Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
Taliaferro’s Last Stand

IF HARRIET DID attend to Taliaferro’s housekeeping that last summer, she would have walked the quarter mile to the agency house to clean and bring him meals each day. The weather had become so hot that the agent declined to ride out to the lakes.1 The master had no horse that summer, and even his black dog was missing. When the mail carrier arrived, he said he thought he had seen the master’s dog in the possession of a lumberman at the St. Croix camp.2

The Mississippi was low, and the waiting Dakota were uneasy with the heat and the prolonged delay of this year’s annuities. Despite occasional rains, the heat was taking its toll on the very young and the old. The sawmill had difficulty providing a sufficient amount of plank for the coffins that were requested. “More deaths than births among the Indians this year,” the agent recorded. “Things bad as they are.”3 The scorching heat had turned the prairie thatch to straw so the prairie couldn’t be used as pasture. The Indians brought their horses across the river to feed on the corn they had planted—the corn crop that was intended to tide the Dakota themselves over the winter.

The heat took its toll on people’s tempers as well. Mrs. Campbell and her husband, the interpreter, fought, and they lately engaged in outright brawls. The interpreter increasingly turned to alcohol, drinking during the day as well as night. Much of the couple’s problems stemmed from the financial setback they had suffered when the company succeeded in eliminating their promised land allotment from the treaty. (Sibley had requested that Taliaferro’s promise to Campbell be scratched from the treaty before congressional ratification.) But it was Mrs. Campbell who had the upper hand in these noisy arguments, and she beat her drunken husband quite severely. The agent remarked that wives were “not justified in knocking out their husband’s brains to enforce their commands.”4

Taliaferro wrote, “Massey lost his child and buried it in my garden’s graveyard.”5 The Masseys lived at the Coldwater Spring and often helped the Agent. This small private funeral was attended by those who felt closest to the Masseys,

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