Contrary Mary – The Story of Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs – Part III

Mary and Stephen Riggs’ years at Traverse des Sioux were always shadowed by Mary’s intense grief at the death of her brother Thomas. His grave was visible from their house and Mary planted it with roses and fenced it in to mark the spot. Her letters home during the months following Thomas’ death all begin with memories of him and with questions about what her parents will do with his property which Mary felt should be sold and the proceeds given to her sister Henrietta to assist with her education.

Nothing remains today of the original mission buildings at Traverse des Sioux. The village was eventually absorbed into the current City of St. Peter, Minnesota. The Green Lawn Cemetery, also known as the Traverse Cemetery or the Old Settler Cemetery still exists as does the marker commemorating the site of the 1851 treaty. The Nicollet County Historical Society operates an interpretative center at the site. Signage along the walking trail that begins at the center describes the history of the site. It is believed that Thomas Longley's grave was located near the center and that his body was moved to the old cemetery at some point.

Nothing remains today of the original mission buildings at Traverse des Sioux. The village was eventually absorbed into the current City of St. Peter, Minnesota. The Green Lawn Cemetery, also known as the Traverse Cemetery or the Old Settler Cemetery still exists as does the marker commemorating the site of the 1851 treaty. The Nicollet County Historical Society operates an interpretative center at the site. Signage along the walking trail that begins at the center describes the history of the site. It is believed that Thomas Longley’s grave was located near the center and that his body was moved to the old cemetery at some point.

Mary had little to occupy her time at Traverse during their first year there. Only three or four Dakota students attended school, they had no organized church, and Mary had the help of Julia Kephart, who had come out with them from Ohio in May of 1843.[1] Julia’s work was to be the teacher for the Riggs’ children, leaving Mary free to her carry out her domestic chores. For the first few months, Jonas and Fanny Huggins Pettijohn stayed at the new mission site to assist with the establishment of the school. The original plan had been for Robert and Agnes Hopkins to join the mission work in the summer of 1843, but they had remained at Lac qui Parle after Agnes gave birth to their first child, Mary Francis Hopkins on September 10, 1843, postponing their departure until the spring of 1844.

Mary continued to struggle with her study of the Dakota language, although she was able to work with a few little Dakota girls to teach them English. Writing to her mother on October 11, 1844, Mary expressed her feelings. “…Sometimes I feel very sad and fear we are doing little or no good, and then again I am somewhat comforted and hope brightens the dark future.”[2] She continued on October 16, “We have an airtight stove, which was given us, in the room and use it every morning while the children attend Miss Kephart’s little school. The time which she proposes remaining with use will expire next spring and then what can we do and how can we teach the children and preform all other duties, are queries that often arise before me.”[3]

Another child was born to Mary and Stephen on April 13, 1845. Anna Jane was named after Stephen’s mother Anna and his sister Jane. Julia Kephart returned to Ohio a few weeks later and Mary complained to her mother in a letter dated June 30, 1845, “Sometimes I feel quite discouraged – the children have no school they can attend, and I must either neglect them or something else – domestic duties must receive attention and setting aside sewing, my hands are full. Perhaps I might not complain thus less it should grieve you, but I do it to relieve my own spirits by seeking a mother’s sympathy.”[4]

In the same letter Mary mentioned that her father had indicated they might send a box of supplies and Mary provided a long and detailed list of exactly what it needed, both for her children and for Robert and Agnes Hopkins’ little girl. She mentioned that she had put down their ages and sizes as they would be if they all lived another year – a bleak reality for any parent at that time. She also listed several items she could use for herself and for the house and then writes, “Or if, instead of these things you should choose to send Mr. Riggs a pair of pants I am sure I will not complain, for the making of pantaloons is a more formidable task to me than dresses and chemise.”[5]

Mary doesn’t mention whether Stephen ever received his pair of pants but the following year the Riggs were sent back to Lac qui Parle, where they moved back into their bedroom above the schoolroom at the Williamson mission in September 1846. The Williamsons were headed for the new mission at Kaposia; Lydia and Alexander Huggins were taking over the work at Traverse des Sioux with Agnes and Robert Hopkins, and Stephen and Mary were going to work with Jonas and Fanny Pettijohn Huggins at Lac qui Parle.

Mary was not at all happy with the move. She wrote several times to her parents and siblings about how much she missed their home at Traverse and the opportunity to visit her brother’s grave. She found the Dakota at Lac qui Parle to be rude and expressed how tired she was of their constant begging. She was also tired, possibly because she and Stephen had another child on June 3, 1847. They named him Thomas Lawrence Riggs after Mary’s brother. Mary was now 34 years old and had the new baby and four children. Alfred was nine; Bella was seven; Martha was five and Anna was two years old.

The next summer, when Thomas was almost a year old, Mary and Stephen finally got their own home at Lac qui Parle. It was a one-story house with a sitting room, kitchen and two bedrooms on the lower floor with provision to add two bedrooms on a second floor when they could be completed. Mary was hoping that a young woman could be found who would come to help her with the children but thought that prospect rather discouraging. In October 1848, however, they were joined by Moses and Nancy Rankin Adams, newly arrived missionaries to serve the Lac qui Parle station. Mary and Stephen gave up their kitchen and one bedroom to provide a home for the couple.[6]

Mary's father is buried in the Doane Cemetery in Hadley, Massachusetts. It took more than five months for Mary to receive word of his passing.

Mary’s father is buried in the Doane Cemetery in Hadley, Massachusetts. It took more than five months for Mary to receive word of his passing.

Mary’s letters during this time reflect her constant desire to visit her parents and to convince her sister Henrietta to come out and join her at the mission. She longed for her children to know their grandparents and described their antics and personalities in detail in an effort to make her parents feel they knew them personally. It was a shock when Mary received a letter on February 6, 1849, telling her that her father had died several months earlier on September 22, 1848. Mary wrote back immediately, asking her mother and Henrietta to come out to visit them. On June 12, 1849, Mary wrote “…And then if Henrietta could be with us next fall or spring I should feel that our children would not be so much in danger of growing up like the heathen.”[7]

Henry Martyn Riggs married Lucy Maria Dodge of Grafton, Massachusetts, in 1878. The wedding was held at Alfred Riggs' mission station at Santee, Nebraska. The couple joined Thomas Riggs at his Fort Sully Mission where they worked for some time until moving to Lucy's home in Grafton.

Henry Martyn Riggs married Lucy Maria Dodge of Grafton, Massachusetts, in 1878. The wedding was held at Alfred Riggs’ mission station at Santee, Nebraska. The couple joined Thomas Riggs at his Fort Sully Mission where they worked for some time until moving to Lucy’s home in Grafton.

A few weeks later Mary and Stephen had another baby, a boy named Henry Martyn Riggs, born on September 25, 1849. Mary was pleased that a young woman, Martha Ann Cunningham, had come out from Ohio to serve and she was providing regular daily school classes for the children.[8] Mary still pleaded that her sister Henrietta come to take Miss Cunningham’s place when the latter was to return home in November. By early spring of 1850, Mary wrote of making plans for her mother and Henrietta’s visit, including how she had new down pillows ready for them and agreeing with Stephen that they would give up their bedroom when they arrived.

It was not to be. Henrietta, who had contracted what Mary called lung disease in 1849, died at her mother’s home on September 9, 1850, at the age of 23 years. Mary learned of her death in a letter from her mother dated October 25, 1850. A few months later, she received a copy of the Oberlin Evangelist, a mission paper, and learned that her brother Alfred had also died at the age of 41 years on March 16, 1851. He left a widow, Julia and their son Charles.

Less than a month after Mary learned of Alfred’s death, she and Stephen received the news of fellow missionary Robert Hopkins’ tragic death by drowning at Traverse des Sioux on July 4, 1851.  He had succumbed to the current in the very same river where Mary’s brother Thomas had drowned in 1843. The messenger who brought the news of Robert’s death also carried an urgent request that Stephen come to Traverse des Sioux to assist with the treaty negotiations and Stephen left immediately.

It was perhaps good timing for the grieving Mary that she and Stephen were able to return to family and friends in the east a few weeks later. They left Lac qui Parle on September 1, 1851. The children were distributed to the care of others along the way. Martha, 10 years old, and Anna, aged seven, were left with Rev. E. E. Neill’s family in St. Paul. Thomas, who was six, was dropped off at Kaposia to stay with the Williamson’s. Alfred, aged 14, was sent down to school in Illinois. Isabella, aged 12, accompanied Mary and Stephen to Mary’s mother’s home in Hawley, Massachusetts, with little Henry, who was almost three years old. They stopped at Traverse des Sioux on the way and the newly widowed Agnes Hopkins and her four children joined them for their sad journey home to southern Ohio.

Mary, Isabella and Henry spent the winter with Mary’s mother at her mother’s sister’s home in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Stephen went to New York City and spent seven months engaged in editing the grammar and dictionary of the Dakota language which was published by the Smithsonian Institution. Mary’s own English and Dakota vocabulary that Stephen had encouraged her to write, was also published that same year by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Stephen and Mary, along with Bella and Henry, headed for home in June 1852. They stopped in Philadelphia on the way and gradually gathered all six children together. They had also picked up two new recruits for the mission, sisters Lucy and Mary Spooner of Kentucky, who agreed to spend two years at Lac qui Parle.[9]

Things were changing once again for the mission families, however. The Treaty of 1851 laid the groundwork for the removal of the Dakota people to two new reservations in western Minnesota. Jonas and Fanny Pettijohn decided to leave the mission and staked a claim in Traverse des Sioux before the Riggs returned from out east. Alexander and Lydia Huggins also left the mission and took up farming at Traverse. Gideon and Samuel Pond chose to stay in Bloomington and Shakopee, Minnesota, respectively, where both established Presbyterian congregations for the white settlers who were pouring into the newly opened land. In 1852, Moses Adams received an invitation to take charge of the Presbyterian church at Traverse des Sioux and he also left the mission. Stephen Riggs wrote: “The Dakota mission was now reduced to its lowest terms; only Dr. Williamson’s family and my own remained. If the Lord had not given us the victory when we were many, would He do it when we were few? We were sure He could do it…So we toiled on with good hope…”[10]


[1] Julia Ann Kephart was from Ripley, Ohio. The only information about her is found in Mary and Stephen Riggs’ memoirs. She returned to Ohio after her two years of service and reportedly lived with her sister there. I have not found any marriage or other information about her.

[2] Riggs, Maida Leonard, Ed.,  A Small Bit of Bread and Butter: Letters from Dakota Territory, 1832-1869; Ash Grove Press, 1996, p. 165 (hereafter A Small Bit)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 169

[5] Ibid., p. 171

[6] Rev. Moses Newton Adams was a cousin of Stephen Riggs. He married Nancy (aka Anna) Rankin in Ohio on July 8, 1848, and they arrived at Lac qui Parle to begin their new ministry on September 30, 1848. Nancy and her sister Sarah will both be featured in a future Dakota Soul Sisters post.

[7] Ibid., p. 192

[8] Martha Ann Cunningham was born in October 1832 in Virginia and volunteered to serve at the Dakota missions for two years. She arrived in June 1848, lived with the Samuel Pond family for the first year and then came to Lac qui Parle in June of 1849. She returned home and married James P. Rogers in April 1853. Her brother, Hugh Doak Cunningham, and his wife, Mary Ellison Cunningham, were in charge of the boarding school at the Hazlewood Mission from 1857 until the U.S. Dakota War of 1862.

[9] The Spooner sisters were cousins of Moses Adams and came from Kentucky. They arrived at Lac qui Parle in September of 1852. Mary lived and worked with Moses and Nancy Adams for two years before returning to Ohio where she graduated from the Western Female Seminary in 1858. She married Leonard Worcester in the fall of 1858. His parents were missionaries to the Ojibwe. Lucy Spooner lived with the Riggs at Lac qui Parle until 1854 when she returned to Kentucky and married William Drake.

[10] Riggs, Stephen R., Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux, published March 1880 and reissued by Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, MA, 1971, p. 125-126.

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This entry was posted in Julia Kephart, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Lucy Spooner Drake, Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs, Mary Spooner Worcester, Minnesota, Minnesota History, Moses Newton Adams, Nancy Rankin Adams, Traverse des Sioux, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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