Tatidutawin – A True Dakota Soul Sister – Part II

By the summer of 1851, Catherine, now sixty years old and widowed, took great pleasure in studying the Bible and reading everything she could find that was written in the Dakota language. Fanny Huggins, who had known Catherine since 1839, wrote in her memoir: “I taught her to read after she was forty years old. It took her nearly two years to be able to read without spelling. When she could read right along, she was the gladdest woman. She wanted to read all the time, said she could scarcely stop to do her housework.”[1]

The 1851 Treaties resulted in the removal of nearly every Dakota band from their villages on the Mississippi River to the newly created Upper and Lower Sioux Agencies on the Minnesota River. The migration also included the Williamson family, who left the Mdewakanton Dakota village of Kaposia and relocated with the Indians. They established a new mission near the Yellow Medicine River called Pajutazee, about three miles from the site of the Upper Sioux Agency where the government was building several new structures for the reservation employees and related reservation activities. Over the course of two or three years, the Dakota gradually arrived and set up their own villages, with most in place on the reservation by 1854.

That same spring, the Riggs home at Lac Qui Parle burned to the ground when two of the Riggs boys dropped a lighted candle in the cellar. The family all managed to escape, except for their pet cat, but they lost everything they owned. Stephen Riggs immediately sent word to Thomas Williamson of their plight and within a few weeks, Stephen and his wife Mary were at Yellow Medicine searching for a good site to build a new house and mission.

Catherine, along with her teen-aged daughter Sarah and her two sons and their families, also moved to Yellow Medicine in 1854. Both of the sons, Lorenzo Lawrence and Joseph Kawanke, became members of Stephen Riggs’ Hazlewood Republic in October 1855. This unique community was an association of Dakota and mixed blood farmers that was designed to promote adoption of white customs and culture. Lorenzo was the first in the group to pursue U.S. citizenship, petitioning the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1857 and the United States at the local district court. He was the first Minnesota Dakota to attain citizenship in 1861.

It was also early in 1861 that Catherine lost her eyesight. Fanny Huggins wrote: “When she was over 70 years old her eyes failed till she couldn’t see with glasses…She said she had loved to read and had read everything she saw in the Indian language, she couldn’t read now but she had 80 hymns she could sing if she couldn’t see.”[2]

Like everyone else in Minnesota in August of 1862, Catherine’s family was completely uprooted and devastated by the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War. As news of the killings at the Lower Sioux Agency spread to Hazlewood on August 18, 1862, Catherine went to Lorenzo and, according to Stephen Riggs, wanted to go with him as he tried to get his own family out of the area to safety. She instead encouraged Lorenzo to rescue as many of the white families as he could. She would remain with her daughter Sarah and Sarah’s husband, Robert Hopkins Chaska. [3]

Lorenzo rescued the DeCamp family of four who were being held captive in the warring camp and, together with own family and six members of the Robideaux family, got everyone to safety at Fort Ridgley. He was also one of the men responsible for smuggling Thomas, Margaret and Jane Williamson out of Pajutazee where they were able to eventually reach safety at St. Peter, Minnesota. Catherine, along with Sarah and her family, were among the 1300 women and children who were led across Minnesota to the internment camp at Fort Snelling where they spent the winter of 1862-1863. Lorenzo, and apparently his brother Joseph, were among the few Dakota men who were never charged with participating in the war. As such, they and their families were also interned at the fort that winter.

Catherine’s daughter Sarah lived in constant fear for her husband, Robert Hopkins Chaska, who had been arrested, tried and sentenced to death by the military court following the end of the fighting. While Robert remained in prison, first in Mankato and then at Davenport, Iowa, Sarah and their children, Lorenzo and his family, along with Catherine, were taken to a newly established reservation in Crow Creek, South Dakota. Many died of sickness and starvation at the new location which was an arid desert with no game to hunt and without sufficient food supply or assistance from the government. Catherine and her family survived and were resettled on the Niobrara Reservation in Nebraska in 1866. From there, Catherine and Lorenzo’s family moved to the newly established Sisseton/Wahpeton Reservation at Lake Traverse in 1867.

Sarah’s husband Robert escaped execution due to the pleas to General Sibley and President Lincoln made by several of the missionaries. He was pardoned in 1864, but remained with the prisoners at Davenport as their spiritual leader until they were all released in 1866. Robert spent the remainder of his life serving in the Dakota Presbytery.

Catherine’s son Joseph Kawanke did not go with the family to Crow Creek but was among those Dakota men selected to serve as scouts for Sibley’s ongoing punitive wars against the Dakota in the years following the war. He died in 1865 while serving with Sibley’s forces.

On March 20, 1868, Catherine wrote to Jane Huggins Holtzclaw, one of the original missionary children who was brought to Lac Qui Parle at the age of seven months in 1835. Catherine’s letter was translated into English by Albert Riggs and was sent from Fort Wadsworth to Jane in St. Peter, Minnesota. Catherine wrote: “We are badly off for food. Day by day they knock off bark and eat it. My young sister, [meaning Jane] I remember you. I believe I shall see you in heaven. I have brought up another girl but as I am now helpless I wish you to have her. This is the girl’s name. She is called Nani and she is five years old. I wish that she might grow up hearing God’s word. I am unable to do it. I wish you to have her as long as you live, and if you agree you will write me a letter. And also you will tell Dowandutawin/Scarlet Singer that I thank you for the blanket you gave me; by it I am now warm. I shake hands with you both – Catherine Totidutawin”[4]

The Brown Earth Church was established in 1877 by a band of Dakota Christians who left the reservation in an effort to estabilsh their own farming community in what is now Grant County, South Dakota.

The Brown Earth Church was established in 1877 by a band of Dakota Christians who left the reservation in an effort to estabilsh their own farming community in what is now Grant County, South Dakota.

In 1877, Catherine and Lorenzo were among those who left the reservation and established a new mission church at the Brown Earth Settlement in what is now Grant County, South Dakota. In the fall of 1887, Catherine made and donated an elaborate hand-made quilt to the Dakota Missionary Society for one of their events. She died on September 7, 1888, at Brown Earth and is buried in the Ascension Church Cemetery at Sisseton, South Dakota. She is believed to have been 97 years old at the time of her death.

Catherine and Lorenzo BW Cropped.oldThis photograph of Catherine with her oldest son Lorenzo Lawrence is included with the permission of Marlin Peterson who located the image a few years ago. Up until the image surfaced, Catherine and Lorenzo’s descendants had never seen a photograph of either of them. There is no indication of where the photo was taken or who the photographer may have been. It could be anywhere on the Coteau des Prairie in South Dakota, perhaps near the Brown Earth Settlement where Catherine died in 1888.


[1]  Pettijohn, Frances Huggins, “Family History of the Huggins Family,” 1886, Huggins Papers, manuscript collection, Minnesota Historical Society

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stephen Riggs to Mary Riggs, Sepember16, 1862, Minnesota Historical Society, Riggs Collection.

[4] Catherine Tatidutawin to Jane Huggins Holtzclaw (translation by Alfred Riggs) March 20, 1868. Minnesota Historical Society Alexander Huggins Collection. Dowandutawin is Jane Williamson, who also lived in St. Peter in 1868, and who had apparently donated a blanket to Catherine which Jane Holtzclaw sent to Catherine at the Lake Traverse reservation. I have found no information on what happened to Nani.

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This entry was posted in Catherine Tatidutawin, Dakota Mission, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Joseph Kawanke, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Lorenzo Lawrence, Minnesota History, Robert Hopkins Chaska, U.S. Dakota War of 1862, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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