Wakan Ozanzan Medicine Bottle

Wakan Ozanzan Medicine Bottle

Mendota, Dakota County, Minnesota, USA
Death 11 Nov 1865 (aged 33–34)
Hennepin County, Minnesota, USA
Burial Body donated to medical science, Specifically: Body stolen and donated to Jefferson College, Philadelphia, Pa., against the wishes of the family
Memorial ID 64427183 · View Source
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A Mdewakanton Dakota of the Sioux Nation who was a wicasa wakan, a holy man. His Dakota name was Wakanozanzan ("Wa-Kan-O-Zhan-Zhan"). He was also known as Rustling Wind Walker and Grizzly Bear. He was a brother of Chief Big Eagle and a member of his band; the son of Chief Grey Iron; and a nephew of Chief Medicine Bottle, who gave him his name. According to his living relatives, he was a gentle man who stood 6 feet and 4 inches tall.

In the tradition of a Dakota holy man, he would have possessed a vision experience, gained from a hanbleceya, in which a spirit being gave power that he could call upon through rituals. He might heal a sick person, aid in hunting or warfare, control the weather, find lost objects, prophesy, or visit the spirit world. As a holy man, he was a valued leader in his tribal community.

By the time he was 34 years of age, the US government's Indian Policy, rooted in the Doctrine of Discovery, had resulted in rampant government corruption. The Dakota way of life was increasingly threatened, with no end in sight. During the winter of 1861-1862, food was so scarce that some Dakota had starved to death. The trust of many Dakota people had been destroyed, fracturing relationships beyond repair. When the US-Dakota War broke out on Aug. 18, 1862, Wakanozanzan made his stand. He would defend his people and their way of life. He gave up his role as a holy man, put away his sacred bundle, and became a warrior and leader in the US-Dakota War.

After the war, US military troops gathered as many Dakota people as they could find - elders, men, women and children - to bring them to an encampment at Fort Snelling. Their number included those who had not participated in the war but in fact opposed it, and had saved the lives of many white settlers. Due to the brutal killings of innocent civilians by hostile Dakota during the war, many Minnesota citizens were outraged and wanted revenge. The military moved the Dakota to the encampment at Fort Snelling for the winter and placed them under guard.

When Congress called for the forced removal of all Sioux from Minnesota in April of 1863, Wakanozanzan fled to Canada with Dakota war leaders Shakpe ("Little Six") and Taoyateduta.

During the winter of 1864, Wakanozanzan and Shakpe were captured by British soldiers in Canada and brought to Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Around this same time, Wakanozanzan's brother Wamdetanka, Big Eagle, was also imprisoned at the Davenport prison camp. He wrote a letter to missionary Stephen Riggs, asking of him only one thing:

My relative, I now want you to help me with one thing. When my brother is made to testify, and they seek a truthful man and you are among them...I want you to speak fairly on his behalf. This is what I am requesting of you.

Wakanozanzan was charged with killing Philander Prescott, a civilian who was a friend of the Dakota for many years; and many "white men, women, and children whose names are unknown" in Brown, Renville, and other counties in the state of Minnesota.

Wakanozanzan and Shakpe were tried in separate trials and convicted by a military commission led by Henry Sibley. Wakanozanzan's trial began on Nov. 28. During the proceedings, Wakanozanzan had no legal counsel present. Missionary Stephen Riggs was not present and did not provide any testimony. Five witnesses were present and testified--Mary Prescott, daughter of Philander Prescott; and four Dakota: Mar-pe-he-de-rawin, Huck-a-pdd-ah-ak-kan-za, Taken-we-chash-tab, and Wak-ke-an-wah-tay. When questioned, all witnesses repeatedly answered that they did not see him kill anyone, didn't know anything, or didn't know anything except what they heard from others. Wakanozanzan's attorneys, Willis A. Gorman and Cushman K. David, defended him by providing a written statement that said the military court did not have jurisdiction over him because he was captured in Canada and and the US had no authority to seize him on foreign territory. Henry Sibley dismissed this argument by claiming that the Dakota men were captured in US territory after the Canadians had forced Shakopee and Medicine Bottle across the border. This was not true; the men had been captured in Canada. Gorman and Cushman's statement also included Wakanozanzan's defense in his own words.

Despite not having jurisdiction, lack of evidence, and testimony based on hearsay, the military commission found Wakanozanzan guilty and sentenced him to death. Had President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the case files, he undoubtedly would have pardoned both men or commuted their death sentences to a prison sentence. But Lincoln had been assassinated in April.

President Andrew Johnson confirmed the death sentences in early November, 1865, and a crude gallows for two was built. On November 11, at 12 o'clock noon, Wakanozanzan was hanged at Fort Snelling alongside his comrade, Chief Shakopee III. Father Augustin Ravoux, a French Jesuit priest and missionary who had been a friend of the Dakota for many years, baptized them, administered their Last Rites, and remained with them through their final moments.

Wakanozanzan's final words were:

I am a common human being. Some day, the people will come from the heart and look at each other as common human beings. When they do that, come from the heart, this country will be a good place.

On Nov. 11, 2015, the family of Wakanozanzan and Dakota tribe members gathered at the site of the execution at Fort Snelling to remember both Wakanozanzan and Shakpe. During the sacred songs and drumming at the beginning of the ceremony, two eagles flew to the site and circled overhead.

Burial Notes

The bodies of Chief Shakpe and Medicine Bottle were placed in coffins in front of the gallows and the lids were closed over them. Each coffin was then carried by four soldiers who took them to the Fort Snelling military cemetery. At some point along the way, or at the grave site, the bodies were removed from the coffins and replaced with rocks. Against the wishes of family members, who were never consulted, doctors stole the bodies for use as medical cadavers for their own use and/or to donate them to medical colleges. This remains a great offense to the Dakota tribe today.

Repatriation and Appeal to Private Collectors

The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law passed in 1990, requires museums and other institutions to return human remains, funerary, sacred objects, and other cultural artifacts to Indian tribes which have the legal right to them.

The Dakota tribe works tirelessly to locate and bring remains and artifacts home for repatriation and preservation according to their traditions. Descendants of Medicine Bottle, led by Sheldon Wolfchild, are working to locate and repatriate his remains and artifacts.

While NAGPRA applies to institutions that receive federal funding, there is no written law on the books yet to require remains or artifacts in all private collections to be returned. However, under the "spirit of the law," the Dakota tribe appeals to the goodwill of private collectors to return artifacts and especially human remains to the tribe. In the spirit of healing and reconciliation, you will be treated with diplomacy and respect.


Isch, John. The Dakota Trials, Including the Complete Transcripts and Explanatory Notes on the Military Commission Trials in Minnesota, 1862-1864. "Tah-Ta-E-Chash-Nah-Manne Case #396," pages 454-475.

Martinez, David. Dakota Philosopher: Charles Eastman and American Indian Thought, p. 16.

Mdewakanton oral tradition and family history spoken at the 150th Commemoration of the Execution of Wakanozanzan and Shakpe, Fort Snelling, Nov. 11, 2015.

Minneapolis Sunday Times newspaper, Minneapolis, Mn., Dec. 9, 1900.

National NAGPRA, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act official web site, http://www.nps.gov/nagpra. Read about NAGPRA, join the mailing list, participate in phone conferences open to the public.

Ravenna Democrat newspaper, Philadelphia, Pa., Nov. 20, 1865.

St. Paul Weekly Pioneer newspaper, St. Paul, Mn., Nov. 23, 1866.

Wambditanka's Letter to Stephen R. Riggs, c. 1864-65, Riggs and Family Papers, box 1. Alan R. Woolworth Papers. Minnesota Historical Society.

See more Medicine Bottle memorials in:

  • Created by: Cindy K. Coffin
  • Added: 19 Jan 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 64427183
  • Sherice Cameron
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Wakan Ozanzan Medicine Bottle (1831–11 Nov 1865), Find a Grave Memorial no. 64427183, ; Maintained by Cindy K. Coffin (contributor 47084179) Body donated to medical science, who reports a Body stolen and donated to Jefferson College, Philadelphia, Pa., against the wishes of the family.