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

Jane Williamson had little time to make plans for the future upon her return to Kaposia from Ohio in May of 1852. Her intention had been to help Mary Briggs get settled and begin to teach her the Dakota language. She was also supposed to have assisted John Aiton as he began to take over the government school in the village. Unfortunately, only a day or so after arriving home, Jane fell, injured her ankle and was unable to stand or walk for several weeks. In the meantime, William Ellison and Thomas Williamson prepared to leave for the site of the proposed new mission at Yellow Medicine or Pejutazee, as it was known in Dakota. They planned to get a house built for the family before winter set in.[1]

On June 8, 1852, Thomas Williamson wrote to S.B. Treat of the A.B.C.F.M.:

“Mrs. W. and my sister Jane S.W., by whose counsel I have often profited, both entirely support of moving up the Minnesota tho it will be painful to part with M/M Aiton and some of our other neighbors here and go to a place where for several years we may not have a family speaking English within twenty miles…”[2]

The site of the new mission was completely isolated near the far western edge of the new reservation, approximately 130 miles from Kaposia. It was two miles northwest of the site of the Upper Dakota Agency. At that time, there were a few government employees in the area constructing the main buildings for the two reservations. The largest population in the area near Pejutazee was the village of Wahpeton Dakota chief, Mazomani, which was next to the new Upper Sioux Agency near what is today Granite Falls, Minnesota. Thomas hired two men to assist William Williamson in building their new house and returned to Kaposia in mid-September 1852.

Today the site of the Upper Sioux Agency, just two miles from the Williamson mission at Pajutazee, is a Minnesota State Park. The building pictured was reproduced in 1974 and represents one of the original employee duplexes which housed government employees.

I have found no letters from Jane during the time she returned to Kaposia from Ohio and the family’s arrival at Pejutazee, but Thomas carried on significant communications with the mission board in Boston concerning the disposition of the mission property. As early as September of 1851, the A.B.C.F.M. had approved several specific policies concerning what the missionaries should do with the mission property under their care. In general, they were instructed to file claims on the lands and decide to either purchase the property themselves or see that it was sold. In both cases, the proceeds were to be forwarded to the mission board for the development of new mission locations. In the case of the Williamson’s, Thomas was directed to use the proceeds from the sale of the property to build the new facilities needed at the Pejutazee location.

The receipt of these instructions introduces one of the most interesting, if somewhat confusing, aspects of Jane’s involvement with the mission. Jon Willand, author of Lac qui Parle and the Dakota Mission, provides the first indication of Jane as property owner at Kaposia. He said that when the Sioux were removed to the reservation in 1853, Jane laid claim to the old mission site. She hoped to hold the mission under the pre-emption act which was permissible under law, as long as she was head of a family. To qualify, she adopted two Indian boys and sold the mission land a short time later to Franklin Steele for $3,000.[3]

As of today, I’ve located dozens of references to Jane’s claim, but have not found any documentation for this reported adoption of two boys or of Jane filing as head of household in order to retain ownership of the mission site. From some of the subsequent reports and letters, it appears that the mission property itself, meaning the school, outbuildings, burial grounds and open space, were claimed by Thomas Williamson, while Jane claimed ownership of the Williamson house that they had built at Kaposia. The annual report of the Dakota Mission on June 4, 1852 listed the value of the property at Kaposia as $800.00, but doesn’t distinguish the house from the mission property.[4] A few weeks later, Thomas wrote to Treat saying that he had priced the land and mission buildings at Kaposia at “$1,000 to be paid one month after the President tells the Indians they have to leave. The buyer will pay 7% interest per year.”[5]

In any case, while these discussions and decisions were held concerning Kaposia, the Williamson’s had to prepare to pack up everything they owned and get ready for the journey to Pejutazee. Thomas mentioned the challenge of the move in a letter to S.B. Treat on September 28, 1852: “First 8-10 days in a small open boat to Traverse des Sioux and then 4-7 days crossing the prairie in carts and wagons with all we need since nothing will be available there. Our P.O. will be Traverse des Sioux, 100 miles away.”[6]

For Jane, the move required making some difficult decisions. First of all, for some reason, she didn’t feel it was a good idea to bring Susan Ellison with her to the new site. As far as the correspondence indicates, Jane had raised Susan from the time she was a baby and many referred to the girl as Jane’s “adopted” daughter. Jane found a Christian family, the Whalen’s in Bloomington near Gideon Pond’s church, who agreed to take Susan and she moved in with them in 1852. Unfortunately, Stephen Riggs provides the story about what ultimately happened to Susan just over three years later. He wrote to S.B. Treat on June 11, 1856:

“You have probably heard of the killing of Susan Rainbow by six Chippewa. She was taken by Aunt Jane Williamson when quite young. For many years she has been 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 and took Susan by the hair, tossed her outside to a companion, shot by all 4. 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.”[7]

Jane also had to say goodbye to her dear friend, Nancy Hunter Aiton, and to all of her students. Besides Susan, Jane had come to love many of the Dakota girls who had been with her for six years, including Marion Robertson, who had been part of their family since her childhood. In 1852, however, Taoyateduta’s Kaposia band had made no plans to leave the village for the new reservation and thus, parents most likely refused to let their children leave with the missionaries. The Williamson’s also had to make arrangements to send their two oldest sons, John and Andrew, to Ohio to school. The boys traveled with the family to the new mission but then left in November with William Ellison who accompanied them to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.[8]

Preparations for the move also meant ordering goods from out east since, as Thomas had commented, they would have no access to any provisions at the new site. Unfortunately, all of the items they had ordered from Boston in June had arrived at Galena, Illinois, in such poor condition, with broken crates and damaged goods, that the dealer at that end convinced Thomas to just let him sell what he could in Galena.[9] Margaret and Jane no doubt had to make some tough decisions about what they had to leave behind and what was worth taking on one of the carts on the trip to Pejutazee. Winter was approaching and that meant that winter clothing had to be packed, along with buffalo robes, quilts, blankets and bedding. Wooden furniture like their humble bedsteads, tables and chairs was probably left behind and replaced with new pieces built by on-site carpenters at the new house. Clothing, kitchen utensils, cooking pots, dishes, grain, sugar, flour, pork belly, canned fruit, coffee and all other nonperishable food items had to be procured and packed for the trip. Thomas and Jane both had grammar books, Bibles, songbooks, religious literature, books on science and history and other necessary school items that could not be easily replaced. Thomas, of course, also had all of his medical textbooks and encyclopedias to move to the new station.

Thomas described the trip to S. B. Treat on November 19, 1852:

“October 4 we left Kaposia for Yellow Medicine with 3 women and 4 children who had to sit on the boxes or bedding all day in an open boat. We could have no fire. Boat was propelled by 5 men with poles and sometimes with oars. Women and children slept in a tent – the rest of us in open air. It took us 12 days to reach Traverse des Sioux. Stayed with Huggins and Pettijohns for 3 days and nights. Arr here October 23, 1852. House is 16×30 feet, frame 15-feet high – one room without a stove or fireplace. We temporarily lived in a small log cabin 12 x14 built for that purpose. It will be used as a schoolhouse. I kept 2 men for the winter to finish the house. Before finishing the house we got a foot of snow. We made a small stable for our animals.”[10]

Jane also wrote quite extensively about the trip to Elizabeth Burgess on November 29, 1852:

“Ever Dear Cousin,

“I pulled a sheet for you on the boat as we were coming up the St. Peters and although it has become very old believe I shall send it. When we reached Travers [sic] des Sioux Mrs. Huggins was dangerously ill and we were so busy baking bread for the men to have by the way when taking the boat down and for our own journey across the prairie that I had no time to fold up letters. We reached that place Friday and left it the following Monday. Mrs. Huggins was better when we started out of danger we thought.

“I stayed one night at Mr. Pettijohn’s his wife was Fanny Huggins. They have three children. Their health is better than formerly. They have left the ABCFM and are living in a very small shanty hope to be able to build a better house next summer. They have made a claim there and if they can hold it will be well enough off in a few years for land there will be valuable but they are poor now. Mr. Huggins has the money his land in Ohio sold for to improve his claim and it will doubtless be valuable. He and Mrs. Huggins feel much about leaving the mission but his declining health and their larger family make him think it inexpedient to follow the Indians.

“Our little boat was ten days ascending the St. Peters. The water was low and we were often aground on sand bars. When the river is high in the spring we might have come up in a few hours. And when all the slough between this and Travers are graded and the railroad commenced and completed it will only be a half a day’s journey from there but traveling with wagons or carts drawn by oxen is somewhat different and we were from Monday till Saturday coming over the Prairie.

“But although our journey was tedious we had excellent health and Miss Briggs and I at last enjoyed doing much when the air was not darkened by the smoke so as to obscure and cause our eyes to smart. The prairie was burning and besides the smoke the air was thickened by all sort of burned grass. Grass that made our eyes very sore our hands and clothes inexpressibly dirty and fell in showers too on our food when cooking.

“John Williamson met us at Travers des Sioux and came back with us and drove oxen that drove the wagon in which the smaller children rode had been hired at Travers were unbroken and when loosed from the wagon were always anxious to return. I thought sometimes John had too much running and wading but he never said I am tired but seemed anxious to relieve his Father who had as much fatigue as he was able to bear.

This photo, taken on August 17, 1862, is the only known image of the Williamson home at Pajutazee. The assembled group gathered after worship on this fateful Sunday morning, the day before the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War. Jane is the shorter woman with the bonnet in the background on the right. Margaret Williamson is first on the left and Thomas Williamson is the man with the white hat. Robert Hopkins Chaska and his wife, Sarah Tatidutawin, are in the front with one of their sons.

“We reached this on the evening of the 23 October and were very thankful to find our house had not only the roof but the lower floor windows and door. Wm. Ellison and [the men] had exerted themselves but the timber was taken from the wood and almost all the plank to saw by hand. It is frame plastered with a mixture of sand and earth. There is no partition yet but there are loose boards on the upper story so that Miss Briggs, the little girls and I sleep there. We have two stoves up but unfortunately one of them lost its feet and part of the bottom by the way and has to rest on a box filled with clay and ashes we cannot make it so warm as we would wish without endangering the floor and much of the heat escapes to the upper story. The pipes too running through help to warm it and thus far our sleeping apartment has not been uncomfortable.

“We arrived here Sat. evening. The next Tuesday morning Wm. Ellison and J. P. W. started down the former for Ohio. John and Andrew probably went to Galesburg, Illinois (Amos Huggins is there) but do not know certainly where they are. John had not entirely concluded when he left us and we have received no mail since we came here.[11]

Jane also took some time to explain the state of their supplies at Pejutazee:

“The Indians in the neighborhood seemed so well inclined to attend school when we first came that we felt much encouraged but they were soon called to Travers to recover the first payment for their land. Most of them went for there they would find plenty of flour, port and blankets. Here they had nothing but a little corn and what they could take by hunting and fishing. Some of those who went buried their corn hoes in sight of our house but it was stolen in the night. Only our family that remained had a sufficiency of corn. The snow was too deep to hunt. And they have been rather unsuccessful in taking fish but today a man brought us two large ones saying they had taken quite a quantity. I fear what I have said about provision will make you anxious but if the men are [successful] we have enough to do till their return and all we have is very good indeed. We killed two beeves neither of them two years old but the beef could not be better. We had intended to send for the flour before winter would close in but the horses ran away and the snow came unusually early. You will not receive this letter unless the men reach Travers and if they get down the road will probably be broken the great part of the way as they came up as carts are expected to come as far as Travers some eighteen miles above….

“You kindly ask what you will send us. A sun bonnet and a pair of gloves dear Cousin if convenient and pray that our coming here may not be in vain. Should the good of your neighborhood be so kind as to send us a box nothing they can send will come a miss. The Indians here are miserably clothed. A little girl that came to school had only a blanket made of polecat skins sewed together and a few rags to cover her nakedness. As henceforth they will receive annuities our hope not to see them suffer quite so much again. Though it seems to us that annuities given as they receive them have a natural tendency to cause indolence and improvidence.

“Sister coughed more than usual a month previous to our leaving Kaposia but now appears as well as common. She still nurses Henry though he talks plain and is a very great boy of his age. Nancy Jane suffers this winter from spinal disease. The rest of us have excellent health. I am but little lame and although it hurts sometimes to stoop I can walk or do anything I used to do.

“Your affectionate cousin Jane. S. Williamson”[12]

By the time Jane sent Elizabeth this letter, she had already set up the school at Pejutazee and was getting to know her students.[13] Just as she had at Lac qui Parle and Kaposia, Jane wrote about how concerned she was for the children who often had little to eat and insufficient clothing to keep them warm and comfortable. When winter came early as it did in 1852, the food shortage intensified and now the Williamson family, as well, was feeling the pressure of the possible arrival of severe winter storms making it impossible for the last of their supplies to make it through.

Jane also expressed her concerns about the annuity payments. One of the reasons the Pond brothers left the mission after the Treaty of 1851 was that they felt the government’s plan to move all Indians to reservations and pay them in annual installments called annuities was a terrible idea and would only lead the Dakota to not want to become self-sufficient by buying their own land and learning to raise their own food in significant quantities. Jane was always worried that if the Dakota families did not adapt and adapt fairly quickly, they would have no chance of equality or success but would either be driven out of the area or annihilated. The philosophy behind her beliefs and the passion and commitment of the traditional Dakota to retain their generations-old way of life were always in conflict.

Only a few days after their arrival at Pejutazee, however, everyone had a completely different problem to address. On November 30, two hired men who were working for Thomas Williamson planned to head back to Traverse des Sioux to bring back the flour and corn meal that had not made it into the carts and boat for the first trip. Thomas was very worried about them because the weather was rapidly worsening, becoming colder with snow and ice constantly building up. The youngest of the two was Andrew Hunter, 22, a brother of Jane’s dear friend, Nancy Hunter Aiton, who was with her husband John at Kaposia. The other was a local adventurer, a Frenchman named Jacques. Jane said they were both “full of energy and youthful adventure and profess not to dread the trip.”[14]

Things did not work out as the men planned. Jane told Nancy about the situation in a letter to her on January 12, 1853:

“Dear Sister Aiton,

“If the letters mailed by your bro. at Traverse des Sioux reached you in safety you undoubtedly have listened to the frightful howling of the fierce north wind with painful anxiety. And day after day when the churning rays of the sun were obscured by the drifting snow you thought of and prayed for a brother who might be exposed to the terrible tempest.

“We too were painfully anxious for him and the young man who was with him. My bro sometimes said all the comfort he felt respecting them was in knowing that the Lord reigns and the reason we had to hope Mr. Hunter was his child.

“On last Monday evening they both reached home but I am sorry to add your brother’s feet had been so badly frozen that he has not been able to walk on them since. When bro opened his feet he exclaimed I can’t see how you walked on these feet. Andrew replied, “I knew friends were praying for us. The Lord helped me. When I took one step I thought I could take one more.”

“For two or three days after he came his feet had so little sensation that the dressing gave him very little pain but he suffers acutely now when they are dressed. Still he bears it without a murmur.

“When they left to go down they expected to return in company with McCloud’s [sic, should be McLeod’s]  trains. They took hay and hid it by the way at different places for their teams to subsist on as they came back. Bro had left oats at Traverse which they were to feed to their teams as they reached it. But when they arrived at Traverse everything was in confusion. The storehouse in which our things were left had changed owners. The vats could not be found. Provisions and hay were so dear they concluded not to wait for Mr. McCloud trains. Started on the afternoon of the 10 Dec. and went ten miles but the storm commenced that night and the snow was so deep they could only make ten more Sat. Sat. was cold and stormy, but they lay by, trying to enjoy it. The next day traveling was bad and in trying to water the cattle these young men both wet their feet. Mr. Jacques said let us change our socks and moccasins and as soon as he could get to the sled took his knife, cut off both moccasins and socks. His toes were frozen but not badly. Mr. H. could not believe his were frozen and made no change. They did not reach timber that night and slept without fire. Tuesday evening they reached Laframboise. Your bro opened his feet and found they were badly frozen. My brother’s only hope was if they were not with the trains that Mr. L would keep them at his house but unfortunately he had not returned from Traverse and his family treated them with great kindness. They were unwilling to sell them hay so they started on Wednesday and camped at Lac Waryiodan that night. The oxen left them and went back to L. Mr. Jacques went in search of them and brought them again but the storms detained them a week at Waryiodan and suffered much for the wind blowing in every direction burned their clothing in holes and prevented them from getting much good of the fire. The snow too would beat into the tent.

“When he is able he will give you particulars. Suffice it to say the Indians that came before them had used the hay they left by the way and notwithstanding their efforts to preserve them by calling down but armed the storms they give out. Mr. Jacques made a little sled and putting some crackers and their bedding on it prevailed on your bro to leave the teams. They came on J driving the sled.

This on New Year’s Day. While many were rejoicing they were painfully pursuing their way. Mr. H. sometimes holding onto J. They got in sight of Brown’s but wandered a little could not reach it, slept without fire but having plenty of blankets were not cold. Sabbath morning the wind rose and they started for the house. The snow in the timber was soft. Jacques had left his snowshoes behind, and drawing the sled caused him to sink. Made walking very laborious so he put some crackers in a pillowslip, left all the rest and they reached the house in the forenoon. No one is living there this winter and there is no door that shuts but wood was very convenient. Mr. Jacques kept a good fire, carried in plenty of hay for them to sleep on and under the next morning they started early and reached home about 8 p.m. 

“We are very sorry your bro should suffer so but feel it our privilege to be permitted to nurse him and although we may not do it so well as a widowed mother or an only sister he seems content and much oftener speaks of his mercies than his afflictions.

“The provisions they had left when they arrived at Traverse they laid up where they thought it would be safe but a dog got it. They got what meat they thought would be enough coming back but it was not sufficient. Mr. H. said he never felt so strong after the meat gave out…

“He relishes his food very much now hope he will soon be better but he can’t get well very soon.

“Jacques is not as poor but Mr. Hunter says he was very kind to him. Poor fellow he too has a praying mother and since he has been here he has read his Bible so closely that I have indulged or hope her prayers might yet be answered. He was not so well provided for the journey as Mr. H. – but the latter left something he ought to have taken with him.

“When we consider how terribly stormy the weather was we feel thankful that their lives were spared. Still I fell very sorry to see him suffering and it gives me much to feel that this suffering was brought by exerting himself to bring food to us.

“When starting I said to him, ‘Don’t you dread the trip?’ ‘All I dread about it is the anxiety you and others will feel for us,’ was your brother’s reply. Yet I felt sad when they started.”[15]

Jane continued to keep Nancy informed about Andrew in a letter she wrote between February 4 and 15, 1853:

“Dear Sister Aiton,

“Your favor of December 27 did not reach us till yesterday though one of a later date had been previously read.

“Your Brother’s feet are still mending but the right one from which the toes were taken is more painful than usual today. He said just now “If I can’t along without complaining with part of a foot how should I do if I had a whole one?” Thus you see he is Andrew yet. But he does not very often make light remarks and few I think would have such an affliction with so much cheerful resignation as he does.

“I think Dec. was the most terribly stormy month I ever saw with us. How was it with you? Jan. came in cold but upon the — it was pleasant. The howling wind today is rather to remind us of the painfully anxious days and nights we spent when Mr. H and J were returning from Traverse.

“Mr. J says one night very similar the cold was so terrible that they stowed the fire and made their bed on the hot rocks having a large fire at their feet after lying sometime he tried to look out, the fire had burned out the place where it had been was covered with snow and a drift was forming on them. They had a tent but the wind was heavy they could not often sit it. They also had more bedding that they needed but the snow would wet it to prevent this. They had taken with then a bed tick filled with hay but when the horses had nothing else to eat they fed it away….

“The wind has abated but the mercury is 26 below. When it is so cold we are seldom comfortably warm in daytime but we have bedding enough to keep us warm at night. Were you to stop in the first object that would strike your attention would be Brother lying on the floor for we have not a bed for him. At night he lies in a feather straw bed but in the morning we usually lay off the feathers. This being an increasingly cold day he lies on both today although a shade more — 

“I think his countenance has increased its animation and he looks more interesting than when he was so ill. I said to him the other day, “If we only had one comfortable room for you.” He quickly replied ‘Aunt, I would not be half so happy as I am here.’ He always seems content with such things as we have and will such attention as we can give. He often regrets that he did not do more to comfort and relieve his mother and sisters.

“Mr. Jacques’s great toe is still quite sore but he goes around. He is planing plank today. Workbench is the house floor covered with shavings and he is trying to put up the plank for the — room might be comfortable warmed with the stove. Your bro takes in half in the planing and putting up the — and longs to be able to assist.

“I fear you will find it sad to think his bed is no the floor but although attended with some inconveniences he is perhaps rather better off than on a bedstead. It is easier to get around at a suitable distance from the floor to have his feet dressed. The dead flesh is now all off them and they have ceased to be offensive. The heel on the right foot is healing rapidly and we hope. The bone of it injured a small part of his bone on the left heel is bare but bro thinks the bone of it is not near so much injured as he had feared. A scale came off the bone on the outside of that foot but the flesh has grown over it and the skin is growing over it nicely. There is still a little piece of anklebone on the great toe. The toes on the right foot were all taken at the lower joint and although a little of the living flesh was cut in taking the toes off the dead flesh extended far below the sole and though this is now off it has [bottom of page torn off].

“Your bro sits at the stove today….Had you come in a little while ago you might have seen him with Grammar in hand for I have persuaded him to recite with the children and he sometimes assists them in arithmetic. But he has laid his book aside and he is now is trying to sharpen a plane bit on a whetstone. It being too cold for Mr. J. to work out he is again assisting at the partition when it is possible. This room will be warmer. But the upper floor is only loose boards and much of the heat escapes in that way.

“The kitchen stove throws out but little heat but although we have not a very comfortable house we have much to be thankful for. Sister’s health is better than usual. I had feared Miss Briggs  might be lonesome or discontented but she is more pleasant and seems happier than before we left Kapoja. Gets her lessons well and recites in grammar with the others….

“For the last few days your Bro. has had his bed taken up in the morning and sits and lies on a pallet by the stove during the day. The absence of the bed leaves room for the table and he sits with us to eat. This looks pleasant though he has to have his feet propped on a box under the table. When hanging down they are painful. He has got clear of the rheumatism in his hips. Bro thinks the rheumatism was worse in consequence of his leaving his overcoat. We were very sorry when we found he had left as the one he wore was much shorter. He said his reason for leaving it was he could not wear so much under it as the short one and it was more clumsy. He had a very good pair of mittens but would not wear them before he started down thinking he wished to save them because you had knit them. I got Mary to knit him a pair of coarse white yarn, charged him to take both pair with and the deerskin ones he had to wear over…. Jane S. Williamson”[16]

The last letter I’ve ever found from Jane Williamson to Nancy Hunter was written on March 3, 1853. Nancy was staying with her parents in Quincy, Illinois. She was recovering from the stillborn birth of an unnamed child and suffering from consumption, or tuberculosis. It was a letter that again brought Nancy up to date on how Andrew was doing. She told Nancy that Andrew was very anxious to make a trip to Illinois to visit the family, but that he still wasn’t well enough to travel. Jane lost her dear friend Nancy when Nancy succumbed to the illness and died in Illinois in 1854.

In the spring of 1853, Jane also renewed her efforts to claim the Williamson property at Kaposia. On March 29, 1853, she wrote to Andrew Robertson who was still living at Kaposia. She expressed her gratitude to him for rescuing her claim from intruders and pledged that she was very willing to be a partner in his plans for improvement of the village. She said she would be happy to bear her claim of the expense of having the site laid out in town lots and would consider it a privilege to donate a lot for a church or schoolhouse. Jane also said that he should probably have the site surveyed and that Thomas would pay her part of the expense when he came down in May. We also learn from this letter that Andrew Robertson was apparently proposing to name the new townsite St. Andrew’s after himself. Jane didn’t hesitate to inform him that “Pardon me when I say I should prefer Kaposia, Dakotaville, or something to continue the memory of the poor Indian.” The Robertson family was apparently planning to leave Kaposia and come out to the Upper Agency near the Williamson’s and Jane said she would be happy to welcome them but asked him to contact Henry Masterson, her attorney in St. Paul, in time for him to secure the place from intruders. Masterson was a member of Dr. Neill’s Presbyterian Church and Jane believed he would protect the house from anyone who might be a nuisance to society.[17]

On April 1, 1853, Jane doubled her efforts to protect the house at Kaposia by writing to John Aiton, who had remained there while Nancy had gone home to Illinois. She wrote:

“Dear Bro. Aiton,

“Accept my most cordial thanks for your kind letter and also for the trouble you have taken to secure and improve my claim. Hearing Mr. Robertson expected to leave, and not knowing but you might conclude to go also, I got bro to write to Mr. Masterson to take charge of it. I feared if the house was left vacant your neighbor French or someone else might step in and take possession of the premises.

“Masterson was particularly requested to admit no one into the house who might be a bad citizen. I hope you will find ready to form and whatever plans you may have formed, for the improvement of your village. I mentioned in a letter to Mr. Robertson that I was willing to make a donation of whatever lot on my part contains the most eligible site for either a church or schoolhouse.

“Bro expects to go down early in June and I hope then to be able to make arrangements to meet any expense you may have incurred on my account.

“Yours with esteem,    Jane S. Williamson”[18]

On that same day, Thomas Williamson wrote to S.B. Treat, “I am happy to inform you that from letters recently received I have reason to expect a considerable part if not all of the price of the claim at Kaposia will be paid within a few months which will be more than sufficient to meet any drafts which I may wish to make beyond the sum allowed us when the apportionment was made.”[19] A few weeks later, on May 6, 1853, he again wrote to S.B. Treat, “I think I have already informed you that the $1,000 for which I sold the house and claim at Kaposia will probably be available in a few months.”[20]

In July of 1853, Thomas informed Treat that the Indians still hadn’t left Kaposia so the property hadn’t been sold.[21] Then on November 11, 1853, he wrote that “The price of the property at Kaposia is now due as the Indians have recently been removed from that place but the purchaser is dependent on the sale of property (real estate) in Ohio for the means of payment and so it is doubtful whether any part of it will be paid this year but interest at the rate of 6 percent will accrue on it from this time till it is paid.”[22] There is no mention of Jane’s claim in any of this correspondence. The next correspondence of any kind that refers to the claim is an entry in Gideon Pond’s Diary from April 11, 1854. He was visiting Kaposia and wrote that Secretary Rosser was there to see about purchasing Miss Jane’s claim.[23] Finally, on October 13, 1854, Thomas Williamson wrote to S.B. Treat to say that he had a small balance left of what he had received from the claim at Kaposia but did not mention that Jane had anything to do with the sale.[24]

On June 23, 2007, a local South St. Paul citizens organization, R.E.A.P. , dedicated this sculpture at the site of the Kaposia Village in South St. Paul. The image     commemorates Taoyataduta and the people of his village. The 38 feathers are in memory of the  Dakota who were executed in Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862.

There are references in the previously mentioned Curtiss-Wedge History of Dakota and Goodhue Counties of Jane’s receipt of $3,000 for the Kaposia property from Franklin Steele, but I’ve been through all of the land records for Dakota County and the Kaposia site since the 1840s and there is nothing to document that transaction. It is clear, however that Franklin Steele did indeed come to own the Kaposia property. A letter from Henry H. Sibley to Steele on February 18, 1855, mentions that Sibley is sorry that Steele’s claim at Kaposia was jumped by Johnson Coulter. [25] Apparently Steele had made no improvements to the site which made it vulnerable to claim jumping by others. This is apparently what happened with Coulter. The next mention of the property in the Dakota County property records is the purchase of the site by Alpheus French, who bought it from Steele in 1855. It was French who ultimately had the site surveyed and platted for a new townsite but nothing ever happened. The site was completely inappropriate for any kind of development consisting as it did of a flat plain right on the river that was often flooded and then huge bluffs crossed the entire site from north to south, which led to another flat plain at the top, most of which was in another section of land. When the land became part of the City of South St. Paul in 1887, about three of four residential properties were built on the site of the former village but flooding made them inhabitable for much of the year. The rest of the property became part of Kaposia Park and today is known as the Simon’s Ravine trailhead where a steel sculpture commemorates Taoyateduta’s village and the Kaposia people while also displaying 38 feathers symbolizing the 38 Dakota who were executed in Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862. Paved memorial stones on the trail at the site include commemorations to Jane Williamson and the Dakota Mission.

Thomas Williamson was called to St. Paul in 1853 to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee that was investigating charges against Governor Alexander Ramsey, pictured here.

No further mention is ever made of the proceeds from the sale of Kaposia and Jane doesn’t say anything about it in any of the letters that I’ve located. The Williamson’s instead became involved in a political situation that arose as a result of the treatment the Dakota received through the signing of the 1851 Treaty. Then Territorial Governor Alexander Ramsey was accused of refusing to pay the Indians the money they had been promised in the treaty but instead releasing those funds to traders, claimants and “half breeds.” A further provision accused him of conspiring with Henry Sibley, Hercules Dousman, Hugh Tyler and Franklin Steele to release the whole fund to their favorites and using “improper means and cruel measures to compel the Indians to sign.”[26] The United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs took up the matter and moved the hearing to Minnesota on April 5, 1853. They heard testimony from July 6 through October 7, 1853. One of those who went to St. Paul to testify was Thomas Williamson. Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth on July 12, 1853: “The trip is a very inconvenient one to him just now and he thinks no good will results from it. There is no doubt the ex-governor defamed the Indians but no probability of it being proved and we fear the present one is a worse man. It is said he warmly favors the Communists.”[27] All charges against Ramsey were dropped by the Senate on February 24, 1854, and he apparently suffered no consequences as he was elected as the second Governor of the State of Minnesota, taking office on January 2, 1860.

The Williamson’s soon had other things on their minds as the lower bands of the Dakota began to arrive at the new reservations from their former villages and the upper bands began to attend school and services at Pejutazee. By the spring of 1854, the family was also preparing to welcome the Riggs family to the area following the burning of the mission property at Lac qui Parle. On July 1, 1854, Stephen Riggs wrote to S.B. Treat: “We just got back from Yellow Medicine. After passing over all the ground two or three times with Dr. W., Aunt Jane and Mr. Ellison, we selected the spot where Dr. W. and I went down a ravine to hunt for water. The house is to stand on the bluff side and field to extend across to Rushbrook. In two weeks from this time I hope our operations will be removed to that place.”[28] The location of the Riggs mission, which the A.B.C.F.M. called New Hope but which he named Hazlewood, was three miles north of Pejutazee where the Williamsons had been leading worship and teaching the Dakota since 1852.[29] As the year came to an end, it is clear that Jane was well established in her new position. S.B. Treat wrote to Thomas Williamson on December 4, 1854: “Your sister must be allowed to introduce her improvements. I am much interested in her plans. May she have all the success which she deserves.”[30]

[1] Pejutazee is also known as Pejutazizi and as Yellow Medicine for the Yellow Medicine River. It was on the west bank of the Minnesota River three miles above the mouth of the Yellow Medicine River. Stephen Riggs didn’t like the name, preferring Pazhehootazee as a more direct spelling of the Dakota word and which has  he felt had a more beautiful sound. (Northwest Missions Manuscripts and Index, 1766–1926, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts, Microfilm Call #587, P 489, Box 18).

[2] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, June 8, 1852, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 5

[3] Willand, Jon, Lac qui Parle and the Dakota Mission, © 1964, Jon Willand. Willand lists the two boys as one named Mahlon Williamson and the other with no name. I have never found any other mention of either of these boys anywhere in the source documents. The information about Jane receiving $3,000 for the sale of the mission property is recorded in The History of Dakota and Goodhue Counties, Minnesota, Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, editor, published by H.C. Cooper, Jr., Chicago, Illinois, 1910.

[4] Annual Report of the Dakota Mission, June 4, 1852, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 5

[5]Ibid. Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, September 28, 1852

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid. Stephen R. Riggs to S.B. Treat, July 11, 1856, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 6

[8] Knox College, 2 East South Street, Galesburg, IL 61401-4999, was founded in 1837.  The school’s founding document opposed slavery in all forms — physical, spiritual, intellectual — and declared that the College would be accessible to students regardless of their financial means, regardless of their race. This was a radical idea at the time. Andrew graduated from Knox in 1857 and John presumably completed his courses in 1855.

[9] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, November 19, 1852, ABCFM Correspondence, BA1-A512b, Box 5.

[10] Ibid. The three women were Margaret and Jane Williamson and Mary Smith Briggs. The four children were Nancy Williamson, 12; Smith Williamson, 10; Martha Williamson, 7; and Henry Williamson, 18 months. See Jane Williamson’s subsequent letter indicating that John Williamson, and presumably Andrew, also made the trip, at least from Traverse des Sioux to Yellow Medicine.

[11] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, November 29, 1852, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, Item 19, Folder 3. The biographies of Lydia Huggins and Fanny Pettijohn are both covered in earlier posts on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Jane began teaching school at Pejutazee on November 8, 1852 and taught until the Wahpeton began heading down to Traverse des Sioux for their annuity payment on November 26. They didn’t return until May 1, 1853, and school commenced at that time. Then, on June 20, 1853, the Dakota went to the Lower Sioux Agency to attend the annuity payment there, returning the first week of August. Jane then held class regularly from August 8, 1853, through the date the report was submitted, September 26, 1853, with an average of 18 scholars.  The Annual Report for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1850, p. 79. Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm Call #: 1599; Minnesota Historical Society Reading Room, Call #: E93 .U71

[14]   Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, November 29, 1852, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, Item 19, Folder 3.

[15] Jane S. Williamson to Nancy Hunter Aiton, January 12, 1853, John Felix Aiton Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, See Manuscripts Notebooks Call #: P1447

[16]Ibid., Jane S. Williamson to Nancy Hunter Aiton, February 4-11, 1853.

[17] Jane S. Williamson to Andrew Robertson, March 29, 1853, Williamson Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection Microfilm Call #: M155. Dr. Neill is Edward Duffield Neill (1823–1893), pastor of House of Hope Presbyterian Church of St. Paul, 1849-1860.

[18] Jane S. Williamson to John Aiton, April 1, 1853, John Felix Aiton Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society, See Manuscripts Notebooks Call #: P1447. Mr. French is Alpheus French, an early settler in the South St. Paul area who eventually became the owner of all of the Kaposia mission property in 1855.

[19] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, April 1, 1853, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 5

[20] Ibid., Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, May 6, 1853. Thomas clearly mentions the house is included in this proposed amount. See Franklin Steele Papers, 1839-1888, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Notebooks, Call #A/.S814.

[21]Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, July 18, 1853, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 5

[22] Ibid. Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, November 11, 1853

[23] Gideon Pond Diary, 1854, Northwest Missions Manuscripts and Index, 1766-1926, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts, Microfilm Call #587, P 489, Box 18. I have not located a Secretary Rossow but he may have been with the A.B.C.F.M.

[24] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, October 13, 1854.ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 5

[25] Franklin Steele was the brother of Henry Sibley’s wife, Sarah Jane Steele. He was a real estate developer and investor whose often questionable practices have attracted the attention of historian for generations. See Franklin Steele Papers, 1839-1888, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Notebooks, Call #A/.S814.

[26] Folwell, William Watts, A History of Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Society, © 1921, Appendix 8, page 465

[27] Jane W. Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, July 12, 1853, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, Item 21, Folder 3. The new governor whom Jane has heard favors the Communists was Willis Gorman, who replaced Ramsey as Governor of Minnesota on May 12, 1853.

[28] Stephen R. Riggs to S.B. Treat, July 1, 1854, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 6

[29] There is ongoing disagreement within the history community on the proper spelling of Hazlewood. It is fairly clear that the name was taken from the band of Dakota who settled near Hazel Run, a tributary of the Minnesota River which is also called Rushbrook. Hazel trees grow in abundance in the area. But in all of the ABCFM correspondence and reports from both Riggs and Williamson to others, the name of the new Riggs mission is always spelled Hazlewood, not Hazelwood.

[30] S.B. Treat to Thomas S. Williamson,  December 4, 1854, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 6


This entry was posted in Andrew Hunter, William Williamson Ellison, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s