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

Mary Riggs was 40 years old when the mission at Lac Qui Parle burned to the ground and the family relocated to a new mission site at Yellow Medicine. They arrived in September 1854 and moved into their new home which had been constructed with the lumber that had initially been prepared to rebuild the mission at Lac qui Parle. The wood was moved both overland and via the river to the building site less than three miles from the Williamson mission near the Upper Sioux Agency on the Dakota reservation.

The Riggs home at Hazlewood was at the heart of the new mission which also included the chapel and the boarding school, along with farm buildings. Hazlewood was destroyed in the U.S. Dakota War in August 1862. Once again, Mary found herself homeless with everything she owned gone forever.

The Riggs’ home at Hazlewood was at the heart of the new mission which also included the chapel and the boarding school, along with farm buildings. Hazlewood was destroyed in the U.S. Dakota War in August 1862. Once again, Mary found herself homeless with everything she owned gone forever.

In many ways, the years at Yellow Medicine were perhaps the happiest that Mary ever knew during her life with the Dakota mission. She had been quite ill following the March 1854 fire, but by September she was recovered and involved with making shopping lists and sending off requests to friends and family out east in order to restock her pantry, replace lost furnishings and seek donations in order to keep the children in shoes and clothing. The children were all still at home that first few months at the new mission. Alfred was 16; Isabella was 14; Martha was 12; Anna Jane was nine years old and the two youngest boys, Thomas and Henry, were six and five years old respectively. Within a few weeks of arriving at Yellow Medicine, Mary also realized that she was expecting again. Robert Baird Riggs, known as Robin, was born on May 22, 1855.

The move also brought Mary back into white society for the first time in many years. On September 24, 1854, she wrote to Lucy Spooner, who had returned home to Ohio after the fire:  “In the afternoon Mr. Riggs preached in English to an audience of about 20 grown persons! It was the largest congregation of white people that I have seen this side of Traverse des Sioux.”[1] The new mission was also located at the hub of activity for the Dakota and for the ever expanding community of Agency personnel who lived and worked on the newly established reservations that had been created in 1852. In addition to the easier access to news and mail from home, Stephen and Mary were nearby neighbors of the Williamsons, renewing the friendships which had begun when both families served the first Dakota mission at Lac Qui Parle twenty years earlier.

Mary and Stephen also had the luxury of building a new family home at Hazlewood. They were no longer expected to live in one room above the school or to accommodate both their children and their Dakota students in a small log cabin. The house at the new mission was two floors, with spacious rooms that allowed Mary to serve Thanksgiving dinner to 18, and to enjoy the fact that “all sat down at once.”[2]

Mary’s correspondence in these early Hazlewood years consists of long lists of items she asks people to send and concerns and questions about where to send the older children to college and how to pay their expenses. Stephen Riggs described the situation as follows:

Knox College was founded in 1837 by anti-slavery activists and was the site of the first Lincoln-Doulas debate in 1858. Alfred Riggs began his studies here in 1854, graduating in 1858.

Knox College was founded in 1837 by anti-slavery activists and was the site of the first Lincoln-Doulas debate in 1858. Alfred Riggs began his studies here in 1854, graduating in 1858.

“We had reached the time in 1854, when it became necessary to enter upon some plan to educate our children, beyond what we could give them in our Indian home. Three years before this, Alfred had been at school in Illinois, but that was only a temporary arrangement; now he was seventeen years old and prepared to enter college. Mary and I often discussed the question of ways and means….We had neither of us any patrimony. She received $100 from her father’s estate [Mary’s father died September 22, 1848], and I but a little more than that, and we did not know of any rich friends to whom we could apply for aid. Our salary had been small from the beginning…At this time our family numbered eight, we had an [annual] allowance of $500.00. We were both close calculators, and we never ran in debt. We could live comfortably with our children at home, each doing something to carry the burdens of life. But how could we support one or more away at school. A third of the whole family allowance would not suffice to pay the expense so one, at the most economical of our colleges or schools. To begin the work required faith. We determined to begin, by sending Alfred to Knox College, at Galesburg, Illinois. From year to year we were able to keep him there until he finished the course.

Isabella, Martha and Anna Jane all attended Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio. In this undated photo, the freshman class is participating in what is called "a drill  on 'Tree Day.' " All three of the girls also returned to Hazlewood and taught Dakota students in the boarding school.

Isabella, Martha and Anna Jane all attended Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio. In this undated photo, the freshman class is participating in what is called “a drill on ‘Tree Day.’ ” All three of the girls also returned to Hazlewood and taught Dakota students in the boarding school.

Two years after sending Alfred, we sent Isabella to the Western Female Seminary at Oxford, Ohio. This, however, we were enabled to do by the help which Mrs. Blaisdell and other Christian friends at the Second Presbyterian Church Cincinnati, gave.

“In various ways the Lord helped us. One year our garden produced a large surplus of excellent potatoes, which the Indian agent bought at a very remunerative price. From year to year our faith was strengthened. He stood by us and helped us in the work of education all through the twenty-three years that have followed, until the last of Mary’s eight children has finished at the Beloit high-school.”[3] Eight children? Yes, Mary and Stephen’s youngest child, Mary Cornelia Octavia Riggs, known as Cornelia, was born on February 17, 1859, when Mary was 45 years old.

Mary’s mother passed away in Massachusetts on April 9, 1857. She had already lost her father and three of her siblings and both letters and visits to Massachusetts became less frequent. Instead, Mary’s letters to her older children away at school reflect her constant concerns about how they are spending their money and often complaining that they weren’t writing home often enough. On December 7, 1859, she wrote to Alfred, “Our long looked for mail came today, but not a line for me. Your letter to Isabella was the only one in which I participated…..I am half afraid you will find your purse empty sooner than you had expected, and although you may think it both logical and economical to choose between a Shakespeare and a coat, you will find a book will not conceal elbow holes or warm you this cold weather.[4]

Founded in 1853, Western Female Seminary was a daughter school of Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The school was rebuilt after the 1860 fire and remains in operation today as Western College for Women.

Founded in 1853, Western Female Seminary was a daughter school of Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Massachusetts. The school was rebuilt after the 1860 fire and remains in operation today as Western College for Women.

There were dangers beyond the winter’s cold that confronted the older Riggs children when they were away at school. In June 1858, when Alfred was graduating from Knox College, his sister Isabella attended the graduation ceremonies and they both headed home to Minnesota by steamboat. It was July 1 when the steamer landed around midnight at Red Wing, Minnesota, unloaded some freight, and headed out again. Within moments, it was found to be on fire. The passengers were awakened and made their escape in their night clothes. All of their baggage was lost and they were taken in by the people of Red Wing. Stephen and Mary knew nothing of the event until Isabella and Alfred arrived at St. Peter on another boat a few days later. Two years later, when Martha was a student at Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, the school burned to the ground and the students, including Martha’s friend and schoolmate, Nancy Jane Williamson, fled the flames, losing all of their possessions.

The summer of 1860 was the last time the entire Riggs clan was together at Hazlewood. Alfred was home from his classes at the Chicago Theological Seminary, and the girls were on summer break from their schools. Mary enjoyed having the family at home and concentrated on her own domestic concerns, including a sewing machine that she purchased with Margaret Williamson.

Stephen continued his work with the Dakota men he had identified as the leaders of what was to become known as the Hazlewood Republic. The organization was made up of young Dakota men who had cut their hair short and dressed in white men’s clothes, giving up traditional Dakota customs and practices. A number of them were descended from white fathers and Stephen felt that they were entitled to become citizens just as any white man.

Mary wasn’t convinced. She wrote to Alfred on December 1, 1860: “Your father leaves for St. Paul next Tuesday. He hopes to get a law passed in favor of the Dakota who have made certain attainments, becoming citizens. For my own part I do not feel at all sanguine that he will succeed, nor that success would secure very great blessings, but having confidence in your father’s judgment, I endeavor not to damp his enthusiasm.”[5]

Stephen also focused the mission’s educational efforts on the establishment of a true boarding school that could accommodate dozens of Dakota students rather than the two or three at a time who lived with the Riggs and Williamson families. The Hazelwood boarding school eventually housed 20 students under the care of Hugh and Mary Ellison Cunningham.[6] The older Riggs girls, Isabella, Martha and Anna Jane, all taught at the boarding school when they were not away at school. Once again, however, Mary expressed her own feelings about the students in a letter to Alfred on October 30, 1860: “It is quite possible that you did not play enough in the open air in your childhood. If Thomas and Henry have better opportunities in this regard for physical development, I fear it is at the expense of the manners, if not of their morals. Living so near a Boarding School of Dakota boys is not to be desired.”[7]

Mary even considered sending Thomas away to live with a Presbyterian pastor, Rev. McKee and his wife in St. Anthony, Minnesota, in 1861. They had no children and Mary felt it would be good if Thomas and Henry were separated for a few months. She wrote to Alfred: “The habit of teasing might be weakened and if they would try to overcome it, it might be easier after a separation.”[8]

Before any decision could be made about Thomas’ future, the family’s life at Hazlewood came to a dramatic end with the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War on Monday, August 18, 1862. The first word of the killings at the Lower Agency reached Hazlewood in the afternoon and many of the Christian Dakota came to warn the Riggs to leave and try to reach safety at Fort Ridgeley. Stephen and Mary weren’t sure what to do. For one thing, they had house guests. Jonas and Fanny Huggins Pettijohn arrived at dusk, planning to stay at the Riggs on the way to their new home in southern Minnesota. Another couple, Mr. and Mrs. D. Moore, were also staying with Stephen and Mary. They were on their honeymoon, had met Stephen in St. Paul, and made an impromptu journey to the Upper Agency to witness the distribution of government annuities to the Dakota. All of the Riggs children were at home except for Alfred who was working as a preacher at the Congregational Church in Hockport, Illinois.

After midnight on Monday, everyone in the house was wakened and the group made their way to an island in the Minnesota River. The Cunninghams left with them. Mr. Moore had a revolver and Thomas and Henry had one double-barrel shotgun. Mary packed a bag of provisions that unfortunately was left behind in the panic of their departure. Stephen’s team of oxen was stolen and by the time everyone reached the island they had only one horse. At about midday on Tuesday, they heard that Andrew Hunter, Thomas Williamson’s son-in-law, had left the Williamson mission with his wife and daughter and the Williamson children. They had both a team of horses and of oxen, some flour and other provisions when they joined the Riggs party.

This famous photograph of the Riggs party escaping from Hazlewood was taken by photographer Adrian Ebell, who just happened to be visiting the reservation on August 18, 1862, when the war began. The identifications were made by Curtis Dahlin in 2007 and I provided the full names and dates. Unfortunately, some of the type is difficult to read in this format.

This famous photograph of the Riggs party escaping from Hazlewood was taken by photographer Adrian Ebell, who just happened to be visiting the reservation on August 18, 1862, when the war began. The identifications were made by Curtis Dahlin in 2007 and I provided the full names and dates. Unfortunately, some of the type is difficult to read in this format.

It rained the first night and the women and children attempted to huddle under the wagons for protection. By Thursday morning, they were all wet and entirely out of food. They had not attempted to light a fire for fear of being discovered but now it was clear that everyone needed to eat. A cow was killed and the meat roasted over the fire along with fresh baked bread. On Friday morning, Thomas, Margaret and Jane Williamson, caught up with the company about 16 miles from Fort Ridgeley. That night, Andrew and Elizabeth Williamson Hunter drove ahead of the rest, approaching the fort where Andrew crawled into the garrison under cover of darkness. He was told, however, that the fort was under siege and already crowded with refugees. Andrew was told to keep going. The group didn’t stop traveling until 3:00 a.m. when they camped to rest the cattle. They traveled all day Saturday without incident on the road leading to Henderson, Minnesota. Arriving at a deserted house in the afternoon, they found cream and butter in the cellar and potatoes and corn in the garden and enjoyed a good meal. The next morning they were afraid to not keep moving despite it being the Sabbath and they made it to a crossroads where they paused in the afternoon to assemble in worship.

On Monday, August 24, the Williamsons went on to St. Peter, while Stephen and Mary and their family, along with the Moores and photographer Adrian Ebell, drove 12 miles to Henderson, Minnesota. They were greeted warmly by the residents who had been told that all of the missionaries had been killed. Once supplied with new shoes to replace those completely worn out from their journey, and after a good dinner at the hotel, they set off again. The Riggs reached Samuel Pond’s home at Shakopee, Minnesota, where they remained for several days before going on to Gideon Pond’s in Bloomington and then to St. Anthony, where Mary found several friends including Mrs. McKee. Stephen found them a house to rent and although they had nothing to their name but the clothes on their back, they settled in with the help of friends and neighbors.

In the meantime, Alfred, who heard word of the attacks while he was actually preaching in his church, broke down completely, convinced that his entire family had been killed. The congregation took up an offering of $250 and he immediately left for Minnesota. Finding his parents and siblings safe at Shakopee, he remained with them for a few days to assist with getting them settled and then he returned to Illinois, taking Anna Jane with him as she was to begin school at the Women’s Seminary at Rockford, Illinois.

Once again Mary found herself uprooted with all of her worldly goods forever lost. She was 48 years old and had spent a quarter of a century living with the Dakota people, including welcoming dozens of Dakota children and teenagers into their home as members of the family. She had tried her best to raise her children to be upright, moral citizens, protecting them from the influences she found so distasteful and dangerous. Neither she nor Stephen, however, could ever have foreseen this tragic, violent ending to their work, their school, their mission and their ministry. Life would never be the same again.


[1]Riggs, Maida Leonard, Ed., A Small Bit of Bread and Butter: Letters from the Dakota Territory, 1832-1869, Ash Grove Press, 1996, p. 211 (hereafter A Small Bit).

[2] Ibid., p. 223

[3] Riggs, Stephen R., Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux, published March 1880 and reissued by Corner House Publishers, Williamstown, MA, 1971, p. 134-135. Reminiscing in Iape Oaye of May 1880, p. 8, Stephen Riggs recalled that he was paid $300 for those potatoes, more than half of his annual salary at the time.

[4] A Small Bit, p. 218

[5] Ibid., p.224. As it turned out, the first and only Dakota who was granted U.S. citizenship because of Riggs’ efforts was Lorenzo Lawrence.

[6] Mary Ellison Cunningham was a niece of Thomas and Jane Williamson, the daughter of their half-sister Mary Williamson Ellison. She was from Adams Co., Ohio, and was serving at the mission as a single woman in 1856 when Hugh Doak Cunningham came out from Virginia as a mission teacher. They were married at Traverse des Sioux in February 1857

[7] A Small Bit, p. 223

[8] Ibid., p. 225

This entry was posted in Dakota Mission, Hazlewood Mission, Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs, U.S. Dakota War of 1862, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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