What Early Europeans Really Said About the "Sioux"

“…the Sioux were more faithful to their promises, friends to peace, benevolent and hospitable to strangers, humane to their conquered and captive enemies ...” Emma Helen Blair's interpretation (1911) of Nicolas Perrot and the Jesuit Relations descriptions of the "Sioux", ca 1670-1700.

Memoir on the Manners, Customs, and Religion of the Savages of North America by Nicolas Perrot. Edited and published (in French) for the first time (Leipzig and Paris, 1864) by the Reverend Jules Tailhan, S.J. Now first translated in English. In The Indian Tribes of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Region of the Great Lakes. Translated, edited, annotated, and with bibliography and index by Emma Helen Blair. Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1911.

Perrot was a noted Canadian coureurs de bois (fur trader) who spent most of his life among the western tribes. Born in France about 1644, he died on the 13th of August 1717. He accompanied the Jesuits to New France around 1660 and by 1667 he was trading with the native peoples in present day Wisconsin. His remarks about the Dakota, or Sioux, people were some of the first written by Europeans. He wrote his memoir about 1700 but it was not published until 1864.

In footnote 126 (pp. 160-162) Blair describes the "Sioux" and impressions of Perrot and the Jesuits about the Sioux: “The Dacotahs, or Sioux, were in the seventeenth century what they are still today, one of the most powerful and most numerous savage peoples of North America. They were divided into two great sections, the eastern or sedentary Sioux, and the western or nomadic Sioux. The former inhabited, on both banks of the Upper Mississippi, the territory of which Perrot farther on outlines for us the limits. The old Relation of New France designate them under the name Nadouessis (Nadouessiouek, and Nadouessioux). . .The nomadic Sioux, dispersed through the immense plains of the West to the north of the Missouri, extended their inroads and their hunting as far as the Rocky Mountains. The tribe among them nearest to the Nadouessioux figures in the Relation of 1660 (chap. iii) under the name of Poualaks, or warriors. "Perrot in his memoir notices only the eastern Sioux (the Nadouessioux of the Relations), and from what he says of them it is easy to judge that that people were greatly superior, in moral qualities, to the various tribes of either the Algonquin or the Huron-Iroquois stock. As brave as any one of those tribes, the Sioux were more faithful to their promises, friends to peace, benevolent and hospitable to strangers, humane to their conquered and captive enemies to whom they almost always gave their liberty, and whom they did not commence to torture until the law of retaliation (from which a savage never considers himself dispensed) rendered it a sacred duty to them. The Relations of New France are, in reference to the Sioux, entirely in accord with Perrot; and their testimony is here all the less suspicious because it concerns a people who were implacable enemies of the tribes who were evangelized by the religious of the Society of Jesus, the authors of those relations. (See the Relation of 1667, chap. xii; id. of 1671, third part; id. of 1674, chap. ix). To this proved bravery the Sioux-less perfidious than the Iroquois, to whom their courage made them equal-united an inviolable fidelity in their sworn promise, a moderation which did not permit them to attack until after they had been first assailed (Relation of 1670 chap. xi), and, in war, a generous conduct far above that of the Hurons and the Algonquins. Satisfied with having obtained the victory, they most often gave freedom to the prisoners taken in battle (Relation of 1671, chap. iv). All this will doubtless surprise readers who are accustomed, giving credence to modem writers, to picture to themselves the Sioux under a different aspect. Certainly it is a far cry from these people, such as Perrot and the Relation of New France display to us, to the Sioux of the American journals - as cowardly as cruel, as perfidious as vindictive. But as peoples, like individuals, are subject to deplorable transformations, how can one be surprised if the Sioux of today have no longer anything in common with that of former times? Perhaps also, in the moment when they are being exterminated in order to punish them for their cruelties, and especially in order to cleanse more quickly the house which others wish to occupy, in the portrait which has been depicted for us the features have been coarsened or distorted and the colors laid on too heavily. Such procedure is much practiced, and the wisdom of nations has long taken it into account.”