Fearless Fanny – The Story of Fanny Huggins Pettijohn – Part II

Fanny and Jonas had been at Lac qui Parle a little over a year when major changes came to the mission. The Williamsons left to open a new mission at Kaposia on the Mississippi River just four miles south of what would become the City of Saint Paul. Alexander and Lydia Huggins were transferred to the mission at Traverse des Sioux along with Robert and Agnes Hopkins. Stephen and Mary Riggs were assigned to return to Lac qui Parle from Traverse.

Alexander and Lydia’s daughter, Mary Ann Huggins, who was then seven years old, did not accompany her parents or little brothers to Traverse des Sioux but chose instead to stay with Fanny and Jonas at Lac qui Parle. Her reasons for doing so and her thoughts about the situation are included in the post about Lydia Pettijohn Huggins on this site. Although Mary didn’t specifically mention it in her own journal, Fanny may have encouraged her to stay because she and Jonas had a new baby to care for. Their first child, Samuel Willson Pettijohn, was born on October 28, 1846. Mary also still had many playmates at Lac qui Parle. The Riggs had come back from Traverse with their four children. Alfred was eight years old; Isabella was just five months younger than Mary; Martha was four; and baby Anna was 18 months old.

Nancy McClure's white father abandoned her and her mother when he was reassigned from Fort Snelling to Florida. He died shortly afterwards and Nancy's mother died when she was young. Nancy grew up as a live-in student in several of the missionary families' homes, including Fanny's.

Nancy McClure’s white father abandoned her and her mother when he was reassigned from Fort Snelling to Florida. He died shortly afterwards and Nancy’s mother died when Nancy was young. Nancy grew up as a live-in student in several of the missionary families’ homes, including Fanny’s.

The mission families carried on the tradition of bringing young Dakota boys and girls into their homes, especially over the winter months. Mary recalled in her journal that during this particular winter of 1846, Fanny and Jonas were caring for Nancy McClure, whom Mary described as “a lovely half breed girl, an orphan…14 years old. I roomed in the attic with her and I must say she was a good modest girl. I learned no evil from her.”[1] Mary joined her own family at Traverse the following spring but over the course of her life, she lived off and on with Fanny and Jonas for months at a time.

Mary and Stephen Riggs had another child, Thomas, on June 3, 1847, but tragedy and sadness struck the mission only a few months later when Fanny and Jonas’ only child, Samuel, died three days after Christmas on December 28, 1847. He was just 14 months old. Fanny was expecting another child when Samuel died and Laura Eliza Pettijohn was born on May 6, 1848. She was followed by Albert Bushnell Pettijohn, who arrived on December 29, 1849.

Fanny and Jonas now had two little children and were working with Stephen and Mary Riggs at the Lac qui Parle mission. They were joined by Rev. Moses Newton Adams and his wife Nancy Rankin Adams on September 30, 1848.

Although Fanny wrote her memoirs in 1888, she did not include many details about these years. She did take credit in her writings for being the one who taught Catherine Tatidutawin to read the Dakota language and she herself became proficient enough in the language to teach for several years. Catherine is one of the Dakota Soul Sisters whose story is told on this site.

This undated photo of Fanny is unusual in that she is wearing spectacles. Most people removed their glasses before allowing the photographer to take the photo. Fanny looks boldly at the camera, facing it just as she faced so many challenges in her life.

This undated photo of Fanny is unusual in that she is wearing spectacles. Most people removed their glasses before allowing the photographer to take the photo. Fanny looks boldly at the camera, facing it just as she faced so many challenges in her life.

Fanny’s personal theology is outlined in her memoir as she reflected on her experiences. “Not long ago I was talking with a man about the Indians. He didn’t think he could believe the Indians could go to Heaven. I was astonished. He is a prominent member in the church. I talked to him till I thot he was ashamed. I thot he was a hard case. Some people think we don’t need to send missionaries to the Heathen. They will be saved without hearing the Gospel. Others think they can’t become Christians and go to Heaven. Neither of which I believe. I think the Heathen are to be turned into Hell with all the nations who forget God but all who accept the Bible as the word of God – believe in Jesus and try to serve and please Him shall be saved.

“I have seen poor ignorant Indians who had lived in total darkness did not know anything about the God of the Bible had never heard of the Savior. When they heard that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life, began to inquire and study about it and soon seemed fully convinced and as the missionaries thot converted and made real Christians. I do think many of the Christian Indians endured more for the sake of not doing wrong than I ever knew white people.”[2]

The mission work at Lac qui Parle had been in decline since the death of Joseph Renville in 1846 and Fanny and Jonas ultimately made a decision to leave the mission and embark on a private life. On February 23, 1852, they resigned from the American Board of Commissioner for Foreign Missions and moved to Traverse des Sioux. Alexander and Lydia were farming there and Jonas and Fanny planned to do the same. They moved into the cabin where Robert and Agnes Hopkins and their family had lived until Robert’s tragic death by drowning on July 4, 1851. Agnes Hopkins had taken the children and returned to Ohio and Jonas and Fanny began to take in boarders until they could establish their own farm.

Fanny and Jonas had two more children at Traverse des Sioux. William Thomas Pettijohn was born on June 3, 1852, and Alice Louisa Pettijohn arrived on July 22, 1854. The family settled into the little community where Jonas was elected the first Treasurer of Nicollet County on October 3, 1853. He was a signer of a petition to protest the expansion of the Dakota reservations on June 7, 1854, and Jonas soon filed a claim and built a hewed log house. By the spring of 1856, he had broken thirty acres of land and had fifty acres fenced.

Neither Fanny nor Jonas wrote about why they decided to leave Traverse in the summer of 1856 but they suddenly sold out and went to Ohio where Jonas bought 80 acres of land. They didn’t stay long, however, selling again in March 1857, and heading for Illinois where Jonas’ cousin Isaac Pettijohn had a farm that he wanted Jonas to work for him. By the time Jonas and Fanny arrived with the children, however, Isaac had made other arrangements and there was no work there for Jonas.

He and Fanny moved on to Jonas’ sister’s home, only to learn that they were packing up to move to Kansas. Jonas rented a house west of Huntsville, Illinois, and left Fanny there with eight-year-old Laura, seven-year-old Albert and two-year-old Alice. He then took four-year-old William and went back to Traverse des Sioux. Fanny’s niece, Jane Huggins Holtzclaw, Alexander and Lydia Huggins’ daughter, was trying to farm alone as her own husband was in Illinois and Jonas helped her bring in her crops.

In July of 1857 Jonas returned to Illinois and brought Fanny and the children back to Traverse des Sioux by the first of August. Only a few weeks later, Fanny’s family called on his help in taking Alexander Huggins back to Ohio to seek medical care for Alelxander’s mental breakdown. Jonas took his brother-in-law to Ohio where they stayed with Alexander’s brother Amzi Huggins in Highland County while Jonas worked to persuade the Ohio State Legislature to allow Alexander to be treated at the state hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The Presbyterian Church at Traverse des Sioux was built in 1858. Jonas opposed the extravagance but he'd already given them $50 and deeded them 20 acres of his own land to help pay the church's debt.

The Presbyterian Church at Traverse des Sioux was built in 1858. Jonas opposed the extravagance but he’d already given them $50 and deeded them 20 acres of his own land to help pay the church’s debt.

Before the Ohio trip, Jonas bought 100 acres of land in Traverse but never made any improvements on it. Instead, he deeded part of it away to help lift a debt that was hanging over the Presbyterian Church that had been built at Traverse des Sioux, a church he opposed from the beginning.[3]

In the fall of 1859, Fanny and Jonas were approached by Indian Agent Joseph R. Brown. He asked them to move to the village of Dakota chief Red Iron and operate the government school there. They agreed and took Laura, now eleven years old; Albert, age ten; William, age seven; and Alice, age five, to the village which was located about twelve miles west of Hazlewood, which was where Stephen and Mary Riggs had opened a new mission in 1854. The Williamsons were also nearby and Fanny’s nieces, Alexander and Lydia’s daughters, all taught at the two mission stations off and on during these years.

Jonas recalled, “…the government built quite a good sized brick house with a good cellar under it and several rooms in the house. One room was specially designated as the school room. We taught all that would come to be taught. A few of them learned to read their own language tolerably well. In the spring of the year I helped them in their farm work…and was called the Indian farmer. I helped them plow, made rakes and hoe handles, and ax handles, almost by the cart load for them. In the winter I helped them made several sleds; perhaps it would be more accurate to say I made several sleds for them.”[4]

Once again, however, Jonas began to make preparations to move the family. He received a letter from James Holtzclaw, Jane Huggins Holtclaw’s husband. James had enlisted in the Union Army when the Civil War began and he asked Jonas to return to Traverse des Sioux and help Jane with the farm while he was away serving in the war. Jonas agreed and he and Fanny made plans to leave their government positions and return to Traverse. They had no idea as they loaded their possessions into the wagon that they were heading straight into the center of tragic violence on the very day that the U.S. Dakota War broke out, August 18, 1862.


[1] Kerlinger Journal, p. 126. Nancy McClure is one of the most well-documented of the daughters of white soldiers and Dakota women. Mary Huggins Kerlinger said she was 14 in 1836 but most sources indicate that she was born closer to 1836 to James McClure and Winona, a descendant of the Sisseton chief Tatemane. McClure, a white solder stationed at Fort Snelling, abandoned Nancy and her mother when he was transferred to Florida where he died in 1838. Nancy’s mother married Antoine Renville, the son of Joseph Renville of Lac qui Parle and Nancy was raised there. Mary Huggins apparently believed that Nancy’s mother had died by 1846. Other sources indicate that she was alive until 1850. Nancy was reportedly sixteen years old when she married David Faribault, Jr., during the July 1851 treaty signing at Traverse des Sioux.  She and David and their daughter Jane survived the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 and then Nancy and David subsequently divorced. Nancy remarried a man named Charles Huggan. They settled in Flandreau, South Dakota, and Mary died there in 1927.

[2] Fanny Huggins Memoir, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society, p. 4,

[3] The Presbyterian Church at Traverse was built in 1858. within a few years, however, Traverse des Sioux was rapidly losing population and position as the City of St. Peter just a mile away began to attract the businesses and residents whose efforts ultimately led to the complete demise of Traverse. Autobiography, Family History and Various Reminiscenses of the Life of Jonas Pettijohn, by Jonas Pettijohn, Green, Kansas, August 1880, Dispatch Printing House, Clay Center, Kansas. Minnesota Historical Society, Lower Sioux Agency, Morton, Minnesota, p.62

[4] Ibid. p.67.

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This entry was posted in Dakota Mission, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Hazlewood Mission, Nancy McClure Faribault Huggan, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fearless Fanny – The Story of Fanny Huggins Pettijohn – Part II

  1. Dave Heinlein says:

    These are excellent stories. I’ve been forwarding them on to my friend who also interested in the history of the missions and the people who worked so hard on. Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing the stories!

    Sent from my iPhone

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