Thomas Wakefield

Thomas Wakeman

It was late July. Insects chirped rhythmically in the golden prairie grasses and hardwood groves of western Minnesota. On the prairie, squatting over a hole in the ground, was a boy of 17. His name was Wowinape, a Dakota name that means “To Seek Refuge.”

For 26 days he wandered the Minnesota prairie. He carried along his father’s shotgun, yet had only one cartridge left — with it he shot at a wolf, but only wounded the animal. It ran into its den, a hole in the ground over which young Wowinape found himself standing. He waited patiently for the wolf to stick its head out. Though he had no bullets left for his gun, he had his hunting knife, which he held in his hands while he waited.

It may have been minutes, or it may have been hours. Either way, the wolf eventually peeked out of its den. Wowinape reached out and grabbed the animal, stabbing at it with his knife. The wolf fought back, clawing at the boy and slicing a deep gash in his leg. It was of no use, however, as the knife wounds became too much and the wolf died.

Wowinape took the wolf, skinned it, quartered it and began cutting the meat into thin strips. He then took sharpened sticks and pushed them into the ground, then placed the wolf meat atop of them to dry.

Wowinape was born in 1846. His father was the famous leader, Little Crow. In 1862, his father led a faction of the Dakota in a war against the whites, one that was unsuccessful.

On July 3, 1863, Wowinape and Little Crow were picking berries north of Hutchinson when Little Crow was shot and killed.

Grieving, Wowinape placed new moccasins on his father’s feet, wrapped him in a blanket and fled the scene. Before leaving, he grabbed his father’s shotgun, but the weight of two guns was too much to bear, so he discarded his own and continued on with the other.

Hungry and alone, Wowinape had only one place to go. Some of his people were camped near Devils Lake, so he began on foot the 165-mile trek north.

Not only was Wowinape alone, but he had no food. Luckily, he found a path recently taken by a company of soldiers, and he was able to scavenge some of the food scraps they left behind. With wolf meat drying on sticks, however, the issue of hunger could be set aside for a bit.

Drying meat took time, so Wowinape was forced to wait. During that time, on July 28, he was surprised by a party of acting scouts for the U.S. Army. Ironically, the scouts came from Devils Lake. They took Wowinape to Camp Atkinson, dressed his wounds, fed him and cleaned him up. He was then sent to Fort Snelling where he was confined and sentenced to hang for allegedly taking part in the war.

While in prison, Wowinape converted to Christianity and changed his name to Thomas Wakeman. In 1865, his death sentence was commuted, and the son of Little Crow was granted his freedom. He returned home to Dakota Territory to live with his people. In 1874, he married Judith Minnetonka. They had six children.

In 1879, Thomas Wakeman and a group of friends started a young men’s association called Koskada Okadiciye. In 1885, the association was recognized by the YMCA and renamed the Sioux Young Men’s Christian Association.

At the age of 46, Thomas Wakeman died of tuberculosis. It was a short life, yet it was a long road for the young Wowinape whose journey to seek refuge began on that fateful day in July 1863.

Brian Haines is executive director of the McLeod County Historical Society and Museum, 380 School Road N.W., Hutchinson. Do you have a historical anecdote to share? Haines can be reached at 320-587-2109 or by email at director@mcleodhistory.org.

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