demands for alternative portrayals of the circumstances surrounding the killing of the Wiseman children. Yankton Sioux tribe members haven’t raised concerns about the monument, said Darrell Drapeau, who teaches American Indian Studies at Ihanktonwan Community College in Marty, S.D.
“I think like a lot of other things, time has led people to forget about it,” Drapeau told the Sioux City Journal (
Duane Whipple, a Santee tribe historian, said monument hasn’t caused any controversy or protests among the tribe because most members aren’t aware of it.
“On our side of it, nobody really knows what happened,” Whipple said.
On that fateful day 150 years ago, Henson Wiseman, a member of the Second Nebraska Cavalry, was off fighting in the “Indian Wars,” and Phoebe Wiseman was on her way back from buying supplies in Yankton, S.D. When she arrived home, she found the bodies of sons Arthur, 16; Andrew, 9; and William “Henry,” 8. Daughters Hannah, 14, and Loren, 4, were still alive, but both died within five days.
Many Wiseman descendants remain in the area, but the tragic history isn’t a topic of discussion at family gatherings, said Louise Guy, of Hartington, Neb., whose husband, Louis, is a descendant of Laura Wiseman, born to Henson and Phoebe after the tragedy.
“It’s not talked about very much at all,” said Guy, who in 2002 published “The Wiseman Massacre: The History of the Henson and Phoebe Wiseman Family,” a book she wrote after combing through family papers and old newspaper articles.
Also not discussed is what became of the Indians believed responsible for killings.
“That is never talked about,” Guy said.
The attack appeared to have been unprovoked, but understanding the simmering tensions of the time helps explain why it happened, said Kurt Hackemer, a University of South Dakota history professor.
In 1862, Hackemer said, federal troops and Dakota Indians in Minnesota had engaged in the Dakota War, which ended on Dec. 26, 1862, when 38 Dakota Indians were hanged in Mankato, Minn., an event that remains the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
Indians driven from Minnesota into the Dakotas were angry about the executions and the treatment they had received from the federal government. Some took out their anger on white settlers, Hackemer said.
“There was general unease and general tension,” Hackemer said, although relationships between Indians and settlers in the Yankton, S.D., area were generally peaceful. Still, Hackemer said, it was not unusual to hear of Indian attacks on settlers.
“It wasn’t uncommon, but it’s also not pervasive. It wasn’t happening all the time,” he said.
Guy said the Wiseman monument adds to the lore of those early days of white settlement on the Plains.
When she works at the nearby St. James Marketplace, Guy said, it’s common to hear visitors talk about visiting the site. Part of the attraction, she said, rises from an interest in frontier history. The Wiseman Massacre moniker also piques the interest of travelers who see signs directing traffic to the site off of Nebraska Highway 12.
“I think massacre in general is part of the attraction,” Guy said.
Information from: Sioux City Journal,