Living in the Library Leads to Soul Sister Updates

I’ve been having a splendid time at the Gale Family Library of the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota. My research fellowship allows me the opportunity to do catch up on research that I’ve meant to do for years but simply couldn’t always find time to accomplish.

This week, I found three quite remarkable letters that are not cross-indexed in the library database, meaning that I had never found, nor seen them before. The earliest letter is from Cornelia “Lucy” Gavin to Samuel Pond. It is dated December 12, 1867, and was written from Baltimore, Maryland, to Samuel’s home in Shakopee, Minnesota. Samuel had written to Cornelia after a silence of 12 years and reached her by mailing it to Cornelia’s sister Mary who was living in Monmouth, Illinois. In her response Cornelia mentioned that the last letter she had received was addressed to her husband, Daniel Gavin, who had died in 1855.

Cornelia’s original story is told in Dakota Soul Sisters as Julia, Jane and Lucy Arrive – The Stevens Family Women – Part III. At the time I had very little information on how many children she and Daniel Gavin had after leaving the mission, or what happened to her in later years. Her letter to Samuel Pond fills in many of those questions and reveals in the most poignant way the struggles a single woman faced when she was widowed and left with five children ranging in age from 9 months to age 14.

I was then happy to find another Gavin family letter. Minnie Gavin, Cornelia’s daughter, received a letter from Samuel Pond and responded to him on April 23, 1874. She continued the story her mother had begun a few years earlier, revealing the tragic circumstance of the deaths of her brother Elie, her sister Carrie, and of Cornelia herself in 1872. All of the details of both of these documents have been added to Cornelia’s Story.

A third letter, also written to Samuel Pond, added substantial information to another Soul Sister’s story, that of Persis Skimmer Dentan. I had been in touch with living descendants of the Dentan family, but this letter, written in 1878, provided a personal link to Persis. Her story can be found in The Story of Persis Skimmer Dentan where I have added this updated information. At the time I wrote her original tale, I had little information on her four sons and what happened to them. It was a thrill to have Persis herself update the story.

What I found really interesting is that Cornelia in her letter mentions that she visited Persis in the spring of 1864, presumably in Illinois where Cornelia was staying with her step-sister Annie Kirkpatrick.  She said that “after 19 years separation I first saw her in the street closely veiled, and knew her by her walk.” Persis, in her own letter to Samuel, also recalled Cornelia and their year of living together at the Baker House at Fort Snelling with fondness. Somehow finding evidence of life-long friendships among the Soul Sisters is always rewarding.

The three letters are in the vast collection of Pond papers at The Minnesota Historical Society but I found them because of a quite remarkable compilation of important documents relating to the Dakota missions in Minnesota that was created by Grace Lee Nute. The documents in her collection are transcribed from the originals and filed as Manuscripts Relating to the Northwest Missions, 1863-1896. All three are in the Manuscript Collection #P489, box 21, along with dozens of other treasures at the Gale Family Library where I’m lucky enough to spend my summer!

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1 Response to Living in the Library Leads to Soul Sister Updates

  1. says:

    To Grace Lee Nute or whoever wrote the piece about Persis Skimmer Dentan: Thank You ever so much for sending this. It’s really quite enlightening. The part I didn’t know was about Sam and Persis son Frank who died in the mule accident at such a young age. I knew there were four children, though. I thank you for writing this and including it with your work on Dakota Soul Sisters. About two years ago now, I did send you quite a bit more information in the form of an attachment which may not have ever been opened. It was a whole genealogy of the descendents of Gavin Dentan. You did include some of the most important facts, but, to me, the most important and the one that started both mine and my parents research, is the fact that we had the original copy of the translated Bible. Effie Dentan Bogartus my Great Grandmother, gave it to my grandfather, Frank Daniel Dentan. However, because his brother, my Great Uncle Claude was a Presbyterian minister, Grandfather gave it to him for safe keeping. Unfortunately, when both Great Uncle Claude and Aunt Maude passed away within a day of each other, their son, my cousin, Rev. Robert C. Dentan, didn’t know Uncle Claude had it. Because he was under pressure due to the fact that the Gazette and Telegraph planned on building their new building there, Bob had everything moved out and taken to the Colorado Springs dump. That was in the late 1960’s and I’d already graduated from college and was teaching history by that time but I remember it well! You refer to that Bible in your article on the Ponds, but Samuel Francois Dentan certainly help to translate it into the Sioux Language. It’s just so sad that that original disappeared! I’d like to add just one more request. As a historian myself, and I do many presentations on my research, I’d actually like some credit for the information I sent you. I don’t usually have such a hard time finding information because I know where and how to look, but this information has taken years to find. First because Samuel always told the family he built the first cabin in St. Paul, but it was in Red Wing, and second, because Gavin Dentan was murdered thus orphaning two of his descendents. I’ve even spent several years working with Marnie at the Urbana Archives and even she could find nothing. Additionally, my parents, Frank and Rhoda Dentan spent a good deal of time trying to trace Sam all to no avail. So, the little bit I sent you represents years and years of research. Thanks, and I truly appreciate what you have written. Marcia Jane Dentan Reed By the Way, how is Minnie Dentan related?

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