Book explores how an Adams native urged Lincoln to show empathy for condemned Indians

Gustav Niebuhr, author of ‘Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors.’  Norm Johnston / NNY Living

Gustav Niebuhr, author of ‘Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, A Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors.’ Norm Johnston / NNY Living

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln faced a decision: Should he allow his Army to carry out the deaths of 303 individuals?

At a time when the Civil War was raging and word of mass death came to doorsteps daily, a decision to send the condemned men to their deaths may have not raised many eyebrows. Indeed, public opinion favored death for the convicted and even the “extermination” of their kind.

But the president’s decision to spare all but 38 of the men — Dakota Indians in Minnesota — may have been influenced by the pleas of an Adams native who urged Lincoln to look at the big picture and not do something that would haunt the country and go against its better nature.

The episode is explored in the new book, “Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, a Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors” by Gustav Niebuhr, associate professor of newspaper and online journalism at Syracuse University. It’s published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Washington Post has called Mr. Niebuhr, a former reporter for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, “one of the country’s most experienced religious commentators.”

The idea for his latest book was sparked during a 2009 visit by Mr. Niebuhr to Watertown when he spoke at Jefferson Community College about free speech and tolerance. He was invited to the area by Robert D. Gorman, who was then managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times and who now serves as chief executive officer of the United Way of Northern New York.

Mr. Gorman gave Mr. Niebuhr a tour of Watertown and mentioned some prominent people who were raised in the area.

“He named a couple of names I recognized and one I didn’t, which was Henry Whipple,” Mr. Niebuhr said recently during an interview at the Times. “He said, ‘This was the man who went to see Lincoln during the Civil War about the Dakota Indians.’ I thought this was really interesting. I had never heard of this before.”

Mr. Niebuhr’s research on Henry Whipple uncovered a gallant tale.

“What I would hope is that people would draw something from Whipple’s courage,” Mr. Niebuhr said. “I think he was courageous to stand up as a kind of a one-man movement. There was very little support that he got.”

inspiration

Henry Benjamin Whipple, born in Adams in 1822, was the son of John Hall and Elizabeth Wagner Whipple. Had it not been for another resident of Adams, Mr. Whipple might not have become an advocate of Native Americans.

In his book, Mr. Niebuhr writes that Peter Doxtater became a young Henry Whipple’s “moral tutor” on that subject. Mr. Doxtater, who’d served in the Continental Army and fought the British at the Battle of Oriskany, was taken captive as a child during an Indian raid at a Mohawk River settlement and taken to Canada.

“Doxtater forgot most of his English,” Mr. Niebuhr writes. “He became an Indian.”

He was freed in the 1760s when British soldiers came upon him and his siblings.

So after settling in Adams, old man Doxtater had many tales of adventures to share, and his home “became a magnet for Adams boys” Mr. Niebuhr writes. But Mr. Whipple would not actually meet an Indian until he was 37 years old.

After a year of study at Oberlin College in Ohio, Mr. Whipple went into business with his father, who owned a general store in Adams. He was raised Presbyterian but in 1842, he married Cornelia Wright, a “committed Episcopalian.” His early church affiliation then became Zion Church, Pierrepont Manor, and he was one of the founders of Emmanuel Church in Adams.

He was ordained a deacon in Trinity Church, Geneva, and elevated to the priesthood at Christ Church, Sackets Harbor.

After serving parishes in Rome and Chicago, he was elected the first Episcopal bishop of Minnesota in 1856. Three years later, the Right Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple built a cathedral in Fairbault, Minn. The state was heavily populated by Dakota Indians, also referred to as Sioux.

Mr. Whipple empathized with them as a people under siege from corrupt government officials, unscrupulous merchants and frontiersmen.

“He takes his identity as a Christian missionary bishop very seriously,” Mr. Niebuhr said. “He believes he’s in Minnesota not just to serve whites, who are settling there, but the Indians as well.”

dakota war

Mr. Whipple wrote many letters to politicians in Washington, D.C., about what he saw as the poor treatment of Indians on the Minnesota frontier. He wrote several letters to President James Buchanan and his successor, Lincoln.

“Even when the Dakota War breaks out in August of 1862, and so many whites, including the governor of Minnesota, are totally alienated from the Indians and blame the entire war on them, Whipple has a way of fitting what’s happening to his view of how the Indians have been treated,” Mr. Niebuhr said.

About 500 white settlers lost their lives in the war, according to the Indian Affairs Council of Minnesota. The council said that hundreds of Indians also died, but many were credited with saving the lives of settlers.

President Lincoln dispatched Gen. John Pope, relieved of his duties in the Civil War after defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, to end the war. More than 2,000 Indians were rounded up, and 303 were sentenced to death.

“The public, from the government on down, very quickly called for the extermination of the Dakotas,” Mr. Niebuhr said. “Whipple said, ‘No. You can’t do that. It’s not what we do in a Christian country. People who have committed crimes should be brought to justice, but you can’t bring the hammer down on the entire tribe, particularly when you mistreated them for so long.’”

The author said Mr. Whipple believed that the uprising was brought on by years of poor treatment of Indians.

“He doesn’t make any excuses for them, but he sees a bigger picture, and that’s what he takes to Lincoln,” Mr. Niebuhr said.

He met Lincoln in the early fall of 1862 in Washington when the president had a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation on his desk.

“What better time, with a revolutionary act at hand, than to argue for another change — not one so grand, but one that could curtail the duplicity and suffering to which another large segment of the population was subject?” Mr. Niebuhr wrote in “Lincoln’s Bishop.”

Later, Lincoln said he wanted to study the verdicts of the Indians who were sentenced to death. Mr. Whipple thought Mr. Lincoln would show empathy, even though Lincoln’s grandfather and namesake was killed by Indians before he was born.

“But he was never a man to think in terms of revenge,” Mr. Niebuhr said.

On Dec. 6, 1862, Lincoln ruled that 39 cases of the 303 Dakotas warranted capital punishment. He later commuted the death sentence of another person.

The 38 who were hanged in Mankato, Minn., on Dec. 26, 1862, comprised the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Bills were then introduced to exile Dakota Indians out of the state to reservations farther west. Mr. Whipple fought the bills but couldn’t prevent their passage.

Mr. Whipple died in 1901 and is buried in a crypt in his cathedral.

He left an important legacy, Mr. Niebuhr said. “When people become afraid and they want to point their finger at a particular group, it’s hard to know what’s going to happen,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to enforce the laws that we have and also to give people a fair hearing and trial.”

He added, “When we get scared, we may take it out on an entire people, and it’s something that comes to be regretted later on.”

The details

“Lincoln’s Bishop: A President, a Priest, and the Fate of 300 Dakota Sioux Warriors” by Gustav Niebuhr, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins (hardcover, 210 pages, $26.99, illustrated with 16 photos)

By Chris Brock, Times Staff Writer

 

Little Free Libraries spreading the love of books in unexpected places

Allison F. Gorham stands next to Helen’s Little Free Library near the corner of Sherman and Paddock streets in Watertown, at the home of her late mother, Helen G. Farrell, who was an avid reader. Justin Sorensen / NNY Living

Allison F. Gorham stands next to Helen’s Little Free Library near the corner of Sherman and Paddock streets in Watertown, at the home of her late mother, Helen G. Farrell, who was an avid reader. Justin Sorensen / NNY Living

The tiny library on Paddock Street sticks out like a bookmark tucked into a good mystery novel.

It’s on a post in front of 168 Paddock St. At first look it could be mistaken for a mailbox.

But for neighborhood residents like George L. Marlette of Sherman Street, the box, full of free books, is a carousel of mysteries, biographies and words of wisdom. [Read more...]

Books of local interest

Most read, local authors for the months of January and February: [Read more...]

Books of local interest

####_fea_sign up at sunsise book croppedFormer Port Leyden resident Steve Newvine has self-published a novel centered at a small, fictional, community radio station in the north country.

Mr. Newvine worked part-time at Boonville station WBRV from 1976 to 1979. ”Sign On At Sunrise” follows a few years in the life of a young man who gets hired at a local radio station. He meets a number of people who shape his life in profound ways. Mixed into the story is the death of Elvis Presley in 1977. The author details how radio and television stations across the country reacted to the story as well as how it affected the central character.

“People who know me will see some of the similarities in the narrative,” Mr. Newvine said in a news release. “But I hope anyone fascinated by the decade of the seventies will find something to like from this story.”
Mr. Newvine, who has written several nonfiction books, lives in Merced, Calif. He was a television journalist for more than 10 years, a chamber of commerce executive for more than 10 years and was an adjunct college lecturer teaching writing and public speaking at SUNY Geneseo.

“Sign On at Sunrise” is available at online bookstores and sells for $10.99.

__________

####_fea_war of 1812 bookExelsior Editions, an imprint of the State University of New York Press, has released “America’s First Crisis: The War of 1812” by Robert P. Watson.

Mr. Watson describes how anger in America over the harassment of its merchant ships by the British Royal Navy turned into an all-out effort to fend off a British invasion. The author shares stories of battles, leaders and “the most important blunders and victories of the war.”

Mr. Watson is a professor of American studies at Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.
“America’s First Crisis” sells for $24.95 and is available at the publisher’s website, www.sunypress.edu, and at online bookstores.

__________

####_fea_ogdensburg bookFonthill Media has released “Ogdensburg Through Time” by Ogdensburg resident David E. Martin.

The book contains color pictures of some of Ogdensburg’s most notable businesses, bridges, stately residences, churches and public buildings. Each picture is accompanied with a picture of what the subject and sites look like today.

The book sells for $20 and is available at the Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce, 1 Bridge Plaza. It is also available at online bookstores.
Mr. Martin, a retired registered nurse, has written other books on Ogdensburg’s history that have been published by Arcadia Publishing.

Top titles at Flower Memorial Library – November 2013

Top titles by checkout at Flower Memorial Library:

1) Gone by James Patterson
2) Never Go Back by Lee Child
3) Doctor Sleep: a novel by Stephen King
4) Second Honeymoon by James Patterson
5) Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Top 5 eBooks at Flower:

1) Never Go Back by Lee Child
2) The Christmas Visitor : An Amish Romance by Linda Byler
3) 12th of Never by James Patterson
4) 11th Hour by James Patterson
5) Kentucky Home by Sara Title

NNY Living launches book club

wild-by-cheryl-strayed-a-trail-of-tears_articleimageNNY Living magazine is launching a book club. For our inaugural edition, to be published in our December/January issue, we are soliciting input on the memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed. If you would like to participate, please email nnyliving@wdt.net with a two to three sentence review of the book for possible publication. We’re looking to publish brief reviews in your words, either positive or negative. Please call Leah, 661-2381, for more information or with any questions.

Wild tells Cheryl Strayed’s story as she embarks on a journey of healing her body and soul following the death of her mother by hiking more than 1,000 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington state.

Books of local interest

L_UPF_RiversTale_1013WLost Pond Press, Saranac Lake, has released the suspense novel “The River’s Tale,” by Michael Virtanen, a political reporter in Albany for the Associated Press.
The book is a prequel to Mr. Virtanen’s first novel, “Within a Forest Dark,” which in 2007 won the Adirondack Center for Writing award for best fiction.

“The River’s Tale” centers on a woman who flees New York City and abandons an academic career to live with an aunt in a cabin on a remote stretch of the Hudson River in the Adirondacks. She lands a job as a whitewater-rafting guide and falls into a summer romance with her charismatic boss. Life is good until she discovers that the Adirondacks are not the safe haven she thought they were.

The book is $14.95 and is available at lostpondpress.com. [Read more...]

Book lovers launch Web-based book club

A new book club open to anyone with Internet access recently debuted. “Unbound: A Book Club” allows readers to participate from anywhere in the world. Club members read and discuss books together online and learn how to moderate and participate in a live book clubs.

Moderators Betsy Cherepko, an Army wife who is moving from Spain to Texas, Maureen Cean, a grant writer, and Katie Stokes, a freelance writer and creator of the blog www.nnylife.com, are avid readers and writers. [Read more...]

Books of local interest

Arcadia Publishing has published “Association Island” in its Images of America series.

The island, part of the town of Henderson, was once a retreat for General Electric workers. The retreat was formed by a group of businessmen from the incandescent lamp industry whose association competed with GE. [Read more...]

Top titles at Flower Memorial Library – June 2013

The top five titles by checkout at Watertown’s Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library are:

1) “Dead, White and Blue” by Carolyn Hart

2) “Notorious Nineteen” by Janet Evanovich

3) “The Hit” by David Baldacci

4) “Gotcha” by Fern Michaels

5) “Guilt: An Alex Delaware Novel” by Jonathan Kellerman

The top five e-books at Flower Memorial Library:

1) “Starting Now” by Debbie Macomber

2) “The House on Burra Burra” by Jennie Jones

3) “12th of Never” by James Patterson

4) “Joe Doe” by Tess Gerritsen

5) “Blind Alley” by Iris Johansen