Learning About Lydia – The Life of Lydia Pettijohn Huggins – Part II

You can read Part I of Lydia’s story at https://dakotasoulsisters.com/2012/07/11/learning-about-lydia/ Part III is found at https://dakotasoulsisters.com/2012/09/13/lydia-huggins-pettijohn-part-iii/

On January 5, 1847, Alexander Huggins made the first entry in his journal from Traverse des Sioux. Lydia and he were working with Robert and Agnes Hopkins at the mission on the Minnesota River. Of their six children, only Eli, who was four years old, and nine-month-old Rufus were at home. For today’s researchers it is difficult to understand these long separations from her children that Lydia experienced and apparently endorsed. Mary Ann’s comment about Lydia rarely speaking to her might lead one to believe that Lydia was aloof or disinterested in her children but a letter she wrote to Fannie Huggins on January 25, 1847, reveals another side of Lydia.

“Rufus has been quite troublesome of late he is not well….” A few days later she adds, “Rufus has been quite sick part of the time and not well any of the time which makes him very troublesome. I think he gets teeth hard.” On February 18, she continues in the same letter, “Day before yesterday Rufus was very sick. I had to sit and hold him nearly all day yesterday. He appeared nearly well but today his is quite unwell again . We feel very anxious about him. He has a dull, heavy look….” Rufus was only nine months old and Lydia was well aware of how fragile life could be for infants who became ill. In the same letter, she says, “I would like to write to Mary Ann (who was living with Fannie) but I write so slow. I hope she is a good girl. I think of her every day. I think [it will be] long till we get her home.” [Minnesota Historical Society: Alexander Huggins Papers]

Rufus survived his illness and Lydia and Alexander had another baby, Frances Gilliland Huggins, born on August 15, 1848.  She and Alexander also served as foster parents to several Dakota children who lived with the family during the Traverse des Sioux years.

One of those children was a little boy, who was two years old when he was brought to Lydia and Alexander. He reportedly had been badly burned when he fell into a fire while his parents or relatives were drinking alcohol. Mary Ann met him when she came home to live with her parents at Traverse in the spring of 1848. She said she “never saw a more patient, amiable little fellow.” Lydia and Alexander both loved the boy, whom they called George, and nursed him to health. Mary Ann, sadly went on to say that “It was less than three years before he began to decline…Mother did everything in her power for him. I know she really loved little George.” Her comments lead us to believe that George must have died in about 1851. [Kerlinger Journal, p. 130]

By that time, Amos, Jane and Eliza had all returned home to Traverse des Sioux from Ohio. They were brought back to Minnesota in the spring of 1849 when Robert and Agnes Hopkins returned from a furlough in Ohio. Lydia and Alexander’s youngest child was born that year. Harriet Cordelia Huggins arrived on March 6, 1851; Lydia was 39 years old.

Julia LaFramboise was eight or nine years old when she came to live with Lydia and Alexander Huggins. She stayed with them until she was in her early teens.

At some point during 1850-51, three Dakota children were taken into the Huggins’ home. Julia LaFramboise, daughter of French fur trader Joseph LaFramboise, Sr. and Oasixheaoui, a Dakota woman whose father was Chief Sleepy Eye,  stayed with the family for five years. Victoria Auge, who was six years old, came at the same time and Julia’s younger brother, Alexis LaFramboise, then ten years old,  moved in a few months later. Victoria’s sister Harriet, who was also ten years old,  came at the same time and lived with Agnes and Robert Hopkins. Mary Ann recalled in her journal that there were 13 around the table for meals that winter. [Kerlinger Journal, p. 146]

Lydia’s kitchen was a popular place in the growing community of Traverse. Mary Ann’s journal mentions many visitors who stopped at their home on the way to Lac Qui Parle or Fort Snelling. Traverse itself was an important river town and in July 1851, it was the site of the signing of the famous Treaty of 1851, which ultimately led to the surrender of the remaining Dakota lands on the Mississippi River. The Dakota agreed to move to two reservations within a ten-mile strip on either side of the Minnesota River between a few miles west of New Ulm and extending to Big Stone Lake in the northwest.

Nancy McClure was described by Frank Blackwell Mayer, who drew this sketch of her in 1851, as “the most beautiful of the Indian women I have yet sen. Her eyes are dark and deep, a sweet smile of innocence plays on her ruby lips and silky hair of glossy blackness falls to her dropping shoulders.” From With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851: The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986.

Hundreds of Indians, dignitaries, missionaries, tourists, and govenment officials descended on Traverse des Sioux for several weeks that summer of 1851. All of the Huggins children were home for the exciting entertainment of the Dakota playing the game of LaCrosse as traders and trappers offered their wares to busy shoppers. Food stands and outdoor eating areas were set up for the crowds and even a public wedding was held when the beautiful young half white/half Dakota girl, Nancy McClure, married David Faribault.

Tragedy struck on July 4, 1851. Robert Hopkins, Alexander’s cousin and colleague at the mission, went down to the river to bathe early in the morning and didn’t return. Agnes became concerned and began to ask people if they had seen him. It was a Dakota girl who finally found his  body in the water. He was 35 years old and his death left Agnes, 25, a widow with three children: Mary Frances, 8; William Johnston, 6; and Sarah Jane, 3.

Robert’s death perhaps influenced Alexander’s decision to leave the mission a few months later. Fellow missionary Jane Williamson wrote to her cousin, Elizabeth Williamson Burgess, on November 29, 1852. “Mr. Huggins has sold his land in Ohio and feels that following the Indian is inexpedient.” [Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta, OH, Jane Williamson Letters #19]

According to Mary Ann’s journal, Alexander took a pre-emption claim in the vicinity of Traverse des Sioux and was appointed postmaster of the village in January 1852. His letter requesting release from the mission was sent to Rev. S.B. Treat of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) on August 15, 1852. He offered to pay $300.00 for the house that the mission had provided to them. Subsequently, the house and property were transferred to him for the token fee of $1.00. [Minnesota Historical Society, Huggins Collection]

By that time, Amos and Jane had been sent off to school at Galesburg, Illinois, where Jane studied for one year and Amos for two. According to a July 22, 1918, letter written to Minnesota historian William Folwell by Alexander and Lydia’s son Eli, “Grandfather’s estate was settled in 1851 and father inherited a modest sum – about $800 – and they built a new house on the farm.” [Eli Huggins letter/Folwell papers, Minnesota Historical Society] The family called their new house “Hickory Hill.” Mary Ann’s journal mentions the happy times they had in their home which they moved into on April 15, 1853. [Kerlinger Journal, p. 173 ]

Lydia continued to offer kindness and hospitality to neighbors, visitors and the many overnight guests who headed for Hickory Hill when they found themselves in need of a place to stay in Traverse des Sioux. Mary Ann recalled that in October 1856, an emigrant’s wife became very ill while her husband and their four children were crossing the area in a wagon on the way to their claim. Lydia took the family in but despite Lydia’s nursing care, the woman died within the week. The husband felt he had no choice but to take his three sons back to Norway but could not see any way that he could care for the baby girl and he left the infant with Lydia. The baby, who was named Kelinka, was called Kittie by the family. Mary Ann recalled that she was raised by Jonas and Fannie Huggins Pettijohn, who had also left the mission work and moved to Traverse in the spring of 1852. Kittie grew up, married and had seven children of her own. [Kerlinger Journal p. 173]

Life for the early settlers of the Village of Traverse des Sioux began to change shortly after the signing of the 1851 treaty. Land in the area had continually increased in price because of its promixity to the river. As more and more settlers poured in the area, they began to seek land at lower prices and gradually a new village, St. Peter, was established less than five miles south of Traverse. It wasn’t long before the old village was losing residents and businesses to the new community of St. Peter. The Presbyterian church in Traverse combined with Union Presbyterian Church in St. Peter in 1853. Still, Alexander’s Hickory Hill home and adjacent farmland continued to increase in value and he was worth several thousand dollars in 1857 when the economy collapsed across Minnesota.

Lydia’s son, Eli Lundy Huggins, has provided researchers with a colorful, detailed and often humerous recollection of the early days of Minnesota in his correspondence with historian William Follwell.

Alexander and Lydia’s son, Eli, shared the following information in the aforementioned letter. “More than a half century ago, my father began to show sings of mental aberation and he went to a hospital for the insane where he stayed 8 months.” Alexander’s brother-in-law, Jonas Pettijohn, writes in his own biography that he took Alexander to Ohio for treatment at an institution in Columbus. While awaiting the proper paperwork to commit him to the hospital, Alexander stayed with his brother Amzi near Sardinia, Ohio. He then made a full recovery and returned to Traverse des Sioux where he took up his role as an Elder in the church and resumed farming. [Jonas Pettijohn Autobiography, p. 60, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection]

Various sources indicate that Alexander’s breakdown was the result of an ever increasing anti-slavery passion that overcame his ability to act or speak rationally. It was the eve of America’s Civil War and the battle between abolitionists and slave states was heating up across the country. Both the Huggins family and Lydia’s family, the Pettijohns, were active participants in the Underground Railroad in Ohio and it may be that Alexander felt he hadn’t done enough to end slavery himself.

Whatever the cause of his illness, none of the journal-keepers in this family mention how Lydia reacted to his absence, nor what her thoughts may have been about his treatment in Ohio. Her two oldest children were married by the time Alexander left. Amos had met and wed Sophia Josephine Marsh in Illinois in the spring of 1856. They had joined the family farming operation at Traverse by 1857. Jane married James Holtzclaw on April 28, 1856; they were also also living at Traverse when Alexander was hospitalized. Eliza, 20; Mary Ann, 18; Eli,15; Rufus, 11; France, 9; and Harriet, 6, were still at home.

Lydia had a brother, Eli Pettijohn, who was a successful businessman in St. Paul. He and his wife Lucy Prescott Pettijohn, had four children by 1857. Lydia’s sister Harriet was also in Minnesota, living in West St. Paul Township with her husband, Sylvester Cook, and their five children. I have found no information on whether Lydia was given any financial support or assistance during Alexander’s hospitalization.

By 1861, Lydia and Alexander, now fully recovered, were settling into the next phase of their time together. Amos and his wife Sophia, accepted a position at a new government school being established at Lac Qui Parle village in November of that year and they left Traverse with three-year-old Eletta and baby Charles. Eliza also left home that year, accepting a teaching position in the mission at Hazlewood near the Upper Agency. Mary Ann, who was now 22 years old, recalled in her journal that she had a conversation in 1861 which foreshadowed events to come. She wrote: “About a year before a young Indian had told me that an uprising was planned around the council fires. I said, ‘No, they can’t be so foolish; they are so few.’ Yes, but the Chippewa and Winnebagos are going to help and they will be a great many.” Mary Ann closed her thoughts by saying, “Still I never dreamed it would come.”

But come it did and Lydia was about to enter into one of the most difficult and tragic periods of her life.

This entry was posted in Dakota Mission, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Minnesota History, Traverse des Sioux, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Learning About Lydia – The Life of Lydia Pettijohn Huggins – Part II

  1. Pingback: Lydia Huggins Pettijohn Part III | Dakota Soul Sisters

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