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This past Saturday I drove down to Flandreau, South Dakota, to meet some Dakota friends who are advising me on the novel I’m writing about the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. At the end of our time together, two of them drove me into the countryside to visit the grave of Taoyateduta, the chief better known to Euro-Americans as Little Crow. He was the primary leader of the Dakota in the 1862 uprising.

Taoyateduta was killed by a settler in July, 1863. His body was horribly abused, and certain parts put on public display in Minnesota state buildings for decades. Finally, in 1971, his remains were returned to his family in Flandreau for burial. Interment was in the First Presbyterian Cemetery, in a cement casing to prevent theft.

My friends and I didn’t stay long at the grave site. Wind was sweeping the snow across the prairie. The temperature felt like twenty below zero, and the afternoon sun was dying. But while we were there, a sundog appeared in the sky. It looked much like the one below (I had left my camera in the car, out of respect for the dead).

That sundog in the winter sky felt like a metaphor for this project: trying to find the light in a dark, cold, tragic story.

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.


  • Ginni Davis says:

    Having spent a good deal of my life at Lake Okoboji in Northern Iowa, right on the Minnesota border, this part of history is very interesting to me. I’m anxious to read your book and would love to know when you expect it to be published.

  • Robert Spencer says:

    I empathize with your search for truth in White/Native relations. I am researching and writing a story which takes place in the 1640’s thru 1680’s during the time of the so-called King Philip’s War here in New England. So much time has passed and most of the written history was penned by the English, making it difficult to find the nut of truth.

    • I hear you. I’m constantly running up against all sorts of obstacles, both in the researching and in the writing. And the realities were so complex (and still are), the “truth” depends on where you’re standing, in the moment you’re standing there. In some ways, for me, it seems that complexity is the truth. Good luck with what you’re doing. Keep me posted.

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