Three Dakota Daughters – Nancy McClure, Julia LaFramboise and Helen Sibley

Throughout the story of Minnesota’s territorial past we often encounter individual stories of women whose mothers were Dakota and whose fathers were white traders, soldiers or adventurers. These women share many things in common, including a sense that they did not quite fit in either the Native American culture of their mother, nor in the white culture of their father. Often identified as Mixed Blood, they wind their way through the lives of the missionaries, showing up as boarders with mission families or attending mission schools. Most of them learned to read and write in English and Dakota but few found success in their marriages or life choices.

One of these Dakota women who has appeared in many Dakota Soul Sisters stories is Marion Robertson [Hunter] Prescott. I won’t tell Marion’s story again but I encourage readers to click on her name in the category list and read about both the amazing opportunities she had and the tragedies she experienced throughout her life.

Nancy McClure was only 16 years old when Frank Mayer drew this sketch of her on her wedding day, July 11, 1851.

Another Dakota daughter who has been mentioned in passing throughout these stories is Nancy McClure. Nancy, whose Dakota name was Wowaka Wa-Pa-Let, meaning Hat, was born in the Village of Mendota in 1836. Her mother Winona, who was born in about 1818 in Redwood Falls, Minnesota, was the firstborn daughter of Mazekutemani. Winona entered into a relationship with James McClure, a white soldier at Fort Snelling, in 1835, and Nancy was the only child of that partnership. Nancy lived with her mother’s people at Mendota and James remained in contact with Winona and Nancy until he was transferred to Florida and died there in 1838.

The next year, Winona married Antoine Renville of the Lac Qui Parle Renville family. Winona and Antoine Renville had three other children who were Nancy’s half-siblings, Sophia, Isaac and William Renville. Nancy grew up at Lac Qui Parle after 1839 and attended school at the Dakota mission there. She was baptized into the Christian faith by Dr. Thomas Williamson on November 8, 1840. Nancy’s mother was often not well and Nancy actually lived with the Williamsons until they left for Kaposia in 1846, at which time she became part of the Fanny and Jonas Pettijohn family at the Lac Qui Parle mission. Mary Huggins Kerlinger wrote in her journal that, “This winter, Aunt had a lovely half breed girl Nancy McClure who had lost both parents. She was 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] Nancy herself recalled that when she left the Williamsons, Aunt Jane said she would walk back home with her part way and that they held hands and cried as they prepared to leave each other. Nancy said she never saw Jane again.[2]

Nancy McClure’s name is listed in the 1850 Lac Qui Parle census with her stepfather Antoine Renville and his children. Her mother had already passed away.

Fur trader Martin McLeod told Nancy that he had been in touch with her father’s family and that she would receive several hundred dollars from her father’s estate but Nancy recalled that all she ever received was fifteen dollars. McLeod died in 1860 but he did provide for Nancy and her mother after Nancy’s father died in 1838.

Nancy was thirteen or fourteen years old when her mother died in 1850. She is listed as living with her stepfather, Antoine Renville and his children, Isaac and Sophie, in the 1850 census at Lac Qui Parle, but she was actually cared for by Martin McLeod who had helped her and her mother during her mother’s illnesses. McLeod told her that he had been in touch with her father’s family and that she would receive several hundred dollars from her father’s estate but Nancy later said she only got fifteen dollars from McLeod at some point.[3] In 1851 Nancy went to live with her grandparents at Traverse des Sioux near her uncle Rdayamani’s (Rattling Walker) village. She soon became part of the Robert and Agnes Hopkins family and continued to attend school at the mission there.

When the government officials and bands of the Dakota assembled at Traverse des Sioux in July 1851 for the signing of the 1851 treaty, Nancy was one of the young women who assisted with their accommodations and meals. Frank Blackwell Mayer, a writer and artist who was at the treaty signing, drew Nancy’s portrait and described meeting her in his journal. Mayer tended to use many abbreviations of his own and hardly any punctuation. I have edited his words to make it easier to understand what he meant.

“Strolling thro the village…in company with that fine specimen of a French gentleman Mr. [Alexis] Bailly our camp master, we stopped before the farthest lodge. ‘This is the lodge of Rdamahnee or the ‘walking rattler’ and here lives Winona or Nancy McClure, the natural daughter of an officer of our army and an Indian woman. We’ll go in.’ On a mattress covered by a neat quilt sat Winona, the most beautiful of the Indian women I have yet seen. She is but sixteen and the woman has scarcely displaced the child in her face and figure. She possesses Indian features softened into the more delicate contour of the Caucasian and her figure is tall, slender and gracefully girlish. Her eyes are dark and deep, a sweet smile of innocence plays on her ruby lips and silky hair of glossy blackness falls to her dropping shoulders. She received us with a smile and a modest inclination of her head. She understands English, for the departed missionary had been her instructor, but excessive modesty prevents her essaying to speak, her only answer being the innocent smile downcast eyes and nod of affirmation or denial. She has been visited by most of our camp, the rarity of her beauty being the attraction and the purchase of moccasins the ostensible object.”[4]

Mayer made reference to the fact that only a few days earlier, on July 4, 1851, Robert Hopkins, the missionary at Traverse des Sioux had drowned in the river. Nancy, of course, had lived with the Hopkins family and studied at the mission and was no doubt grieving at this tragedy herself when Mayer met her. For Nancy, Robert’s death meant more changes in her life and it may be that his passing prompted her to make a decision of her own. Mayer goes on to say,

Frank Mayer described David Faribault as a young man when he wrote about Faribault’s marriage to Nancy McClure. David was actually 19 years older than Nancy, had been married twice before and had several children when he and Nancy wed.

“She has been courted for a year past in person and by proxy by David Faribault, a young Indian trader of half breed descent and the ceremony of marriage was yesterday at our camp. Two horses were given for the bride. At the commissioner’s marquee were assembled the bride and groom and his relatives, the Governor and the commissioner and suite, the voyageur half-breeds and Canadians and the Indians. Mr. Alexis Bailly, the Magistrate present, read the service of the Episcopal church, the different personages group around, forming a picturesque and novel scene. The bride congratulated, the marriage was announced by a salute of champagne corks, the report of which soon summoned the camp to hilarious harmony which flowed on through a hearty dinner and the subsequent toasts, and broke like the surf as the company dispersed singing simultaneously by individual and collective efforts ‘Sparkling and Bright, Auld Lang Syne and Vive le Compagnie.’ A speech from the commissioner was translated into Sioux and delivered to the Indians.” [5]

The romantic scene Mayer painted and the joyous champagne reception he described are shadowed by the reality of who David Faribault really was. For one thing, he was close to thirty-five years old in 1851 when he married Mary, who was only sixteen, an age difference of nineteen years. He had also already been married twice and reportedly had several children. He was born in 1816 at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, the son of Jean Baptiste Faribault, who was a white trader at Mendota and Elizabeth Pelagie Anse, a Dakota woman. He was the manager of Henry Sibley’s store at Mendota but when he married Nancy they moved to Shakopee, Minnesota, where David continued to trade with the Indians. They then moved to LeSueur, Minneosta, for a year and then to Faribault, Minnesota, where they remained for four years. Their daughter, Mary Jane Faribault, was born in Faribault on August 16, 1855.[6]

When the 1857 Territorial Census was taken in Faribault, David listed his age as forty-four and the census taker wrote that Nancy was forty when she was really only twenty-one. Living with them were David Faribault, Jr. who was listed as twenty when he was really only fifteen. His younger siblings are also listed as William, eighteen (he was really thirteen) and Louise who is listed as sixteen when she was really eleven years old. They were David’s children with his second wife, Suzanne Wasukoyakewin Weston, who had died in 1851. Nancy and David’s daughter, Jane Faribault, is listed as four years old when she was only two years old at the time.[7]

By 1862, David, Nancy and Jane had moved to a new home about two miles from the Lower Sioux Agency on the east side of the river at Redwood. There are several different stories in the historical records that purport to describe what happened to the family when the U.S. Dakota War began on August 18, 1862. In one intriguing reference, Dr. Thomas Williamson wrote to the head of the ABCFM, Selah Treat, and said, “David Faribault, a half breed of bad character, is strongly suspected of instigating the Indians to these murders.”[8] Whether Thomas was correct or not, Nancy described what happened as follows:

“At the time of the outbreak we were living two miles from the Redwood agency on the road to Fort Ridgely. We had a log house, but it was large and roomy and very well furnished. When we first came my husband intended engaging in farming and stock raising, but he soon got back to his former business, trading with the Indians, and when they rose against the whites he had trusted them for very nearly everything he had, for they were very hard up, and the other stores would not trust them for anything. Besides the goods he sold them on credit, he let them have fourteen head of cattle for food. The winter and spring before had been very enjoyable to me. There were a good many settlers in the country, some few French families among them, and the most of them were young married people of pleasant dispositions. We used frequently to meet at one another’s houses in social gatherings, dancing parties and the like and the time passed very pleasantly. I was twenty-five years of age then, had but one child and could go about when I wanted to, and I went frequently to these gatherings and came to know a good many people.

 “Then came the summer, and the Indians came down to the agency to receive their annual payments under the treaty of 1851; but the paymaster with the money was delayed on the road until the time for the payment had passed. He was at Fort Ridgely with the money, all in gold, when the Indians rose. There were mutterings of trouble for some time, but at last it seemed the danger had passed away.

 “On the very morning of the outbreak my husband and I heard shooting in the direction of the agency, but supposed that the Indians were out shooting wild pigeons. As the shooting increased I went to the door once or twice and looked toward the agency, for there was something unusual about it. My husband was out attending to the milking. All at once a Frenchman named [Oliver] Martelle came galloping down the road from the agency, and seeing me in the door, he called out: ‘Oh, Mrs. Faribault, the Indians are killing all the white people at the agency! Run away, run away quick!’ He did not stop or slacken his speed, but waved his hand and called out as he passed. There was blood on his shirt, and I presumed he was wounded.

 “My husband and I were not prepared for trouble of this kind. Our best horses and wagons were not at home. We had two horses in the stable and harness for them, but no wagon. My husband told me to get my saddle ready and we would go away on horseback, both of us being good riders. We were getting ready to do this when we saw a wagon, drawn by two yoke of oxen and loaded with people, coming down the road at a good trot. My husband said we would wait and see what these people would say. When they came up to us we saw there were five or six men, three of four women and some children, and they were all in great fright. They asked us to put our horses to their wagon as they could travel faster than oxen and to get in with them. This we agree to do and soon the change was made. When they were harnessing the horse I ran to the house to try to secure some articles of value, for as yet we had taken nothing but what we had on our back, and I had many things I did not want to lose. Woman-like, I tried first to save my jewelry, which I kept in a strong drawer. This drawer was swelled and I could not open it, and I was running for an ax to burst it, when my husband said, ‘Let it go they are ready to start.’ So I took my dear little daughter, who was eight years old and my only child and we started for the wagon.

 “Just as I was about to get in everybody else was in I looked up the road toward the agency and saw the Indians coming. I was afraid they would overtake the wagon; so I declined to get in, and my husband got out with me, and we took our child and ran for the woods, while the wagon started off, the men lashing the horses every jump. Just as we started for the woods, Louis Brisbois and his wife and two children, mixed-blood people, came up and went with us. We all hid in the wood. In a few minutes the Indians came up and somehow they knew where we were hidden and they called out very loudly: ‘Oh, Faribault, if you are here come out; we won’t hurt you.’ My husband was armed and had determined to sell his life for all it would bring, and I had encouraged him; but now it seemed best that we should come and surrender, and so we did.

 “The Indians at once disarmed my husband. They seemed a little surprised to see the Brisbois family, and declared they would kill them as they had not agreed to spare their lives. Poor Mrs. Brisbois ran to me and asked me to save her, and she and her husband got behind me, and I began to beg the Indians not to kill them. My husband asked the Indians what all this mean what they were doing anyhow. They replied, ‘We have killed all the white people at the agency; all the Indians are on the warpath; we are going to kill all the white people in Minnesota; we are not going to hurt you, for you have trusted us with goods, but we are going to kill these Brisbois.’ And then one ran up and struck over my shoulder and hit Mrs. Brisbois a cruel blow in the face saying she had treated them badly at one time. Then I asked them wait until I got away, as I did not want to see them killed. This stopped them for half a minute, when one said: ‘Come to the house.’ So we started for the house and just then two more wagons drawn by oxen and loaded with white people came along the road. All the Indians left and ran yelling and whooping to kill them.

 “We went into the house. At the back of the house was a window, and a little beyond was a cornfield. I opened the window and put the Brisbois family out of it and they ran into the cornfield and escaped. They are living somewhere in Minnesota today. The white people were nearly all murdered. I could not bear to see the sickening sight, and so did not look out, but while the bloody work was being done an Irish woman named Hayden came running up to the house crying out for me to save her. I saw that she was being chased by a young Indian that had once worked for us, and I called to him to spare her, and he let her go. I heard that she escaped all right. Now, all this took place in less time than one can write about it.

 “When the killing was over the Indians came to the house and ordered us to get into one of the wagons and go with them back to the agency. This we did, my husband driving the team. The Indians drove the other team. Soon after we started an Indian gave me a colt to lead behind the wagon. About half way to the agency we saw the dead body of a man lying near the road. Just before we reached the ferry over the Minnesota river we saw a boy on the prairie to the right. There were but three Indians with us now. One of them ran to kill the boy. At this moment a German rode up to us. I have forgotten his name, but the Indians called him ‘Big Nose.’ I think he is living at Sleepy Eye, Minn., now. One of the Indians said to the other Indian, ‘Shoot him and take his horse.’ The other said, ‘Wait till my son comes back and then we will kill him.’ (His son was the one that had gone to kill the boy.) All this time I was begging them not to kill the man. I asked my husband to plead with them, but he seemed unable to speak a word. At last I told the German to give them his horse and run into the brush. This he did and escaped.

 “When we got to the ferry the boat was in the middle of the stream, and standing upon it was a young white girl of about sixteen or seventeen years of age. The Indians called to her to bring the boat ashore, but she did not obey them. They were about to shoot her, when my husband told her they would kill her if she did not do as they ordered, and she brought the boat ashore. When it touched the bank a young Indian made this girl get on a horse behind him and he rode away with her, and I never heard what became of the poor creature. When I saw her being taken away I felt as badly as if she was being murdered before my eyes, for I imagined she would suffer a most horrible fate. When we reached the agency there was a dreadful scene. Everything was in ruins and dead bodies lay all about.”[9]

Nancy went on to describe how Taoyateduta attacked Fort Ridgely the next day and rumors began to fly that all of the mixed blood people were going to be killed. Nancy saw David run into Taoyateduta’s cornfield and she took Jane and ran seven miles to Shakopee’s camp where she had some distant relatives. She left Jane there the next morning and went back to Taoyateduta’s to see whether David was there.

He was and Nancy apparently stayed there with him. She goes on to say,

“I think it was the fourth day of the outbreak that I was strolling through Little Crow’s camp when I saw my horse, Jerry. I untied him and was leading him away when an Indian ran up and said, ‘Here, I captured that horse at the fort, and he is mine.’ I told him I did not care how he got him; he was mine, and I was going to take him. At last he allowed me to have him. I had that horse at Camp Release, and took him with me to Faribault, Minn.”[10]

Hundreds of white and mixed blood Dakota prisoners were held near Monticello, Minnesota by Taoyateduta and his followers. Nancy and David, along with their daughter Jane were held there and feared at any moment that everyone might be killed.

During the attack on Fort Ridgley on August 22, 1862, David reportedly drove Taoyateduta in a hansom buggy as they led the second attack on the troops assembled there.[11] He appears to have been on the Dakota side of the war for at least the first few days, although he was never accused and never tried for his role in any of the battles. In any case, David, Nancy and Jane all ended up at Camp Release with the other whites and mixed blood Dakota who were taken prisoner by Taoyateduta. They were released on September 26, 1862; Taoyateduta and his loyal band of followers fled north and Henry Sibley and the federal government took over control of the Dakota who remained behind.

David was never arrested or accused of fighting in the war but became an informer for the government and was called as a witness in one hundred thirty-one of the post-war trials of the Dakota. He testified in eighty-six, usually saying that the accused was definitely at such and such a battle or was known to have attacked and/or killed people at this or that location. Nancy took Jane and her horse Jerry and went to Faribault, Minnesota, where they moved in with David’s sister Emily and her husband Sterne Fowler. David remained at the agency for the trials and served with Sibley’s troops until he became a scout for the post-war campaign to find, arrest and try the Dakota who had not turned themselves in after the war.

Nancy and Jane remained with the Fowlers in Faribault for two years and then returned to Redwood for a short time. David became involved with the government once again as he assisted in moving three hundred Dakota from Crow Creek to the new reservation at Niobrara, Nebraska in 1867. Stephen Riggs wrote to S.B. Treat on March 12, 1867 and reported that David Faribault had five thousand dollars put into his account in a St. Paul bank as his payment for removing three hundred Indians, including fifty or sixty church members from Minnesota to Niobrara.[12]

David and Nancy arrived at the site of the new Fort Ransom in June 1867. They then opened a “house of entertainment” about thirty miles away to provide room and board for travelers. Today the site is a historic park in North Dakota.

It was perhaps this significant payment that prompted  David to move the family to Big Stone Lake in west central Minnesota. William Quinn was there and offered David a position as interpreter under Major Grossman who was on the way to build Fort Ransom one hundred-fifty miles northwest of Big Stone Lake in what is now North Dakota. David and Nancy arrived at the site of the new fort in June 1867. It was built to protect settlers and railroad workers who were working on the Northern Pacific Railroad between Fargo and Bismarck and was named for distinguished Civil War veteran Major General Thomas E.G. Ransom. The fort was built on top of Grizzly Bear Hill, a site chosen by Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry. In the fall, they went out thirty miles from the fort and opened a mail station and what is called a “house of entertainment” for travelers, which must have been an inn or tavern.

David and Nancy settled in Flandreau, South Dakota where their son-in-law, Rev. John Eastman, pastored at the Dakota church, which remains in active worship today.

In June of 1868, David took Jane to enroll her in school in Winnipeg and while he was gone a party of Indians attacked the station. Nancy fled with her neighbors to Fort Abercrombie, North Dakota, about forty miles away. David returned from Canada two weeks later to find everything had been taken or destroyed. David and Nancy then went to the reservation at Sisseton, South Dakota, for a short time before settling in Flandreau, South Dakota, where there was a prominent Christian Dakota settlement.

Nancy concludes her memoir as follows:

“My first husband died about eight years ago. Since then I have remarried to Mr. Charles Huggan. We live on a farm near Flandreau. My only child, who was a captive with me, is the wife of Rev. John Eastman, a Presbyterian minister and a mixed-blood. They have six children, all bright, interesting and promising. When I was first married I was a Presbyterian, but Mr. Faribault and all his family were Catholics and I became a Catholic and am a member of that church still. I think Christian churches are like so many roads, all leading to the heavenly land. If we follow them carefully and walk uprightly in them, the All-Father will bring us to him at last.”[13]

 Nancy smoothed over the last few years of her life rather than share what is apparently the real story of her second marriage to Charles Huggan. According to A.H. Laughlin, writing in the History of the Red River Valley: Past and Present, Nancy met Charles Huggan in 1871 when he was living and working at David and Nancy’s home while engaging in hunting and trapping. Charles and Nancy fell in love and carried on a clandestine correspondence with each other by using a boy named Tommy Bonner as the carrier of their messages. Over time, rumors of their relationship spread through the community and David became very angry. Charles then took an opportunity in 1874 to get David very, very drunk and while he was passed out, Charles and Nancy eloped.[14]

The story, especially about eloping, doesn’t quite ring true because there is no mention of a divorce and Nancy was, by all accounts, a practicing Catholic. David Faribault Sr. didn’t die until November 18, 1887, but in the 1880 Federal Census, Nancy, listed as aged thirty-six, when she was really forty-four, is identified as Nancy Huggan, and is living with Charles Huggan, aged thirty, in Moody County, South Dakota, which is where Flandreau is. Interestingly, eighteen-year-old Louise Faribault is recorded as living with them. Louise was actually David Faribault, Jr.’s daughter; David Sr.’s granddaughter. Nancy was not related to her at all except as what might be called a former step-grandmother.

It appears, however, that the so-called romantic marriage between Nancy and Charles did not last. In 1902, an Indian School Service report on Indians living at Flandreau records the following in Nancy’s entry: “62 years old, receives rations. She has a worthless white husband. She has no land and lives with John Eastman [her son-in-law].”[15] Charles Huggan was deceased by the time that the Laughlin history was published in 1909. In the 1920 census Nancy is listed at the agency in Flandreau, South Dakota, as eighty years old (she was really eighty-four) and she is living with her daughter Jane and Jane’s husband, Rev. John Eastman. Three of John and Jane’s grandchildren were living with them and are listed as Christ, 6; Leroy, 2; and Millard,1.[16]

David and Nancy’s daughter Jane married Rev. John Eastman and served the Dakota community at the Presbyterian mission church in Flandreau, South Dakota.

Despite the apparently difficult ending to her second marriage, Nancy spent the final years of her life surrounded by her grandchildren. John Eastman was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in 1876 and ministered at the Flandreau mission in Moody, South Dakota. He and Jane were married in 1874. Their oldest son, Christian Eastman was born about 1875, followed by Cora Belle Eastman, born on January 26, 1878. John Alfred Eastman, born on April 19, 1880, was their third child and Mary Jane Eastman was born on October 12, 1882. Grace O. Eastman arrived on August 8, 1886, and Fred Riggs Eastman was born on January 7, 1889. George A. Eastman, their youngest son, was born on September 22, 1891, and the youngest of the family, Elizabeth “Bessie” Carson Eastman arrived on September 17, 1896. Mary Jane Eastman died when she was only a few months old and Cora Belle passed away in 1897 at the age of nineteen years.

Nancy McClure lived to be ninety-one years old. She visited the site of her 1851 marriage at Traverse des Sioux just three weeks before her death and had her photo taken at the Daughters of the American Republic monument at the Old French Cemetery.

On the occasion of the seventy-sixth anniversary of her July 11, 1851 marriage to David Faribault at Traverse des Sioux, Nancy made a visit to the site of the treaty signing and her photograph was taken next to the Daughters of the American Revolution monument marking the French Cemetery nearby. She passed away three weeks later on August 6, 1927, at Flandreau at the age of ninety-one years. Her life had spanned the earliest days of the Dakota mission in the 1830s, through the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, the arrival of the railroad, the advent of the airplane and the dramatic events of World War I. Throughout the span of her long life she had also dealt with the reality of her birth and learned how to live within both Dakota culture and white Christian culture, always trying to find the best path.

Julia Ann LaFramboise

Julia LaFramboise (2)

Mary Huggins Kerlinger, Alexander and Lydia Huggins’ daughter, wrote in her journal that, “Julia when grown had somewhat the bearing of a chieftain. She would be noticed anywhere. She lived with us more than five years and with letters and visits we kept in touch with her all her…years. I loved her like a sister.” This photograph of Julia was given to the Minnesota Historical Society by Miss Callie Kerlinger, Mary Huggins Kerlinger’s daughter, in 1930.

Julia LaFramboise makes her first appearance on the Dakota Mission scene on September 25, 1850 when her father brought her to the mission at Traverse des Sioux, Minnesota. She was placed with the Alexander and Lydia Huggins family and began attending classes at the mission when she was eight years old. Nancy McClure was one of the other Dakota girls at the school. Mary Huggins Kerlinger, Alexander and Lydia’s daughter, wrote in her journal that, “Julia when grown had somewhat the bearing of a chieftain. She would be noticed anywhere. She lived with us more than five years and with letters and visits we kept in touch with her all her…years. I loved her like a sister.”[17]

Magdelaine LaFramboise was the first woman to take over her husband’s fur trading business and become very wealthy. Alexis Bailley brought Julia LaFramboise a locket with a lock of her Magdelaine’s hair sent to her beloved granddaughter.

Mary Ann was right to think of Julia as having the bearing of a chieftain, descended as she was from a long and respected line of both Dakota and French ancestors. Julia was born on December 11, 1842, at Little Rock, Minnesota. Her father, Joseph LaFramboise Sr., was born in 1805 and was the son of the first Joseph LaFramboise and Magdelaine Marcot LaFramboise. The first Joseph was murdered in 1806 when Joseph Sr. was only an infant. He grew up with his mother, who was the daughter of a French trader and an Ottawa woman. Magdelaine took over her husband’s trading post at Mackinac Island in Michigan and became quite famous and wealthy as the first woman to successfully take part in the world of trading in the early 19th century. She sold the business to the American Fur Company in 1818 and retired to her stately home in Mackinac. Today, her mansion is the Harbor View Inn, one of Mackinac Island’s most elegant hotels.

Magdelaine LaFramboise eventually sold the fur trading operation and built this magnificent mansion on Mackinac Island. Today her historic home is the Harbor View Inn on Mackinac Island.

Sleepy Eyes Monment

A monument to Chief Ishtakhaba, Julia’s grandfather, stands watch over the town of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.

Julia’s mother was Oasixheaoui, one of seven daughters of Ishtakhaba, also known as Chief Sleepy Eyes, who was a Dakota chief of the Sisseton tribe. He became chief sometime between 1822 and 1825, receiving a commission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs as chief in 1824 and remained chief until his death in 1860. [18] His band, known as the Swan Lake or Little Rock Band, hunted in southwestern and southeastern Minnesota. Ishtabkhaba tried to promote peace with whites in and around the state of Minnesota. He was a signer of at least four treaties with the United States government, including the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, and met with President James Monroe in Washington, D.C. in 1824.

Oasixheaoui’s sister, whose Christian name was Magdelaine, also married Joseph LaFramboise, Sr. and another of Sleepy Eyes’ daughters, Mazanakawin, married the white trader Louise Provencalle. Joseph LaFramboise Sr. married Oasixheaoui and Magdelaine in 1838. Oasixheaoui had three children before she died. Joseph LaFramboise Jr. was born in 1831; Alexis LaFramboise, in 1840 and Julia, in 1842. Oasixheaoui died by the end of 1844 when Julia was about two years old. Joseph Sr. then married Jane Dickson, the daughter of fur trader Robert Dickson, in 1845. Jane was Mdewakanton, Ojibwe and Scots and was the only mother that Alexis and Julia ever knew.

Julia’s oldest brother, Joseph LaFramboise Jr., watched over and protected her all of her life.

Joseph and Jane had three children together, step-siblings of Jane LaFramboise. William was born in 1847; Justine in 1849 and Eliza in 1855. Julia’s father taught her about her family and Alexis Bailly, one of her grandfather’s best friends, sent Julia a locket with a piece of her grandmother’s hair in it – a gift from Magdaliene Marcot LaFramboise at Mackinac Island.

When Julia was thirteen years old, her father became ill and she returned home to Little Rock. Joseph LaFramboise Sr. died on November 9, 1856, at the age of fifty-one years. He left his property to his children and Julia used her portion of the proceeds to pursue her education.  She first went to Rev. Stephen and Mary Riggs at their Hazlewood mission by the Upper Sioux Agency in west central Minnesota. Then, in the fall of 1859, she joined two of the young women of the mission, Nancy Jane Williamson and Martha Riggs, at Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio. Julia was there with them when the college burned down on January 14, 1860.

Julia attended Lake Erie Female Seminary in Painesville, Ohio for a year or so in 1861-62. The school, now known as Lake Erie College celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2006.

Julia then enrolled at Lake Erie Female Seminary which was formed in 1856 as a seminary for women in Painesville, Ohio. The institution, now known as Lake Erie College, first offered classes in 1859, with 137 students initially enrolling. Julia stayed at Lake Erie for a year. When she returned to Minnesota, she went to assist Amos and Sophia “Josephine” Huggins at the Lac Qui Parle government school and was there when the U.S. Dakota War broke out on August 18, 1862.

The story of Amos Huggins’s death on August 19, 1862, is covered in the Dakota Soul Sisters story about Sophia “Josephine” Huggins but I am repeating it here as part of Julia’s story.

Josephine Huggins was interviewed by The Saint Paul Weekly Press for the February 12, 1863 edition.

Julia was with Sophia Huggins when Sophia’s husband was killed on August 19, 1862. Sophia’s story describes how much she counted on Julia for support and assistance as they tried to reach safety during the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War. Sophia is pictured here with her daughter, Letta.

“The nineteenth day of August, 1862, dawned on me full of hope and happiness. It was the 24th anniversary of my birth. But before its close it proved to be the saddest day of my life

. News of the war which broke out at the Lower Agency on the 18th did not reach Lac-qui-parle until the next day. Then it came with fearful suddenness and fearful reality.”

Josephine and her husband, Amos Williamson Huggins, 29, had come to Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota, in 1861 to operate a government school for the Dakota in the area. They had been married in the spring of 1856 and had two children. Eletta Sophrina Huggins, known as Letta, was born on April 5,1858, and Charles Loyal Huggins, called Charlie, on April 19, 1861. Letta was four years old on that fateful day in August 1862 and Charlie just 16 months. Josephine may not have known that she was a few weeks pregnant with their third child.

Sophia’s account of that day continues:

On the afternoon of that day, three men from Red Iron’s village came in, each carrying a gun. They were quite friendly and talkative, seeming very much interested in the sewing machine Julia was using, and asked a great many questions about it. About four o’clock Amos came home from the field. Then the men went out; and soon after, we heard the report of two guns. The Indians rushed in, looking so wild and frightened, that my first thought was that the Chippewa were upon them. They said to us, ‘Go out, go out; you shall live – but go out. Take nothing with you.’ When I went out, the oxen my husband had been driving were standing at the side of the house and near them was Julia, on her knees, bending over his motionless body. She looked up and said: “Oh, Josephine, Josephine!” Oh, what an ocean of grief swept over me then, for I saw that he was dead! A ball had entered his back, and passing through his body, had killed him instantly.”

I imagine the terrified women carrying Letta and Charlie and trying to run through the tall grass in their long skirts, not knowing who to trust or where they might find safe haven. Perhaps the children were laughing at this new game, unaware of what had happened, or perhaps they picked up on their mother’s tension and fear and began to cry. It was early evening and no doubt they felt a sense of urgency to reach safety before darkness fell.

Amos Huggins Marker LQP 070912 (3)I recently had occasion to visit the site, pictured above, where the Huggins’ home once stood. It was a hot, sleepy afternoon in July 2012, 150 years after the tragic murder of Amos Huggins. The sky was blue, the wind in the grass and the chirping of the cicadas offered a soft cacaphony of the omnipresent song of the prairie in summer. I felt a tremendous sense of “place,” an identity with the story of the site that can only happen when one is able to physically be present where something memorable happened. I could easily visualize the chaos which took over the peaceful scene as the gunshots rang out and Amos fell dead. The Indians shouted at Josephine and Julia to take the children and go – to leave everything and just go.

Sophia continues her story:

“We were driven away, Julia and I. We ran over to De Cota’s. Julia went first, carrying Letta. I staid behind until I saw they were really going to shoot me. Then, after hastily spreading a lounge cover that I had been sewing on, and had carried out with me, over the lifeless form of my dear one, I fled with Charlie in my arms. When I reached De Cota’s he and his wife were starting back with Julia. I wanted to go with them but they thought it would not be safe. I knew Julia would see that everything which it was possible to do should be done; so I yielded to their judgment.

 “Mr. De Cota came home shortly. I asked him if he could not take us to the Yellow Medicine. He said that we would be killed on the road. I then suggested that he take us across the river, and go across the country to the white settlements. He answered that perhaps he would start to the Red River the next day. When Julia returned, she told me that Walking Spirit and others had buried Amos. The old chief was fullof sorrow and said that if he had been there, they should have killed him before they could have killed Mr. Huggins. Our house was full of plunderers. Indians, from the Lac-qui-parle village were there, as well as the murderers. Julia went in, and was able to get a few things, which afterwards proved valuable to me.

“It was thought we would be safer at Walking Spirit’s than at De Cota’s; so we went over in the evening. Mrs. De Cota intended to go with us, but her husband prevented it, probably thinking he should not be safe if she left him. She sent her brother, Blue Lightening, with us. He did not offer to carry either of the children.

 “We had not gone far before Ke-yoo-kan-pe came up to us, and taking Charlie out of my arms, carried him until we reached the village. As we passed through it, a great many women came out to shake hands with me. Some of them laid their hands on their mouths and groaned. The men paid no attention to me. When we reached he chief’s house he received us kindly, shaking hands with me, and with the children. His wife hurried to spread a buffalo robe at the farther end of the room for us to sit on. All the time that I was with Walking Spirit my seat was, whether in a tent or in a house, at the end farthest from the door – the most honorable place. We slept on the robe, but were furnished with pillows by the chief’s wife, one of which I recognized as having been mine. She gave me several other articles which had been mine.

“There was a great deal of noise in the village during the night, loud talking, singing and yelling, but the children slept soundly, not realizing what had befallen them, nor the dangers before them. Men went and came through the whole night long to talk to the chief.

 “The next morning we had beef for breakfast, which had been killed at our house the evening before. They gave me, as they always did, bountifully of the best they had. In the afternoon, Mr. John Longee invited us over to his home across the river, thinking we would be safer there than in the Indian village. Walking Spirit told us to do as thought best, and we finally concluded to go. One woman packed Letta all the way; another packed Charlie as far as Lame-Bear’s village. As we passed through it I saw a great deal of fresh beef hanging up to dry. My husband’s writing desk was there; also many of our chairs. I saw Indian children dressed in my children’s clothes. I could hardly bear these reminders of the home which had been so cruelly torn from me. I did not, however, see any Indians that I knew, except “Old Fuss.” He shook hands with me, and made a speech, of which I understood nothing but Amos’ name.

 “We staid at Longee’s until Friday, and had a quiet, lonely time. We saw no Indians while there, except the woman who packed Letta over. She staid with us all the time. Julia and I were in constant alarm. Longee and a Frenchman always slept with their guns beside them, in readiness for use, or staid outside, watching. Thursday, Mr. Longee went over to the village, and brought back dreadful accounts of the war below. It was reported that the missionaries and the whites at both Agencies were killed. Oh! What a day  that was – full of grief, anxiety and suspense. Julia had saved two pocket Bibles from the hands of the plunderers. One of them was my husband’s. How precious it was to me! Precious for the sake of him who had once pondered its sacred pages, as well as for the blessed teachings, and glorious promises it contained.

 “In the evening Julia’s brother came up from below, dressed like an Indian. He said he had come for her, and that if she put on the Indian dress, and staid with him, she would be safe, but that it would not be prudent for me to accompany them. Mr. De Cota was there, and invited me to live in his family. It was decided that I should do so.

 “Friday morning Julia left me. She had been my comforter, my adviser, my help in all my troubles. Now I was left alone. I realized more than ever my need of strength and fortitude, and prayed that I might be prepared for whatever I might pass through.”

Sophia and the children were found by four Dakota men who had been sent out to bring them to Amos Huggins’ family in Traverse des Sioux six weeks after their capture.

Julia was safely brought to the Lower Sioux Agency by her brother Joseph. During the Battle of Birch Coulee on September 2, 1862, Julia translated a letter to Henry Sibley from Chief Standing Buffalo and Joseph delivered it to the General. Julia and her brothers and sisters came down to the Lower Sioux Agency in October and on October 28, 1862, Julia testified against Tatekage, in his trial for the murder of Amos Huggins. He was executed at Mankato on December 26, 1862.  Julia also served as interpreter for Chief Standing Buffalo during the trials.

Julia’s brothers, Joseph and Alexis, and their families were in the internment camp at Fort Snelling from 1862-1863, but Julia sold part of the scrip or land she had received in a government settlement with the mixed blood Indians, and enrolled in the Rockford Female Seminary at Rockford, Illinois. She graduated in 1863 and remained for a year as a graduate student and assistant to the principal.

She returned to Minnesota in 1865 and worked for a year or so as a clerk in a dry goods store in Minneapolis while continuing to hope for a teaching job in a public school. She ultimately became a licensed public school teacher in Minneapolis in August of 1867 and taught school in St. Anthony, Minnesota, for two years. At that point, Julia was asked to come to teach at the Santee Reservation in Santee, Nebraska in the spring of 1869.

Dr. Thomas Williamson reported to the ABCFM on November 7, 1871, “She had seen enough of missionary life to know that the call was to a life of toil, with a salary barely sufficient to meet her current expenses, yet she went cheerfully, counting it a privilege to be employed in teaching the poor despised Indians, though none of her near relatives were there. It was a position for which she was eminently qualified. A good scholar, with an excellent knowledge of both the English and Dakota languages, her gentle and dignified manners and skill in teaching, excited the love and admiration of her pupils, and inspired them with interest in their studies. She labored beyond her strength, and in less than two years and a half she was compelled to cease from teaching.”[19]

Jane Huggins Holtzclaw (2)

Jane Huggins Holtzclaw was a dear friend of Julia’s. They had known each other since Julia boarded with the Huggins family when she was a girl. Jane served as the executrix of Julia’s estate.

 

Julia returned to her brother William’s farm at West Newton, Minnesota, for the final weeks of her life. Julia was only twenty-eight years old when she died of tuberculosis on September 20, 1871. She was originally buried at the farm but was later moved to the LaFramboise family plot at Fort Ridgely Cemetery.[20]

Two days before her death Julia wrote her will:

“In the name of God. Amen. I, Julia Ann Laframboise of the Town of West Newton in the County of Nicollet and State of Minnesota, Spinster being mindful of my mortality and being of sound mind any memory do this eighteenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy one make and publish this my last will and testament and name following.

 “First, I resign my soul into the hands of believing God. Being and believing in a remission of my sins by the merits and meditations of Jesus Christ and my body I commit to the earth to be buried at the discretion of my Executor, desiring him to have my body buried in our small family graveyard on my parents’ home at Little Rock farm beside those dear departed …

 “Second, I give and bequeath unto my Beloved Brother Alexis George LaFramboise my gold watch chain and I give and bequeath to my beloved Sister Justine Marie LaFramboise my gold watch.

 “And I give and bequeath unto my Beloved Brother William R. LaFramboise my share of silver plate which belongs to me. Also I give and bequest to my brother William LaFramboise and my sisters Justine Marie LaFramboise and Eliza LaFramboise all my stacks of books desiring them to evenly divide the same among them in love and peace for my sake.

 “My wearing apparel I give and bequeath to the following married persons: My Mother, My Sisters Justine and Eliza, My brother Alexis’s Wife, My Sister-in-law and Mrs. Cantane (sp ?).

 “Fourth, to pay all moving expenses attending my funeral and what remains to be directed to erect a monument in memory of my Dear Departed Father, Three Sisters and One Brother and myself.

 “And I do hereby Constitute Jane S. Holtzclaw my soul executrix of this My last will and testament.

 “I am writing…herewith sent by mail and dated the eighteenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy one.

 “The foregoing instrument of one sheet was now submitted by Julia Ann LaFramboise the testator in the presence of each of us was at the same time declared by her to be her last will and testament and we at her request sign our names hereto as attorney and witnesses.

 “Julia Ann LaFramboise

 [unclear]                    residing at West Newton, Nicollet County, Minn.

Jane Holtzclaw             residing at West Newton, Nicollet County, Minn.

Justine LaFramboise   residing in West Newton, Nicollet County, Minn.” [21]

Julia LaFramboise tombstone

Julia was only 28 years old when she died at William LaFramboise’s farm. She was buried there but later moved to the LaFramboise plot at the Fort Ridgely cemetery.

 

 

Like Nancy McClure, Julia lived a life in two worlds, one the family of her mother in a traditional Dakota village and the other in late 1860s white America where the country was recovering from the Civil War and where women of Julia’s generation were already working to gain equal rights and the freedom to vote as full citizens of the United States.  Throughout her brief life Julia left an impression on everyone she met and had she lived, she no doubt would have served as a teacher and an example to hundreds of Dakota girls who were growing up in a confusing and rapidly changing world.

Helen Hastings Sibley

Helen Sibley09252019

Helen Hastings Sibley was the daughter of Minnesota’s first governor, Henry Hastings Sibley. She was born in Mendota to Sibley and his Dakota wife, known as Red Blanket Woman, in 1841.

One of the more dramatic and tragic stories from Minnesota’s past is that of Helen Hastings Sibley. Helen’s mother was Tahshinaohindoway, a Mdewakanton Dakota woman from Black Dog’s Village on the Minnesota River near Fort Snelling, and her father was the first Governor of the State of Minnesota, Henry Hastings Sibley. Sibley was only twenty-three years old in 1834 when he became a partner in the American Fur Company and relocated from Mackinac Island to St. Peter’s, now known as Mendota, Minnesota. He erected his home and trading post, now known as the historic Sibley House in 1836 and probably met Helen’s mother a few years later. Known to whites as Red Blanket Woman, she was probably several years younger than Sibley. Her father, Wasuwicaxtaxni, or Bad Hail, was a well-known spokesman for the Dakota in the treaty negotiations of both 1837 and 1851. He was a good friend of Henry Sibley’s and took the side of the traders in the treaty payments. It may be that he believed a union of his daughter, whose Dakota name was Tahshinahohindoway, with Henry Sibley would be advantageous to both his trapping and trading activities and to his family.[22]

Sibley colored portrait

Governor Sibley knew Helen was his daughter and although he never acknowledged her birth in writing, he paid her foster parents and covered all of her expenses for clothing, books, education, etc.

In any case, Sibley married Red Blanket Woman in 1840 and they both went on the winter hunt that season. The wedding was conducted in Dakota fashion meaning that Sibley would have negotiated a settlement with her family and there would have been a quite elaborate ceremony of transferring the young woman from her father’s home to her new husband’s dwelling. Sibley had no reason to keep the marriage a secret. Marriages and relationships between the Dakota women in the area around Fort Snelling and the fur traders and military men working there were very common. Red Blanket Woman herself was thought to be part French, meaning that one of her parents may have descended from a French fur trader.

It isn’t clear whether Tahshinaohindoway actually moved into the Sibley House with Henry. It may be that she remained with her own family, especially when she became pregnant in the late fall of 1840. The new couple’s daughter was born on August 28, 1841. Her Dakota name was given as Wakiye, or Bird, but her Christian baptism certificate identifies her as Helene, daughter of Tahshinahohindoway and an unnamed father. Sibley’s friend and fellow trader, William Forbes, was her godfather.

Although Sibley had the baby baptized, he apparently ended his relationship with Red Blanket Woman soon after Wakiye was born. By the spring of 1842, he was traveling in pursuit of his political future and also hoping to find a white wife to bring back to Minnesota. He traveled to Baltimore for the wedding of Franklin Steele to Anna Barney. Sibley knew Steele, who had been working in Minnesota for many years. Steele’s sister, Sarah Jane, was at the wedding and then came back to Mendota with Franklin and his new wife. It was there that Sibley began his courtship of Sarah and they were married at Fort Snelling on May2, 1843.

Sarah Steele Sibley

Helen was not yet two years old when her father married Sarah Steele on May 2, 1843. Sarah knew of Helen’s existence but never acknowledged that Helen was Henry Sibley’s daughter.

It is difficult to understand today how an acclaimed Christian man like Sibley could simply abandon the Dakota woman with whom he had a child and start life over with a white wife. Sarah Jane Sibley had their first child, Augusta Sibley, in June of 1844. They would go on to have eight more children together, only four of whom lived beyond childhood.

Wakiye, in the meantime was living nearby with her mother’s family and growing up like any other Dakota girl. Tahshinaohindoway continued to come to the post at Mendota to trade for various supplies. In the credit books of the trading company, her name appears and she is identified as Bad Hail’s daughter in August 1845 and April 1846.[23] Unfortunately, the historical record includes several conflicting stories about what ultimately happened to Tahshinaohindoway. Some sources say she married a man, who may have been known as Henry St. Cloud, from the Black Dog band and died during childbirth in 1848; others imply that she died five years earlier when Wakiye was only two years old. Still others report that she moved out of the Mendota area and went up north to her brother’s band and married and died there.

William Brown09262019

William Reynolds Brown and his wife Martha raised Helen Sibley from the time she was about six years old until she married in 1859.

 

What is documented is that Henry Sibley took Wakiye away from her mother and her Dakota family by 1847, when she was only about six years old. She became Helen Hastings and Sibley took her to the little village of Red Rock on the east side of the Mississippi River south of St. Paul to be fostered by William Reynolds Brown and his wife, Martha Newman Brown. The Browns had only been married a few years. Martha was a widow identified only as Mrs. Boardman when she came with the first Methodist missionaries to teach the Dakota at the Mdewakanton village of Kaposia in 1839. William had come west with his brother and had a substantial farm in Red Rock, now Newport, Minnesota. They wed in 1841.

Bruce Kohn, author of Dakota Child, Governor’s Daughter, published by the Friends of the Historic Sibley House in 2012, does an excellent job in his book surmising how quickly and completely Wakiye’s life changed when she was brought to the Browns. Her Dakota name was set aside and she became Helen Hastings. She worshipped with the Browns at the Methodist chapel in Red Rock and was, for the most part, raised as their daughter. The Browns also took in other foster children. The 1850 census for Washington County, Minnesota, records the following who were in the household that September: William Brown, 32; Martha, 32; Elizabeth Brown, 22; William Wilson, 25; and Hellen Sibly [sic], and Catherine Forbes, both eight years old. Elizabeth was William Brown’s sister; William Wilson may have been a hired man and Catherine Forbes was the daughter of Helen Sibley’s godfather, William Forbes, and a Dakota woman.

Kavanaugh House at Newport

Helen attended Methodist church services in this log cabin which was built by Rev. Benjamin T. Kavanaugh in 1839-1840. The building has been moved several times but since 1969 it has been on the grounds of the Newport United Methodist Church in Newport, Minnesota.

Henry Sibley paid the Browns to care for Helen and they submitted bills to him for her clothing, shoes and other items over and above the monthly board. William was well-respected in the area and held several elected positions during his farming years in Washington County, including assessor, justice of the peace and county commissioner. He and Martha also enjoyed entertaining and moved in the best social circles of the time for a small, rural community.

When Helen was about ten years old, in 1851, William and Martha sold their farm and moved across the river near the Mdewakanton village of Kaposia, where the Williamson mission was located. The federal treaty with the Dakota of that year required the Dakota to leave their village and relocate to the new Lower Sioux Agency near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, while the western side of the river was opened up for white settlement. By early 1853, the Dakota made their way to the new reservation and the land that had been the Kaposia Village became part of the Township of West St. Paul in the Dakota County. The Browns and Helen were in West St. Paul for perhaps two years and then William and Martha purchased a home in St. Paul in 1854.

Helen, then a young teenager, became involved with the Jackson Street Methodist Church and was, according to all accounts, a popular and pretty girl. Kohn provides the following description of Helen:

Bruce Kohn Book

Bruce Kohn wrote an excellent and very detailed biography of Helen Hastings Sibley in 2012. The cover image was created by Deb Zeller especially for the Kohn book, which was published by Friends of the Sibley House Site.

 

 

“Men remembered her looks. ‘She was a pretty girl, was Helen with dark eyes and hair but with a fair complexion and with features that gave much less evidence of her descent from the ‘first families’ than was displayed by the half-Caucasian children of other prominent pioneers,’ summarized a journalist reporting her life story. Helen probably looked more Caucasian than the typical mixed-blood child because her mother was partly of French descent. By another account, Helen was a ‘very beautiful girl,’ who ‘looked much like [her] father.’ A former boarder with the Browns remembered her some sixty years later as ‘a handsome girl.’ In another memory, ‘Helen Sibley was the best-looking of all of them.’ ”[24]

By this time, in the mid-1850s, Henry Sibley was deep into his political career. He served in the U.S. Congress as the Territorial Representative from Minnesota from 1849-1953. He was then elected to the Minnesota Territorial House of Representatives in 1855, as the representative of Dakota County and was a member of the Democratic Party wing of the first Minnesota Constitutional Convention in 1857.

In 1858 Sibley was elected as the first governor of the state, serving from May 24, 1858, until January 2, 1860.  After narrowly defeating Republican Alexander Ramsey in the first state gubernatorial contest, Sibley declared in his inaugural address, “I have no object and no interests which are not inseparably bound up with the welfare of the state.” He did not seek reelection.

While Sibley continued to support Helen and pay her expenses with the Browns, he continued to try to hide his true identity when it came to the legal documentation of her parentage. Like all those of mixed blood, Helen was entitled to what was called Half-Breed Scrip, where those who were white and Dakota were awarded land along the Minnesota side of Lake Pepin. As whites continued to move into the area, many of those who received the property were willing to convert them to scrip and receive the value in dollars rather than property. Everyone who was awarded anything had to produce evidence, usually with live testimony, of the details of their birth. In Helen’s case, Sibley wanted her to get the value of her award but by pulling strings, he managed to get her recorded via William Forbes’ testimony as Hellen Hastings [sic], who is the daughter of ____________. Her mother is reported as being a full blood, Indian woman of the Mdewakanton band of the Sioux Indians and she is a half blood of said band. Thus, Sibley got her scrip recorded without identifying himself.[25]

Despite his cautionary behavior, nearly everyone knew that Helen Hastings was the Governor’s daughter and she herself used the name Helen Hastings Sibley. At some point when she approached her late teens, Sibley paid for Helen to go east to a finishing school for young women and she had received an excellent education in the schools in Washington County and in St. Paul. She was musical and played the melodeon, which Henry Sibley gave her for her fourteenth birthday. When the Browns took a house at 145 East Fifth Street in downtown St. Paul between Robert and Jackson Streets, Sibley visited often and he and Helen could be seen chatting over the front gate as he attempted to be on his way after one of his visits.[26]

The Browns took in a variety of boarders to supplement their income in the 1850s and in 1857, a young doctor from New York, Sylvester Sawyer, took a room with them in August of 1857. Bruce Kohn writes:

 “Doctor Sawyer intrigued Helen. He had studied in the office of a physician in Keeseville, New York, and in 1854 graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. He was a surgeon at a hospital until the latter part of 1855, then spent a year studying in Paris before going to Saint Paul to practice medicine. He fascinated the young woman just returned from school and awakening to the wider world. William Brown told Sawyer about Helen’s parents and her maternal grandparents.”[27]

It wasn’t long before Helen and Sylvester fell in love. They were married on November 3, 1859. Sylvester was thirty-one years old and Helen just eighteen. Helen agreed to use the name Helen Hastings in the official documents and her father, the Governor of Minnesota, agreed to participate in the wedding. The Governor’s staff attended and Reverend John Mattocks, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of St. Paul, who had known Sylvester Sawyer back in his hometown in upstate New York, performed the marriage. The ceremony took place in the front parlor of the Browns’ home in St. Paul and many members of their church community attended. Henry Sibley signed the marriage certificate as a witness while the name of the bride’s father remained blank on the document.

Throughout her entire life, Helen had to live with the fact that her father had a whole other family and that her stepmother, Sarah Jane Steele Sibley, wanted nothing to do with her. No matter how much she had accomplished nor how popular and intelligent she was, she never quite met the mark with her father’s clan. According to Kohn, she did have a good relationship with Henry Sibley’s brother Fred who came to Minnesota and managed the Mendota trading post for Henry as the Congressman lived in Washington while serving on Congress. He remained in Minnesota in 1854 and meant a lot to Helen. Unfortunately, she apparently never received an address at which to write to him after her marriage.[28]

Still Helen and Sylvester reportedly were very happy together. They established their first home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sylvester wrote to William Brown in mid-November 1859:

“As Helen has informed you, we are comfortably lodged for the winter & everything is as pleasant as could be desired. Helen makes a most excellent wife and affectionate companion & I have no doubt we shall get along in perfect harmony together…My experience convinces that matrimony is a great institution and I no longer wonder that widowers and widows are so anxious to get married a 2d or 3d time.”[29]

Their marital bliss in Milwaukee was challenged by their financial situation even as Sylvester continued to grow his practice. On May 26, 1860, Helen and Sylvester moved from Milwaukee to Raymond Center in southeastern Wisconsin, where Sylvester purchased an existing practice from a retiring doctor. They joined the Congregational Church in Raymond and Helen became friends with the pastor’s wife. They had a house, three acres of land, a barn, a cow, chickens, a horse and a wagon. They could even afford to hire a helper who assisted with the farm and the house.[30]

In their comfortable new location, Helen and Sylvester prepared to welcome their first child who was expected in mid-August 1860. By early September, the baby still had not arrived and on Monday, September 3, Helen broke out in a red rash but she wasn’t concerned. She went into labor and Helen and Sylvester’s new daughter arrived at 1:10 a.m. on September 4, 1860. The baby was healthy but by the next afternoon, Helen had developed a high fever and a rash and became delirious as the day turned into Wednesday. Sylvester sent to Milwaukee for another physician since he could not control the fever.

Helen died on September 6, 1860. She had just turned nineteen years old on August 28, nine days earlier. Sylvester wrote to William Brown, who, along with Martha, was shocked and grieving Helen’s death. Bruce Kohn describes the situation:

“How Sylvester missed his young wife. ‘Every day I saw more and more in her to love and admire – every day my attachment to her was becoming stronger & stronger, while her love for me was such as I never thought to gain – so true, so steadfast.”

 Sawyer also reported that the baby seemed well. “I shall call her, I think, Helen Mary – Mary being my mother’s name. Helen’s mother’s name I never knew. I know you will be shocked at this dreadful news – so will her Father and all of my friends.” The minister’s wife took the baby to care for her in the days after Helen’s death. When Henry Sibley got the news, he was celebrating the birth of his own son, Charles Frederick Sibley, who was born on September 11. He wrote to William Brown on September 14, 1860:

“I am much obliged for your kindness in sending me for perusal, Doct. S’s letter giving a detailed account of the illness and death of poor Helen. I had already recd a similar one from him. Poor girl! Her dream of happiness here was a short one, but we have reason to help that she has been translated to a better and purer state.”[31]

As a physician, Sylvester kept checking on baby Helen but unfortunately, by Tuesday, she was emaciated and in pain. She passed away on Friday, September 14, 1860, just a little over a week after Helen. The two were buried together in the cemetery in Raymond, Wisconsin.[32]

Sylvester remained in contact with the Browns and with Henry Sibley after Helen’s death, sharing his own sorrow and grief but also, at least in the case of Sibley, seeking access to Helen’s scrip on her behalf and on behalf of their also deceased baby girl. Sibley had told him that the scrip would be handed over to him as soon as it could be arranged.[33]

In February of 1862, Sylvester remarried, this time to another Helen, Helen A. Gookins, from Belvidere, Illinois. They got married in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Sylvester had still not received payment for Helen Sibley’s scrip and remained in contact with Sibley about it, but the Civil War interrupted his plans as he was called to serve as a physician at Fort Schuyler near New York City. He was in that role for fifteen months beginning in November 1862. He and his wife settled in New York after the war and Sylvester practiced medicine there until he died at age forty-two in 1870, leaving Helen and their two children, Henry S. Sawyer, who was five years old and Jessie Sawyer, who was still an infant. Sylvester’s widow continued the pursuit of Helen Sibley’s scrip payment which Henry Sibley said he still had in 1883, but it is unknown if she was ever successful in receiving any proceeds.

Helen Hastings Sawyer’s obituary in the Weekly Racine Advocate on September 19, 1860, clearly identifies her as Henry Sibley’s daughter.

“At Raymond Center, Racine County, Wis., Sept. 6th, 1860, of scarlet fever, HELEN H., daughter of Gov. H.H. Sibley, of Minnesota, and wife of Dr. S.J. SAWYER, of Raymond, in the 20th year of her age.

 “Mrs. Sawyer adorned her Christian profession, and recommended the religion of Jesus by a life of remarkable devotion to the happiness of others. In her domestic and social life she was singularly self-forgetful; her thoughts and efforts seemed all to be for the comfort and enjoyment and highest good of her friends and acquaintances. She was unaffected and enthusiastic in her admiration for the beauties and wonders of nature, and loved the humblest of God’s animated creatures. As a wife she was devoted and affectionate, and ardently beloved; as a mother she lived but three days, of delirium with but brief lucid intervals, and was mysteriously removed from duties and cares and delights, which she alone could best fulfil and enjoy; and yet a humble and confiding faith in our Heavenly Father can enable her friends to realizes that for her ‘to die is gain.’

 “After a life of only ten days her daughter has been transplanted to bloom by her side in the Paradise of God.”[34]

Perhaps of the three Dakota daughters discussed in this story, Helen is the one who really was transformed from the daughter of Red Blanket Woman who grew up in a traditional Dakota village, to become the acknowledged daughter of the white Governor of Minnesota and the wife of a respected white physician in Raymond Center, Wisconsin. She had made her place in white society at a time when moving between native and white culture was not always easily accomplished. After her mother’s death, it appears that Henry Sibley never encouraged Helen to remain in touch with her mother’s family nor with her Dakota culture. Sadly, she died so young that she truly never had an opportunity to realize whatever goals or objectives she had created during her life as she made this transition to white culture. In any case it is clear that her mother loved her dearly, as did her father, her foster parents and ultimately her husband. We can only imagine who she may have become had she lived a longer life.

[1] Mary Huggins Kerlinger Journal, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society, p. 126.

[2] MNHS, Minnesota Collections, Vol VI, 1894, pp. 438-60.

[3] Ibid.

[4] With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851, The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer, edited with an introduction and notes by Bertha L. Heilbron, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 1986, pp. 167-168.

5] Ibid., pp. 169-171.

6] Mary Jane Faribault Eastman’s tombstone at the agency cemetery in Flandreau, South Dakota, lists her date of birth as August 16, 1855. Many other records indicated that she was born on August 9, 1853, but I cannot explain how an official tombstone could be wrong so I am going with the 1855 date. http://www.FindaGrave.com, September 13, 2019.

[7] These discrepancies in dates are frustrating and often cannot be explained. I have attempted in every case to document the correct information from original source documents like birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, etc. There is an excellent Faribault family tree on Ancestry.com which seems to provide documented dates and names.

[8] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, November 21, 1862, MNHS, ABCFM Correspondence, Box 7

[9] MNHS, Minnesota Collections, Vol VI, 1894, pp. 438-60.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mark Diedrich, Little Crow and the Dakota War, Coyote Books, Rochester, MN,, 2006, p. 221

[12] Stephen Riggs to S.B. Treat, March 12, 1867, MNHS NW Missions MS P489, Box 21

[13] MNHS, Minnesota Collections, Vol VI, 1894, pp. 438-60.

[14] A.H. Laughlin, “History of Ransome County,” History of the Red River Valley: Past and Present, Vol II, C.F. Cooper & Company, Chicago, 1909

[15] MNHS, Minnesota Collections, Vol VI, 1894, pp. 438-60, reprinted in Minnesota’s Heritage No 1, January 2010, f.n. 9, p. 45. In this report, Nancy’s age, listed as 62, is again incorrect. Nancy was sixty-six in 1902.

[16] There is a fairly complete Eastman family tree on Ancestry.com that provides dates, spouses, children, etc. for John and Jane’s children but none of those children appear to be the parents of these three grandchildren.

[17] Mary Huggins Kerlinger Journal, Huggins digitized collection, Minnesota Historical Society, p. 148.

[18] Oasixheaoui is spelled this way in the historical record but it is not how a Dakota name would normally be written. When I asked Carrie Zeman for her thoughts on the name, she  responded that it could be pronounced, “Wa-she-hay-a-win,” which could mean French Woman or even White Woman, although Oasixheaoui was full Dakota as far as we know.

[19] Thomas Smith Williamson, Obituary of Miss Julia Framboise, November 7, 1871, to ABCFM. MNHS ABCFM Correspondence, Box 5.

20] West Newton, Minnesota is a ghost town today, closed in 1910. The only remaining commercial location that was in West Newton is Harkin’s General Store, just outside of New Ulm, Minnesota.

[21] MNHS Huggins Digitized Collections, Part 14, pp 2-3. The “mother” that Julia mentions is her step-mother Jane Dickson LaFramboise, who was fifty-one years old when Julia died.

[22] Both Bad Hail and his daughter, Red Blanket Woman, are identified in the historic record by several different Dakota names or at least names with different spellings. I am using Wasuwicaxtaxni and Tahshinahohindoway.

23] Bruce A. Kohn, Dakota Child, Governor’s Daughter: The Life of Helen Hastings Sibley, Friends of the Sibley Historic Site, Mendota, MN, 2012, p. 42

[24] Ibid., p. 70 and endnote 160.

[25] Ibid., p. 71

[26] Ibid., p. 81

[27] Ibid., p. 76

[28] Ibid., p. 66, 85

[29] Ibid. p. 86

[30] Currently an unincorporated ghost town.

31] Kohn, Ibid. p. 94

[32] I have never located the location of a cemetery in Raymond, Wisconsin, which is an unincorporated ghost town in 2019. Sylvester Sawyer had also informed people that he planned to have Helen and the baby’s gravesite moved to his own family plot in New York but Helen does not appear in any current cemetery search sites.

[33] Kohn, Ibid., p. 99

[34] Ibid., p. 96. Helen had turned nineteen on August 28, 1860.

This entry was posted in Dakota Mission, Eliza Huggins Holtzclaw, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Hazlewood Mission, Helen Hastings Sibley Sawyer, Jane Smith Williamson, Julia Ann LaFramboise, Kaposia Village, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Magdelaine LaFramboise, Mary Ann Longley Huggins Kerlinger, Nancy Jane Williamson, Nancy McClure Faribault Huggan, Sarah Steele Sibley, Sophia Josephine Marsh Huggins Hanthorne, Tahshinaohindoway aka Red Blanket Woman, Traverse des Sioux, U.S. Dakota War of 1862, Women in Minnesota. Bookmark the permalink.

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