Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part IV

Jane had been at Lac qui Parle just about a year when Thomas submitted his annual report to the A.B.C.F.M. in September 1844. He reported that Dakota men and boys had attended school an average of 20 days each; females 55 days. Madeline Renville was employed as a teacher and received $2.00 per regular student for 12 weeks of teaching. The average attendance at her school was 13 with 40 enrolled. Jane was working with Fanny Huggins, learning Dakota and still becoming familiar with the culture and practices at the mission while continuing to teach the children of the missionaries.

It had been a difficult year. Thomas reported that the Indians had killed three oxen and nine head of cattle belonging to the mission during the year, besides pigs, sheep and poultry, taking two-thirds of the mission’s domestic animals, except the horses. He wrote: “They dealt still worse with our own stock but did no harm to Renville because he punishes. Much whiskey is bought by the Mdewakanton with annuity dollars.” The only good news was that the buffalo were back in large herds after an absence of nearly 20 years so the Dakota were able to obtain a winter source of protein despite the fact that flooding had prevented them from planting any crops in the bottomlands by the river.[1]

The anger of the Dakota was a direct result of two things: the ongoing mistrust of the church and the missionaries by the Dakota men, and rumors the Dakota were hearing from their relatives near Fort Snelling that the missionaries were receiving the $5,000.00 a year that was to go to Dakota education under the terms of the 1837 treaty, money which the Dakota had never received. The reality of the situation was that the missionaries had also not received any money from the Education Fund. The A.B.C.F.M. had been paid directly and told Thomas that they were using part of that money to support the Lac qui Parle mission but neither the Dakota, nor the missionaries, accepted that explanation.[2] Thomas Williamson actually promised the Dakota that he would never take Education Fund money, a position he maintained for the rest of his life.[3]

In addition to the concerns about school funding, Joseph Renville, who was responsible for most of the Dakota at Lac qui Parle, was in dire financial straits. Thomas Williamson wrote to David Green on December 19, 1843, asking if the A.B.C.F.M. could possibly provide some financial support to Renville. The old trader was in his sixties and had been a major participant in helping create the written Dakota language and in translating the Bible into the Dakota language. Stephen Riggs wrote to Green a few months later on February 14, 1844, confirming that Renville was in desperate financial need and deserved consideration.[4] Greene responded on February 18, 1844: “The board feels under obligation to Mr. Renville but don’t think it is wise to actually employ him as an assistant to the mission to give religious instruction. The Board is currently $7,000 in debt but authorizes you to draw for $200 as a grant to him for what is past but can’t promise more in future.”[5] The situation over funding also impacted the church and attendance began to drop off as the Dakota men asserted their authority over their wives and children to prevent them from participating or attending school. In the spring of 1845, Stephen Riggs and Samuel Pond traveled to Lac qui Parle to conduct a series of seven sermons and special services over 10 days in an attempt to revive the church. Thomas Williamson wrote to Samuel Pond on February 11, 1846, confessing that he had never before felt so much like leaving the Sioux.[6]

Because no letters from Jane Williamson have been found for these years at Lac qui Parle, it is impossible to know how she reacted to the problems at the mission. Mary Ann Longley Huggins wrote in her Journal that “About this time, the spring of 1846, I began to go to school with Aunt Jane Williamson. She was Dr.’s sister and had come out from Ohio a few years ago. She was a good teacher for little children and as a nurse was always at the bedside of the sick, a great help to her brother. A most unselfish woman.”[7]

Mary Ann’s journal provides another insight into Jane’s response to the Dakota. Mary Ann wrote that an Indian man frightened her while she went out to get water at the spring at Lac qui Parle. The man told Fanny Huggins the next day that he just wanted to scare her and thought it was funny. Mary then said he was wounded by the Chippewa and died but before he did he gave his little girl to Aunt Jane.[8]

Throughout Jane’s life various biographers and historians have reported that she “adopted” Dakota children or, as in this case, was given a Dakota child. These reported arrangements were not in any sense legal adoptions. I will provide a summary of the children involved in a later post but in this case, the child in question may be Washasyotankewin also known as Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. Stephen Riggs wrote to Selah B. Treat on July 11, 1856: “You have probably heard of the killing of Susan Rainbow by the Chippewa. She was taken by Aunt Jane Williamson when quite young. For many years she has been living in a white family and could talk nothing but English. She was living in a family near Mr. G.H. Pond’s. Six Chippewa came and asked for water. She gave them a drink. One asked in English if she was part Dakota. She said yes, thinking they were Dakota. The woman was suspicious and took Susan to a neighbor’s but they followed, took Susan by the hair, tossed her outside to a companion, shot by all four. They cut off her head and went on their way. Her mother lives at Lac qui Parle. It is a sore blow to Aunt Jane.”[9]

In 1846, Jane Williamson became guardian of a little Dakota girl whom she named Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. The child was murdered by a roving band of Ojibwe in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1856. This photo is of her grave in the Bloomington Cemetery.

In 1846, Jane Williamson became guardian of a little Dakota girl whom she named Susan Rainbow or Susan Ellison. The child was murdered by a roving band of Ojibwe in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1856. This photo is of her grave in the Bloomington Cemetery.

Susan’s mother was Lucy Wikmankewashtewin. Susan was born in about 1845 so she was probably less than a year old when Jane took her in. She was killed on June 12, 1856, in Bloomington, and is buried in the Bloomington Cemetery as Susan Ellison. Jane had sent her to the Whalen family in Bloomington in 1852 when the Williamsons moved to Pejutazee near Yellow Medicine, assuming that Susan would have a better chance of completing her education with the Whalen’s than she would on the new reservation.

By the time Jane became the guardian for Susan Rainbow, Thomas and Margaret had another child. Martha Williamson was born at Lac qui Parle on November 15, 1844. The other Williamson children by that fall of 1844 included Elizabeth, aged eleven, who was being raised by her aunt in Ohio; John, who was nine years old; Andrew, aged six; Nancy, who was four; and Smith, who was two years old. The Huggins children in the fall of 1844 included Amos, aged twelve, Mary Ann, who was five years old and Eli, who was just two. Jane, aged ten, and Eliza, aged seven, were being cared for by relatives out east. Robert and Agnes Hopkins had their first child at Lac qui Parle when Mary arrived on September 16, 1843. They left Lac qui Parle to join the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux in April 1844.

Life at Lac qui Parle changed forever when Joseph Renville died on April 5, 1846.Thomas Williamson wrote to Green: “Last Sabbath a little before noon our earliest friend here, Mr. Joseph Renville, Sr., was called. He left four sons and four daughters all grown except one son who is probably in his 15th year. The daughters and one son and wife and the widow are members in good standing in this church. One daughter is married and lives near Fort Snelling. All his other children with wives and eight children of his two elder sons have lived together as a single family and depended on the father to provide for them…they will probably be compelled to go near Fort Snelling to avoid starvation.”[10]

With Renville gone, the Dakota at Lac qui Parle became even more agitated about the mission and the school and no classes were held for Dakota students in the summer and fall of 1846. Alexander and Lydia Huggins left the station and relocated to join the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux. Only the Williamson’s and Fanny and Jonas Pettijohn remained at Lac qui Parle.

That same year, Indian Agent Amos Bruce wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: “The chief of the Little Crow’s band, who reside below this place about 9 miles, in the immediate neighborhood of the whiskey dealers, has requested to have a school established at his village. I wrote to Dr. Williamson soon after the request was made, desiring him to take charge of the school, but have not yet heard from him.[11]

Thomas Williamson had actually responded to Bruce on August 12, 1846, confirming that Little Crow wanted him at Kaposia, but expressing his feeling that he really didn’t want to leave Lac qui Parle. Only a few months later, however, Thomas wrote to David Greene on November 30, 1846:


Fred Lawshe, founder of the Dakota County Historical Society in South St. Paul, Minnesota, painted this version of the Kaposia village as he imagined it might have looked in about 1850. Today the site of the village is known as the Simon’s Ravine Trailhead just north of Butler Avenue and Concord Street in South St. Paul.

“I write from a new station, Kapoja [sic]

I believe it is possible that this house is the original Methodist mission house from Kaposia village and that it was later moved to its current location in Newport, Minnesota on the grounds of the United Methodist Church.

I believe it is possible that this house is the original Methodist mission house from Kaposia village and that it was later moved across the river to the new site of the Methodist Church. Today its current location is in Newport, Minnesota, on the grounds of the United Methodist Church.

…The house we occupy was built by the Methodists about 10 years ago. It is built of logs and the floors of puncheons that is boards split with a wedge instead of saw. It is rather small for the present size of my family – and yet the rooms are larger than we can warm well in this climate with such stoves as I have as I have been able to procure. For several years it has been occupied by one of the farmers for the Indians here, a man without a family and I found it necessary to make several repairs made before I could bring my family into it. It needs more but I hesitate. I don’t know if it will work for my family in the summer. The Methodists built anew house across the river where the Post Office is – the man who lives there now plans to sell in the spring and perhaps we should move there even though it is further from the village and across the river. All of the Indians except for one family from Lac qui Parle are gone on the winter hunt and will not return for some weeks. The one man here couldn’t go because of rheumatism said Little Crow, a relative of his, only asked for a missionary out of ambitious and selfish motives.

“When my family left Lac qui Parle on September 29, 1846, they had a two-horse wagon and a small one-horse cart, my wife, sister and five children. It took a week to Traverse des Sioux, then a three-week delay waiting for the boat and then the boat refused to bring all the luggage which didn’t get here until November 20, 1846. The entire distance is 270 miles from Lac qui Parle although a road could be built that would make it at 200 miles.

“The Renville family has scattered. Marguerite has requested to come here and we have agreed. I have been appointed as physician to these Indians, about 2000 Mdewakanton, for which I receive $240 a year – half of which I am to spend on medicines. I should ask for more but that is what Dr. Turner got and even though I expect to do much more than he I don’t want the Indians to think I am doing this for money.”[12]

Taoyateduta became the new chief of the Kaposia band when his father died in 1845. He asked the Indian Agent to send a missionary to Kaposia and the Williamson's arrived in October 1846.

Taoyateduta became the new chief of the Kaposia band when his father died in 1845. He asked the Indian Agent to send a missionary to Kaposia and the Williamson’s arrived in October 1846.

So it was that Jane found herself at a new village located just four miles south of Pig’s Eye, which would become the capital City of St. Paul, and nine miles from Fort Snelling. There would no longer be a wait of nearly a year to receive mail from family and friends out east and access to food, supplies, housewares, clothing and sewing supplies was greatly improved. The new chief of the Kaposia band, Taoyateduta, known to whites as Little Crow V, had known the Williamsons at Lac qui Parle when he lived there with his mother as a young man and he welcomed the family and encouraged them to set up a church and school as soon as possible.

While the Williamsons settled into their new mission, Stephen and Mary Riggs and their family left Traverse des Sioux to join the Pettijohn’s back at Lac qui Parle and attempted to carry on the work there.


[1] Thomas Williamson to American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Annual Report, September 1844 –Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3. The killing of domestic animals at the Lac qui Parle mission was an ongoing problem and it not only angered the missionaries and endangered their food supply, but they also could not understand why the Dakota often simply killed the animals, especially the young calves, but didn’t make any effort to use the meat, just leaving the bodies to rot or throwing them into the river.

[2] David Green to Thomas Williamson, 12/23/1840 – “You are mistaken in supposing that no portion of the civilization fund for the U.S. goes to your mission. Our treasurer has for these two years, I think, received $100 a quarter.” Ibid.

[3] Thomas Williamson to Selah B. Treat 12/2/1853: “I cannot be part of the boarding school since I promised the Dakota years ago that I would never touch the Education Fund. I’ll still teach religion and medicine and the wants of my own family.” Ibid.,  Box 6

[4] Ibid., Box 3

[5] Ibid. Renville was a Roman Catholic and had never joined the Presbyterian Church so even though, he attended services regularly along with his family, the board no doubt could not condone him as a teacher of religion.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Mary Huggins Kerlinger Journal, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society, p. 120, hereafter Kerlinger Journal.

[8] Ibid., p. 146

[9] Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1846 p. 35 – Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm, Call #1599.

[12] Thomas Williamson to David Greene of the A.B.C.F.M., November 30, 1846. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

This entry was posted in Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Jane Smith Williamson, Joseph Renville, Kaposia Village, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Madeline Renville, Mary Ann Longley Huggins Kerlinger, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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