Drifting Goose

Drifting Goose (Magabobdu) was, according to published records, a chief of the Hunkpati Band of the Yanktonai Sioux, who lived from 1821 to 1909. He was born near the library I am sitting in today, in Redfield, South Dakota, a pleasantly situated town of about 2,300 people near the James River.

The historical marker in this photo was put up 56 years ago on Route 212, about three miles west of town. Weathered with the years, it reads in part: “ Before white settlers came, this vicinity was inhabited by the Yankton tribe of the Sioux nation, and numerous reminders of those people can still be seen in the burial mounds, storage cellars and artifacts that have been found….

A sequence of events including the move of Drifting Goose and his band to a reservation brought the white man in greater numbers to the area….”

The Yankton Sioux, or Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate, (People of the End Village) are the westernmost of the seven Lakota (Sioux) council fires, and the Hunkpati are the westernmost of the Yanktonai.

Drifting Goose reportedly resisted longer than most the pressure to cede traditional lands by compulsory treaties to the influx of white settlers in the 1850 and 1860s in the Dakota territories.

He pulled up the surveyors stakes of railroad men and caused the railroad to be rerouted ten miles away from his village, which was located on Armadale Island in the James River.

His band hunted buffalo, and also raised crops, planted corn, gathered berries, and kept livestock.

But as Padaniapapi (Struck-by- the- Ree), another Yankton Chief, is quoted as telling his people on returning from treaty negotiations in Washington DC just before the outbreak of the US Civil War: “The white men are coming in like maggots. It is useless to resist them. They are many more than we are. We could not hope to stop them. Many of our brave warriors would be killed, our women and children left in sorrow, and still we would not stop them.”

The Yankton Sioux ceded 11.5 million acres of land in southeastern South Dakota, for $1.6 million in annuities over 50 years and moved to a 475,000 acre reservation on the north side of the Missouri River in 1859. But Drifting Goose refused to sign any treaties selling the traditional homelands of his band, and white settlement was forced to detour around his camp.

With the buffalo dead or dying, and their hunting lands taken for white settlement, in the harsh winter of 1878, Drifting Goose removed with his band to the Crow Creek reservation on the Missouri River. Returning to his village the next spring he found white squatters living there, the band’s cached crops stolen. That year President Hayes granted Drifting Goose’s band a rare moment of victory, declaring his homelands as Drifting Goose Reservation, but the president rescinded his order a little more than a year later.

Drifting Goose ordered his band to Sisseton where he spent the bitter winter of 1880 in a cotton tent while squatters lived in his comfortable log home. That winter his son died. In the end, he said, "I have struggled for a good cause, but there is no salvation from the white squatter."


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