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Tatankamani led the Red Wing Dakota from alliance with Great Britain to the U.S.

Though the Mdewakanton Dakota initially fought with the British in 1812, by 1814 the Red Wing group decided to cast their lot with the United States.

Henry Lewis's 1855 lithograph shows Red Wing's village forty years after Tatankamani brought his followers there.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Tatankamani (Walking Buffalo) was a leader of the Mdewakanton Dakota in the upper Mississippi Valley. White settlers who met him as they advanced into the region in the early nineteenth century came to know him and his village as Red Wing.

Tatankamani was born in the some time in the mid-1700s. It is likely his Mantanton family (a sub-group of the Mdewakanton) lived near the mouth of the Minnesota River. His father, also known as Red Wing, was leader of their group of Mdewakanton, and he followed in his footsteps.

As a young Dakota man, Tatankamani displayed great skill in hunting and warfare. Followers believed he possessed supernatural power, the ability to foretell the future through dreams. That advantage led him to many victories over tribal enemies. By the end of the eighteenth century, Tatankamani had expanded his leadership beyond the Mantanton to a larger group of Mdewakanton, earning a regional reputation in the process. He was known by French traders in the region due to his prominence.

In August 1805, twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant Zebulon Pike led the first United States expedition through the upper Mississippi region. Pike met with seven Mdewakanton leaders. In a treaty they signed on September 23, the Dakota granted land in what became the future Minnesota to the United States for first time. According to Pike’s account, le Boeuf qui Marche, (the French name for Tatankamani) was present.

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War broke out between the United States and Great Britain in 1812. This created a problem for Tatankamani, commonly called “Red Wing” by U.S. representatives. The great Mdewakanton fighter and his followers had earlier been British allies. To sort out matters, Tatankamani sent his eldest son to join other Dakota leaders in the City of Washington (Washington D.C.), where they conferred with the U.S. Secretary of War. Red Wing, meanwhile, joined other leaders and met with Great Britain’s representative. The Mdewakanton agreed to fight for the British.

Tatankamani is believed to have led a unit of Dakota soldiers to Mackinac Island in Michigan, helping to gain a bloodless victory over the Americans there. However, upon returning home, he listened to his son’s stories of the United States’ power. By February 1814, the Red Wing Mdewakanton had decided to offer support to the Americans. A letter from British trader Robert Dickson confirms the defection. At war’s end, the victorious United States invited Red Wing to a meeting in St. Louis. On July 19, 1815, he agreed to a treaty as “Tatangamanee, Walking Buffalo,” spokesman for the “Sioux (Dakota) of the Lakes.”

During the war, Tatankamani had moved his village south, to the foot of Barn Bluff in present-day downtown Red Wing. The 300-feet-high riverside promontory was a well-known landmark. Growing numbers of whites traveling up the Mississippi stopped at the village, meeting and talking with the aging Mdewakanton leader. In 1825 Red Wing took part in important discussions with Ojibwe and United States leaders downriver at Prairie du Chien.

Tatankamani died on March 4, 1829, and was succeeded by Wacouta (Wakute, Shooter), his nephew or stepson.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.