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

The Williamson’s returned from their trip to Ohio in May of 1848 and that summer Kaposia hosted the annual reunion of the Dakota Mission. Stephen and Mary Riggs and three of their children were there, along with both of the Pond families, Moses and Nancy Adams, and John and Nancy Aiton in addition to school teacher Harriet Bishop and her new colleague, Amanda Horsford, who had opened a school in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Stephen Riggs wrote: ‘The toilers of fourteen years among the Dakota, now shook hands with the first toilers among the white people.”[1]

It is fun for me to imagine how these friends enjoyed their time together at Kaposia. Both the Adams and the Aitons were new to the Dakota mission and both couples were newlyweds.  John Aiton and his wife Nancy Hunter Aiton, were married in Theopolis, Illinois, on July 5, 1848. Moses Adams and his wife, Nancy Rankin Adams, were married in Quincy, Illinois on July 9, 1848. The Aitons were the newest missionaries, stationed at Red Wing’s village and the Adams were sent to work with the Riggs at Traverse des Sioux.[2]  Jane Williamson and Nancy Aiton soon became dear friends and it is their letters that have informed so much of the known history of the mission at Kaposia. Nancy Aiton worked side-by-side with Jane when the Aiton’s came up to Kaposia in March of 1849 and Nancy stayed with the Williamson’s while John returned to Red Wing.

Jane really came into her own during her time at Kaposia. She now knew the Dakota language and had developed close relationships with many of the Dakota women and girls. Major Richard G. Murphy, who was called the “Ind. sub-agent,” wrote the following to the territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, on October 4, 1849:

These two Dakota girls are identified only as "Little Crow's Daughters" in this photo which was taken at the Fort Snelling camp in 1862. It is likely that these teen-aged girls were among Jane's students at Kaposia.

These two Dakota girls are identified only as “Little Crow’s Daughters” in this photo which was taken at the Fort Snelling camp in 1862. It is likely that these teen-aged girls were among Jane’s students at Kaposia when they were young.

“I went to Crow’s village, but it was at a time when very few children were in attendance at Mr. Cook’s school. Such as were present shewed [sic] that they were learning reading, and one writing. I found many girls in attendance at the A.B. Foreign Mission school, conducted by Miss Jane Williamson, and was so much please by the ability displayed by the instructress, and interested by the conduct of the children, that I must call particular attention to it. On entering the school with Mr. Prescott, the children became very much embarrassed from bashfulness, but the great kindness and skill of Miss Williamson soon restored order. Their usual recess shortly followed, during which time we visited the farmer and had a talk with the chief and principal men. On our return we found school arranged again, and the Indian children singing, assisted by several viz: Dr. Williamson and his wife, Miss Williamson, Mrs. Aiton, Miss Pettijohn (a young lady well versed in music and who appeared to be the leader on this occasion and others. Messrs. Prescott and Cook joined and I was quite delighted with the singing, and much astonished to see such proficiency displayed by Indian girls so young. Once the hymn being given out, they found the proper page, they read and sang correctly, keeping excellent time, and appeared to have correct ears for music, and voices which made the music equal, if not superior, to any singing I had ever heard. They were all able to read in their Indian books, and produced specimens of their work that would do credit to any girls of their age. Miss Williamson certainly deserves great praise for the toil and skill she has bestowed on these children, to whom her kindness and tenderness equal that of the most affectionate mother.”[3]

The Dakota girls that reportedly responded so well to Jane’s teaching numbered among her favorite pupils. She wrote to her cousin Elizabeth describing an outing she took some of them on in the summer of 1850. “Last Summer I promised some of my Indian girls that I wanted to take them on a steamer when I could afford it…a short time since I took four of them and went down to Red Wing to see Mrs. Aiton. I had intended to spend a week but hearing sister was sick I hastened home before it had quite expired. The little girls enjoyed the trip very much except my poor scrofulous Fanny. I often think we will not have her with us long. To me she is a very precious child but she gives no decided evidence of being born of the Spirit. Oh, pray that she may be made one of the lambs of Jesus. She said to me the other day, “Aunt, Who made God? Did he make himself?[4]

In another letter that Jane wrote to Nancy Aiton while Nancy was visiting with relatives in Illinois in October of 1851, she provides news of the girls as well.

“Our Indians started out a few days since…Old Sarah was too frail to accompany them and we persuaded her to stay here and at Mr. Robertson’s but good Winona Ze came down yesterday to attend worship with us and finding her mother took her home with her today. Winona seems to grow in grace and in every good work. One of her little waxicu granddaughters has learned to read and reads the Sioux Bible to her.[5] She had the little girl with her and told me with great joy that she could read to her in Mowapa Mahan. I could not but lift my heart in prayer that the dear child might be brought to see and feel the preciousness of the word she read so prettily. Her elder brother had been down frequently with her Grandma and I always taught him a lesson in Sioux and put books in his hands….Pray for us. Pray for me and pray for these dear little girls.

“Mary is a dear child but she is exposed to many bad influences. Her father reproved me just before he started for letting her help me wash Susan’s clothes. I have Nancy Jane wash them since but Mary helps me wash the other clothes. When I read your wish to have one of the little girls with you to sister R., she said ‘O, how I wish she had Marion.’ Only for burdening you we would feel it a privilege to have any of them with you.”[6]

This last paragraph allows us to understand some of the challenges that Jane and other teachers faced at all of the mission schools. First of all Mary’s father was upset that Jane was having his daughter help her wash the clothes of another Dakota girl, in this case Susan, who is probably Susan Rainbow, the little girl that Jane took under her wing in 1846. Jane acquiesced to his request in terms of Susan and had her own niece, Nancy Jane Williamson, help with Susan’s clothes but still had Mary assist with the other laundry. Because she cared for her girls so much, Jane wanted them to learn the kinds of domestic tasks that white girls were expected to learn. She felt that the only way the children would be successful was if they learned how to thrive in a white world. Mary’s father disagreed, perhaps feeling it would be better if Mary concentrated on how to tan a perfect deer hide or catch fish in the river or sew her own clothes out of buckskin.

The “Mrs. R.” referred to in the letter is Jane Anderson Robertson, Andrew Robertson’s wife. Nancy Aiton had asked if one of the Dakota girls would like to come and live with her in Illinois and Mrs. R. apparently wished that her daughter Marion could be that girl. Marion Robertson was about 10 years old at this time and lived off and on with the Williamson’s, implying at least that her mother wanted her to feel at home living with white families. Jane replied to Nancy that they wouldn’t burden her by sending a girl to her. Nancy had returned to her Illinois home because of health issues so Jane perhaps had a feeling that it wasn’t a good time to send Marion to live with Nancy.

This constant conflict between how Dakota children should be raised was pervasive throughout the life of the Dakota mission. One of the earliest ways in which the missionaries attempted to reach their goal of educating the girls in both domestic tasks and in reading and writing, was by bringing those girls into their own homes for months at a time. They were called “boarding students” in the school reports and the missionaries could be paid room and board for such students at the rate of between forty to fifty dollars a year. In most cases, unless the child was orphaned or abandoned, the student only remained a few weeks or months before returning to their own family.

I will not attempt to cover the history of the Indian boarding school system in this post, but suffice it to say that these personal interactions with specific Dakota children and their families, bore no similarity to the government boarding schools that led to such horrific abuse of Indian children in our country from about 1870 to 1920.

Taoyateduta's son, Wowinape, lived in the Williamson home off and on when he was a young boy. He was withi his father when the famous Dakota chief was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1863.

Taoyateduta’s son, Wowinape, lived in the Williamson home off and on when he was a young boy. He was withi his father when the famous Dakota chief was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1863.

In Jane Williamson’s case, the family often had between five and six Dakota children in their home during the year. Taoyateduta himself, the chief of Kaposia, left two of his children with the Williamson’s off and on for periods of time. The two who are specifically mentioned are Emma and Wowinape. Emma was born to Taoyateduta’s fourth wife, Saiceyewin, in about 1844 and Wowinape was the son of Taoyateduta’s third wife, Mazaiyagewin, born in about 1847.

Author and historian Gary Clayton Anderson described the children as follows:

“He [Little Crow] sent two of his children to live at Williamson’s home. Wowinape, who Williamson renamed Albert, was a two-or three-year-old when he entered the school in 1849. His father soon claimed that villagers intended to poison his son if he were allowed to stay with the mission family, however, and this opposition to education convinced Taoyateduta to withdraw him temporarily. By 1850-51 Wowinape was back in the makeshift Williamson boarding school along with Little Crow’s second child, a girl the missionaries called Emma. ‘She learned to read and speak English beautifully,’ Williamson later claimed. Both children were removed after a year and soon forgot most of what they had learned at the school.” [7]

The anti-education attitude Anderson refers to was similar to the feeling that had caused such problems at Lac qui Parle. The Dakota at Kaposia knew that they were also to have received money for education under the terms of their federal treaties but no money was forthcoming.

Artist Seth Eastman painted this picture of some of the children at Kaposia in about 1850. It is obviously a romanticized version of what was seen to be the ideal childhood of the children of the "noble savage."

Artist Seth Eastman painted this picture of some of the children at Kaposia in about 1850. It is obviously a romanticized version of what was seen to be the ideal childhood of the children of the “noble savage.”

When Thomas Williamson submitted his annual report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1850, he described it as the Fourth Annual Report of the Female Mission School at Kaposia and said that:

“Miss Jane Williamson has given diligent attention to teaching the Dakota females of this village whenever any could be found willing to be taught. Within the year she has had school about eleven months. Not including my own children, who have been taught with the others, the whole number of scholars is twenty-nine. Counting sixty days as a quarter, the average attendance for the first quarter is 4-1/2; for the second, 7; for the third, 8-2/3; and for the fourth, 8, making an average attendance of seven for 240 days.

“Four can read with ease in the New Testament, both in Dakota and English, write legibly, and have made some progress in mental arithmetic. Three others read both languages, but not fluently. Four read the Wowassiwak’en who have not learned English, and write on slates. Most of the remaining nine can spell readily in three letters.

“Besides teaching them to spell, read, etc., ten have been taught to knit and all who attend with any regularity are instructed in sewing.

“All evince good capacity for learning, and when they attend regularly make good progress. But the same cause which has been mentioned in years past as impeding education amount the Mdewakanton Sioux, has during the past year, been activing with increased power, and until the money for which they are contending shall be in some way disposed of, there is little encouragement here to attempt teaching any except such as are boarded for that purpose. Two have been boarded by Mr. Robertson, the farmer for this village, and five in my own family during the whole time they have been instructed. Those who live with their Indian relatives, have, during the year, attended school on an average less than 30 days each.”[8]

There is little indication in Jane’s letters that she wrote during this time that she involved herself to any great degree in the politics of the Dakota education system. She was much more interested in the individual students and their progress than she was in the overall picture. The only mention she even makes of the situation is in the last sentence of the following letter that she wrote to Nancy Hunter at Kaposia while Jane was in Ohio. She wrote:

“O, with what a thrill of interest I read the names of my old scholars and all you say respecting them. I rejoice to hear that Mary tries to please you and to improve by the opportunities afforded her. May we yet be permitted to see her striving to please the Lord will all her heart. And dear little Susan too tries to be good. How glad I am that she tried. Poor Lucy. May the Lord remember her in mercy. I long to hear more particularly from Margaret. May it not be in vain that they have learned to read the Bible. It must have been very trying to you to give up the chief’s children…[9]

Despite Jane’s disinterest in the educational problems of the mission school, there was a bigger issue looming. As early as October of 1849, Selah B. Treat, head of the A.B.C.F.M., wrote to missionary Jeremiah Potter that “no new mission or school work will be begun in the Dakota mission until the results of the treaty are known.”[10]

The treaty referred to reflected the goal of the federal government to open the land on the west side of the Mississippi River for white settlement. To do so would require removing the Dakota from Kaposia and all of the other villages along the river. No one knew if or when this might occur but the possibilities impacted all of the decisions that individual missionaries and the A.B.C.F.M. made during this time.

[1] Neill, Edward E., The History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings, including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota and Outlines of the History of Minnesota by J. Fletcher Williams, North Star Publishing, Minneapolis, 1881, p. 184

[2] Both Nancy Aiton and Nancy Adams will be discussed in future stories on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[3] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1849-1850, Minnesota Historical Society Reading Room Call #E93.U71, p. 113

[4] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, July 10, 1851. Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 23, Folder 3. Scrofula is the name for tuberculosis of the lymph nodes and was used in the 19th century for breathing and other health problems. “Poor scrofulous Fanny” is believed be named after missionary Fanny Huggins Pettijohn. Her only Dakota name, Hapistina, is the common Dakota name for the third-born daughter. She is mentioned as one of Jane’s students  in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 8/29/1851, p. 175, and died at Mendota in 1855.

[5] Waxicu is the word for white in English which may mean that Winona Ze’s daughter had married a white man. Mowapa Mahan is a early Dakota language primer.

[6] Jane Williamson to Nancy Aiton, October 28, 1851. John Felix Aiton and Family Papers, 1835-1898, Minnesota Historical Society, Manuscripts Notebooks, Call #P1447.

[7] Riggs, Stephen Return, “Boarding School Students,1847-1859,” Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B, and Thomas Williamson to McLean, August 27, 1851, Senate Executive Documents no 1, 32nd Congress, 1t session, serial 613, pp. 437-439. Gary Clayton Anderson provides a possible genealogy of Taoyateduta in his biography of Little Crow. According to this version, Taoyateduta had six wives who gave birth to at least 23 children, most of whom died in infancy. Anderson, Gary Clayton, Little Crow: Spokesman for the Sioux, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1986.

[8] Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1850, Minnesota Historical Society Reading Room Call #E93.U71, p. 79.

[9] Jane Williamson, near Marietta Constitution P.O. Ohio,  to Nancy Hunter Aiton, at Kaposia, March 5, Minnesota Historical Society, Manuscripts Notebooks, Call #P1447.

[10] Selah Be. Treat to Jeremiah Potter, October 18, 1849, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

This entry was posted in Dakota Mission, Emma Wakefield, Harriet Bishop, Jane Anderson Robertson, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Marion Robertson Hunter, Minnesota, Minnesota History, Nancy Hunter Aiton, Nancy Rankin Adams, Susan Rainbow aka Susan Ellison, Sylvester Cook, Women in Minnesota, Wowinape. Bookmark the permalink.

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