SURPRISE ATTACK AT REDWOOD FERRYOn the morning of August 18, 1862, Captain John Marsh, 46 soldiers, and interpreter Peter Quinn left the fort to respond to news of violence at Lower Sioux Agency. After an 11-mile march, the soldiers prepared to cross the Minnesota River at the Redwood Ferry. At the ferry, Sunka Ska (White Dog), leader of the farmer Indians, called out, "Come across the river." Suspicious, Marsh ordered his men to stay put. Dakota warriors, concealed in the brush on both sides of the river, opened fire on the soldiers. Quinn and 23 soldiers died in the attack.
Under fire and desperate to return to the fort, the surviving soldiers worked their way down the river for four hours. Marsh decided that their only chance was to cross the water. Taking his sword and revolver in hand, he led the way. Midway across, he lost his footing and drowned. The remaining soldiers straggled back to the fort under the cover of darkness.
What Did Sunka Ska Really Do at the Ferry Site?
There are conflicting stories of what happened at the ferry. In the official report of Lieutenant T.J. Sheehan, commander of Fort Ridgely during the attack, Sunka Ska was said to have calmed the soldiers' fears at the ferry: "Come across; everything is right over here." A soldier seeing Dakota warriors hiding in the bush gave a warning shout. Then "White Dog leaped back," stated the report, "firing his gun."
In 1894, Wambdi Tanka (Big Eagle) recalled that, "they (Dakota warriors) said that White Dog did not tell Mr. Quinn to come over, but told him to go back."
Testimony given by a soldier at Sunka Ska's trial offered a very different picture: the farmer Indian carried not a gun but "a big tomahawk, and was all painted over, red." The soldier asserted that Sunka Ska distracted Marsh and then "waved his hand to the Indians and gave them the order to fire." After his trial, Sunka Ska was hanged in December 1862.
Redwood Ferry is located 11 miles away in this direction.
Minnesota Historical Society