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

Today, St. Peter, Minnesota, is a charming city filled with beautiful historical buildings, many of which survived a massive tornado in 1998. In 1867, just five years after the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 broke out, the downtown looked like this. Two thousand refugees poured into the city in August 1862 as they abandoned their farms and homes in the area to escape the Dakota bands who had begun attacking white settlers. Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

When the Williamson’s arrived in St. Peter, Minnesota, on August 25, 1862, the town was bursting at the seams with refugees pouring in from all over the surrounding area. Many had left everything behind and saw their houses and farm buildings burning to the ground as they fled the attacking Dakota. Hundreds were severely wounded and required urgent medical care. An empty warehouse became a refugee center and Thomas Williamson immediately set to work binding wounds and providing medical care for six hours a day.

Alexander Huggins and Lydia Huggins were farming nearby at the time of the outbreak of the war and they had joined their neighbors and others as refugees in the St. Peter warehouse. Alexander made brief forays back to the farm to feed the animals and pick up supplies. By August 25, he had apparently decided it was safe to return to the farm and the family returned home. For a few days, at least, Thomas, Margaret and Jane, along with Nancy and Henry and the Hunters, stayed with the Huggins’ family. Thomas helped care for 16-year-old Rufus Huggins when he was brought home following his injuries that he received fighting during the battles in New Ulm. Rufus Huggins’ sister, Mary Huggins Kerlinger, wrote in her journal that “Faithful Aunt Jane Williamson was with us most of the time. Mother kept her place near Rufus day and night Brother James was paroled and with us most of the time He and Jane both most skillful nurses.[1]

 By September 8, 1862, Thomas Williamson and the Hunter family had moved into the home of Rev. Moses and Nancy Rankin Adams in Traverse des Sioux, about a mile and a half from St. Peter. The Adams were away at the time and the Williamson’s found shelter there. (Nancy’s story will be told in a future Dakota Soul Sisters post.)

Thomas Williamson wrote the story of their escape to S.B. Treat of the A.B.C.F.M. from the Adams’ home. It isn’t clear where the rest of the family was but Samuel Pond, who was the minister at the Presbyterian Church in Shakopee, Minnesota by this time, wrote to S.B. Treat himself on September 2, 1862. He said:

“Soon after I heard, I started for Yellow Medicine hoping to find some of the missionaries alive. Most of them arrived at St. Peter the same evening I reached there. Mrs. Riggs and family came directly here [to Shakopee] and except for Mr. Riggs they are all here yet. He obtained a commission as chaplain and is now up the Minnesota. I brought down the family of Mr. Jonas Pettijohn. They have lost all they have. The female portion of the Williamson family are most of them at my brother’s….I handed $12 to Mrs. Williamson which I was intending to send to you.” [2]

During this uncertain time of moving from house to house, all of the missionaries were trying their best to arrive at some solution for their predicament. Word had arrived that the Williamson home and the mission at Pejutazee had been burned to the ground and nothing was left. They had lost all of their possessions, furniture, books, clothing, household items that they had accumulated over the previous nearly thirty years. They had no idea if the Dakota mission would survive this tragic crisis, nor what they were expected to do about the mission property.

I’m sure that Jane was grateful that they had been saved, even as she mourned the death of fellow mission worker, Amos Huggins, and prayed for his wife Sophia and their two children who had been taken prisoner by the Dakota. (Sophia’s story has been posted previously on Dakota Soul Sisters.) Jane also had no way of finding out what had happened to her own students and their families, especially her beloved “girls,” whom she had taught for several years and who had often boarded with the Williamson family off and on since they were young children. Rumors were circulating that the Christian Dakota and all of the whites who had been taken prisoner were going to be killed by Taoyateduta and the warring Dakota. As she had so often in her life, Jane sought her own peace and comfort for others through prayer.

During the days following the first attack at the Lower Agency on August 18, 1862, Taoyateduta moved his warriors around the region, attacking New Ulm and Fort Ridgley while the Dakota began to split into two separate factions; one made up mostly of the Christian Indians who had not been in favor of going to war, and the others who were determined to take back their land and drive the whites out of Minnesota.

Henry Hastings Sibley

Henry Sibley had spent his adult life living with the Dakota but he was not really a military expert. Governor Alexander Ramsey chose him as the one to lead the troops against the Dakota and Sibley in turn was criticized on all sides for not responding quickly enough. He arrived at Fort Ridgley on August 28, 1862 and spent the next months and years forced to go to war against the people he had come to respect and admire.

In the meantime, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey had responded to the outbreak of war by sending his predecessor, Henry Sibley, to Fort Ridgley to bring an end to the fighting. Sibley didn’t reach the fort until August 28, a full ten days after the beginning of the violence. He brought twelve hundred troops with him and found the fort overrun with refugees and still attempting to recover from Taoyateduta’s consistent attacks earlier that week. Over the course of the next month, Sibley’s forces fought the Dakota at Birch Coulee on September 2, and Wood Lake on September 23, 1862. Taoyateduta took his troops

and fled north following the Battle of Wood Lake.

Camp Release Monument

The Camp Release Monument in Montevideo, Minnesota, was dedicated on July 4, 1894, commemorating the release of 269 European-American captives and the surrender of about 1200 Dakota people at the end of the conflict. The four faces of the 51-foot granite monument are inscribed with information about the battles that took place along the Minnesota River during the conflict, the surrender of the Dakota bands, and the design and construction of the monument.

Hundreds of Dakota stayed with the Dakota and white prisoners that Taoyateduta had been holding.  Sibley released all of them on September 26 from the encampment which is called Camp Release in Montevideo, MN. He subsequently arrested all of the Dakota men who had not fled with Taoyateduta, took away their weapons and confined them to await their trials by a Military Commission which he appointed. He did the same to the Dakota who had originally fled with Taoyateduta but who returned and turned themselves in on October 4.

Newspapers all over the state began to call for extermination of the Dakota. The majority of those who joined that public outcry were filled with hatred and anger at what was first estimated as nearly 1,000 white settlers killed in the war. Thomas Williamson was one of the few who felt that actual number was probably much closer to three to four hundred. His perceived sympathy for the Dakota was a position that caused citizens and newspaper editorials a great deal of anger and he was vilified for his statements.

Jane herself had strong opinions about what was being done to the Dakota, but she also needed to be with the family as they attempted to find a place to live. Mary Riggs, who was living in St. Anthony while Stephen Riggs was participating in the military commission trials of the Dakota at the Lower Agency, wrote to Stephen on October 13, 1862. She told her husband, “I don’t know if I told you that I got two pocket Bibles from Mrs. John Renville. I think they are Henry’s and Anna Jane’s. I asked her to take them to Aunt Jane at Traverse and leave them with her.”[3] Thomas Williamson indicated in January of 1863 that they were renting a house in town so apparently the Hunter family and the Williamsons were living in Traverse or St. Peter by October 1862.[4]

I have not located any letters that Jane may have written to others from January 1860 until October 24, 1862, when she wrote to her cousin Elizabeth in Ohio so there is no record of Jane’s thoughts or attitudes during the months leading to the war or immediately afterwards. She began her 1862 letter with news of the death of John Knox Hunter, the son of Andrew and Elizabeth Williamson Hunter. John was just 11 months old when Elizabeth and Andrew bundled him up and left on their perilous journey trying to reach safety in August of 1862. Both Elizabeth and John had been unwell since that escape and little John was unable to survive.

“Dearest Cousin,

” After returning from the burial of our dear babe last evening I sat down to write to you but I had been losing sleep so long that my eyes refused to perform their office. The house looks lonely this morning with the dear little sufferer but it is sweet to think that he is at rest in that world of love, joy, and peace where distracting wars can never enter. When my heart aches for the dear Indian children we had left, the care of the little one was very soothing to my troubled mind but I shall no more feel his soft hand stroking my face in the wakeful hours of night or enjoy his loving caresses by day. As much as I loved him I did not feel that intense desire for him to live that I felt long ago for your children and some of my sisters. I felt that our Heavenly Father knew best and would do all things well.

“Why dear cousin can I not feel this about the Indians. I know that God can bring good out of even and men are only instruments in his hand. Still I am anxious and troubled all the time. The trials of the Indians are now in process in Sibley’s camp and I fear many innocent men will be condemned. Public sentiment says ‘Kill them and let them be exterminated and I fear the officers will be influenced by a desire for popularity and in some cases sacrifice the innocent with the guilty and I suppose so many are never tried in any Judicature without mistakes being made. I know Mr. Riggs will do what he can but he is kept so busy writing in the military department that he has but little time to examine into matters among the Indians. He says in his last letter this whole thing is now an unpleasant business to me but justice requires the punishment of the guilty and it will not be strange if some who are comparatively innocent should be punished too. When I last heard the man who first came to inform us of the danger was arrested I have no idea he was guilty but being a brother-in-law to Little Crow will be against him.[5]

“There is no one there but has some near relative among the accused. Their houses were burned by Little Crow to force them to battle. Their fields are used up by the white soldiers. Of course they will not be allowed ammunition to kill game. Groaning under wrongs with starvation staring them in the face I sometimes fear that despair may render even the friendly hostile. It might be said by them as of old I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction.[6]

Chaska, Robert H. and wife (3)

Robert Hopkins Chaska and his wife Sarah Totidutawin were long-time friends of the Williamson’s who assisted them in their escape from Pejutazee. Robert was arrested, tried and sentenced to prison following the 1862 military commission trials.

“When we were expecting to be robbed Lizzie hid the silver spoons under a beehive. When we concluded to start I went to look for them but being in a hurry did not find them. I told Chaskedan of it after we started.[7] He has sent them in with some other things. I had asked Sarah to take care of my winter shawl [that] was lost. Not strange either when they had to move some twenty times. The principal part of my things went to others for Sarah was sick and Chaskedan was guarding our horses. I had hoped to get some of their things till I heard their houses were burned. The things they buried were generally dug up by the soldiers.

“The box you so kindly sent reached us in safely last week. Oh how thoughtful and kind to send me that double wrapper I had needed something of the kind so much while taking care of babe at night. I put it on the first night after it came and enjoyed it more because it had been yours. Shall I have fears that you may miss it a good deal and surely I would not wish you to be cold. While Rufus Huggins stayed with us he occupied the sitting room and I had to keep babe in the kitchen which is very small and at night if it was necessary to carry him to the stove to take him through our passage to get to the stairs and through another to get down from there to the kitchen.”[8]

Just three days later, Jane wrote to Stephen Riggs and expressed her concerns over her fear that many of those who had been arrested and tried were innocent.

“Dear Bro. Riggs

            “I thank you very much for your kindness in returning the spoons. The blankets too are just as white as when committed to Sarah and as much as we need them I wept lest they might want them more.

“We all sympathise [sic] with you in the unpleasantness of your present situation. Still we bless God that you are there. Although pressed beyond measure do what you can to shield the innocent and lead the guilty to repentance, tell them of that blessed Saviour that died to save the chief of sinners.

“Mrs. I. Daniels has just been in and told us that Caskedan and Thomas A. Robertson were arrested.[9] My heart aches so that I can hardly write. Surely Caske never imbued his hands in blood. Neither did Tapetatanka I think but circumstances may be against them. There will be great triumph if some of the religious Indians are hung. When an irreligious man told me of the whole plot Monday evening he added ‘You will not believe it because Caskedan has not told you but he knows no more of it than you do.’

“When brother concluded to come on Tuesday night [Tuesday, August 19, 1862] he said to Caskedan ‘You may remove the sugar, molasses, meat, etc. to your home tonight and we will go in the morning.’ He replied ‘I would like to have those things but I am more anxious for your safety,’ and immediately went to borrow a wagon and get his oxen and brother’s mare that he had taken care of. Renville told me the things were taken before he returned.

“Marion is still with us. She conducts herself with great propriety. She feels very sorry about Thomas and has gone upstairs to write to him.[10]

“Nannie rec’d a letter from Isabella on Sat. All well.[11]

“Yours with gratitude

            Jane S. Williamson

“Try to spend as much time with us as you can on your return. You will doubtless hear that our dear little Knox is at rest.”[12]

It is clear from Jane’s letter to her cousin that she was the one who was sitting up with baby John at night and providing most of his care. Elizabeth, the “Lizzie” who hid the silver spoons referred to in the letter was John’s mother but she never really recovered from the sickness she contracted during the escape from Pejutazee. She and her husband, Andrew and their three-year-old daughter Nancy, were living in the rented house at Traverse with Jane and the other Wiliamsons.

The last of the trials of the Dakota at the Lower Agency was held on November 3, 1862 and within a few days, 392 men, 303 of whom had been condemned to death, were marched to Mankato, MN, with 17 women to cook and wash clothes on the way along with four infants and four Christian Indians under the authority of Henry Sibley and his troops. Approximately 1500 Dakota women and children were marched to Fort Snelling along with 50 men who either had not been tried or were found innocent. The men were to be held in Mankato until they could be executed; the Fort Snelling group was to be encamped at the Fort for the winter months when they could not have survived winter on the prairies without their men and with their homes and villages destroyed.

Thomas and Margaret’s son, John P. Williamson, who had returned to Minnesota from Ohio when he heard about the outbreak of the war, now joined the march of the Dakota to Fort Snelling and remained there ministering to them until the next spring. His younger brother, Andrew Williamson, had been assigned to Fort Ridgeley during the conflict and had acted courageously during the battles with the Dakota there. He now stopped by the house in St. Peter on August 9, before he was to be sent with his regiment to fight in the Union Army during the Civil War, which was raging in the east and south.

Prison at Mankato.old

The Dakota who were marched to Mankato were at first encamped at a location that came to be known as Camp Lincoln. They were later moved to an old storehouse in downtown Mankato, where they were chained together and kept in dark and damp conditions. Thomas Williamson, Stephen Riggs, Father Augustin Ravoux and Gideon Pond visited them and baptized dozens into the Christian faith over the course of their imprisonment.

On November 12, 1862, Thomas Williamson made his first trip to visit the condemned Dakota who were being held in a storehouse that served as a makeshift prison in Mankato. He walked twelve miles each way in his efforts to bring them some comfort and to pray with them. This was to be Thomas’ pattern for the next several weeks while the clock ticked toward the date of potential execution. Many of those being held in Mankato had grown up in the Dakota mission; there were Christians among them, including Robert Hopkins Chaska and Peter Tapetatanka, whom Thomas had known for many years.

The Williamsons attended worship at the First Free Presbyterian Church in Traverse des Sioux  when they first arrived in St. Peter. The church, built in 1853, was sold when the congregation merged with Union Presbyterian Church in St. Peter. It eventually was used as a local slaughterhouse and then abandoned. It burned to the ground  in 1943.

Jane and Margaret Williamson kept house together with Nancy and Henry still at home, and with Andrew, Elizabeth and little Nancy Hunter sharing their home. They attended worship services at the Traverse Presbyterian Church where Rev. Moses Adams was serving as pastor.  Jane soon began teaching Sunday School.

In 1869 the church at Traverse merged with the First Presbyterian Church at St. Peter and became Union Presbyterian Church. Their beautiful building was completed in 1871 and the church bell from the Traverse Church was installed in the belfry. Pastor A.H. Kerr was with the new congregation for 22 years. The Williamsons attended here after the Traverse church closed.





In many ways, it had been more than two decades since Jane had been a single older woman living in a community that wasn’t a Dakota mission, nor home to hundreds of Dakota people. In one charming encounter that Eli Huggins shared with Minnesota historian William Folwell in 1919, we get a glimpse of some the challenges Jane faced.

“After the Sioux massacre, the Williamsons went to St. Peter where the family joined the church of the Rev. Aaron H. Kerr, though the Dr. spent most of the year with the Indians at Mankato and Fort Snelling. A southern woman, a Virginian, belonged to this church and was a southern sympathizer. One evening, Aunt Jane called on the lady and found there two other Southern sympathizers. The Williamsons had not been at St. Peter long and the other two callers did not know Aunt Jane well. It was well nigh impossible I suppose at that time when such a group got together to refrain from speaking of the war and betraying one’s sympathies.

“One of the women said these abolitionists had plunged the nation into war, not that they cared for the Negro and would make any sacrifice for him, but out of spite and envy. The hostess tried to turn the conversation and said to Aunt J., ‘Miss Williamson, you must excuse us. We are Southern women and love the South and forget that you feel differently.’ She replied, ‘I love the South, too. I am from South Carolina.’

‘O,’ said the hostess, ‘I thought you were from Ohio. 

‘I came to Minnesota from Ohio,’ said Aunt J, ‘and have not been in South Carolina since  I fell heir to some black people; I did not think slavery was right and I went back to set them free.’

“There was mutual silence for some moments. Then the hostess spoke of something else. In telling this, Aunt Jane said, ‘I feared my presence was embarrassing and soon bade them good evening.’ ”[13]

This letter tells quite a story about Jane’s amazing life. In October of 1862, she was fifty-nine years old. She had spent the first 20 years of her adult life facing death threats from those who hated abolitionists and who wanted to prevent her from teaching the children of those formerly enslaved people who had escaped the south and made it to Ohio. She then crossed the country to spend nineteen years living and working with the Dakota People, establishing deep friendships and abiding affection for the children in her classes, especially her “girls.” She now had recently survived the horrific impact of a war that had divided the Dakota into conflicting factions and dispersed thousands in unknown directions to places where she might never learn what had happened to them. Her mission home, her colleagues, her ministry and her identity had all been destroyed. And yet, sitting in a lovely parlor of a southern woman’s home in St. Peter, Minnesota, in 1862, she now finds herself going full circle back to defending her abolitionist views as the United States tears itself apart in a national Civil War.

[1] Kerlinger Journal, p. 22. Brother James is James Holtzclaw, Jane Huggins Holtzclaw’s husband, who was granted a leave from his unit in the Union Army to care for his family in Minnesota. Rufus died on December 16, 1862, and Thomas Williamson conducted the funeral.

[2] Samuel Pond to Selah B. Treat, ABCFM Correspondence BA10/A512b, Box 7. Samuel’s brother, Gideon Pond, and his wife Agnes lived at Oak Grove in what is now Bloomington, MN. Gideon was founding pastor of the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church there. Apparently the Hunter’s stayed with Thomas at the Adams home in Traverse while Margaret, Jane, Nancy and probably Henry Williamson, stayed with the Pond’s in Oak Grove.

[3] Mary Riggs to Stephen Riggs, October 13, 1862. Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B. Mrs. John Renville is Mary Butler Renville, the wife of Rev. John Renville. She and John did not flee with the other mission families and Mary must have found the Bible in the ruins of the Riggs’ family home. Henry and Anna Jane are two of Stephen and Mary Riggs’ children but they were apparently not with Mary which is why she sent the Bibles to “Aunt Jane” at Traverse.

[4] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, from St. Peter, January 20, 1863. NW Missions Manuscripts MS P489, Box 21 ABCFM SS310 No. 227. It is difficult to separate Traverse from St. Peter in this period. The two share a border and today are combined into the one city of St. Peter, MN.

[5] Jane is referring to Pierre Tapetatanka, also known as Peter Tapetatanka or Peter Big Fire. Four of his sisters were wives of Tayoyateduta and he had been a close friend of the chief until becoming a Christian. He was the first to warn the Williamson’s of the attacks that were to happen at the Lower Sioux Agency on August 18, 1862.

[6] Jane is referring to Judges 2:14, which describes how the Israelites were sent into slavery to Cushan, the wicked king of Syria, as punishment for their paganism. They cried out to God to save them, thus the “tents of Cushan in affliction.”

[7] Chaskedan/Caskedan/Caske is also known as Robert Hopkins Chaska, a Christian Indian who was married to Catherine Tatidutawin’s daughter Sarah. Catherine Tatidutawin’s story is told in her post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[8i] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, October 24, 1862, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 33, Folder 4. The final page of the letter is lost so there is no signature or further information after this ending.

[9] Mrs. Jared Daniels was the wife of physician Jared Daniels who was the physician at the Upper Agency at the time of the outbreak of the war. Thomas Andrew Robertson had been a student of Jane Williamson while he was growing up near the Kaposia village and had served as a translator and go-between for Taoyateduta during the 1862 fighting.

[10] Marion lived with the Williamson’s for long periods of time when she was growing up at Kaposia. She had married Alexander Hunter just a few weeks before the war broke out on August 18, 1862. Stephen Riggs performed the marriage ceremony for them at the Merchants Hotel in St. Paul. Alexander Hunter was then killed the very next day when a group of Dakota attacked John Nairn’s store at the Lower Agency. Marion was saved at the intervention of a Dakota man named Catkana. She was three months pregnant at the time.

[11] Nannie is Nancy Jane Williamson, Thomas and Margaret’s daughter and Isabella is Stephen and Mary Riggs’ daughter.

[12] Jane Williamson to Stephen Riggs, October 27, 1862, Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B, Box 1.

[13] Eli Lundy Huggins to William Folwell, July 22, 1918, from East San Diego, CA. William Watts Folwell and family papers, Minnesota Historical Society, MS P355, Box 47.

Posted in Andrew Hunter, Eli Huggins, Elizabeth Means [Voris] Burgess, Elizabeth Williamson Hunter, Jane Smith Williamson, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Margaret Poage Williamson, Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs, Nancy Jane Williamson, Nancy Rankin Adams, Peter Tapaytatanka, Robert Hopkins Chaska, Rufus Huggins, Rufus Huggins, Sarah Hopkins Chaska, Sophia Josephine Marsh Huggins Hanthorne, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins, Women in Minnesota | 2 Comments

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

While the mission attempted to deal with the fear that overwhelmed the community after the attacks at Okoboji, Iowa, and Springfield, Minnesota, Jane’s family continued to go through changes and adjustments. In September 1857, Jane’s niece, Nancy Jane Williamson, 17, left to attend Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, with Stephen and Mary Riggs’ daughter, Martha Taylor Riggs, who was 15 years old. The girls had grown up together at the Lac qui Parle mission and remained close friends.

John Poage Williamson was born at Lac qui Parle, Minnesota on October 27, 1835. He grew up with the Dakota and became a missionary with the A.B.C.F.M. on June 23, 1860. John raised his own family on the Yankton Reservation in Greenwood, South Dakota and died there in April 1917.

Jane’s nephew, John P. Williamson, who was 21 in the fall of 1857, soon headed back east to study for the ministry at his father’s alma mater, Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Andrew Williamson, nineteen, was a college graduate but stayed at Pejutazee to help with the physical work that needed to be done at the mission. Elizabeth had now settled with the family and was soon being courted by none other than Nancy Hunter’s brother, Andrew, who had frozen his feet in 1852 while trying to bring supplies to the new mission station at Pejutazee from Traverse des Sioux. The other children at home were Martha, who was 13, and Henry who was six.

Jane’s school continued to do well and she was now able to count many longtime students in her classes who she’d been teaching since they were young children. Still, rumors of unrest continued to disrupt mission life. The federal government had moved forward with their desire to negotiate with the Dakota to take away the ten-mile strip of land on the north side of the Minnesota River that had been set aside for the reservations in 1851. Thomas Williamson headed down to Kaposia in February 1858 and caught a train with Taoyateduta and 23 others who headed for Washington, D.C. to meet with Charles Mix and elected officials about the possible treaty.

Thomas stayed with the group until April 6, 1858, when he left the delegation out of frustration with the process but also because his daughter Elizabeth and Andrew Hunter were to be married in Yellow Springs, Ohio, on April 19, 1858. The Dakota and others in the delegation stuck it out in D.C. until Taoyateduta finally signed the new treaty on June 19, 1858. They ultimately left Washington and arrived back at the reservation on July 8, 1858. In many ways, the treaty was a disaster for the Dakota. Mix never honored the agreements he had assured Taoyateduta he’d see to, and he left the negotiations over the actual sale of land up to Congress who delayed action and continued to foster unrest among the Dakota.

In the spring of 1860, John Williamson accompanied his father Thomas to the Presbyterian Church General Assembly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where John began fundraising efforts to establish a new mission church at the Lower Sioux Agency in Minnesota. John returned to Minnesota in November 1860, after pastoring churches in Allensville and Zoar, Ohio. He had been named an assistant missionary by the A.B.C.F.M. on November 1, and began to build the new mission at the Agency, about thirty miles south of his parents’ mission at Pejutazee.

Elizabeth and Andrew Hunter had moved to Minnesota after their marriage and on August 10, 1859, they welcomed their first child, Nancy Williamson Hunter, who was Jane’s first great-niece. Their son, John Knox Hunter, was born in September 1861. The Hunters were homesteading and farming about 40 miles southeast of Pejutazee in Beaver Falls, Minnesota. They were among the early members of the Zoar Presbyterian Church there that John Williamson established at the Lower Sioux Agency nearby. John accepted Elizabeth and Andrew into membership of the church on their transfer from the church at Traverse des Sioux on July 19, 1862, the same day on which he welcomed Marion Robertson and her new husband, Alexander Hunter. Marion enrolled upon transfer from the church at Pejutazee and Alexander transferred from the Fifth Associate Reformed Church of New York. Their marriage had been performed by Rev. Riggs at the Merchant’s Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota that same month.[1]

Nancy Jane Williamson, who was attending Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, lost many of her possessions when fire consumed the school on January 14, 1860. The girls finished that year’s classes in the home of the founders nearby and then Nancy returned to Pejutazee. She especially bemoaned the loss of photographs of the Williamson family that she had taken with her to school. She wrote to Elizabeth Burgess in Constitution, Ohio, shortly after the fire:

“The fire was already visible in our room when Julie and I awoke. Our bookcase was directly under it so I did not attempt to save my books. I picked up 4 books, my Bible, my Testament & Plymouth Collection & Extract Book, the last however I did not see after placing it in my bundle with the other things. I saved the greater part of my clothes, but was so thoughtless as to leave my daguerreotypes and photograph of the Indian lying on the table. I am very sorry every time I think of it that I did not attend to my pictures first thing; it seems to be if I had it to do over again I would see them safely fixed at once. After Julia and I had taken our things out of the house we stood and watched it burn. It was a sad sight to see the noble building that had been a home to us for so long burn down. But, aside from this, it was a grand sight. I shall not soon forget the moment when the flames burst from the roof.”[2]

Like many families, even in these early years of the 19th century, the Williamson’s confronted a surprising development when the youngest of the girls, Martha, announced that she and her second cousin, William Stout, were going to be married in October 1861. The wedding took place at the Williamson home at 8 a.m. on October 28, 1861.[3] Martha was only sixteen years old and she and William immediately left Pejutazee and traveled to Traverse des Sioux and then on to Peoria, Illinois.

Andrew Williamson remained with the family until 1861 when he became a resident graduate at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He then enlisted in the Union Army on January 17, 1862. He was 24 years old and eager to join the Civil War and fight for the principles and anti-slavery sentiments that had been part of the family’s heritage for generations.

On August 11, 1862, John Williamson left the Lower Sioux Agency and traveled to Coshocton, Ohio, where he intended to meet with a young woman whom he had hoped to marry. John and Susan Little had been corresponding for some time. She was an orphan whose uncle was Rev. Jacob Little of Granville, Ohio. On March 22, 1862, John had sent S.B. Treat the testimonials he had obtained about Miss Little in the hope that she would be confirmed as a missionary spouse by the board. Unfortunately, John began to sense that Susan’s intentions were not what he had been led to believe and on August 25, 1862, he notified Treat that he “came to see Miss Little. The last I wrote you was a bit of a misunderstanding on my side. I can’t tell you the whole story but the thing proved very sore to both of us and writing letters only made it worse so with the advice of a few of my friends I came to have it fairly settled. We had intended to send on Miss Little’s application today but now I must hurry home and see if there is anything I can do.”[4]

The reason that John was pressured to get back to the reservation was the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War at the Lower Agency on Monday morning, August 18, 1862. John had no idea if his parents and the rest of the family had survived and obviously desired to return home as soon as possible whether things with Miss Little were resolved or not.

This photo, taken on Sunday morning, August 17, 1862, is the only remaining image of the Williamson home at Pajutazee. The assembled group gathered after worship on the day before the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War. Margaret Williamson is on the left next to Catherine Tatidutawin who is in front of Thomas Williamson wearing the white hat. The Dakota man in front is Robert Hopkins Chaska and to his left are his young son and his wife, Sarah Tatidutawin.  Jane is the short woman with the bonnet in the background on the right.

The Williamson’s had attended worship services at the Pejutazee church on Sunday morning, the 17th. Thomas preached and Jane and Margaret attended along with the only two of the Williamson children who were at home at the time, Nancy Jane, who was 22, and Henry, who was 11 years old. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary and the family took some time that afternoon to have photos taken by a visiting photographer, Adrian Ebell, who captured several images of the Dakota over the course of his visit. No one had any idea at the time that four young Dakota men who were out hunting for food had attacked and killed Robinson Jones, Howard Baker (the son of Jones’ wife Ann), Clara Wilson, 14 (Robinson and Ann’s adopted daughter) and Viranus Webster, who was visiting the area from Wisconsin with his wife in the hopes of finding land to purchase. The attack took place at what is now Acton, Minnesota, approximately 50 miles northeast of Pejutazee. The Dakota men returned to their village and when they announced what they had done, many of the Dakota, who were frustrated at the delayed annuity payments, unfair treaties, lack of food for their starving families and decades of depravation and loss, seized on the moment to take revenge on those they saw as their white oppressors.

The Lower Sioux Agency was attacked on Monday morning, August 18, 1862, and within a few days, hundreds of white settlers and Dakota people had been killed in the battles and conflicts that took place all across central Minnesota. The Dakota were led by a reportedly reluctant Taoyateduta who had known the Williamson’s when he was growing up at Lac qui Parle and had lived and worked with the family at Kaposia from 1846 until 1852.

By mid-morning on Monday, August 18, 1862, the families at both Hazlewood and Pejutazee were hearing of the attacks and being warned by the Christian Dakota at the mission sites that they should try to escape the violence and seek refuge at Fort Ridgley. Thomas Williamson was reluctant to leave, refusing to believe that the Dakota whom he had cared for since 1835 would harm him or his family.

The Williamson children, Elizabeth, Nancy and Henry,  fled the mission on Tuesday, August 19, with Elizabeth’s children, three-year-old Nancy Hunter and John Knox Hunter, 11 months, and her husband Andrew. Photographer Adrian Ebell had been visiting Pejutazee on Sunday, August 17, 1862, and he took this photo while he was escaping with the group.

On Tuesday, August 19, however, Andrew Hunter, Elizabeth’s husband, advised Thomas that he could take Nancy Jane and Henry and his and Elizabeth’s children, Nancy, who had just turned three years old on August 10, and the baby John who was eleven months old, and try to make it to the fort. He and Elizabeth were at Pejutazee at the time since Elizabeth had been unwell and could rest more comfortably at her parents’ home. They set off and soon joined up with Stephen Riggs and his family as well as several dozen others who had been at the Hazlewood mission when news of the attacks was received.

Jane had done some investigating herself by walking over to Ehnamane’s village near the mission where she was regaled with stories, rumors and warnings from the Dakota women there. Always supportive of Thomas’ guidance, Jane returned to the mission to wait with Thomas and Margaret until they could determine a course of action.

I often think about what that Tuesday evening was like, especially for Jane and Margaret. Three of Margaret’s children and her only grandchildren were somewhere out there trying to evade danger and reach safety. Jane relied on her own firm belief that there was life after death and her home would be in heaven should she be killed. Still, practical considerations must certainly have entered their thoughts. Did they prepare a bag of clothing in case they decided to leave? Did they have any money? Did they think about taking the few photographs that the family possessed or were they more concerned about what kind of food they could take along that might help them survive over the course of three or four days?

I’m sure for Jane her thoughts wandered not only to her own relatives, but to her students and former students who might at that very moment be caught up in this sudden violence that was tearing the Dakota community apart. I’m not sure, however, that she sensed that nothing would ever be the same again for her or for her beloved students and their families.

Thomas Williamson’s official story of what happened is recorded in a report to S.B. Treat that he sent to Boston, Massachusetts, on September 8, 1862:

 “Dear Brother,

 “Ere this time you have been informed by the Papers of the terrible war raging between the Sioux and our own people and I suppose brother Riggs has informed you that all connected with the mission escaped and rescued a number of other person who but for us would in all probability have been murdered or perished in attempting to escape.

 “It is three weeks today since we were informed by our heathen neighbors that the Lower Sioux were making war on the whites and advised to flee. Early in the day they told us of many things as having actually taken place, which were then taking place or did occur at a distance of from 30 to 60 miles from us during that day and the next. What they told us seemed so improbable that I wholly disregarded them till late in the day when I found some men trying to take my horses and that they had actually taken one that belonged to Mr. Hunter, my son-in-law, from my pasture.

 “Early that evening they shot one or two of the traders and commenced robbing the stores near the Agency about two miles from us. Before sunrise next morning all the whites within 60 miles of us who had not been murdered or made prisoners had fled except my own family and that of A.W. Huggins.[5] As we have since learned to a certainty the work of slaughter at the Lower Agency, about 33 miles this side of where I lived, began about 7 a.m. Monday and all who did not flee instantly were slain or made prisoners.

 “A little after sunrise Tuesday morning I started Mr. Hunter and family with the younger members of my family. His wife in feeble health had been visiting us with their children for several weeks and providentially he with a hired man was there at that time making hay for us. He had a span of horses which by the aid of friendly Indians he had succeeded in keeping concealed during the night, and I had a yoke of oxen that I had bought but not paid for a short time before. So they were able to take two wagons but we did not think it best to attempt to put in much load and, as we were told that our friends from Hazlewood in whose company they expected to travel, had started without provisions for the way, I advised them to take such things as might be useful on the journey rather than such as were more valuable. Christian Indians had staid [sic] by us all night guarding us while we slept and assisting us when awake in every way in their power. I did not feel afraid of their injuring me personally, and thought I would stay and try to take care of what property could not be removed and my wife and sister said they would stay with me.

 “During the day after our children left we were continually receiving confirmation of the reports of the previous day and night – saw wagons passing loaded with the goods taken from the traders and Agency, the cattle driven away and the smoke of the burning houses of the traders who had left the evening before. We heard that Mr. Riggs’ house during a brief absence of his elder Simon who he had requested to move into and take care of it, had been rifled of everything the Indians thought valuable; that both Mr. Riggs’ horses had been taken and one of Mr. Cunningham’s and that of two white men who had been living for 18 months on the east side of the river about 18 miles above us, one was murdered and the other severely wounded had joined the party from Hazlewood.[6]

 “This latter circumstance convinced me that the Upper as well as the Lower Sioux were engaged in the conspiracy, as our neighbors had told us from the first. All we saw advised us to flee and some of Christian friends urged it in such a way that we thought perhaps our remaining was endangering them. At least it was manifest they thought that unless we left soon we would have no means of getting away and thinking this to be so Tuesday evening we concluded it was our duty to try and start the next morning.

 “One of my elders, Robert H[opkins] who had been up all the previous night guarding staid [sic] with us assisting us to pack up and advised that we should go as soon as we could get ready.[7] We spent the fore part of the night in packing up such things as we thought might be most useful to us. Two or three of our Christian friends were present assisting us and more than that number of our heathen neighbors whose only object was to help themselves and who while we were packing and loading took some of the things we were most desirous of bringing with us.

 “About midnight I told Robert we were ready when he went for his oxen and a cart, and the horse which he had kept for me, the Indians having taken the other. While he loaded the cart I harnessed my nag and hitched to our one horse wagon and taking in a few light articles with my wife and sister followed him.

 “The small moon had just risen when we entered the woods but gave so little light that I was unable to see the road or the oxcart before us but though we occasionally jammed against logs, trees and stumps, in about two hours we arrived at Wamdiokiya’s village where you may remember that we called when you were on the way to Lac qui Parle. Here most of the members of the Hazlewood church were assembled for mutual protection.[8]

 “Robert having informed us that he could not come further with us and knowing the exposed situation of his own family, I felt that it was not proper for him to do so. As soon as day dawned I began to inquire for another team. Simon readily agreed to furnish this but supposed his oxen to be on the prairie two miles distant. While he was looking after them I determined to walk back to our house and get my Dakota & English Dictionary Concordance and a few other small articles. I found about half a dozen women in our house searching drawers for any little articles which was [sic] left. Everything fit to eat or wear had disappeared. Beds and mattresses had been emptied at the door. Books and medicine were nearly as I left them. Returning I met many Indian men as well as women and children, none of them manifested any disposition to molest me, but one or two smiled while they told me to hurry away as if they were glad of what was taking place. Most looked and several wept freely while they extended their hand for mine. It was after 9 o’clock before Simon’s oxen and wagon were ready for us and when putting our baggage into it I found that some of the people of the village, thinking that we were encumbering ourselves with more than we could well get along with, had during my absence invited Mrs. W. and my sister into a roofless house close by and taken half the clothing and bedding with which we started. Not knowing but they judged correctly and becoming convinced that it was not advisable to attempt to bring a horse father, I gave Simon my horse and wagon for the ox team he had provided of us; and gave to some friends present more than half of the provisions we had brought there.

 “There were Indians in sight who it was thought might injure us so Paul and Lorenzo as well as Simon took their guns and accompanied us about two miles and as the ford of the river was difficult they waded, guiding the oxen while I rode Simon’s horse.[9] He came on to put me on the trail made by those who had preceded us and continued to drive the oxen till the sun was so low that I thought it would be night before he could get back to the river where I told him to return being satisfied we would have no difficulty in following the trail of Mr. Riggs and others, which I wished to do.

Amos Williamson Huggins was killed at Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota on August 19, 1862. He was 29 years old. The Williamson’s learned of his death as they began their own escape toward Fort Ridgley in the early morning hours of August 20, 1862.

“Just as I was leaving the village I was told that Mr. A.W. Huggins was murdered at his house near Lac qui Parle by an Indian from another village. He was a good man who had the welfare of the Indians much at heart and would have been protected by his neighbors but they were from home. Had been teacher under government for several years. His wife and two children are prisoners. His father was my first associate in this mission and with his family lives in this neighborhood. He was between two and three years old when we came out here first. Of his two brothers, one is a soldier in the Minnesota 2nd in Tennessee or Mississippi. The other a lad of 16 years is in the house where I write.[10] On the first alarm he joined a company going to the defense of New Ulm where he was wounded on the next Saturday by a musket ball which broke the principal bone of his leg.

 “Many of the accounts of this war published are great exaggerations and some of them utterly – it seems to me maliciously false, representing that the Indians who have been under missionary influence are leaders in the affair. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Indisputable facts show this. The Lower Agency was only 13 miles from Fort Ridgley the nearest place of refuge the Upper about 50 by the travelled road which could not then be travelled. The number of white persons about the two did not differ much. Near the Upper Agency where our mission had most influence, as yet it is not known that more than one man was killed and he when attempting to shoot the Indians. More than 100 are known to have escaped unhurt all through the aid of Christian Indians. Several who were attempting to escape without such aid fell into the hands of the Lower Sioux some of whom were murdered and the rest are held as prisoners.

 “Of those who were living near the Lower Agency not more than 25 or 30 are known to have escaped and part of these through the aid and connivance of Indians who had been under missionary influence. About the same number are known to be killed and the others who have not been killed are prisoners. Some of the hostile Indians have been seen dressed as white men but this is no evidence that they had ever been under missionary influence as some of the most bigoted and unprincipled heathen about the Lower Agency dressed in this manner.

 “On the whole while we cannot but feel sad at the sudden termination of our missionary labors the loss of property and distress which we see about us especially that the Dakotas have murdered so many of our countrymen and are bringing such awful destruction on themselves, I feel that we have great cause of gratitude not only that all of our lives had been preserved but especially for the decided evidence that our labors have not been in vain. God has a people among the Dakota now held as prisoner among their own people who threaten to kill them and escaping from them they may be murdered by equally wicked white men. But God is able to keep them and I trust will keep at least a part of them to be witnesses of his truth, power and goodness.

 “I arrived at Saint Peter on the evening of Monday, August 25th very much fatigued. This village which at the last census contained about 1000 inhabitants and probably less than that number one week before, when we arrived was crowded with more than 3000 the entire population of the county and many from adjoining counties having rushed into it. Nevertheless we were welcomed by kind friends willing to share with us what comforts they had. At that time probably one third of the agricultural population of the state had fled from their homes. Many have since returned to take care of their grain some have gone East and many still remain in the principal villages which they are endeavoring to fortify. A part of the men going out by day to attack or thresh their grain at the risk of their lives for we hear of some of them being killed every few days. The day after my arrival a hospital was established in St. Peters into which within 48 hours forty wounded most of them severalty were brought. Since that time I have spent a part of every day on an average nearly 6 hours dressing wounds.

 “Mr. Hunter’s family with a part of mine are staying in the house of the Rev. M.W. Adams once an associate in our mission.[11] His family have not been here since our arrival but are expected today. My daughter and her children have been unwell most of the time since we came here and this with attendance at the hospital a mile and a half distant leaves me so little time to write that I have been four days writing this letter. Mr. Riggs in a letter from Fort Ridgley received since this was began informs us that the Mission houses except the Hazlewood Chapel have all burned…

 “I remain Your Brother in Christ, Tho. S. Williamson”[12]

Thomas Williamson’s account thankfully provides a fairly comprehensive timeline of what happened to him, Margaret and Jane as they began their escape towards Fort Ridgley in the mearly morning hours of August 20. They met up with the Riggs’ party at around noon on Friday, August 22, at Birch Coulee and were reunited with their children and grandchildren. Andrew Hunter and Thomas Williamson attempted to enter the fort but were turned away because of ongoing attacks by Taoyateduta and his warriors. The fort was completely filled to capacity with refugees and the missionaries were forced to continue their journey east. By Saturday night, August 23, they were fifteen miles from Henderson, Minnesota, where the Riggs left the group to find shelter in the town. The Williamson’s continued on to St. Peter, Minnesota, arriving on Monday, August 25, 1862.

Although Jane’s own record of their escape is not comprehensive or official in the way that Thomas’ record is, she does refer to those who helped them many times over the subsequent years and her support of their Dakota friends will be discussed in future posts. One thing that I have never been able to discover is how Thomas, Margaret and Jane made it across the prairie from Wednesday morning, August 20, 1862 until arriving in St. Peter on Monday, August 25. It is known that the weather was absolutely miserable from Tuesday through Thursday, with pouring rain making the journey difficult. With no shelter and in an open oxcart, it is hard to imagine how this trio of survivors even made it through. To then reach the Riggs party but still be turned away at Fort Ridgely must have been devastating to the tired, wet, hungry and frightened refugees.

One possibility is that they took shelter in abandoned homesteads along the way. Most of the farms and houses had been set afire by the Dakota but apparently some structures in the small settlements around the reservations remained intact.

If this is how they survived with at least some minimal reprieve from the rain, it makes sense that yet another legend about Jane has persisted in the lore about the 1862 war. Sarah Wakefield, a white woman who was taken captive during the early days of the war, relayed the following story in her memoir, Six Weeks in the Sioux Teepees.

“When we got up the bank after crossing the river, where Mr. Reynolds’ house once stood, this Indian, with two others stopped near the ruins and called me to him. He leaned forward and whispered, ‘I am Paul; don’t you know me?’ You must go with me to my tepee.’ This reminds me of how frightened the Indians were just before leaving this neighborhood. They said that an old woman every night came to that (Mr. Reynolds’) house, made a bright light, and they dared not go near there. They thought it the spirit of someone they had murdered, for after a little some of them said they would burn the building which they did; but they continued to see her every night, sitting on the walls of the cellar. At last they said it was Miss Jane Williamson, for they knew her by her singing and they were going to catch her. I afterward thought they had her secreted, but it was false, for she escaped with her brother’s family. The light they saw was the moon’s rays on the glass; but the poor superstitious beings though they had offended some of their Gods, and this was a mark of their anger.”[13]

Sarah Wakefield’s story implies that Thomas, Margaret and Jane took refuge in the ruins of the building known as Halfway House that was owned and operated by Joseph Reynolds and his wife Valencia. Historian and author Carrie Zeman wonders whether or not the Williamson’s would have chosen the Reynolds’ home as their place of shelter. In an email dated December 23, 2009, Carrie wrote to me:

“While I think it entirely possible that they might have spent a night on the prairie in an abandoned house, they would have been crazy to try to stay at the Reynolds because it was on the Lower Reservation at the junction of the Redwood River with the Minnesota. The Lower Indians, at this point in the story, were camped at Rice Creek. So to get to the Reynolds from Yellow Medicine, the Williamson’s would have had to travel down the government road that ran through the reservation on the south side of the river. It would have been much safer if they took the most direct route to a ford over the Minnesota River (there was at least one place within a few miles of YM it could be forded in low water conditions) and then traveled east on the north side of the river.”[14]

In any case, this story about Jane haunting the fields of battle has become part of the roster of legends about this amazing woman.

[1] Marion Robertson was the daughter of Andrew and Jane Anderson Robertson, who were neighbors of the Williamson’s at Kaposia. Marion lived with the missionary family much of her life and had grown up with the Williamson children. Her husband Alexander was killed on August 19, 1862, while he and Marion were attempting to flee the Lower Agency. Marion was taken prisoner by the Dakota and was one of the women who were set free at Camp Release in September 1862. She then joined the Williamson’s in St. Peter, Minnesota, and gave birth to a son named after Alexander in 1863. The little boy died only three years later and Marion married Lorenzo Taliaferro Prescott. He was only 30 years old when he also died on January 2, 1869. Marion then accompanied her own family to the Sisseton Reservation and died there in 1871 at the age of 29 years.

[2] Nancy Jane Williamson to Mrs. D.W. Burgess, Constitution, Ohio, undated., Item 30, Folder 3. Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio. The Julie whom Nancy mentions is Julia LaFramboise, who was living with Amos and Sophia Huggins and working at the government school at Lac qui Parle in August 1862, when Amos was killed. The loss of  the family photos that Nancy had with her was felt even more keenly when the Williamson’s lost the remainder of their pictures when their house at Pejutazee was burned in 1862.

[3] William Stout was born in 1839 in Adams County, Ohio. His mother was Kathryn Beauford Ellison, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Williamson’s half sister Mary Beauford Williamson and her husband James Ellison. William and Martha were first cousins once removed, although given that Mary Williamson was a half-sister and not a full sister of Thomas and Jane means that the relationship wasn’t quite as close as it appears. William Stout was visiting the Williamson’s in Minnesota by early 1861. Mary Riggs, writing to her son Alfred on March 20, 1861, said that Martha Williamson was spending the night with Mrs. Ackley, who was a teacher at Hazlewood. William Stout dropped by the Ackley home and he and Martha had “quite a sing.” Martha and William’s wedding is described in Marjorie Cunningham’s Diary, 1861-1863, Northwest Missions, October 28, 1861, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscripts Collection, P489.

[4] John P. Williamson to S.B. Treat, August 25, 1862, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 7. John and Miss Susan Little never resolved their differences. She decided she did not want to live among the Dakota and they ended their relationship.

[5] The story of Amos Huggins, his wife Sophia Josephine and their two children is told in a previous post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[6] Simon Anawangmani was one of the early Christians of the church and in 1862, he was associated with Hazlewood and the Riggs.  Mr. Cunningham is Hugh Doak Cunningham who was married to Mary Beauford Ellison, the daughter of Jane and Thomas’ half-sister. They had come to the Upper Agency as government teachers in 1858.

[7] Robert Hopkins Chaska was an early Christian of the church at Lac qui Parle and a faithful friend and supporter of the Williamson’s. He was married to Sarah Tatedutawin, the daughter of Catherine Tatedutawin whose story is told in an earlier post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[8] Wamdiokiya or Eagle Help was a longtime Dakota supporter of the missionaries.

[9] Paul Mazekutemani and Lorenzo Lawrence were both Christians from the mission at Lac qui Parle. Lorenzo was the son of Catherine Tatedutawin.

[10] The stories of Eli and Rufus Huggins are covered in the Dakota Soul Sisters posts on Lydia Huggins Pettijohn.

[11] Moses Adams had become a Presbyterian pastor in St. Peter, Minnesota, after leaving the A.B.C.F.M.

[12] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, September 8, 1862, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 7.

[13] Wakefield, Sarah F., Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees: A Narrative of Indian Captivity, Edited, Annotated and with an Introduction by June Namias, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997; originally published, Angus Books and Job Printing Office, Shakopee, Minnesota, 1864, p 89.

[14] Joseph and Valencia Reynolds lived eight miles northwest of the Lower Sioux Agency. They managed a hotel there called the Halfway House. John Mooers warned them at 6 a.m. on August 18, 1862, that an outbreak was coming and they should leave. The Reynolds’s took off immediately and escaped.

Posted in Elizabeth Williamson Hunter, Jane Smith Williamson, Martha Williamson Stour, Martha Williamson Stout, Martha Williamson Stout, Nancy Hunter Aiton, Nancy Jane Williamson, Underground Railroad, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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

The ten years that Jane spent at Pejutazee, from 1852-1862, were perhaps her most successful in terms of teaching. The annual reports to the A.B.C.F.M. are glowing with stories of the number of students who were doing well and how improved attendance numbers were encouraging to the mission. Jane’s success and her philosophy on how best to reach the Dakota children were noted. Thomas Williamson wrote to S. B. Treat on March 3, 1855:

“Jane’s school is larger than before and having a house especially appropriated for it enables sister to govern it better than heretofore and the average attendance has I think been larger than for any two months at this place heretofore, but not so large in proportion to the population near us. Nor so large as it might have been but frequently as large as she could well manage and we thought it more important to have those who attended kept in order and make good progress than to get others into school. She still suffers inconvenience from want of the proper furniture for a school house….”[1]

Jane’s ability to attract and hold on to her students resulted in several improvements to her school room and furnishings over the coming years, although Stephen Riggs, who was running his own school nearby, was quick to point out that she used bribery to bring students in. He wrote to S.B. Treat on April 12, 1855, “We have lost some students to Aunt Jane’s school. She bribes them with bait in the form of turnips/potatoes, crackers, etc. We shall never adopt her plan but it’s okay if it doesn’t get too expensive for her. This is partly why Mary Riggs didn’t want to come here. When our boarding schools are up and running we shall care less”.[2]

Jane and the Williamson’s bid farewell to Mary Smith Briggs in April of 1855 when she married none other than John Aiton, the widower whose wife Nancy had been one of Jane’s dearest friends. John and Mary were wed on April 20, 1855 at Pejutazee with Dr. Williamson performing the ceremony. Mary’s story will be told in a future Dakota Soul Sisters entry.

The departure of Mary Briggs led to the arrival of Kate Dawes, who came to Pejutazee from Marietta, Ohio, in May 1855. Kate was not a missionary but came to the mission because of her poor health. She suffered from bronchitis and consumption and the climate in Minnesota was felt to be better than in Ohio. On July 28, 1955, Thomas Williamson reported that her health was improved and expected that she would remain with them for two more months.[3]

On the 200th anniversary of the Williamson’s in Ohio in 1805, Jeff Williamson led a group tour of important sites in Adams County, Ohio. Members of the group pause for a brief talk I gave on Jane at The Beeches, the original Williamson homestead that Jane sold in 1856.

It was during this time that Jane also continued to sever her ties, at least financially, with Ohio. She sold the original Williamson family farm in West Union, Ohio, to John L. Francis in 1856. I have confirmed the sale with the Adams County, Ohio, records office, but no price was listed for the transaction. Jane’s annual salary with the A.B.C.F.M. had been $75 for several years and I have found no indication that that amount ever increased during her years with the mission. Still, if she indeed had been paid for her Kaposia claim (see Life of a Legend, Part IX), and now apparently received the proceeds from the sale of The Beeches, she may have been hoping to set aside some funds to ensure her future.

Daily life at Pejutazee, despite the success of the school, was still difficult. Thomas wrote to S.B. Treat that everyone at the mission was experiencing a shortage of corn and potatoes because those supplies had been stolen by the Sisseton on their way back from the annuity distribution at the Lower Agency. He said the only food they had was whatever vegetables they had managed to store except when they could get fish or muskrats which are “at best poor food. Living on such poor diet is not only uncomfortable but injurious to health causing scrofula in many of the children and some of the women and men.”[4]

There was also an ongoing current of political unrest among everyone who lived and worked with the Dakota throughout the territory. Rumors were rapidly spreading about the government’s desire to instigate another treaty arrangement which would take away the ten mile strip of land on the north side of the Minnesota River and confine the Dakota to the ten mile strip along the south side. Additional rumors were flying about the supposed Education Fund that had been established in the 1837 treaty and how or if those funds were being distributed. The Dakota, too, were uneasy about their future, which was far from assured under the 1851 treaty. Their suspicions about the misuse of the Education Fund monies that had surfaced years earlier continued to multiply and it was unclear what might lie ahead for everyone involved.

Jane suffered her own mishap on February 23, 1856, when she fell on the ice while on her way to school and dislocated her ankle. She taught the children at the house while she spent several weeks recovering. It was during this time that Thomas and Margaret’s thirteen-year-old son, Smith Burgess Williamson, was killed in an accident while hauling wood on March 3, 1856. Thomas wrote to Treat: “One week ago today the Lord took a beloved child from us. He was large for his age, sprightly and active, and did most of the wood hauling for me since I don’t have a hired man. Lately he was reading his Bible with much interest and I saw him in secret prayer.” Jane was unable to attend Smith’s funeral on March 4, 1856, because of her injured ankle.[5] Knowing how close she was to her nieces and nephews, she was no doubt upset that she couldn’t participate with the family in commemorating Smith’s death.

A few weeks after Smith’s funeral Thomas and Margaret’s daughter Elizabeth came out from Ohio to join the family. Elizabeth was nearly two years old when she came to their first Dakota mission from Ohio in 1835. When Elizabeth was five years old, in October 1838, Thomas and Margaret took her to Ohio where Elizabeth was raised by Margaret Williamson’s sister, Rebecca and her husband John Knox. Thomas wrote to S.B. Treat on June 24, 1856, that Elizabeth had joined the family and that that she “had never been here before though when a child we had her with us more than three years at Lac qui Parle. How long she will remain with us, I know not. She is both a comfort and a help to us but cannot fill the place of her brother Smith.”[6]

Thomas also mentions the other tragic loss Jane and the family experienced when they learned of the death of Susan Rainbow, which was discussed in Part IX of Jane’s story in Dakota Soul Sisters.

Susan is buried in the pioneer section of the Bloomington Cemetery, 10340 Lyndale Avenue South, Bloomington, MN. Her murder was a devastating loss to Jane, who had raised her from the time Susan was a young child.

“And what affects us still more the murder of a Sioux girl eight or nine years old by half a dozen Chippeway [sic] warriors is announced. We had her in our family several years while we lived at Kaposia and she has been living among White people ever since till she had forgotten her mother tongue. I saw her a month ago in the family of one of Mr. G.H. Pond’s elders about midway between Oak Grove and Shakopee where she appeared to be doing well and said she did not wish to live with the Indians. As she was living in a dense white settlement more than 40 miles from any country which ever belonged to the Chippeways at First I disbelieved the report but it is confirmed. It seems the Chippeways had been some days in the neighborhood seen the girl and on inquiry learned that she was a Sioux the family supporting that they also were Sioux and watching for an opportunity in the afternoon when there was no man near the house wen to it and two of them went in an asked for water and when the girl took them water seized her and threw her out of the house when those without instantly murdered an scalped here. It is a very sad affair. Her relatives in this neighborhood blame us for it because we did not bring her up here last fall as they wished.”[7]

I have located no letters from Jane that were written between 1853 and December 31, 1857, so there is no written record of her own thoughts about the loss of both Smith and Susan in 1856. She also doesn’t mentionher niece Elizabeth, who appears to have returned to Ohio at some point in late fall 1856.

We do get a glimpse into her state of mind as 1857 drew to a close when she wrote to her cousin Elizabeth on New Year’s Eve.

Dearest Cousin,

“It is my usual bedtime but you by days rise vividly before my mind when we spent our New Years eve together and in friendly intercourse spent the hours usually devoted to sleep passed away. Oh, how I should love to sit and talk with you tonight but as it cannot be I will use my pen and in that way spend an hour of the receding year in conversation with you….

 “As a mission we observed this as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. The social worship was here. In the forenoon there was preaching and prayer meeting in Dakota. In the afternoon Mr. Riggs gave us an interesting and instructive address on the subject of fasting. For some weeks past our house has been almost continually crowded with Indians but I made a fire in my chamber this morning and spent some time in trying to look into my heart and confess my sins. I still seem in so many things like an unsubdued child but I do long to have all my powers brought into subservience to the will of the Lord. I pray dear cousin that he may take away all selfishness from my heart. Subdue my rebellious will, make me meek and lowly and draw me near to him in penitence and love.

 “Our hearts have been much saddened of late by the reversal of the war between the Dakotas and Chippewas or Ojibwas. There is a place called The Big Wood that formerly belonged to the Dakotas (now owned by the U.S.) but so near to the Chippewas that it was dangerous to approach and while game decreased on more frequented groves, it increased in the Big Wood last year. Our Indians and those from several other villages lured by the abundance of bear went there to hunt. We dreaded some difficulty but they met their enemies, shook hands, smoked and then spent some days in feasting and dancing together. Came home in good humor, said they had even shook hands with the man that killed little Susan.”[8]  

It may seem strange to read Jane’s heartfelt confession of her own struggles with rebellious thoughts and selfishness but in many ways, this kind of soul searching is a common aspect of Christian belief in the 19th century. There are several other times in Jane’s life that she shares similar thoughts, usually following a tragic event or death of a loved one. Jane firmly believed that everything that happened was God’s will and if you found yourself in grief or despair, that was a sign of selfish weakness. She understood and sympathized with loss, but such expressions often led to a confession similar to this one. This time, from spring of 1856 through the end of 1857, had been a time of great loss for Jane and she took time to reflect on her spirit as the year drew a close.

Inkpaduta led the attacks on settlers in Spirit Lake, Okoboji and Springfield, Minnesota, in 1857. He was never captured and although at least one of his sons was killed following the attacks, Inkpaduta, also known as”Red End,” “Red Cap,” or “Scarlet Point,” escaped to the western plains, fought against Custer in the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn and died in Manitoba in 1881.

In addition to personal losses, the Midwest had been shaken to the core in the spring of 1857. It was actually on Jane’s 54th birthday, March 8, 1857, that the first of several attacks on white settlers took place about 110 miles south of Pejutazee. Forty men, women and children were killed in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, and Springfield, Minnesota, (now Jackson, Minnesota) by a band of Wahpekute Dakota, led by their chief, Inkpaduta, from March 8 to 25, 1857. The band roamed the twenty miles from Okoboji to Springfield, looting and plundering farms along the way before heading for the Big Sioux River, a tributary of the Missouri in what is now South Dakota. They took four women captive, only two of whom survived long enough to be rescued in May 1857.[9]

This monument stands tall in Memorial Park in Okoboji, Iowa, in commemoration of the forty white settlers who were killed by Inkpaduta’s band in 1857. Photo by author.

Jane was not at Pejutazee when the Inkpaduta attacks occurred. It seems that she had gone to Ohio in the fall of 1856, possibly accompanying Elizabeth Williamson on Elizabeth’s way back. The two women would not have traveled alone but I have not found any information as to who they have been with. In any case, when the attacks occurred, Jane was at Traverse des Sioux with three of the Williamson children, presumably Elizabeth, John and Andrew. Elizabeth apparently had decided to return to Pejutazee and John and Andrew were coming home after attending college at Knox in Galesburg, Illinois.[10]

In November of 1857, Thomas Williamson wrote to S.B. Treat about the impact the Spirit Lake attacks had on the mission community.

“The Spirit Lake event has scared all of the Dakota. They expect us to flee and I wonder if I should send my family away and stay here and if I be killed, so be it. Col. Flandreau asked Riggs and I to assemble some trusted men and then meet him and soldiers from Fort Ridgley between Yellow Medicine and Redwood. One of the murderers was killed the next night at an encampment of Dakota on the north side of Yellow Medicine, about a mile above the ford at which you camped. His wife was taken prisoner. The Dakota men came to the Agency and demanded she be released and the agent did so. The Hazlewood men protected us all night. Our house, with many windows w/o shutters was wholly indefensible. 3 men came and watched us at night.

 “At the time my family consisted of my wife, 2 daughters, our son, age 7, Henry. The Dakota boy who stays with us had been taken away by his father. I had sent our wagon and team to Traverse des Sioux for my sister Jane and 3 of our children who were on the way home from Ohio so we had no way to flee. Visiting the camp of Major Sherman I learned that Mr. Robertson had taken his family to the Lower Agency for greater security. All of the houses at the Upper Agency where J.B. Renville lives were abandoned. Even Dr. Daniels and his wife went into the Sherman camp at night. I tried to borrow a horse from our Dakota neighbors to get Mrs. Williamson to the camp, no one could help. The Indian men had left to fight the soldiers and the women and children, horses and dogs were fleeing. Before I got home I got the offer of a horse but decided that we had to stay.

 “One day during a Council with Indians an Indian ran towards the soldiers and was shot in the legs. I went to him to see what I could do. This was July 22, 1857. A woman tried to stab me, the sister of the wounded man, but a man grabbed her. Some friends went with me to get medicine at home to put on his wounds. Then, not long after the Sisseton left as did all of the Ihanktonwan and the U.S. soldiers. I was working in the garden one afternoon when our washer woman, one of our most faithful church members, told my wife and sister to tell me to hide – the father of the wounded man was coming to kill me. Jane brought him food and invited him in. He thought his son was dead but he wasn’t. I reminded him of the medicine I’d brought and he and his son have been here together since to express gratitude.”[11]

Thomas’ letter includes the earliest mention of Jane keeping Thomas safe from harm by feeding the starving Dakota man who was determined to kill the doctor when he thought his own son had died. This story was told and retold over the generations and has become one of the earliest and most prominent entries in the the retold legends of Jane Williamson.

One of the earlier accounts is found in the Missionary Herald, a publication of the A.B.C.F.M. The February 1858 issue included the following “Letter from Dr. Williamson”:

 “I was working in the garden, when our wash-woman, one of our most faithful church members, told my wife to send me word to hide as quickly as possible, for the father of the wounded man was watching about the house to kill me. She was much alarmed and advised all the family to fasten the doors and conceal themselves in the cellar or upstairs. I felt no disposition either to run away or hide, thinking she might be alarmed without case; but leaving my work, came to the house, entering at the back door which was nearest, without seeing the man, who I was then told as at the front door, with his gun concealed under his blanket. My sister, having prepared some food for him, opened the door and invited him to come in and eat. At first he paid no attention to her, but when the invitation was repeated, a few minutes afterwards, he came in with seeming reluctance, but ate, evidently with good relish, whatever was set before him; his eyes all the while dancing and flashing like those of a maniac. He had heard that his son had died of his wounds and declared his purpose of avenging his death on some white man, and doubtless came to our house for that purpose; but being hungry, the offer of food overcame his resolution. I reminded him of the medicine I had furnished and offered to give him more. He took some, admitting that what I had previously given had done good, and that he did not know whether the report of his son’s death was true. It was false. The father and son have been here together since, and expressed much gratitude for the food given him on that occasion”.[12]

In 1874, 17 years after the event took place, Thomas Sharon referred to the way in which Jane fed the Dakota man in order to save Thomas’ life.[13] Stephen Riggs mentioned the story in the sermon he offered at a memorial for Thomas Williamson that was published on October 15, 1880.[14] Two years later, the Iape Oaye of February 1882, expanded on the story as follows:

“A Dakota man had been shot by ‘our forces’ and they were told he was going to die. Catherine came running and said such an one – naming him – is coming here to kill someone. All go into the house and shut the doors and windows. Dr. W. never would do this except in case of drunken men, but they called him in from the garden. Miss W. reasoned that the man would be unlikely to kill a woman and she brought him a heaping plate of food. He wouldn’t acknowledge her for three times and then he finally took the dish. The doctor asked after his son and was told he will die. The doctor said perhaps not. I’ll give you medicine. Jane sent him off with tea, rice and sugar. Afterward two men came in, one old and one young and the older one told the boy, this is she, this is she, shake hands with her. She saved your life by sending you food.”[15]

The story continued to be repeated with ever expanding details. In the April-May issue of 1895 of The Word Carrier shared the following:

“From the North and West, a reprint – has been telling the story of an old Indian whose son had been wounded by the soldiers. He vowed that if his son died he would kill a white person. One day he thought he was dying and, painting himself black, started out with his weapons – Runners informed Aunt Jane. Sure enough the man came. Feeling that Thomas might be first white man he’d see, she gathered a platter of food and went to the door and the Indian wouldn’t look at her. She said I hear your son is very low. I will go tell my brother to give him some medicine. Perhaps it will make him well. So sit down and eat this while I go. The son recovered and the old man came back and thanked Jane with all his heart.”[16] 

Rev. R.J. Creswell shared a story about the event in his tribute to Jane Williamson in Among the Sioux, A Story of the Twin Cities and the Two Dakotas, published in 1906:

“She possessed great tact and was absolutely fearless. In 1857, during the Inkpadoota [sic] trouble, the father of a young Indian, who had been wounded by the soldiers of Sherman’s battery, came with his gun to the mission house to kill her brother. Aunt Jane met him with a plate of food for himself and offered to send some nice dishes to the wounded young man. This was effectual. The savage was tamed. He at the food and afterwards came with his son to give them thanks.”[17]

Eli Huggins was a colorful writer who shared many stories about “Aunt Jane” in his letters to William Folwell in the early 1900s.

More than sixty years after the incident happened, Eli Huggins, the son of Alexander and Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, who had known Jane all of his life, told Minnesota historian William Folwell the following story in a letter dated July 5, 1918.

“I will give you another narrative. A few years before the outbreak [the U.S. Dakota War of 1862] Dr. W. incurred the hatred of an Indian living I think in Sleepy Eyes within one or two days travel from the mission. I knew what his alleged grievance was but have forgotten. One day two women came and told Aunt J. that the Indians were coming to kill Dr. W. An Indian whose face was not familiar to her soon slipped in noiselessly Indian fashion without knocking. He did not speak or look at her. She thought she detected a gun under his blanket. The Dr. was away from the house. She said, you must have come a long ways, for you look tired. I will get you something to eat. She went out and sent a friendly Indian to find Dr. W. and warn him not to come to the house. Dinner had not been over long. She hastily prepared a generous bowl of rich soup, sweet potatoes, etc. and brought it to him. He said nothing and seemed to hesitate, but the food was tempting and he was probably hungry and no doubt it was a new and novel experience to him to be served to a white man’s meal in a white man’s house by a white woman of the upper class. He ate heartily, and went out without saying a word and never troubled the Dr. again. He told the Indians that Dowandutawin could make stronger medicine than her brother could, that she had put medicine in his food which had cured him of a bad cold, and had changed his heart which was very bad, and made it good. The Indians said the man was known to be a dangerous character, and they believed if the Dr. had returned to the house before his sister had ‘made medicine’ he would have been killed.”[18]

Six decades after the original event occurred, the story has now been changed by indicating it happened near Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, and enhanced with the information of what the specific menu was that Jane served the man on that fateful day. Huggins also offers his own interpretation of why the Dakota man was apparently awed at being served by a white woman so much so that he forgot his desire for vengeance.

Legends like this are part of what attracted me to Jane Williamson’s story. There are others that will be covered in upcoming posts. Even to her contemporaries, it seems that Jane was a remarkable person in many ways. The author of an article about Jane in North West, April 4, 1895, writes: “In the Dakota Mission, we all know Aunt Jane. A good many other people know her too, because there was something about her that was hard to forget. She was very short, only about four feet eight inches…. She was a ready talker.” A Williamson family genealogist included the following: “Aunt Jane was a little woman. Her brother Thomas lacked only an inch of being six feet, but she was small but of the type indicated by the old saying, ‘Little, but Oh my!’ ”[19]

Little, but oh, my is a perfect description of Jane and her contributions to Minnesota history. She was already 54 years old in 1857, but the most dangerous and challenging events of her life were still to come.

[1] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, March 3, 1855, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 6.

[2] Ibid., Stephen Riggs to S.B. Treat, April 2, 1855. Stephen Riggs and Thomas Williamson were often at odds over the question of boarding schools during these years. Riggs firmly believed in removing children from their homes and housing them all together in large communities. Williamson had always supported boarding individual Dakota children in his home for short periods of time, with the approval of their parents, but he never embraced the concept of the Indian boarding school that came to be government policy in the later 1800s.

[3] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, June 28, 1855, Northwest Mission Manuscripts, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, P48P, Box 18. I believe that Kate Dawes came to the mission because of her relationship with Jane’s cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, of Marietta, Ohio. I have found out little about her but it is of note that Dawes Memorial Library at Marietta College in Ohio, is named after family and houses one of the largest collections of Jane Williamson’s letters known to exist. The only subsequent mention of her in Jane’s is a note to Elizabeth on January 10, 1860, expressing concern over “Miss Dawes’ protracted ill health.”

[4] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, March 3, 1855, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 6. It is sometimes difficult to fully understand what the missionaries are referring to when they talk about food shortages. If Nancy Dawes came to Pejutazee to recover from her respiratory problems, it certainly would not be acceptable to place her in an environment where people were getting scrofula, a form of lung disease, because of poor diet. Jane also seldom mentions a food shortage for the missionaries, although she often expresses concern about the children’s clothing and diet. Throughout the missionary correspondence, however, there are several mentions of occasions when one or more of the mission family members were sick with a variety of stomach ailments perhaps caused by eating spoiled meat or lack of nutrients overall.

[5] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, March 10, 1856, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 7. Smith was buried at Pejutazee, although a tombstone with his name on it is in the Williamson family plot in the Green Lawn Cemetery (aka Pioneer Cemetery, Traverse des Sioux) in St. Peter, Minnesota. It is not known if his body was ever actually moved to this cemetery, or if the stone is simply in his memory.

[6] Ibid. June 24, 1856.

[7] Ibid. June 24, 1856.

[8] Jane Williamson in Pejutazee, Brown Co., Minn. Terr. to Dearest Cousin [Elizabeth]- Dated December 31, 1857Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio, Item 27, Folder 3.

[9] Thirteen-year-old Abigail Gardner and twenty-one year old Margaret Ann Marble were both rescued by Dakota scouts who had been sent out to find them and ransom them from their kidnappers. Lydia Howe Noble, 20, and Elizabeth Thatcher, 19, died while in captivity. There are dozens of books and articles about what came to be called the Spirit Lake Massacre. One of the most comprehensive is Legends, Letters and Lies: Readings on the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857, compiled and edited by Mary Hawker Bakeman, Park Genealogical Books, Roseville, MN, 2001.

[10] The record is a bit confusing at this point since John and Andrew are reported to have graduated from Knox in May of 1857 but the correspondence referring to their return indicates that they were in Minnesota by March of 1857.

[11] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, November 1857, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 7. The Williamson children who were at Pejutazee in March of 1857 were Nancy, 19; Martha, 12 and Henry, 7.The three who were on the way home from Ohio were Elizabeth, 23; John, 21; and Andrew, 19. The washerwoman that Thomas Williamson mentions is Catherine Tatidutawin, whose story is told in her post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[12] Missionary Herald, February 1858, p. 56, Minnesota Historical Society, Call #: BV2530.A1 M6

[13] Sharon, Thomas, Viola, or, Life in the Northwest / by a Western man, 1874. Minnesota Historical Society Call #: PS2804.S677 V5 1874

[14] Riggs, Stephen R., A Memorial Discourse on Rev. Thomas S. Williams, M.D., Missionary to the Dakota Indians. Delivered before the Synod of Minnesota, Friday evening, October 15, 1880. Printed by the American Tract Society, 150 Nassau Street, New York. Minnesota Historical Society Call #F605.1.W7 R5

[15] Iapi oaye: the Minnesota Sioux Tribe’s “Word Carrier”. Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm Call #: 1063

[16] Ibid., April-May 1895

[17] Creswell, R.J., Among the Sioux: A Story of The Twin Cities and The Two Dakotas, The University Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 1906. Minnesota Historical Society Call #: E78.M7 C9

[18] Eli Huggins Letters, Folwell Papers, July 5, 1918, Minnesota Historical Society, Box 47

[19] Williamson, Frances, “Notes Concerning Aunt Jane Williamson,” in the private family collections of Jeff Williamson, Rosemount, MN.

Posted in Catherine Tatidutawin, Eli Huggins, Inkpaduta, Susan Rainbow, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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


Posted in Andrew Hunter, William Williamson Ellison, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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

By the early spring of 1851, it was becoming clear that the federal government’s plans to remove the Dakota from the west side of the Mississippi River and open the land to white settlement were moving ahead quickly. For the men and women of the Dakota mission, the treaty would mean that each family had to make a decision about whether to accompany the Dakota to the proposed new reservations in western Minnesota or to leave mission work behind forever. The mission board back in Boston was unsure what course of action to take. They had no intention of giving up their ministry to the Dakota but it was clear that the missions at Kaposia, Red Wing, Shakopee and Oak Grove would have to be closed or relocated. It was unclear whether they’d be able to sell their property on the Mississippi River or where they would find the funds to establish new mission stations on the future reservations.

Jane had little time to be overly concerned about the future. Thomas and Margaret’s youngest child, Henry, was born on March 1, 1851 and a few days later Jane went down to Red Wing to take care of Martha Hancock, who was dying. Her husband, Joseph, was unable to care for their nine-year-old daughter Marilla or their son, Willie, who was just five months old, while also trying to care for Martha. Jane stayed for twelve days until Martha passed away on March 20, 1851. When he wrote to S.B. Treat to share the news of Martha’s death Joseph said, “She [Jane] attended Mrs. H during the last 12 days of her life with all the care of an affectionate sister.” [1]

Three months later, on June 29, 1851, Taoyateduta and his men, along with Thomas Williamson, Steven Riggs and others boarded the steamship Excelsior at St. Paul for the scheduled signing of the new treaty at Traverse des Sioux. Thomas Williamson was back at Kaposia when fellow missionary, Robert Hopkins, drowned in the Minnesota River. His loss sent waves of grief and shock throughout the mission and the Dakota communities. Jane was a dear friend of Robert’s wife Agnes and her heart ached for her friend’s tragic loss. She was also concerned about what Agnes would do, assuming that she would take the children and return to Ohio.[2]

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth in Ohio on July 10, 1851, to tell her about Robert’s death and Agnes’ plight. She also thanked her for sending some much needed financial assistance:

“When Mr. Livingston came here he brought me some money and I felt sorry I had written you such a beggering letter. After receiving this money I went to St. Paul’s shopping for the first time since I came to Minnesota. Last Summer I promised some of my Indian girls that I wanted to take them on a steamer when I could afford it so short time since I took four of them and went down to Red Wing to see Mrs. Aiton. I had intended to spend a week but hearing sister was sick I hastened home before it had quite expired. The little girls enjoyed the trip very much except my poor scrofulous Fanny. I often think we will not have her with us long. To me she is a very precious child but she gives no decided evidence of being born of the Spirit. Oh, pray that she may be made one of the lambs of Jesus. She said to me the other day, “Aunt, Who made God? Did he make himself?”[3]

Although the 1851 Treaty had been signed, little changed at Kaposia or the other mission stations for some time. The A.B.C.F.M. was considering how best to divest themselves of their property and also fund those missionaries who wanted to remain in service and go with the Dakota to their new home. Jane once again found herself caring for others when Joseph Hancock brought his children to Kaposia to stay with the Williamsons while he attended a mission meeting. During his absence, his 13-month-old son, Willie, died on September 27, 1851. Jane wrote to Nancy Aiton at Red Wing:“I cannot help missing dear little suffering Willie and the house looks sad and lonesome without him.[4]

Jane also expressed her concern for her girls in the same letter:

“I feel much for the girls in our families. They stand on slippery places and know it not. Next week they must all go to Mendota to receive their annuities.”

Jane had no way of knowing that the “slippery places” she worried about would bring loss and tragedy to so many of her Dakota girls in the coming years. Things were changing rapidly and the Williamson’s, like the other mission families, were contemplating what the future would bring. The A.B.C.F.M. had passed a resolution in September 1851, informing the missionaries that those who wished to remain in their villages and give up mission work could do so and could buy the property, buildings, furnishings and farm animals and equipment that had been provided to them by the mission board. Those who wished to go with the Dakota were to sell the property and buildings in which they lived and worked and use the proceeds to erect new structures on the new reservation.

All of the missionaries, except for the Williamson’s and the Riggs’, decided to discontinue their work as missionaries. The Pond brothers both established Presbyterian churches in their villages and prepared to welcome the new white settlers who were rapidly populating the region. Nancy and John Aiton came back to Kaposia where John was to serve as a government teacher to both white families and the remaining Dakota in early fall of 1851. The mission at Traverse des Sioux closed although Moses Adams returned and founded a Presbyterian Church on the site. Red Wing, Shakopee and Oak Grove all ceased to function as active missions. The Riggs remained at Lac qui Parle as the Williamsons prepared to relocate.

In the midst of this time of confusion and anxiety, Jane decided to go to Ohio. I may be filling in the story without proof of her motives but subsequent events lead me to believe that she had reached a major decision in her life. Up until now, Jane had always had the option of going back to her family out east and taking up her role as teacher there. She had helped Thomas and Margaret with the children in the early years but now John and Andrew were away at school, Nancy was eleven years old; Smith was nine and Martha was seven. The baby of the family, Henry was only seven months old, but Margaret was able to manage with the help of the girls. I can’t help but think that Jane may have been tempted to return to the comfort and security of life in Ohio and renew her acquaintance with her dozens of nieces and nephews there. She still owned the Williamson farm, The Beeches, and could quite easily resume her former life.

As it turned out, her trip to Ohio in October of 1851 was not about returning there to live, but about cutting her ties with her former home completely. She left for the east quite suddenly. When Thomas Williamson wrote to S.B. Treat on December 11, 1851, he explained that:

“Sister JSW was desirous of going to Ohio within a year and as she could have suitable company this autumn I thought it would be better for her to go soon and be there in the winter rather than the summer so we proposed to Mr. Aiton to move into the house which Mr. Cook vacated last August and to take charge of the school and promised to pay him for the Dakota scholars at the same rate with sister charges, i.e., 3 dollars each per quarter of 69 days and also for my own children.”[5]

The “suitable company” that Thomas referred to was the Riggs family, who were heading for a furlough in Ohio. Agnes Hopkins and her children were with them and now Jane joined the party, along with her niece, Nancy Jane Williamson, aged eleven, and Marion Robertson, the daughter of Andrew Robertson and his Dakota wife, Jane. Marion was probably about ten years old at this time and had grown up with Nancy Jane at Kaposia. Thomas drew $50 from the mission board to pay for her transportation but assured Treat that she would cover her own expenses.[6]

Jane and the girls stayed in Marietta, Ohio, with Jane’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband, Dyer Burgess.[7] I often reflect on what a comfort it must have been for Jane to enjoy the hospitality of her beloved cousin. Elizabeth’s husband was a successful Presbyterian minister, an avid abolitionist, and a quite well-to-do member of Marietta society. Their home was a far cry from the humble abode where the Williamson’s lived at Kaposia. By 1851, the Burgess home probably had indoor plumbing, however primitive, and may have even had the capacity to offer a hot bath to their guests.

On March 5, 1852, Jane wrote to Nancy Aiton, who was at Kaposia:

“Very dear Sister,

“Accept my cordial thanks for your kind letters. They carried long by the way have both been received and the latter brought me the latest news I have from home…

“O, with what a thrill of interest I read the names of my old scholars and all you say respecting them. I rejoice to hear that Mary tries to please you and to improve by the opportunities afforded her. May we yet be permitted to see her striving to please the Lord will all her heart. And dear little Susan too tries to be good. How glad I am that she tries. Poor Lucy. May the Lord remember her in mercy. I long to hear more particularly from Margaret. May it not be in vain that they have learned to read the Bible. It must have been very trying to you to give up the chief’s children but I am glad my little Old Woman is with you. Perhaps there still may be mercy in store for her Father.[8]

“I was much gratified to learn that Mr. Aiton had been appointed teacher but why for so short a period? You must be sadly crowded in your little house with so large a family. I often think of you fatigued in body and wearied in mind but dear Sister, there “remaineth a Rest.”

“You say will my brother be willing to take the boarding scholars again. I think it will be much better for you to keep them if you can. How I wish you were more conveniently situated for taking them. I have long thought you and Mr. Aiton better qualified for winning over Dakota children than most members of the mission.

“I have now had the pleasure of seeing all my sisters and more of my other friends than I expected and feel ready and willing to return to the Mission and render any assistance I can, but I do feel a shrinking from all responsibility. If you will take care of the children I will nurse the sick and assist in little matters. I sometimes feel discouraged at seeing so little interest manifested by the church in the cause of missions, so little sympathy for the heathen and the oppressed. I feel that I have done little if anything to awaken an interest.

“I am sitting talking with Cousin Burgess on the subject of abolition. His views are dark and dreary as it respects slavery and there seems to be more breadth than poetry in his arguments. Perhaps my sadness is somewhat increased by the pattering rain and darkness of the day…

“We have now been here more than a week. I had not intended to stay longer than this but the day after our arrival Nancy Jane complained of being very sick and in 24 hours after she was covered with an eruption which Mr. Burgess pronounces scarlet fever. For three or four days we had painful anxiety respecting her but she now takes nourishment without throwing it up and sits up an hour or two without much fatigue. Marion is not quite well today. I hope it is only cold, but she may be taking the disease. I cannot help feeling very anxious. She may escape it. But not a sparrow falls to the ground without the notice of our Heavenly Father.

“We feel that we are perfectly welcome here and have all the attention that kindness can bestow. I had intended to leave Marion in Ironton at school till we should return but hearing the measles had made their appearance in that place I brought her away in haste. It may perhaps have been scarlet fever. I do not know that they have been exposed to it in any other way…Should Marion not be taken sick and Nancy continues to mend I will probably start down the river next week. Mr. Ellison wrote me he expected to start for Minnesota early in April and there are several little matters to which I wish to attend in Adams County…[9]

Bro mentioned Mr. Robertson as being unwell. I hope he too is well again but almost would [not]. They do not write us. Good natured as Marion is she almost thinks it hard. How does her mother bear her absence…

“Please give the little folks a kiss for me and greet me in kind remembrance to Mr. Aiton and all the others.

“Yours in much love,

Jane S. Williamson”

One of the “little matters” that Jane needed to deal with in Adams County was to grant James Means her power of attorney. James Williamson Means was Jane’s cousin, Elizabeth Burgess’ younger brother, born in 1809. I believe that Jane was setting in motion her plans to remain with the Dakota mission and continue her work in Minnesota rather than returning to Ohio. She did not actually sell The Beeches at this point, but with James as her solicitor, she could do so without another visit east. Having taken care of that transfer of power, and with both Nancy Jane and Marion recovered from scarlet fever, Jane was ready to return to Kaposia with William Ellison. She had also agreed to bring Mary Smith Briggs with her. Mary was just sixteen and had gone to Jane’s school in West Union, Ohio, when she was a child. She, like many of the young women who visited the Dakota missions over the years, planned to spend two years or so helping Jane with the Dakota women and children who attended school at Kaposia. The trip home took approximately a month, and the group arrived at Kaposia on May 13, 1852.

[1] J.W. Hancock to S.B. Treat, March 22, 1851, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 4. The story of Joseph Hancock’s three wives will be shared in a future post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[2] See Heartbroken Heroine – Agnes Carson Johnson [Hopkins] [Pond] posted on Dakota Soul Sisters in February and 

[3] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, July 10, 1851, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 23, Folder 3. Scrofula is form of tuberculosis affecting the lymph nodes, especially of the neck, that is most common in children. Fanny passed away at Mendota in 1855.

[4] Aiton Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society P 1447-Box 1

[5] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, December11, 1851, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 4

[6] Ibid.

[7] See Part V of Life of Legend for the story of Elizabeth Means (Voris) (Burgess).

[8] Mary is the daughter of Joseph Napexni/Napayshne. Her life story is covered in a post about her from May 13, 2014, on Dakota Soul Sisters.  Susan was a Dakota girl (Wishkaayotankewin/Waxtongankewin) who was given the name Susan Ellison when Jane took her in in about 1848. Also known as Susan Rainbow, she was about six years old when the Williamson’s relocated from Kaposia to Yellow Medicine. Susan was sent to Bloomington to live with the Whalen family and she was tragically murdered there by six Ojibwe on June 12, 1856. More about Susan will be discussed in a future post about Jane’s adopted children. I have not been able to find any additional information about Lucy, Margaret or the girl that Jane calls her “little Old Woman.”

[9] William Williamson Ellison was born in Adams County, Ohio, on February 22, 1822. He was a nephew of Jane and Thomas Williamson. Their half sister, Mary Beauford Williamson, was his mother and James Ellison was his father. William Ellison’s mother Mary died when he was thirteen in 1835 and by 1849, William was working for William Williamson at the Kaposia mission. He was thirty years old and single when he brought Jane and Mary Smith Briggs back home to Kaposia from Ohio in May of 1852. In 1859, William Ellison married Sarah Rebecca Pond, the third child of Gideon and Sarah Poage Pond. They had seven children and spent their lives in Minnesota.

Posted in Joseph Woods Hancock, Marilla Hancock Holiday, Martha Houghton Hancock, Willie Hancock | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Dakota Mission, Emma Wakefield, Harriet Bishop, Jane Anderson Robertson, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Marion Robertson Hunter, Minnesota, Minnesota History, Nancy Hunter Aiton, Nancy Rankin Adams, Susan Rainbow aka Susan Ellison, Sylvester Cook, Women in Minnesota, Wowinape | Leave a comment

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

Artist Seth Eastman pained this image of Kaposia in approximately 1847. The two story house on the far left is believed to be the "new" mission house built by Andrew Robertson.

Artist Seth Eastman pained this image of Kaposia in approximately 1847. The two story house on the far left is believed to be the “new” mission house built by Andrew Robertson.

When Jane Williamson arrived at the new mission at Kaposia, she found herself living in a unique community. Although white settlement was not legally permitted on the west side of the Mississippi River in 1846, the land on the east side of the river had been opened to whites as a result of the 1837 federal treaty with the Dakota. The village was only nine miles from Fort Snelling which was the largest settlement of whites in the region, and explorers, tourists, government officials and travelers often visited Kaposia.

The Kaposia band of Mdewakanton Dakota had lived among whites for generations. Unlike their Wahpeton kin at Lac qui Parle, who were isolated hundreds of miles from any ports or cities, the Kaposia were frequent visitors to the fort. Samuel Pond had come to the village over a decade earlier to attempt to teach Chief Taoyateduta’s father, Wakinyantanka, (aka Big Thunder or Little Crow IV) how to use a plow and government farmers had been assigned to the village since the 1830s.

Rev. Alfred Brunson was the first Methodist missionary at Kaposia. He established the mission and school there in May of 1837.

Rev. Alfred Brunson was the first Methodist missionary at Kaposia. He established the mission and school there in May of 1837.

They were also familiar with missionaries because the Methodist Church had established a mission school and church at Kaposia in 1837, led by Rev. Alfred Brunson as Superintendent, Rev. David King as missionary and teacher and John Holton, who was to assist with farming. The group included Holton’s family as well as James Thompson, a former enslaved man from Africa who was married to a Dakota woman. Brunson had brought Thompson to the site and raised the funds to purchase his freedom for $1,200.00. It was the Methodist group who built the first frame house at Kaposia, the one the Williamson’s moved into when they arrived in 1846, and who started the first school, where Rev. King taught and studied as he attempted to learn the Dakota language. Unfortunately, Brunson became ill and was replaced by Rev. James Kavanaugh in 1839, who brought his family as well as two white missionary women, Mrs. Boardman and Miss Julia Boswell, to teach in the Dakota school.[1]

Rev. Kavanaugh ran into disagreements and problems with Wakinyantanka and moved his family across the river to the settlement known as Red Rock, today’s Newport, Minnesota. He hoped to continue the school at Kaposia but Wakinyantanka grew frustrated and forced the Methodists to give up the school and the mission in 1843.

For the next three years, the Kaposia band had no opportunity to learn to read and write their own language and when Wakinyantanka died in October 1845, unrest and anxiety was prevalent among the Dakota. It didn’t help that Wakinyantanka did not name one of his sons who were living at Kaposia as his successor but chose Taoyateduta to take the position as Little Crow V. The transition did not go smoothly. When Taoyateduta showed up to claim his position, he was ambushed by two of his brothers who shot him through both of his wrists as he folded his arms across his chest. Refusing to let the physician at Fort Snelling amputate his arms, Taoyateduta managed to survive but had deformed wrists and hands for the rest of his life. His two rebellious brothers were killed and he then contacted the federal Indian Agent to ask him to send a missionary to the village to bring education and church teachings to Kaposia.[2]

It was in this challenging atmosphere that Jane arrived in October of 1846.

Eastman also painted one of the more permanent structures that the Dakota used at Kaposia. Made from bark and wood posts, the structures were used during the summer months.

Eastman also painted one of the more permanent structures that the Dakota used at Kaposia. Made from bark and wood posts, the structures were used during the summer months.

We know from Thomas Williamson’s letter to S.B. Treat that the house they were to move into wasn’t ready for the family. Eben Weld, the farmer appointed to the Kaposia by the government, had been living there since the Methodists left, and some repairs were needed. He also reported that their luggage didn’t arrive from Traverse des Sioux until November 20, 1846.[3] Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t explain where the family stayed while waiting for their clothing and supplies and while he was repairing the house. It was getting cold in Minnesota by the end of October; too cold to sleep outdoors. The group included Thomas, Margaret, Jane, Marguerite Renville and the Williamson children: John, Andrew, Nancy, Smith and Martha. It may be that they went to the home of friends in the area like Gideon Pond and his wife Sarah, who was Margaret Williamson’s sister. They were at the mission at Oak Grove, about 20 miles from Kaposia, and may have provided a place to stay for the new arrivals, at least until the house was ready. With the Dakota away, they may also have temporarily moved into one of the houses made out of bark that the Dakota had built earlier.

While on winter hunts, the Dakota used portable houses made of deer skins that we know as "teepees." Most images of Kaposia include both teepees and bark houses.

While on winter hunts, the Dakota used portable houses made of deer skins that we know as “teepees.” Most images of Kaposia include both teepees and bark houses.

Thomas made it clear in the letter that they did not open a school immediately since the Kaposia band had already left for the winter hunt when the family arrived at the village in October. He mentioned that only one family from Lac qui Parle had remained on site for the winter.[4] This reprieve from beginning classes made it possible for the family to get to know their neighbors and to become familiar with their new location.

Andrew Robertson brought his family to Kaposia in 1846 and was the first person Thomas Williamson accepted into the Presbyterian Church upon "profession of faith." This photo includes notes on all the places Andrew lived during his time in Minnesota.

Andrew Robertson brought his family to Kaposia in 1846 and was the first person Thomas Williamson accepted into the Presbyterian Church upon “profession of faith.” This photo includes notes on all the places Andrew lived during his time in Minnesota.

One of the families they met soon after their arrival was that of Andrew Robertson. Andrew was a Scotsman who had been in the country since 1837. He had worked with Rev. David King at Kaposia, assisting with the farming. His wife Jane was the daughter of Dakota woman, whose own father was white. Jane’s father was also white. She had been educated at the Ojibwe mission at Mackinac and became Andrew Robertson’s second wife in May of 1836.

Jane Robertson, whose Dakota name was Daybreak Woman, was the daughter and granddaughter of Dakota women who had married white men. She became the first female Superintendent of Indian Education on the Dakota reservations in Minnesota.

Jane Robertson, whose Dakota name was Daybreak Woman, was the daughter and granddaughter of Dakota women who had married white men. She became the first female Superintendent of Indian Education on the Dakota reservations in Minnesota.

Jane’s mother had remarried by then to Hazen Mooers, a noted trader who lived on Grey Cloud Island about ten miles south of Kaposia. Jane and Andrew lived with them for the first few years of their marriage. When the Williamson’s arrived at Kaposia in 1846, the Robertson’s had five living children and were settled in their home about a half mile south of the mission site at Kaposia. Their firstborn son, James Wabasha Robertson, had died at the age of three years in 1838. A second boy, Thomas, was born in 1839, followed by Marion in 1840. Angus arrived in 1842 and Gustavus was born two years later in 1844. Francis was only six weeks old when the Williamson’s arrived and the Robertson’s subsequently had three more children: Sophia, born in 1848; William, born in 1850; and Martha, born in 1855. Eventually most of the Robertson children attended classes with Jane Williamson at the mission school at Kaposia and became great friends with the Williamson children.

The little community around Kaposia increased again when Samuel and Persis Dentan, who had been stationed at the Dakota mission at Red Wing, left the ministry and settled in Red Rock, across the river from Kaposia. (The Story of Persis Dentan was covered in an earlier Dakota Soul Sisters entry.)

Thomas used the first few months at Kaposia to design a new mission house for the site that was to measure 30’ x 36’ with 18-foot posts 11 rooms with closets. He hired Andrew Robertson to begin construction on the new house, which took more than two years to complete.[5] He also spent time in the future capital city of St. Paul, just four miles to the north, familiarizing himself with clergy in the area and establishing relationships in that community.

Thomas Williamson went looking for a teacher for school children in St. Paul and Harriet Bishop responded. She spent two nights with the Williamson's at Kaposia in July 1847 and opened the first public school in St. Paul a few days later.

Thomas Williamson went looking for a teacher for school children in St. Paul and Harriet Bishop responded. She spent two nights with the Williamson’s at Kaposia in July 1847 and opened the first public school in St. Paul a few days later.

One of the problems that Thomas discovered in St. Paul was the lack of a school for the children there. He estimated that there were at least 36 children in the city who had nowhere to attend school. His concern prompted him to write to Catharine Beecher who ran The Beecher School in Albany, New York. Catharine was the sister of the famous abolitionist author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose serialized novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was published in 1851 in the National Era and became a major factor in the start of the United States Civil War.

Thomas explained to Catharine Beecher that his sister Jane had a successful school for Mdewakanton Dakota children at Kaposia but he was concerned about the children in the growing city of St. Paul. He asked for Beecher’s help in identifying a woman who could come out to teach these children. Harriet Bishop, a 30-year-old teacher who was attending Beecher’s School, was seeking a new adventure and quickly agreed to go.

On the morning of July 16, 1847, the steamer “Lynx” arrived at Kaposia. In her book, Floral Home, published in 1857, Harriet described the scene: “All nature had conspired, too, for a glorious day when we first looked on Little Crow’s village, or Kaposia, where our boat landed. The ringing of the bell occasioned a grand rush and with telegraphic speed every man, woman and child flew to the landing. To an unsophisticated eye like mine, the scene on shore was novel and grotesque…blankets and hair streaming in the wind, limbs uncovered, children nearly naked, the smaller ones entirely so, while a papoose was ludicrously peeping over the shoulder of nearly every squaw. In the midst of the waiting throng appeared the missionary and his sister.”[6]

This image of the steamboat Charles Carroll from the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, portrays a typical steam boat from 1846. This is the kind of ship that brought Harriet Bishop to Kaposia. Dozens of travelers passed the village of Kaposia on similar ships, gawking at the Dakota as they headed for St. Paul.

This image of the steamboat “Charles Carroll” from the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio, portrays a typical steam boat from 1846. This is the kind of ship that brought Harriet Bishop to Kaposia. Dozens of travelers passed the village of Kaposia on similar ships, gawking at the Dakota as they headed for St. Paul.

Harriet spent two more days with the Williamsons at Kaposia and then Dr. Williamson arranged for two Mdewakanton women to escort her by canoe to the capital city. She called at the home of J.R. Irvine, where she was to stay and within a few days she opened her first school in a former blacksmith’s shop. Classes opened in her humble school room on July 19, 1847. Of the first seven students who showed up for school, only two were white. Harriet could speak only English so she relied on a mixed blood Dakota girl who could read and speak Dakota, English and French to help her communicate.[7]

By the summer of 1847, Jane and the rest of the family were preparing for a trip back to Ohio. Thomas wrote to David Green on June 15, 1847, saying that he needed to take John and Andrew to relatives out east where they could attend school. He also wanted to recruit some new workers for the Dakota mission.[8] It had been over five years since Thomas and Margaret had been east and they hadn’t seen their daughter Elizabeth during that time. It had been four years since Jane had visited friends and family in Ohio and they were all anxious to make the journey. By October, 1847, however, Thomas had not had an answer from David Greene and wrote to him again, reminding him that the passage to the east would be closed in two weeks as the rivers froze.[9] Apparently Thomas decided they would make the journey whether they had permission or not and the family left Kaposia in early November.

Such a trip was not unusual. Most mission families took what might be called a furlough from service at least once every four years or so. The breaks usually lasted several months since it could take four to six weeks of travel to get to Ohio, where most of the missionaries were from. In the case of this 1847 trip, it isn’t clear whether the two youngest Williamson children, Smith and Martha, who were five and three years old respectively, were along for the journey. It was quite common for the mission families to take care of one another’s youngest children during such furloughs. In Jane’s case, she was no doubt anxious to check on her property as The Beeches was being rented and she had originally planned to return there after only two years but now it had been twice that long. She also wanted to see her cousin Elizabeth and to learn how the rest of the family was doing.

After several months in Ohio, Thomas, Margaret and Jane returned to Kaposia on May 5, 1848. They had left John and Andrew behind to go to school, but seven-year-old Nancy was definitely with Jane and her parents on the way home. Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth on June 8, 1848, describing the trip back to Kaposia.

“We left Ripley on the evening of the 17th of April and arrived here on the 5 of May. We spent the first Sabbath in St. Louis and were in Galena from Friday till Tuesday evening. We became acquainted with some pleasant people there and I wanted to have enjoyed their company much but sister and Nancy Jane had been unwell all the way and in Galena were so sick that I longed to reach even our Indian house. Nancy Jane is still unusually delicate but has… recovered her health and her mother is much better than she was and she can do light work without much fatigue and sits down or has to lie down more than once or twice during the day.

“My own health was good by the way but I have suffered much more from ill health since our return than altogether before in this country a few days after our arrival I was taken with chills and fever when recovering from this a carbuncle on my shoulder caused me painful days and wakeful nights. For two weeks I was unable to do anything but teach: had I been at home I should have rested from this also. I am still weak and much reduced but the carbuncle is discharging and I was able to assist a little with the washing yesterday. I scarce know how we should have done had not the Louis included Miss Cunningham to come with us. We would feel it a great privilege to have her remain with us but as she is much needed at some of the other stations. If sister should continue better perhaps we ought not to wish it. She will be better and useful at either of the stations.

“We have in the family a hired man and a young man who came to teach the man and boys of this village. The latter Mr. Cook is quite young makes the Dakota sounds with ease and thus far appears pleased with his work. The people of this village manifest a much greater desire to learn since our return than before. More of them also attend our religious meetings.

“A short time since we made a feast and invited the men. Bro gave a temperance lecture quite a number of them promised to abstain from spirit water, some for two moons others for four. You may suppose from these circumstances that we are much encouraged but could you dearest cousin hear the nightly drumming, songs and savage yells which accompany their scalp dance you would feel that they are still mad on their idols. O that the Lord would grant the influences of His Holy Spirit both to them and us.

“I teach in our little sitting room. The scholars come 1, 2, 3 or more at a time just as they choose or perhaps as they can for when the women are working their corn the girls must have the care of children and each one generally has a child on her back when she comes to read. I am seldom destitute of scholars and always busy if I have one. This was written between their going out and coming in.”[10]

Thomas also reported to Selah Treat on the situation at Kaposia upon their return from Ohio.

“It is one month today since we landed here on our return from Ohio. I did not find all the assistants I wanted but Mr. Cook and Miss Martha Ann Cunningham are here now…Among those attending both our religious meetings and our school are the chief and several of the principal men of the village. Mr. Cook teaches the men and boys. He is a native of Canada but of New England parentage. He came at his own expense hoping to get a job as a government teacher but Col. Bruce’s term of office expired before he got here and no one is now making these decisions….The women are taught by Jane with the assistance of Miss Cunningham who came out with us at the expense of the Board….She was willing to come without an appointment thinking perhaps she might wish to return after two years. Thus far she remains very usefully employed for owing to the poor health of Mrs. W. and my sister we have much needed her assistance but if they should recover their health as we hope it is expected she will go to reside with one of the Mr. Ponds.”[11]

Thomas Williamson had met Sylvester Cook in Bloomington, Fayette County, Ohio, in January of 1848. Cook was teaching school at the time but was willing to come out to the Kaposia mission as a teacher. According to Thomas, “He is very well spoken of by his employers and others whose judgment I suppose we may safely reply.”[12] More of Sylvester Cook’s story will be told in the Dakota Soul Sisters story about Harriet Newell Pettijohn.

Martha Ann Cunningham was 29 years old when she arrived at Kaposia. She was relocated to teach at Samuel Pond’s mission at Shakopee in September of 1848 and then helped at the Traverse des Sioux mission with Moses Adams and his wife until spending her final few weeks in Minnesota at Lac qui Parle. Her brother, Hugh Doak Cunningham, and Hugh’s wife, Mary Ellison, a cousin of Jane Williamson, were with the ABCFM from 1856-1865 and the youngest Cunningham girl, Marjorie, visited the mission in 1862 and escaped the war with the Stephen Riggs party in August 1862. I’ll cover the Cunningham sisters in more detail in a future post.

Once Jane had recovered from the fever and chills which accompanied her discomfort from a carbuncle, she returned to teaching the women and girls at Kaposia and experienced some of the most successful years the Dakota mission had ever known.[13]

[1] Unlike the Presbyterian women who came to the Dakota mission under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the Methodist women, like Mrs. Boardman and Julia Boswell, do not appear as prominently in the historic record. The Methodist church abandoned its ministry to the Dakota in 1843 and nothing further is known, at least about Julia Boswell. Mrs. Boardman, however, had quite an interesting story. She was a widow when she came out to Kaposia with Rev. Kavanaugh in 1838. She then married W.R. Brown at Red Rock in1841. They had met when both were working at Kaposia where she was a teacher and Brown a carpenter. In 1846, they became foster parents to Helen Hastings Sibley, the illegitimate daughter of Minnesota Governor Henry Sibley. Helen’s Dakota mother had died in 1843 and the Brown’s raised her until she married in 1859. Dr. Thomas S. Williamson treated Helen as a medical patient in October 1847 and repaired her broken arm in 1848. Helen’s story will be told in a future post on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[2] Lorenzo Lawrence, the son of Catherine Tatidutawin, one of the featured Dakota Soul Sisters, reportedly went with Taoyateduta when the new chief traveled from Lac qui Parle to Kaposia to claim his position as chief of the band after his father’s death. Thomas Robertson shared the story: “Lawrence (Ton-wan-ite-ton) also was, among his own people, a tough character. He and another man (Sunkasistina) at one time shot and killed two of Little Crow’s brothers. Lawrence afterward married one of the widows, and lived with her up to the time of her death. So he had other things in view when he put himself under the protection of the whites.” (Reminiscences of Thomas A Robertson, Minnesota Historical Society Microfilm Collection, Call #M582 Robertson, 1918, p.17)

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

[4] Ibid. The Wahpeton Dakota of Lac qui Parle and the Mdewakanton Dakota of Kaposia share deep kinship bonds and several Wahpeton families had left Lac qui Parle to relocate to Kaposia when the problems with crop failure and closing of the school and mission there prompted them to leave. Taoyateduta had grown up at Lac qui Parle because his mother was from there and she left Taoyateduta’s father when the future chief was just a toddler and took him back to her family at Lac qui Parle. Both bands shared family ties with the original Renville ancestor and many of the families from both groups were interrelated.

5] Thomas S. Williamson to S.B. Treat, June 5, 1848: Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3. Thomas mentioned to Treat that they still needed to finish their house at Kaposia.

[6] Bishop, Harriet E., Floral Home or First Years of Minnesota: Early Sketches, Later Settlements & Further Developments, New York, NY 1857

[7] The woman mentioned could be Marguerite Renville, although neither Harriet Bishop nor Thomas Williamson mention her by name. Marguerite had come to Kaposia with the Williamson’s in 1846 but her name is not listed as a teacher there so it is possible that she went to St. Paul to assist Miss Bishop. She married Alexander Duncan Campbell, Jr., in 1849.

[8] Thomas Williamson to David Green, June 15, 1847. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, June 9, 1848, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 15, Folder 2. This is the earliest letter from Jane at Kaposia that I have found.

[11] Thomas Williamson to Selah B. Treat, June 5, 1848, Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[12] Ibid.

[13] A carbuncle is a red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils that are connected to each other under the skin. A boil (or furuncle) is an infection of a hair follicle that has a small collection of pus (called an abscess) under the skin. Usually single, a carbuncle is most likely to occur on a hairy area of the body such as the back or nape of the neck.

Posted in Alfred Brunson, Andrew Robertson, Dakota Mission, Harriet Bishop, Jane Anderson Robertson, Jane Smith Williamson, Martha Ann Cunningham, Moses Newton Adams, Persis Skimmer Dentan, Sylvester Cook, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

Life of a Legend – The Story of Jane Smith Williamson – Part V – A Word about “Dearest Cousin Lizzie”

The oldest letter I have that was written by Jane Williamson is dated October 8, 1842, seven months before she came to Lac qui Parle. The letter is written to Jane’s cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, who was living in Belpre, Ohio in Washington County, to the northeast of West Union in Adams County, Ohio, where Jane lived. Jane made no mention of any thoughts she may have had about moving to Minnesota in a few months but shared news of family and friends whom Elizabeth knew. No letters have been found from Jane’s time at Lac qui Parle but I have seven letters written to or from Jane during the years at Kaposia.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane's handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to included added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Jane wrote to her cousin Elizabeth over the course of their lives. This letter, from 1851, is typical of Jane’s handwriting. It is not unusual for the letters to include added comments in the margins because paper was precious. Some writers even turned the page upside down and wrote in a new direction between the lines.

Two of Jane’s most prolific correspondents were her cousin Elizabeth and her friend, Nancy Hunter Aiton, a fellow missionary. Nancy’s story will be told in a future Dakota Soul Sisters post but this is a good time to tell Elizabeth’s story since she and Jane corresponded until at least February 12, 1883, which is the last letter from Jane that I have in my collection.

Elizabeth, or Lizzie, as Jane often called her, was born to Jane’s paternal aunt, Anne Williamson Means, and her husband, Colonel John Means. They had come to Ohio in 1819 to free their 24 slaves just as Anne’s brother, William Williamson, had done in 1805. Elizabeth was Anne and John Means’ oldest child and was twenty years old when the family moved to Ohio. She was four years older than her cousin Jane Williamson but the girls formed an immediate and strong friendship that lasted until Elizabeth’s death on February 28, 1889, at the age of 90.

Elizabeth married Dr. William McCreary Voris in West Union, Ohio, on April 24, 1827. They lived on the corner of Main and Market Streets in West Union and William was an elder in William Williamson’s Presbyterian Church. Their first daughter, Anne, was born in 1828, followed by twins, Margaret and Theodosia, who both died in infancy in 1831. Their next child, born in 1832, was named Elizabeth after her mother.

Jane was teaching in Adams County on June 8, 1835, when she was informed of the death of Dr. William Voris, who had succumbed to cholera while on a trip to Cincinnati. It fell to Jane to go to Elizabeth and inform her of her husband’s death. Elizabeth was seven months pregnant at the time. The History of Adams County records part of the story: “At first she [Jane] told her that Dr. Voris had been very sick in Cincinnati. As cholera was prevalent there, the wife at once divined the truth and swooned way. She went from one swoon into another, and Miss Williamson, in order to terminate her swoons, went out and brought in her two little girls, one seven and the other three years of age, and leading one by each hand, asked her if there not two good reasons for her to live and to work for.”[1]

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, OH in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery had fallen into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth Means Voris buried her husband William in the cemetery at the Manchester Presbyterian Church in Manchester, Ohio, in 1835. William was a prominent physician who was only 33 years old when he died of cholera. Two years later, Elizabeth buried her father in the same cemetery and then in 1840, her mother passed away and was buried here as well. She had also lost twin daughters in 1831. The Manchester cemetery fell into ruins over time but was fully restored and indexed about ten years ago.

Elizabeth grieved terribly for six weeks and then gave birth to another daughter, Margaret Jane Williamson Voris, on August 1, 1835, honoring her friendship with Jane in her little girl’s middle name. She took her daughters and moved back into her parents’ home where she and Jane continued to care for each other as cousins and close friends. Elizabeth’s father died in 1837 and her youngest brother, Hugh Means, took over the family home with his wife, Esther Ellison Means. Elizabeth’s mother, Jane’s aunt Anne, passed away in 1840. Then on August 31, 1842, Elizabeth married Rev. Dyer Burgess, a noted abolitionist preacher who had been pastor at the West Union Presbyterian Church from 1820-1829, after William Williamson’s tenure there.

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he "was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. " (The History of Adams County.)

Rev. Dyer Burgess married Elizabeth Means Voris in 1842. He had fallen in love with her when a young man but she married Dr. Voris and it was not until both she and the reverend lost their spouses that they were married. An avid abolitionist he “was over six feet tall, straight as an Indian, with a haughty courage. He was slightly inclined to corpulency. He had a large head, a high forehead, with heavy arched brows, and a square face with a great deal of determination expressed in it. ” (The History of Adams County.)

The Adams County History records Rev. Burgess’ attraction to Elizabeth:

“About this time the Rev. Burgess formed an attachment for Miss Elizabeth Means, the daughter of Col. John Means. His suit was discouraged by the brothers and the family, as they thought she ought to do better than to marry a poor minister. The matter never came to a proposal, but on the twenty-seventh day of April, 1827, Miss Means married Dr. William M. Voris. This event was entirely unexpected to Mr. Burgess, and struck him like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky. At a solemn communion service season the Sunday following, he preached from the text: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols,’ and he preached with such pathos and depth of feeling that his hearers could not but believe that his idol had been shattered when Miss Means married Dr. Voris.

“On March 19, 1831, he married Miss Isabella Ellison, the daughter of Andrew Ellison. She was a maiden lady of about his own age, and he married her in Cincinnati, where she was making her home with her brother-in-law, Adam McCormick…

“Directly after his marriage to Miss Ellison, which entirely revolutionized his finances, as she was wealthy and willing to spend her money for their joint enjoyment, he returned to West Union, and there built the property now occupied and known as the Palace Hotel, and immediately took possession of it. From that time on, until the death of his wife, the Rev. Burgess had no particular charge, but preached when and where he pleased. He and his wife lived in great state in their then elegant home—as, when completed, it was the finest house in the county. They kept two pews in the Presbyterian Church at West Union, and these they had filled every Sunday- They entertained a great many visitors— usually had their house full of visitors, and especially Mrs. Burgess’ relations. These she invited from far and wide and entertained them for a long period of time…

“His wife died in their home, now the Palace Hotel, in West Union, November 3, 1839. She disposed of her property by last will and testament drawn by Hon. George Collings, father of Judge Henry Collings, of Manchester, Ohio. The will made no provision for Mr. Burgess except to give him two rooms in her house for life, but she had already given him a number of claims which she deemed a suitable provision for him…

“On August 31, 1842, Mr. Burgess was married to Mrs. Elizabeth W. Voris, widow of Dr. William M. Voris, and the daughter of Col. John Means, and who was Mr. Burgess’ first love….She was a noble Christian woman and lived a long life of sincere piety and good deeds. Mrs. Burgess died February 28, 1889, in her ninetieth year, having lived with Mr. Burgess thirty years, and survived him nearly seventeen years.”[2]

Dyer Burgess had moved to Washington County, Ohio, in 1840 and that is where he and Elizabeth began their married life together with Elizabeth’s three daughters who were fourteen, ten and seven years old when Dyer and Elizabeth married. Jane’s letters to Elizabeth are addressed to various locations including Belpre, Constitution and Marietta, Ohio. Jane often stayed with them for weeks at a time during visits home to Ohio. What is perhaps most amazing about Elizabeth’s story is that her family not only kept forty years worth of letters from Jane, but turned them over to the Dawes Memorial Library at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, where they are carefully preserved in the archives.

[1] A History of Adams County, Ohio, by Nelson W. Evans and Emmons B. Stivers, published by E.B. Stivers, West Union, Ohio,  1900, p. 638

[2] Ibid., Passim, pp. 515-520. The Palace Hotel was located on the southeast corner of Mulberry and Market Streets in West Union, Ohio. When the history was written in 1900, it was still in use and was known as the “Anti-Slavery Palace.”

Posted in Elizabeth Means [Voris] Burgess, Jane Smith Williamson, Kaposia Village, Rev. Dyer Burgess, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[4] Ibid., Box 3

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

[6] Ibid.

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

[8] Ibid., p. 146

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

[10] Ibid.

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

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

Posted in Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Jane Smith Williamson, Joseph Renville, Kaposia Village, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Madeline Renville, Mary Ann Longley Huggins Kerlinger, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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

Jane Williamson was forty years old when she arrived at the Lac qui Parle mission. This photograph was probably taken about ten years later.

Jane Williamson was forty years old when she arrived at the Lac qui Parle mission. This photograph was probably taken about ten years later.

Jane Williamson didn’t come to the Dakota mission at Lac qui Parle as a missionary. Her intention was to stay one or two years to help Thomas and Margaret with their children and teach her nieces and nephews and the other white children at the mission as they approached school age. She had never lived with the Dakota, did not know the language and planned to eventually return to her home in Ohio.[1]

She arrived at an unusual period for the mission. Thomas and his family had been away from Lac qui Parle for over a year and most of the Dakota had gone to Fort Snelling with them or moved to other villages where they had relatives. The crops had failed because of bitterly cold temperatures and early snow; they had no sustainable food source and they took refuge at the fort for several months. They had all left in the spring of 1842, and the Riggs family set out for a furlough in Ohio at the same time. Fanny Huggins, Alexander and Lydia Huggins, and Samuel and Cordelia Pond and their families remained to carry on the work at Lac qui Parle.[2]

Upon their return from Ohio in the spring of 1843, the Riggs relocated to start a new mission at Traverse des Sioux, now St. Peter, Minnesota. Samuel and Cordelia Pond left Lac qui Parle in June of 1843 and moved in with Samuel’s brother Gideon and Gideon’s family at the new Oak Grove mission in Bloomington, Minnesota. The new missionaries, Robert and Agnes Hopkins, came out to Lac qui Parle with the Riggs in the spring of 1843 and began their ministry by learning the Dakota language and familiarizing themselves with the mission operations.

Jane had traveled from Ohio with Agnes and Robert Hopkins so she knew them quite well and it is likely that her path had crossed at some point with Fanny Huggins since she and Fanny had both been teachers near Ripley in Ohio. Only eight-year-old John and five-year-old Andrew Williamson, along with eleven-year-old Amos Huggins, were old enough to begin studying with Jane when she arrived. Elizabeth Williamson and the two oldest Huggins girls, Jane and Eliza, were living with relatives in Ohio.

Fanny Huggins taught the younger Dakota children at the mission. She learned to speak and write Dakota and taught the students in their own language.

Fanny Huggins taught the younger Dakota children at the mission. She learned to speak and write Dakota and taught the students in their own language.

Amos Huggins and John Williamson had already learned the Dakota language from their Indian playmates with whom they had grown up at Lac qui Parle. It is likely that Jane began to pick up Dakota words from the boys as her first introduction to the language.[3] Fanny Huggins was the regular teacher of the Dakota children. She had already been at the mission for four years when Jane arrived. Margaret Williamson and Lydia Huggins worked with the Dakota women, teaching them to sew and do laundry and other domestic tasks. Thomas Williamson conducted worship services and worked with Joseph Renville on translating the Bible into Dakota. He also assisted Alexander Huggins in the many agricultural pursuits that provided animals and vegetables for the mission community and the Dakota who helped with the planting and harvesting. As newcomers, Robert and Agnes Hopkins helped wherever they could while preparing themselves for their own future as teachers and missionaries.

It was during the first few days and weeks of her arrival that Jane met the Dakota women who were a vital part of the church at Lac qui Parle. Joseph Renville, the Dakota/French fur trader whose post was at Lac qui Parle, had married his first wife, Tokanne or Mary Little Crow in the Catholic Church in 1804. Mary was a Christian long before the first missionaries arrived and she had great influence on other Dakota women until her death in 1840. Her children had been raised with knowledge of the Christian church and when Jane arrived in 1843, Magdalena, Rosalie and Marguerite Renville were all in their twenties and still living at home with their father. The youngest of the family, John Baptiste Renville, was twelve years old when Jane arrived at the mission. He and John Williamson were the best of friends and had grown up together at Lac qui Parle.

Catherine Tatidutawin was the first Dakota woman baptized ino Christianity at the Lac Qui Parle Mission in 1837. She is pictured here perhaps 50 years later. (Photo Courtesy Marlin Peterson)

Catherine Tatidutawin was the first Dakota woman baptized ino Christianity at the Lac Qui Parle Mission in 1837. She is pictured here perhaps 50 years later. (Photo Courtesy Marlin Peterson)

The Renville children’s aunt, Tatidutawin, whose Christian name was Catherine, was the first Dakota woman to become a member of the Christian church after the Williamson’s and Huggins’s established the mission. She was married to Mary Little Crow’s brother, Chatka. They had two sons, Kawanke and Towanetatan and a daughter, Wawiyohiyawin. Catherine and Wawiyohiyawin were baptized into the church in December of 1837 and took the Christian names Catherine and Sarah. Sarah was about 17 years old when Jane arrived at Lac qui Parle.[4]

The women of Lac qui Parle were the foundation of the church. The year before Jane arrived they had managed to raise enough money to purchase a bell for the chapel by selling beaded moccasins to churchgoers out east. Jane, who was named Dowandutawin, or Red Song Woman, by the Dakota, loved to listen to the women sing the Presbyterian hymns of the faith in their own language, no doubt helping her learn to speak and understand the Dakota language.

Despite the installation of the bell and the faithfulness of some of the Dakota women, most Indian men resented the missionaries and believed that the mission should be closed and that their own wives and daughters should return to traditional Dakota religion. Other Dakota men, like Catherine’s own husband Chatka, expressed interest in joining the church but he had two wives, Catherine and Rachel, who was also a church member. Ironically, missionaries like Stephen Riggs refused to allow Dakota men with more than one wife to join the church although he had no problem welcoming the women from such marriages. He believed that the men should be forced to pick one wife and set aside any others. Thomas Williamson disagreed and felt that splitting up families resulted in one or more women being abandoned along with their children and that that situation was harmful to all.

The Williamson's cabin at Lac qui Parle was built in 1836 and included a main room on the ground floor where services were held until the chapel was built in 1841. The bedrooms were on the upper floor.

The Williamson’s cabin at Lac qui Parle was built in 1836 and included a main room on the ground floor where services were held until the chapel was built in 1841. The bedrooms were on the upper floor. This image is from a series of drawings of the mission site created by J.M. Rongstad in 1991 for the Chippewa County Historical Society.

As Jane gradually became aware of the challenges faced by the missionaries, she also settled into her new life. The Williamson house next door to the chapel was 20’ x 30’ with 1-1/2 stories and a clapboard roof. There were two rooms below and three above with a large fireplace and wood plank floors. Jane was given one of the small bedrooms on the upper floor; the boys had the other small room and Thomas and Margaret probably shared with three-year-old Nancy Jane and baby Smith, who was just a year old when Jane arrived.

On June 30, 1844, Thomas Williamson wrote to David Greene of the A.B.C.F.M. to report on Jane’s work which had expanded significantly since her arrival. Although he didn’t specifically ask that she receive some kind of salary, he did stress her usefulness to the mission:

“Miss Williamson teaches in English, all the others in Dakota. Jane has taught from April 8 to June 30 – 12 weeks…She has been useful to us in various ways and I do not know that she has in the slightest degree added to our expenses. Still, as she has been for many years a regular contributor to the funds of the Board, I have thought it right that the Board and the Mission should have the credit of what she does in teaching Indian children and so have taken her receipt as from the Board for what she supposes would be a fair price for what she has done in teaching other than Mr. Huggins’ children and mine. It and all she does for us here might be considered as a donation of so much to the Board but she has no wish to have it acknowledged by the Board as such. Teaching English has ever been a very discouraging business but as sister has had more experience in teaching than any who have tried it here before, I hoped she might succeed better. The older scholars… most of them manifest an utter aversion to that application without which we cannot hope to see them make much progress, but some younger ones who we at present board in our families are making good progress in learning to understand as well as read our language.”[5]

Thomas’s comments to Greene provide some insight into the early development of the educational process at Lac qui Parle. He clearly states that Jane is teaching in English while the other teachers speak only Dakota in the classroom but it is also clear that she was now attempting to teach English to the Dakota children. Over time, the Williamson’s and most of the other A.B.C.F.M. missionaries realized that it was much more effective to teach young children only in Dakota and to present them with lessons in spelling and writing only in their own language. English was not taught until a student was in their mid to late teens and then only if they were interested.

Thomas also brings up the subject of boarding Dakota children in their homes. From the earliest days at Lac qui Parle, it was not at all uncommon for the missionary families to take in one or two Dakota children, especially during the winter months while their parents were out on the winter hunt. By welcoming the children into their own families, they were able to provide them with food, warm clothing and a warm, safe place to sleep. This early arrangement was practiced at all of the missions but had nothing to do with the establishment of the hated Indian boarding schools that would devastate so many Indian children in the 1880s to 1920s.

As Jane expanded her work to attempt to teach the Dakota students the English language, Fanny Huggins decided to make a trip back to Ohio with her brother Alexander and Alexander’s family. Her health hadn’t been good and she thought a trip home would be beneficial. Thomas Williamson had already asked Jane if she would be willing to take over Fanny’s classes during the Huggins’s absence from the mission and she agreed.[6]

This replica of the mission at Lac Qui Parle is located at Lac Qui Parle State Park in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

This replica of the mission at Lac qui Parle is located at Lac qui Parle State Park in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

Teaching Fanny’s classes of Dakota children is really how Jane became a teacher in the Dakota language. She had been at Lac qui Parle for 19 months when Fanny left in April of 1845. Although Jane had originally intended to go back to Ohio after two years, she had now committed to remaining at least until Fanny returned. However, when the Huggins came back to Lac qui Parle on October 31, 1845, Fanny returned with her new husband, Jonas Pettijohn, and Jane realized that she didn’t want to stop teaching the Dakota children and she decided to stay at the mission. I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that she’d never move back to Ohio but would spend the remainder of her days among the Dakota people.


[1] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, head of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) October 5, 1843 – “My youngest sister is with us. She came out with Mr. and Mrs. Riggs at her own expense to teach the children of the mission. She may stay one or two years and we don’t expect her to learn the language. Having her here will free up some time for others though.” Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3

[2]Margaret Williamson, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Mary Ann Longley Riggs, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Cordelia Eggleston Pond, and Agnes Johnson Hopkins are all featured in earlier posts on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[3] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, November 16, 1843. Thomas reported that, like him, Jane was a slow learner (of Dakota) but was making progress. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[4] Catherine Tatidutawin is one of the women featured in earlier posts on Dakota Soul Sisters.

[5] Thomas S. Williamson to David Greene, June 30, 1844. Minnesota Historical Society, ABCFM Correspondence, BA10-A512b, Box 3.

[6] Ibid., August 13, 1844.

Posted in Agnes Johnson Hopkins Pond, Catherine Tatidutawin, Cordelia Eggleston Pond, Dakota Mission, Fanny Huggins Pettijohn, Harriet Bishop, Jane Smith Williamson, John Baptiste Renville, Joseph Kawanke, Joseph Renville, Lac Qui Parle Mission, Lorenzo Lawrence, Lydia Pettijohn Huggins, Magdalena Renville, Margaret Poage Williamson, Marguerite Renville, Mary Little Crow aka Tokanne, Rosalie Renville, St. Peter, Traverse des Sioux, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins | Leave a comment