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American History
Another Scottish American Worthy By Richard Waugh


FROM the latest “Border Telegraph” just to hand I learn that my friend, Alex. Harkin, died at his house in St Peter’s, Minnesota, in the middle of September. The worthy son of a worthy father, 1 am proud of the record he had made for himself in the land of his adoption, and would like to put on record some incidents in his history known to very few except myself. His father, Barney Harkin, did little jobs of road-making in the Melrose district, and was an Irishman pure and simple, but was at the same time looked upon as one of the most upright and worthy men in the Melrose of sixty years ago. My own acquaintance with old Barney and his daughter Katie dates back to about 1850, and he was then one of the pillurs of the little Congregational Church of which I shortly afterwards became a member. His dialect was a blend of Irish and Border Scotch, and his fervent prayers for the overthrow of the “strongholds of sin and Sattan” were unique, to say the least. His two sons, Sandy and Barney, had gone to the States before I knew old Barney. They went west to Minnesota fifty years ago, Sandy taking hold at West Newton on the Minnesota River, where I found them both some twenty-three years ago. Young Barney had been home in the meantime and got married. The district was at that time reached mainly by steamboat on the tortuous river, which travelled two or three miles to make one mile direct, and Sandy started a store on the riverside, at which he bought gruin from the farmers in the open country behind, and furs from the Sioux Indians, who lived 011 the other side of the river. Fort Ilidgeley, a little further up the river, was built mainly with an eye to controlling this powerful tribe, and I think Barney served some time in the army at that place. Sandy in due course was made postmaster and a Justice of the Peace, and was known as Squire Harkin, taking cognizance of petty offences, such as selling liquor to the Indians, then as now a criminal offence both there and in Canada.

A few miles down the river was the town of New Ulm, the centre of an almost purely German settlement. To overreach an Indian in trade or sell him drink was by too many of these Germans regarded as good business, and it was to such discreditable tactics that what will there be long known as the “Sioux Massacre” of 1863 owed its origin. The war between North and South was then going on, and taking advantage of this opportunity, when the Militia of the State were far away, the Indians rose and burnt and murdered in a way that will long be remembered for its ferocity. It was at this point in the history of the district that the uprightness of Squire Harkin met with signal recognition from the savage tribes alongside.

There were rumours of trouble before the actual outbreak burst forth in full fury. One morning there rose a fierce clamour across the river, and Harkin took his boat across to reconnoitre. The first thing he saw was a woman fleeing towards him, an infant in her arms, with its head split open by a tomahawk. Her husband and family had just been murdered by the Indians, and there was too good reason to dread a general uprising. Squire Harkin’s store stood in an opeu glade, his house in the shelter of the fine oak timber around it, and at very short notice a few men and many women and children gathered round him. With soldierly decision lie abandoned the house, loop-holed the walls of the store so as to bring hostile visitors within the range of fire from inside. He dealt in fire-arms and ammunition, and made the women fill cartridges to be used by the men in defence of their little stronghold. No Indians appeared, and when night came some of the men crept out to reconnoitre, but never came back, making for St Peter’s, some twenty miles away, to save their own lives.

After waiting days for the enemy the Squire started for St Peter’s, and took his guests there without hostile interruption. Terrible news came in from every hand, the Indians were wild with bloodshed, but none came in from the Newton settlement. All round New Ulm the Germans had either been killed or fled. The Squire finally decided to get out in the direction of his home, which he reached under cover of night. To his surprise he found his place unharmed. He stayed in the store all night—there was some rustling in the bush alongside, but nothing came of it. To his surprise he found next day the whole of his cattle except two, one of which had been seized by the garrison at Fort Ridgeley, the other eaten by the Indians. Friendly spies had noted his return and at once brought in his cattle.

That was, in my opinion, one of the grandest triumphs for “square dealing,” as we call it here, that I ever knew of. If an Indian brought in a pelt for sale or was to be paid fees as a witness against a white offender, he was paid at once in cold cash. There were lots of goods in the store, but he could either buy them or not. Usually he did buy, but it was of his own free will, and the smartest man of the tribe could make no better deal than a boy selling his first catch. I feel pretty certain that if this style of doing business had been followed with the Indians of the Western States as has been consistently followed by the agents of the Hudson’s Bay Co. in our North-West, the Sioux massacre would most likely never have taken place. I could furnish other cases to prove that Indians are as appreciative of kindness and fair dealing as the ones I refer to, and am proud that a friend of my own had the honour to demonstrate as he did that honour and honesty are the very soundest policy everywhere.


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