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

Andrew Williamson

Andrew Williamson lived with his Aunt Jane in St. Peter off and on from 1877-1880.

One other change that the Williamsons experienced in the latter years of the 1860s was that Andrew Williamson, Thomas and Margaret’s second oldest son, came home from his service in the Civil War. Andrew had enlisted in the 5th Minnesota, Company B in January of 1862 and found himself battling Taoyateduta in the attacks on Fort Ridgley in August 1862. He was commissary at the fort during the influx of hundreds of refugees who were fleeing the warring Dakota in those weeks of August and September.

He took leave with the family in St. Peter in November 1862 after a wagon ran over his foot and made it necessary for him to find a place to recover. He was officially stationed at Fort Snelling by that time but at the end of 1862 he joined the regiment at near Oxford, Mississippi, and was promoted to 2nd lieutenant of the 71st Colored Infantry. His name was added to the Spirit of Freedom memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 1998, in honor of his work with those troops.

He was badly injured in 1863 and destroyed the socket of his right eye but refused to go to St. Louis, Missouri, for treatment and managed to save the eye. Two years later he contracted swamp fever and returned home to St. Peter in September. He had to be carried into the house and was in terrible condition. He weighed only 90 pounds, down from 190 pounds, and was erratic, talking to himself. The family rallied around him, of course. Thomas treated his medical conditions and his mother and Jane tended to his comfort and healing. By 1866, he was recovered and embarked on the study of law at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN.

Gustavus Aerial

Gustavus Adolphus College opened on October 16, 1876. The college was just two or three blocks from the Williamson’s house in St. Peter. Andrew Williamson lived at home with the family while he taught there from 1877-1880

View from Janes House to GA Obelisk St Peter 092011.old

The obelisk at Gustavus Adolphus College is visible just up the hill from the site of the Williamson home in St. Peter.


Over the next several years he lived in several places and embarked on a variety of careers including serving as superintendent of the Odana (Chippewa) boarding school in Wisconsin; filling in as postmaster at Sleepy Eye, Minnesota; accepting a professorship at the University of Minnesota; and holding the position of Superintendent of Schools at Blue Earth City, Minnesota. He taught at Gustavus College in St. Peter in 1877, and then was hired as professor at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Off and on during these years, he would return to St. Peter and the family home where, after the passing of his parents, he often was able to help Jane in her later years. Writing to her cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, on August 5, 1880, Jane described Andrew’s activities to her as follows:

“Ever Dear Cousin,

“Andrew walked out to visit William and Martha today. Next week he goes to Sleepy Eye on business. The latter part of the month he goes to Rock Island. He has been approved assistant teacher for the present year in a Swede College in that place. He had previously accepted a School Superintendency in Worthington, Min but on receiving the appointment from R.I. he applied for and received a release from the other place. It is further off but it will probably suit him better. It would have been pleasant to him and to me to have had him remain here and not only the Prof. and teachers but the other Swede ministers who were acquainted with him wished to retain him but the general association by whom the institution is supported voted hat none but Lutherans be permitted to teach in this Col. I suppose it was through the recommendation of the Prof. here that he received the appointment. The students have made him a present of forty dollars’ worth of books at the close of the term. I need not tell you that it is hard for me to part with him but I think he is doing all that he can to add to my comfort and I ought to be cheerful and thankful.”[1]

Augustana College Rock Island

Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, had opened in 1875 and Andrew was one of the early professors when he moved there in August of 1880.

Thomas Williamson turned his attention to completion of his translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Dakota language once the Dakota had been removed to Niobrara although he remained active in ministry, preaching both in the Twin Cities and assisting his son John at the Greenwood mission in South Dakota when needed.

The entire family grieved when they learned that their long-time colleague, Mary Ann Longley Riggs, passed away on March 29, 1869, in Beloit, Wisconsin, at the age of 55 years. Jane had had a sometimes contentious relationship with Mary Riggs, but in recent years had seen her more and more as an ally in the aftermath of the war.

Just a few months later, on October 1, 1869, Margaret Williamson slipped and fell, injuring herself so badly that despite Thomas’s medical expertise, she remained confined to her bed for the next two years and eight months until her passing. When the entire Presbytery held its annual meeting at the Williamson home in 1870, it no doubt fell to Jane to handle the hospitality for the assemblage. The house had been expanded by that time. Andrew Williamson wrote to his brother John on June 10, 1870 and reported that “William’s addition to the house is enclosed, shingled and window casing are not yet put in. It consists of a sitting room, two small bedrooms, kitchen, pantry, porch and closet.”[2]

We can also confirm who was living in the house at the time the 1870 census of Nicollet County was made. It reports the following individuals:

Thomas Williamson, 70
Nancy Williamson, 29
Jane Williamson, 67
Nancy Hunter, 11
William Stout, 29
Martha Stout, 24
James Stout, 6
Albert Frazier, 19
Patrick Barnes, 38
Martha Big Fire, 14
Samuel Hopkins, 17

The census does not record Margaret Williamson’s presence and three-year-old Alfred Stout is also missing. The census does include James Stout, aged six, but it is not clear who this might be. Martha and William Stout did not have a son named James. William Stout did have a younger brother named James Alfred Stout, who may have been visiting from Illinois, but he was twenty-six years old in 1870, not six years old. Albert Frazier, Samuel Hopkins and Martha or “Mattie” Big Fire were Dakota students who were living with the family. Patrick Barnes may have been a hired man or farm helper. In any case, it was a full house. Henry Williamson was away in Minneapolis at law school.

The family gathered in sadness yet again when Margaret succumbed to her injuries and died on July 21, 1872. Thomas sent the news to the Ripley Bee newspaper in Ripley, Ohio which published the following on September 11, 1872: “She never once complained, rose at 5 a.m. summer and winter. She was the oldest married female ever connected with the mission. She was the mother of 10 children; 5 dead; 5 living. For more than 45 years, she was my wife.”

John shared the following thoughts about his mother in the Iape Oaye newspaper of January 1873: “Mrs. Margaret P. Williamson, one of the first band of missionaries who came among the Sioux Indians 37 years ago, died July 21, aged 68 years. Our mother, so faithful and gentle, patient and true, has fallen asleep. It is well with her now. Her pains are no more. That voice, so familiar and sweet, so wont to comfort and cheer is being tuned for finer praise. The angels rejoice, why should not we?”

Margaret Williamson is the first Dakota Soul Sister featured on this site but I’ve included her obituaries here again as a reminder of what an important person she was to the family. Jane had known her since they were young and they had lived together in the same house for the majority of their lives, working side by side in the kitchen, sewing together, doing laundry, managing meals and caring for the family. It was a huge loss for Jane, even as she rejoiced in her usual fashion that a blessed soul had been released to heaven.

Jane continued to keep house on the farm with Martha Stout for Thomas and the Stout family but in 1873, Thomas decided that it would be better for them both if they were to move into town. William Stout purchased the farm. Thomas wrote to John on June 7, 1873.

House on Janes Property St Peter 092011.old

The actual house where Jane lived in St. Peter is no longer standing. It was torn down in 1905 and replaced with this home. The property covers two lots and a well-worn stone walkway leading to the back garden could be from Jane’s era. The house is just a few blocks from Union Presbyterian Church where Jane and the family worshipped. The location is 535 St. Paul Street, St. Peter, Minnesota today.

“We moved into St. Peter on the 27th of last month. I bought the Ole Mose’s house and we are living in a little more than two squares west of the avenue and about the same distance north of the Presbyterian church. Has the same number of rooms as the house we left except in the lower floor on the first floor they are larger. We are as well pleased as we expected to be.”[3]

It wasn’t long before it was just Jane, Thomas and Nancy Hunter at the new house in town. Nancy Williamson went to the mission at Greenwood in 1873 to join her brother John there, filling her lifelong desire to work with the Dakota people. Henry graduated from law school in 1873 and became an attorney in Flandreau, Minnesota.

Nancy wrote to Jane from Greenwood on November 28, 1873, describing the Thanksgiving sermon and celebration at the mission there.

“My very dear Aunt,

“I believe I have written to you since receiving any letter from you. But I guess it is time to write home again so I will write to you. I received a Postal Card from Father Tuesday and was intending to reply but John said that he would write to Father and enclose the questions, which he did.

“I wonder if any of you have been writing to me today; and I wonder how Thanksgiving passed with you. Did Mr. Kerr preach the Thanksgiving sermon this year? I wonder if you went to hear it. I am afraid that you staid [sic] at home to see about dinner. So I guess I had better give you a few extracts from the sermon I heard, lest you should entirely miss that part of the Thanksgiving feast.

“I thought John gave the Indians an excellent – I mean an appropriate discourse. He told them at first that the President had appointed the day and a great many people were observing it. He wished to join in the observance as he had appointed this meeting and he was glad to see some of them there. (There were not quite 20 present.) Then he said, ‘This day is to think of the good things we have. If a man gives me a horse I don’t go around complaining he did not give ten horses’!… He first spoke of food and that they were indebted to God for that whether raised by their own labor or given them by Government. Then he spoke of other things. He grew up among the Dakotas and he remembered how poorly they were dressed when was a little boy; how few of them wore anything but skins. These Indians were more comfortably dressed. Then he saw many children naked even in winter; now it was not so. Then he spoke of the blessing of peace; told how the Santees used to suffer from the incursions of Chippewa war parties; but this Yankton people lived in peace and could lie down at night without thinking, ‘Perhaps some enemy may come and kill me while I am asleep.’ He mentioned the small pox. ‘It has been on both sides of us, but it seemed as if a wall was around this people, so that it could not touch them.’ Then he spoke of incurring God’s anger by ingratitude and closed.

“Amelia said yesterday, ‘I will tell you who I would like to have here for dinner if I only could. Your Father and Aunt and Nancy & my Father and Mother & three younger brothers.’ If we could not have them, she asked the storekeeper Mr. Trumlo and his wife and brother. The meeting was at 11, and our dinner was at 2. I guess A. will give you the bill of fare as it was a more extravagant one than we often indulge in. We actually had a turkey – a large, fat one weight 11 lbs. I guess John and Amelia half repented having ordered it when it came for including carriage it was $2.00. Beside the turkey, we had potatoes, turnips, two kinds of pie, cranberry sauce, cake, bread & butter. John had family prayers in the afternoon, while the company were still here. Late in the afternoon we had an apple apiece. This much about our Thanksgiving.”[4]

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in America in 1863 upon declaration by President Abraham Lincoln. The Williamsons always celebrated the day with a special meal, which according to Nancy’s letter included a pretty pricey turkey.

It is clear from Nancy’s letters that she was generally a cheerful, willing woman who enjoyed her work, especially when she was teaching at the mission at Greenwood. Nancy had not had an easy life. Sadly, she was burdened with a condition that has never been identified. She was unable to walk until she was two years old and then had wooden splints on her ankles to enable her to stand and move around. Apparently her affliction was some kind of unspecified spinal disease and when she was little, big brother John pulled her around while she laid flat in the bed of a wagon. As she grew older she was able to walk and attend school but there are times when Jane mentions her affliction and that she always studied while lying on her back. She graduated from the Western Female Seminary in Oxford, Ohio, in the class of 1860 and managed to make a trip to Ohio in 1876 to a reunion of her seminary classmates. She also enjoyed visiting in Ohio with the last of her two aunts, Elizabeth Williamson Baird and Anne Williamson Willson, both of whom passed away a few months within Nancy’s visit. There are some references in the historical record that she was very small and never fully developed even in her adult years. Stephen Riggs once said, “Nancy Jane is like Zaccheus of old, low of stature but very mature in mind.”[5]

Then, on October 19, 1877, John Williamson wrote to Alfred Riggs.

“Sister Nannie’s case is a little different from what it was a week ago. I cannot say we have hopes of her recovery, but the violent symptoms have disappeared and she is walking calmly along the brink. From appearances now I should say it might be some weeks before she would go. She is so weak she can only raise herself up one elbow and has to be helped if she gets out of bed. She coughs a good deal and can eat nothing but a few teaspoons of gruel or soup at a time. We have had the doctor from Randall to see her twice and we keep him informed of how she is and he sends down advice. We are pretty well fixed for help….The neighbors are kind and have offered to help sit up but so far we have not called on them yet. It seems to disturb her to have strangers wait on her. If she dies here I shall want your help then in whatever is to be done. We shall probably wish to take her body to Minn. for interment. And we should like some public religious exercises here. As it will be impossible to tell beforehand just when the time will be I shall expect to telegraph you at that time.”[6]

The next information in the record is a letter from Thomas to his son Henry. “I received a telegram from John saying your sister Nannie is gone home and that he will be here with the body Wednesday morning. If the state of your family admits of your leaving home, please come tomorrow.” [7] Her obituary in the Iape Oahe newspaper of January 1878 says, “On Sabbath morning, November 18, 1877, Nannie Williamson entered the Pearly Gates of Jerusalem the Golden. So calmly and quietly did she pass away it seemed a literal falling asleep in Jesus. Remains taken to St. Peter to be buried next to her mother and older sister.”[8]

Nancy Jane Tombstone

Nancy Jane Williamson was Jane’s niece and namesake and had lived with Jane for most of her life.

No letters written by Jane have surfaced for the period from 1863 to 1879 so we cannot document Jane’s reaction to Nancy’s death. I am sure she was filled with sorrow. Nancy Jane was her namesake and Jane had lived with her since Nancy was three years old and Jane arrived at Lac Qui Parle. Although Nancy had gone east to school for a short time when she was a young woman, she and Jane remained close. Several letters written to Jane by Nancy are in the historical record and it is clear that the affection between aunt and niece was strong. Nancy’s body was brought to St. Peter and the family gathered as she was interred in the Green Lawn Cemetery in what was then Traverse des Sioux. Nancy was thirty-seven years old when she died.

Two years later, in 1879, Jane welcomed John and Amelia Williamson’s two oldest children, Winnie and Guy, to St. Peter, where they were to attend school. Winifred Lee Williamson was twelve years old in 1879 and her brother, Guy Wycliffe Williamson, was eleven. Jane wrote about the children in a letter to her cousin, Elizabeth Burgess, on January 7, 1879.

“When brother returned from Yankton Agency he brought John Williamson’s two eldest children with him that they might go to school. They are both healthy bright children. Winnie never needs reminding of her lessons only that her health seems perfect I would fear that she was studying too hard but although she is anxious about her lessons she is very seldom willing to be absent from our evening meetings. Guy thinks going to church on the Sab. is enough for him. He would rather stay at home and play at night and it requires a good deal of care to have him prepare his lessons for school. But there are few boys of his age that have so much Biblical knowledge as he has and is so affectionate and willing to do any kind of work that he makes sunshine in our house.”[9]

In the same letter, we learn of Jane’s other concerns:


Thomas Williamson completed the translation of the Old and New Testaments into the Dakota language during his lifetime. He spent forty-four years with the Dakota mission.

“Brother has been unwell for about a month, not confined to bed or to the house but he had soreness in his stomach attended with pain and some fever and he could take very little nourishment except rice. He has been a good deal better for several days. Has gone to church. I would have gone too but I fell and hurt my shoulder. Not bad but it is the same one that gave you so much trouble and I thought I had better keep quiet and warm. My health is much better than it was in the summer and as Martha is with us I have an easy time though our family is large.”[10]

Jane goes on to mention that Nancy Hunter is still in school. Martha and William Stout were living in town with Jane and Thomas and their son, Alfie, age twelve, was also with the family. The household thus consisted of Thomas, Jane, Nancy Hunter, Winnie, Guy, Martha, Alfie and perhaps a few of Jane’s former Dakota pupils who may still have been living with the family at the time.[11]

Jane introduced her letter to Elizabeth by expressing sorrow and sympathy to her cousin on the death of William Means, Elizabeth’s nephew, who as just twenty-one years old at the time of his passing December 15, 1878. “Willie,” as Jane called him, was a cousin of Jane’s. Her sadness led her to share some philosophical thoughts.

“The providence of God sometimes appear mysterious to us when young men that seem so well qualified for usefulness are called away while old people such as we are spared but we know that infinite wisdom cannot err, and he says,“What I do thou knowest not now but then shall know hereafter.” So let us wait his time patiently, trying to be ready when the call comes. Sometimes I dread the infirmities of age and fear I may be a burden to others and then I remember He has said, “Fear not I am with thee,” and I feel so thankful that ever mindful of our infirmities He has also said “And even to your age I am He and even to your final hours will I carry you.”[12]

Thomas W Tombstone

Thomas Williamson was 79 years old when he passed away on June 24, 1879. He and Jane had been close since childhood and Jane missed him greatly.

Jane had mentioned Thomas’s health in her letter to Elizabeth in January of 1879 and as the months passed, her concerns increased as her beloved brother began to experience stomach pain and was unable to eat. By early June, the respected founder of the Dakota mission stopped speaking and awaited death with patience. Thomas Williamson died on June 24, 1879 at the age of seventy-nine years. He had completed the translation of the entire Bible into the Dakota language earlier that year and perhaps felt that his work was done. Obituaries and tributes were published across the country as many mourned the loss of this humble man who had guided the founding of the Christian missions in Minnesota. He had lived through the deaths of six of his children and of his beloved wife Margaret. He had provided financial security for his surviving children and for his sister Jane and had earned the love and respect of his colleagues in ministry, despite his strong opinions that did not always sync with those of his fellow missionaries. Thomas is buried in the Green Lawn Cemetery in St. Peter, Minnesota, next to his wife Margaret.

On October 18, 1879, Jane wrote the following to her nephew John who was at the Yankton Reservation in Greenwood, South Dakota.

 “Your kind letter was recd today. How kind of you to think of me when so many important matters are pressing on our time and attention. Well in all my life I never felt such a hungering for love and sympathy as I do now. I know that I ought not to yield to despondency but feel weak to resist and the feat that I may be a burden to others troubles me.

“And then I think:

What may be my future lot

Full well I know concerns me not

This should set my heart at rest

What His love ordains is best

“Will you pray that God in mercy may give me more grace and not suffer me to be tempted more than he gives me strength to bear.

“But I will turn to a brighter subject. You have another little daughter, not so very little either.[13] I read of one a short time since that did not weigh one pound and yet it was bright and perfectly developed. How much reason for gratitude when there is no de…of body or mind. Should those dear boys and girls all give their hearts to Jesus and become earnest consistent Christians. How many souls they might be the means of bringing from darkness to the glorious light of the Gospel. May God give you all needed grace to train them all for him. I am so thankful to learn that cousin [sic] Sarah is comfortable. Hope she may not be tempted by her large family to expose or fatigue herself too soon… 

“May God keep me even on my death bed from doing anything that will bring dishonor on his name.

“I hope you have preserved the no. of the I. missionary that had the obituary of your father. It stopped coming to us immediately after his death. I borrowed it from Mrs. McAfee, the only person in this place I think that takes it. I asked Andrew to write on and bring any extra copies of that no. I thought I would like to send them to some of his nephews and nieces and I would like, too, if there are extra copies of the Dakota paper that has the piece written by Mr. Riggs to have them also. Did you send a copy of that paper to the Rev. John Crosier? I would like to have his address. His mother and aunts were the friends of my childhood and I often had him in my arms. They moved away when he was a babe.

“I could not write anything as you would expect dear nephew but when I have acknowledged some of the many letters that I have from sympathizing friends I will try to write the children for their own sakes something about their grandpa. I had intended filling this sheet to Winnie but will write to her again. Love to all form Aunt Jane.  

[The letter continues. No new date]

“Cousin John, Did you know that your Aunt Kirker, my only living sister, has been sick for many weeks?[14] She is a very little better but there is little hope of her recovery. The Dr. says they will write me in a week till there is a change. She suffers so much that they keep her for the most part under the influence of morphine. Lizzie says her mother felt brother’s death very much – said she had never thought of his going before she did.[15] She says she is not anxious to live and feels an assurance that we shall meet in another and a better world. She is surrounded by her children and grandchildren and has all that love and kindness can bestow. They complain that she has lost her appetite for food. I never knew anyone that took much morphine that did not lose their appetite but opium in any form makes me crazy. On that account I think when in my senses I would not consent to take it but perhaps under severe pain I might.

“Andrew and Nancy came from young peoples’ prayer meeting last evening and I stopped writing. This is the anniversary of Mr. McAfee coming to us and in taking a review of the year and recounting the deaths, he made a very touching reference to your father. Among other things he said though retaining his connection with the Dakota Pres, he was one of us and all remember the precious and sweet words he spoke in our prayer meetings.

“In the St. Peter Tribune I see that Synod approved Dr. Riggs to deliver a memorial of your father at the Synod next fall which meets in this place. I hope you will be able to attend and bring bro. Selwin with you and as many of your family as you can. How good it is of our Heavenly Father to spare cousin Sarah to you through all her trials. How very sad had you, like poor Thos. Riggs have been left a lonely widower.[16] I think we all thank God for giving you so good a wife. May she be long spared to you, your children, the friends of the mission. Andrew and Nancy are gone to Swede S.S. he teaches a class in English.

“Alfred has been sitting by me reading Youths Companion. Andrew has gone to temperance lecture. Nancy is busy preparing her lessons for tomorrow.[17]

“Good Night.”[18]

Of all of Jane’s letters, this one expresses her personal grief more than any other – and perhaps even a bit of fear as she suddenly states how she hopes she will never do anything, even on her death bed, that would bring dishonor to God. She also mentions that she never wants to be a burden to others. Her concerns are no doubt a direct result of Thomas’s death. She and Thomas had always been close and they had lived in the same house for all of childhood and then from 1843 to 1879, when Thomas passed away. Jane relied on Thomas for companionship, guidance, friendship, care and financial stability. Now, at the age of seventy-six, she is finding it difficult to just move on without him.

She is also obviously concerned that Thomas’s grandchildren are aware of his many accomplishments and encourages John to bring the entire family to the Synod Meeting where Rev. Riggs will give the official eulogy. Jane sees herself as the keeper of the family story and seeks assurance that Thomas will be remembered for all time.

Over the next year or so, Jane continued to keep house with Martha. Nancy Hunter got a teaching job about twenty miles from St. Peter so she was away from home off and on. Then, in the summer of 1880, Andrew accepted a position at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and Nancy was offered a position teaching at the Yankton reservation in Greenwood, South Dakota with John Williamson’s family. Jane expressed her thoughts about a future without her nephew and niece to her cousin Elizabeth Burgess on August 5, 1800.

 “Ever Dear Cousin,

“I rec’d cousin Lizzie’s good letter yesterday and would have acknowledged it immediately but in a few days we expect a small family to occupy the lower part of our house and I was so busy helping Andrew to vacate a room that it seems as though I could not stop. We have partially arranged things better but many of them are thrown into my room in disorder and I feel too tired to right them today and I could not hire anyone to suit me in doing it. Andrew walked out to visit William and Martha today. Next week he goes to Sleepy Eye on business. The latter part of the month he goes to Rock Island. He has been approved assistant teacher for the present year in a Swede College in that place… I need not tell you that it is hard for me to part with him but I think he is doing all that he can to add to my comfort and I ought to be cheerful and thankful. Shall one so favored ere complain? Or one so vile complain?

“Nancy is a great comfort as well as help to me but I don’t much expect to have her with me this winter. She is needed at the mission. Miss Aungie who taught the Dakota school is married. Miss Dickson who has been studying the language so hard expects to join Mr. Woods the new missionary this fall. She says she feels worse about leaving the mission where she is than she did about leaving her home. John and his wife feel too but they concur with her in thinking she ought to go….

Nancy Hunter Lindsey

Nancy Hunter’s mother and baby brother died when she was a young girl and her widowed father was unable to care for her on his own. She was raised by her Williamson grandparents and was a companion and housemate of Jane’s in Jane’s final years. Nancy left St. Peter to become a teacher at Greenwood, S.D., at the Yankton Reservation in 1880. She married Edwin Lindsey in 1889 and they spent their lives with the mission in Poplar, Montana.

“They have no teacher engaged for their Dakota school at Yankton Agency. Thinking they refrained from asking Nancy on my account I spoke to John’s wife about it when she was here and told her if they wished to try Nancy not to stop on my account. I could not pray for the success of the mission if I was not willing to make that sacrifice. Should she only remain this winter or till better help is obtained it will not be very hard for me. Should she become a permanent helper the younger she goes the better she will speak the language. Having seen Indians from her childhood I think she will feel less repugnance to or fear of them than those who are altogether unacquainted with them. I would not if I might throw a straw in the way of her going to the mission if there is hope of her being useful there. You may think it strange that I have never conversed with her on the subject. I have wished her to think and make up her mind without my influence. She is very unselfish and has a great deal of energy but is somewhat lacking in caution.

“In Oct. Synod meets in this place. John Williamson and some of the Dakota ministers will probably be here and should Nancy conclude to go she will probably accompany her uncle home. May our Heavenly Father grant her the enlightening influence of his Holy Spirit and grant her all needful ______.

“As to myself it does not seem a matter of great importance where I spend what little remnant of life but I feel at home here. We have a good preacher. I am very near the church. I know the people (I mean some of them) and they know my peculiarities and can bear with them better than a stranger might. I have a home and feel at home. I am not quite sure I could feel at home elsewhere. Were I to accept Mary Cunningham’s kind invitation to live with them I don’t think I could stand the ride to church neither should love the preacher as I do ours and I am not quite sure I would be suited in Minneapolis. None of my friends are near enough to church for me to walk. So for the present it seems better for me to remain where I am and then if Nancy should not wish to go to the mission or should feel that it is not her duty to remain there this would be a home for her too. Andrew will pay the tax on the house and he is trying to arrange matters so that I may have no pecuniary difficulty.

“Andrew has just rec’d a letter from John. He says I have been thinking a great deal about Aunt. Don’t let her lack any comfort. It don’t matter whether they pay much rent or not if they make her comfortable…. I have had company all day and now I must soon drop my pen to get supper but as there is no one but Andrew and I it is easily done….The man and his wife have moved in. I hope I shall like them. He is Pres. She Episcopal.

In a postscript to the letter Jane adds: “With tears of gratitude I thank you for the five dollars so kindly sent but dear cousin I fear you are denying yourself to supply my wants thinking my necessities greater than your own. The family that are in with us only expected to remain till Nov., but after that some way will be provided.”[19]

This letter provides a great deal of information about Jane’s life at this time. It is clear that John and Andrew have determined that if they rent the bottom floor of the house to a family, the renters could provide assistance to Jane who will be living alone when Andrew and Nancy leave. It also seems that William and Martha Stout have moved back to the farm since they are no longer living in the house with Jane. Jane then indicates that the renters downstairs will only be able to stay until November but she is confident that “some way will be provided.”

We also learn that Hugh and Mary Cunningham have invited Jane to move in with them and that she has considered it but rejected the idea. The Cunninghams were longtime associates of the Dakota Mission and had escaped the war in 1862 with the Riggs’ group. In 1880, they were living in Bloomington Ferry in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they were operating combined denomination church. Hugh was pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church and he became superintendent of the Bloomington Ferry Church for twenty years. Mary taught the younger children. Preachers came from Oak Grove Presbyterian Church or Eden Prairie Methodist to bring the message at the Sunday service which was held at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Jane instead believed that her friends were in St. Peter and that the church was close enough so she could attend. She liked her pastor and didn’t think she’d do well in Minneapolis. We also learn that five dollars tucked into the letter from her cousin Elizabeth was much appreciated. Considering inflation, five dollars in 1880 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $123.09 in 2018, a difference of $118.09 over 138 years.

Another letter from to Elizabeth Burgess describes Jane’s life in great detail on March 14, 1881.

“Dearest Cousin

“I have been intending to write you ever since I received Cousin Lizzie’s last kind letter but I am prone to procrastination especially about writing letters. Sometimes my hand trembles. I thought I would write you on the eighth of this month it being my 78th anniversary but I had company all day. It seems almost strange to think I am in my 79th year but thus it is. I feel glad that you were recovering but this month is usually hard on weak lungs and I shall be anxious till I hear again. If consistent with the will of our Heavenly Father May you yet be spared a blessing and comfort to your loving children grand children and other dear friends….The valley of the shadow of death will not be dark to Jesus and having passed through he knows the way. Let us then lean on His precious Friend fearing no evil. How comforting to be assured that his blood cleanses from all sin and that we may appear before him clothed in his own supplied Righteousness.

“I suppose the winter has been unusually hard almost all over the U.S. and remembering that your delicate constitution did not bear the cold so well as mine I have often felt anxious about you although I knew you were surrounded by every comfort that love could give…Before the snowdrifts intercepted our communication with the west I rec’d letters from Nancy Hunter once or twice a week but they come very seldom now. The last one was dated 21st of Feb and she said she had not heard from me for four weeks and feared I was sick and that she had done wrong in leaving me but they needed her there and I have been very comfortable all winter. Have not had a wearisome night or an hours sickness and notwithstanding the storms I have not been confined to the house a single day although there has been a great deal of stormy weather this winter no single storm has been so severe as I have seen in goneby years but I think there is more snow than there has been any winter since we came to St. Peter.  

“Some mornings the men and large boys were all busy shoveling the snow to make roads from there doors and for a time wood was scarce but Andrew had left me plenty of good wood. The man who with his family occupy the lower part of the house had it sawed. His boys brought it up so that I have had no trouble all winter. Before the weather became very cold I slept in the other room where I have a cook stove and used this for a sitting room but when the weather became severe I found it more comfortable to cook, sleep and eat in my sitting room. It has a nice little parlor cook stove that I bought long ago with money that you sent me and it makes this room very comfortable indeed. I cover the fire at night and in the morning step out of bed uncover the fire, take up the ashes, lay in dry wood and go back to bed till my room is warm and then rise and get my breakfast which is not much trouble but I always eat it with good relish. This climate gives us good appetites.

“I don’t trouble much about cooking. Martha Stout usually sends me a loaf of light bread once a week when the traveling is practicable. I told Mrs. Ericson I would like to have her send me a piece of cooked meat once a day and I would make it right at the end of the month. My little stove bakes potatoes very nicely. I can buy anything I wish downtown. Mr. Ericson calls at the P.O. or does any other errand I wish both he and his wife are very kind and thoughtful seem to take pleasure in doing me any favor. They are Swede Lutheran of the middle class. Andrew Williamson tried to leave everything comfortable for me. All my brothers’ children seem to desire to do anything to add to my comfort. Andrew left money subject to my order so that I could draw it at any time and the others seem just as willing to do for me. The man who had the greater part of my money failed but I draw the interest on four hundred dollars (in other hands) semi-annually a piece of land that had been unsuitable on account of the grass hoppers was sold the last of Dec. and from that source I will now draw nine per cent interest on eight hundred & fifty dollars from the sale of the land and there is some other money owing to me that I may receive the lower part of the house rents for six dollars a month and although I make some reduction on account of the many kindnesses I receive. Still I have all that I need with something to give the church and the poor.

“I am acquainted with many of the poor often bringing their children outgrown garments and their own that for some reason they are willing to spare to be distributed to the needy. And other winters I have been in the habit of seeking out those who were sick or in want but the walking has been bad this winter and I have gone out very little except to church to attend our missionary meetings when the weather is favorable or a lady calls to walk with me to the evening meetings but when the wind blows I stay at home. I am sometimes troubled when walking with a sharp pain striking me just above the left ankle that for a moment deprives me of the use of that limb. It hurts me very little when sitting and I have never felt it at all when lying on the bed. I suppose all old people have their pains and aches but I think very few suffer so little

as I do. I have a cold now for the first time this winter but it does not make me sick though I am not so strong as I was earlier in the season. We are having pleasant weather now and the snow melts a little every day but it is still very deep and warm rain would probably cause a great flood.

The letter continues on the 23rd.

Mary Aiton Alone

Mary Briggs Aiton came to Minnesota with Jane in May of 1852. She was just sixteen years old and had attended Jane’s school in Manchester, Ohio, when she was a girl. She ended up marrying missionary John Aiton in Minnesota and spent the rest of her life in the state.

“I stopped writing recd a letter from Nancy as she had still no letter from me and was troubled about it I wrote her a very long letter and then it was necessary for me to write to Andrew and although I stay at home very closely people thinking I am lonesome call very often. Mrs. Aiton spent a week with me lately. She is the one that I can talk with of Ohio friends. Should I live till June I think Andrew and Nancy both will visit me and although I am not lonesome I shall enjoy a visit from them very much.

“That you may be enabled at all times to cast your care on Him who cares for you is the desire of your ever loving Cousin Jane.“[20]

So Jane began yet another chapter in her life as she adjusted to living alone for the first time since she left Ohio in 1843.


[1] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, August 5, 1880, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 43, Folder 5.

[2] Andrew Williamson to John P. Williamson, June 10, 1870, MNHS, Williamson Family Papers, Box 6

[3] Ibid., Thomas Williamson to John P. Williamson, June 7, 1873.

[4] Nancy Jane Williamson to Jane Williamson, November 28, 1873; Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 38, Folder 4. The turkey coming by carriage reflects the fact that the closest city to the Yankton Reservation at Greenwood was Springfield, South Dakota. It was about twenty miles to the east and was where people coming to Greenwood by rail had to get off and take a horse-drawn carriage to the mission school. The turkey and any other non-homegrown supplies for Thanksgiving would have been brought in from Springfield.

[5] Missionary Herald, 1854 p. 221 May 6, 1854.

[6] John Williamson to Alfred Riggs, October 19, 1877, MNHS, Williamson Family Papers, 786, Box 1

[7] Ibid., Thomas Williamson to Henry Williamson, n.d.

[8] Iape Oaye, January 1878.

[9] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, January 7, 1879, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 40, Folder 4

[10] Ibid.

[11] The 1875 Federal Census of Nicollet County, Minnesota lists Dr. Williamson, 75; J.S. Williamson, 72; Nancy Hunter, 16; Annye Renville, 15: and a name that looks like Horace Ange, 20. The next federal census isn’t recorded until 1885 and at that time the household included William Stout; Martha Stout, 38; Alfred Stout; Jane Williamson, 84; and a young man named Albert whose last name looks like Hargot?

[12] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, January 7, 1879, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 40, Folder 4

[13] John and Sarah Amelia Williamson had welcomed a daughter, Laura Lucille Williamson, born in 1879. Jane’s letter implies that the baby may have been born prematurely but Laura married William Lyman and lived to be sixty-five years old.

[14] The sister Jane mentions is Esther Alexander Williamson. She married Colonel William Kirker and was eighty-two years old when Jane wrote to John. Esther passed away on January 20, 1880.

[15] Lizzie is Esther’s daughter, Elizabeth Campbell Kirker Coleman. She is informing Jane that Esther was very sad to learn of Thomas’s death.

[16] Thomas Riggs, the son of Rev. Stephen and Mary Riggs, lost his wife Nancy in childbirth on August 5, 1878. She was just thirty years old.

[17] Andrew Williamson was teaching at Gustavus in St. Peter in 1879 and he and Nancy Hunter were living with Jane as were the Stouts, including Alfred, who was twelve years old at this time.

[18] Jane Williamson to John Williamson, October 18, 1879, South Dakota State Historical Society, Pierre, SD; John Poage Williamson Papers, Volume 3471A, Folder 2

[19] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, August 5, 1880; Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 43, Folder 5

[20] Jane Williamson to Elizabeth Burgess, February 12, 1883, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College, Item 46, Folder 5

Posted in Andrew Hunter, Hugh Doak Cunningham, Jane Smith Williamson, Margaret Poage Williamson, Martha Williamson Stout, Mary Beauford Ellison Cunningham, Mary Smith Briggs Aiton, Nancy Hunter Lindsey, Nancy Jane Williamson, Women in Minnesota | Leave a comment

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

The exile of the Dakota from Minnesota began in April of 1863 when approximately 265 men who had been in prison in Mankato, were taken by steamboat to Davenport, Iowa, where they were to serve out their sentences along with sixteen women who were to do their laundry, prepare meals and provide care for the men. Two children were also with the group.

Favorite Steamboat08222019

The men who had been imprisoned in Mankato since 1862 were removed from Minnesota to prison in Davenport, Iowa, in April 1863. As they passed Fort Snelling on April 23, 1863, their wives, children and families gathered on the shore to wave and try to make a brief connection with their relatives.

On the way to their new prison, the boat passed Fort Snelling where over 1300 Dakota men, women and children had been held since November of 1862. As the ship with the condemned prisoners drew near, the wives and family members of the men gathered on the banks and called out to the men. Most of them had not seen each other for months and no one knew if this brief moment of reunion might be their last encounter for all time.

For Jane and the rest of the Williamson family, the relocation of the two groups also meant relocation of the family. John Williamson accompanied the families from Fort Snelling to a desolated and barren location known as Crow Creek, South Dakota, where they were expected to establish farms and become self-sufficient.

Jane Williamson wrote to Mary Riggs on May 6, 1863:

“Mr. Riggs told us he had heard one boatload of Indians has started. Bro will feel disappointed if John is gone but that is little matter in comparison to what the poor Indians will feel as there will doubtless be many painful separations. May God be merciful to them. Nannie and I put in some old clothing for Sarah and her mother, thinking it would make a change when they had no conveyance for washing and if they lost it while journeying the loss would not be great.”[1]

For Thomas Williamson the move meant that his 12-mile walks to Mankato to visit the prisoners came to an end and he found himself traveling to Davenport as often as possible to carry on his work with them there.

In the meantime, Jane continued to keep house with Margaret in St. Peter. Twenty-one year old Nancy and twelve-year old Henry Williamson were living at home and the family took in Thomas and Margaret’s granddaughter, Nancy Hunter, the four-year-old child of the now deceased Elizabeth Williamson and her husband Andrew Hunter. Also joining the family was Thomas and Margaret’s daughter, Martha, and her husband, William Stout. They were living in Peoria, Illinois when the U.S. Dakota War began, but returned to the family in Minnesota in 1863, with their son Thomas Stout, who was just a year or so old.

In January of 1863 Thomas Williamson received a $400.00 loan from the mission board to build a house on farm property he owned three miles outside of St. Peter. At the time of his request, the family was renting a house in town for $100 a month and he thought it would be cheaper to have their own place further out in the country.[2] William Stout undertook the construction of the new house.

It isn’t clear from any of Jane’s letters or other documents just how she was able to bring a few of her former Dakota students to St. Peter. It is clear, however, that Marion Robertson, Bessie Means and Sophia Robertson were living with the Williamsons in St. Peter by early 1863 despite the forced exile of the Dakota from the state.[3]

Marion had lived with the family off and on ever since the Kaposia mission days when the Robertsons were neighbors of the Williamsons. She was 21 years old in 1861 when she moved to Beaver Creek with a young Scotsman named Alexander Hunter. They were married by Rev. Stephen Riggs at the Merchants Hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota, just a few weeks before the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War in August of 1862. Upon learning of the attack at the Lower Sioux Agency, Marion and Alexander fled and tried to make their way to Fort Ridgley. They were at John Nairn’s farm when Hinhanshoon Koyagmane approached them alone on the road and shot Alexander in the breast. He took Marion captive but she was rescued by Wakewashtay who took her back to her mother’s home at Beaver Creek.

Merchants Hotel St. Paul

Marion Robertson and Alexander Hunter were married at the Merchant’s Hotel in St. Paul by Rev. Stephen Riggs in August 1862. The hotel was ocated at 159 East Third Street, now renamed Kellogg Boulevard.

Although the historical record isn’t clear, we do know that Jane Williamson wrote to Stephen Riggs on October 27, 1862. “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.” [4] Marion’s brother Thomas had been arrested and accused of joining Little Crow in battles at Fort Ridgley and New Ulm. He was ultimately acquitted and sent to the Fort Snelling internment camp.

Marion was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death and she left the Williamsons and went to Faribault, Minnesota, where her mother had relocated after the war. Marion and Alexander’s son, Alexander W. Hunter, was born there in February 1863. Tragedy struck when Marion’s three-year-old son died in February 1866, while they were in Faribault. In 1867, she married Lorenzo Taliaferro Prescott, a son of Philander Prescott, who had been killed in the war. Lorenzo was 28 years old and Marion was 27. They reportedly had a daughter and a son. Marion and Lorenzo only had a short time together when Lorenzo died on January 2, 1869, at the age of thirty. At this point, Marion took her children and went with her mother and others in the family and settled on the Sisseton Reservation. She passed away there in 1871 when she was 30 years old. It is not known what happened to her children or whether she ever saw Jane again after she left St. Peter in January 1863.

Marion’s sister, Sophia Maria Robertson, also lived with the Williamsons off and on during her childhood. She was fourteen when the war broke out in 1862 and somehow made her way to St. Peter where she lived with Jane and the family in the spring of 1853. The third girl, Bessie Means, had been taken into the Williamson family in March of 1859 at Pejutazee. She was five years old at the time and may have been an orphan. There is no mention of Bessie in any of the stories of the Williamsons’ escape as the war broke out but she was with the family in St. Peter in May of 1863. On September 5, 1865, Thomas Williamson reported to S.B. Treat that the family had two girls living with them, one of whom had come to them three years before the outbreak and the other had been living with the family for two years. He also says: “The other girl I wrote you about had suffered so much by her confinement at Fort Snelling and then on the Missouri that she was consumptive when she came here and died a month after I came home from Davenport.” [5]

On May 6, 1863, Jane wrote to Mary Riggs and mentioned how appreciative she was of the clothing and other items that Rev. Riggs had brought to the family.

“Mr. Riggs is getting his horse and I have not time to tell you how much we were all obliged by the valuable donations. Handkerchiefs and hose were just what I was needing. I have got one pair of the pants refitted for Bessie. If I can get the summer dresses made large enough for her they will save buying her one. The pretty blue saque looks so sweet on Nancy and she had nothing of the kind suitable for summer. The smaller dress needs no alteration…The pretty Delaine sets on Sophia as though it had been fitted by a dressmaker and is so suitable to the season.”[6]

Margaret and Henry edited.old

Thomas and Margaret Williamson rented rooms in Davenport, Iowa between 1863-1866 while Thomas continued to minister to the prisoners. Margaret had this photo taken in Davenport in 1863 with their youngest son, Henry.

While Jane was dealing with outfitting the girls and herself, Thomas found himself barred from visiting the prisoners in Davenport. Stephen Riggs told his wife Mary that officials felt that Thomas was indoctrinating the prisoners and telling them they weren’t guilty. This ban lasted until October of 1863.[7] Thomas apparently did not always obey the ban. He and Margaret took Henry to Davenport and found a place to rent so that he could remain near the prison camp. He never stopped believing that the men in the prison were innocent and he was concerned about their living conditions.

During that summer of 1863, work continued on the new house, which was possibly ready for the family to move in by August or September. Henry Williamson wrote to his brother John on July 28, 1863, that the carpentry work was completed on the house and that Andrew Hunter had harvested the wheat.[8] Apparently the family income depended on what was produced at the farm during this time. [9]

Nancy Williamson did, however, find a teaching position. None of her letters home indicate exactly where she was but she wrote to Jane on July 22, 1863 about working with some of her students to clean the schoolhouse.

“Dear Aunt Jane,

I thank you for your short note by Mr. Peck. I intended to have sent you one by him but had not had time to write it. I generally assisted Mrs. Radcliff in the evenings as she was very much — with her work. I expected to have time to write Saturday, but I did not. The schoolhouse was to clean up. I spent half the day, rather more than that, and was very tired when I did get back. Harriet Radcliff and Mary Humphrey assisted me. The well has been fixed so we are no longer badly off for water. The girls made a fair while I went down to Mr. — Southels’s to borrow a bucket and scrub brush. Mrs. Radcliff had given us some soft soap to take with us – so we had warm soapsuds to work with. Harriet and Mary drew all the water and scrubbed the floor; and they did it well. They each had a broom, a bucket of water, and a cloth for wiping and they worked with a will. Mary being the largest and a strong girl for her size could and did do the most. I washed the windows, the doors, the chair, the desk and benches.”[10]


Taoyateduta’s son, Wowinape, lived in the Williamson home off and on when he was a young boy. He was with his father when the famous Dakota chief was killed near Hutchinson, Minnesota, in 1863. Wowinape was sentenced to be hanged but a technical difficulty postposed the execution and he was sent to the prison in Davenport and was pardoned with the others in 1866.

In the letters I have from Jane at this time, there is no mention of the death of Taoyateduta near Hutchinson, Minnesota, on July 3, 1863. Jane had known the infamous chief at Kaposia and at least two of his children lived with the Williamsons off and on during the Williamsons time there from 1845-1852. One of those children, Wowinape, was captured on July 28, 1863. He had been with his father at the time that Nathan Lamson came across them picking berries and shot and killed the chief who was known to most whites as Little Crow. The news of his death was published all over the area and Jane certainly would have learned of it but we have no record of what her thoughts may have been.

Although no copy of his request has been found, Thomas Williamson apparently wrote to S.B. Treat in late 1863 and asked if the ABCFM mission board would help him with expenses if he were to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Abraham Lincoln in person and seek pardons for at least a portion of the men imprisoned at Davenport. Treat responded on January 25, 1864 and granted Thomas’s request. He also sent a second letter in March wishing Thomas luck in getting the ear of the president.[11]

Thomas left for Washington on March 23, 1864, and met with President Lincoln on April 1, 1864. The President told him that he would pardon one-third of the prisoners if the Minnesota Congressional delegation would approve the request. That didn’t happen but Thomas was successful in convincing Lincoln to pardon twenty-five of the prisoners, whose names Thomas himself had selected. The pardons were granted on April 30, 1964 and signed by the president.[12]

In addition to working for the pardons, Thomas, Jane and the rest of the family were involved with receiving payment for the claim they had submitted following the U.S. Dakota War. Historian Carrie Zeman found the original missionary claims in the National Archives in 2017 and I have worked with her to transcribe many of the handwritten documents. Both the process and the itemized list of what the Williamson family lost provide intriguing details about their daily lives.

The first step was for Thomas to hire an attorney to represent him, which he did. Charles D. Gilfillan became the family’s legal representative throughout the process, which actually began back on November 10, 1862 when Thomas, his daughter Elizabeth Williamson Hunter and colleagues, Hugh and Mary Cunningham, appeared before J.B. Sackett, Nicollet County, Minnesota Notary Public.

Williamson Claim Page 6

This is page 6 of the Williamson family claim. You can imagine the challenge of transcribing the writing and amounts. On this page are listed several items of women’s clothing. There is a black silk dress almost new for $10.00; a heavy traveling dress very little worn for $6.00; 2 calico dresses, part worn for $2.00 and 4 quilted skirts at $1.50 each.

The Williamsons had worked to compile a list of the property they lost when the Dakota burned down the mission and their home. Elizabeth and the Cunninghams were basically there to affirm that they found the list to be accurate as far as they remembered. The list is ten pages long and includes horses, cattle, pigs, farm implements, tools, buggy, furniture, bedding, linens, individual items of clothing, hundreds of books, food supplies, dishes, pots and pans and every piece of silverware. The total claim was submitted for $1,789.00.

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is a 2013  film and an adaptation of the 1853 slave memoir Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. A copy of the original Northrup book is on the Williamson claim list at a price of $.075.

Several months later, on February 16, 1863, the commissioners called Thomas, Nancy Williamson and Stephen Riggs in to cross examine them about the contents of the list. Riggs spoke up and said that Thomas had underestimated the worth of what had been lost and said the claim should be closer to $2,500. Nancy ‘s cross examination is reported as follows:

“That she knew all the articles were at their house but cannot tell the exact amount, that they left the buggies – That the melodeon was a very fine one and nearly new – that her father had a large amount of furniture and household goods because he had a large family – that he had a pair of Globes one celestial the other terrestrial and were worth twelve dollars. That her father was a Physician and created the medicines whenever called upon.”

            Further deponent saith not

                        [signed] Nancy J. Williamson

The report of the claim ends with the following determination:

“We, the undersigned, Commissioners, appointed under the Act of Congress, Approved February 16th, 1863, after hearing and considering the annexed Claim and evidence, find that they claimant is entitled to

Fifteen hundred dollars as direct damages.                                                                                                  $1500.00
Paid him out of “Present Relief” Fund two hundred Dollars    $ 200.00
Balance due,                                                                                            $1300.00
We also find due him as consequential damages                         $ 200.00


Witness our hands at Minneapolis Minnesota this
20th day of October A.D. 1863.”

As far as I can interpret from the claim documents, the Williamsons received only $1,500 for everything they had owned and the balance of the money, $1,100.00, was finally released to them on August 12, 1864, nearly two years after the war began. That date is confirmed on the first page of the document.

“Department of the Interior

Washington, D.C. August 12 1864

Received of Ashton L. H. White, Disbursing Clerk of the Department of the Interior, under the provisions of the Acts of Congress approved February 16th, 1863, and May 28th, 1864, Eleven hundred Dollars, being the balance of the award of the Commissioners upon the Claim of Thomas S. Williamson numbered 243.

[Signed] C Gilfillan, Atty for the Claimant”[13]

The situation with the missionaries was complicated by the fact that the ABCFM owned the land on which the missions had been built. The missionaries were given the opportunity by the mission board to purchase that land if they wished but few took advantage of that offer and instead attempted to accurately claim only those items which specifically belonged to them personally and not to the mission. The ABCFM filed its own claim to receive recompense for lost property and buildings owned by the mission board.


John Poage Williamson married Sarah “Amelia” Van Nuys on April 27, 1866. They went with the Dakota to Niobrara and then to the Yankton Reservation at Greenwood, South Dakota, where they ran the mission and school for over fifty years.

The other major development in the post-war story that impacted the family was that the federal government finally agreed to move the Indians off of the barren Crow Creek reservation where hundreds had died, many of starvation, since 1863. On June 11, 1866, all of the women, children and other family members at Crow Creek were moved to Niobrara, Nebraska. John Williamson, who had been with the Dakota from the beginning of their removal, had married Sarah “Amelia” Van Nuys on April 27, 1866, in Winnebago, Minnesota, and now he and Sarah accompanied the people to their new Nebraska home. They remained there until spring of 1869, when John was assigned to establish a new mission and school at Greenwood, South Dakota on the Yankton Reservation.

The family continued to be faced with tragedy. They had just buried little John Knox Williamson in October of 1862 and now, in 1865, Martha and William Stout’s little boy, Thomas Williamson Stout, who was three years old, died. Nothing in the correspondence indicates any cause of death. Two years later, on May 20, 1867, Martha and William were blessed with another boy. Alfred “Alfie” Josiah Stout. Alfie was a healthy child and lived to the fine old age of 87 years.

It was now five years since the U.S. Dakota War and Jane had settled into her new role in St. Peter, Minnesota. Although Thomas accompanied Stephen Riggs on trips to Niobrara and spent time filling in for John at Greenwood, Jane never returned to mission work. She focused on her Dakota students and her Sunday School classes and took in a few students for general education. Nancy Williamson wrote to her brother Henry on April 8, 1868 and reported that: “Aunt is teaching in the sitting room. Her scholars are Albert, Edwin, Sammy, Mattie and Nancy. She only teaches forenoons.” [14] Alfred was Alfred Frazier, a Dakota boy who had come to live with the Williamsons. Mattie may be Martha Big Fire, a Dakota girl who was a daughter or granddaughter of Peter Tapaytatanka, one of the Dakota men for which Jane wrote a letter pleading for pardon, and Nancy is Nancy Hunter, Jane’s great-niece. I have no information on who Edwin and Sammy are.

These were good years for Jane in many ways, surrounded by family, involved in church, teaching students and enjoying apparent good health. She had found and connected with many of her former students and enjoyed visits with other former mission members. She corresponded with missionaries around the world and loved to hear from her nephews, John, Andrew and Henry. It was an era of relative peace and contentment before Jane’s life changed yet again.

[1] Jane Williamson to Mary Riggs, May 6, 1863, MHS MS, Riggs Family Papers, P727, Box 1. Sarah is Sarah Hopkins, the wife of Robert Hopkins Chaska, and her mother is Catherine Tatidutawin. Both are referenced in many Dakota Soul Sisters stories.

[2] Thomas Williams to S.B. Treat, January 20, 1863, NW Missions MS, P489, Box 21; ABCFM SS310 No. 227 Re Claims.

[3] Marion and Sophia Robertson had a white father and Dakota mother so perhaps were allowed to remain in Minnesota. Bessie may also have had a white parent; their identities are not known.

[4] Jane Williamson to Stephen Riggs October 27, 1862; MNHS Riggs Family Papers, Box 1

[5] Thomas Williamson to S.B. Treat, September 5, 1865, MNHSBA10/.A512b, ABCFM Correspondence, Box 10

[6] Jane Williamson at St. Peter, to Mary Riggs, May 6, 1863; MHS MS, Riggs Family Papers, P727, Box 1. It is not clear in the letter whether the Nancy Jane mentions is Nancy Williamson or Nancy Hunter.

[7] Stephen Riggs to Mary Riggs, May 12, 1863, Riggs Family MNHS Riggs Family Papers, Box 1

[8] Henry Williamson to John Williamson, July 28, 1863, South Dakota State Historical Society. Thomas Smith Williamson Papers, Volume 3471B, Folder 2. Jeff Williamson identifies the current address of the Williamson property as 36706, County Road 15, St. Peter, MN.

[9] In the ABCFM Annual Report, September 1866, Jane Williamson, Thomas Williamson, Margaret Williamson, Stephen Riggs and Mary Riggs are listed as missionaries at large but it isn’t clear if they are continuing to be paid by the ABCFM. MNHS BA10/.A512b, ABCFM Correspondence, Box 7.

[10] Nancy Jane Williamson to Jane Williamson, July 22, 1863, MNHS Williamson Family Papers

[11] S.B. Treat to Thomas Williamson, January 25, 1864 and March 19 1864. MNHS NW Missions MS P489, Box 21.

[12] In 1865, Thomas made another effort to obtain pardons for more of the prisoners. He was to meet with the new Commissioner of Indian Affairs on April 15, 1865, but President Lincoln was assassinated the day before the meeting took place. The last of the prisoners at Davenport were pardoned on March 22, 1866, are released to the new reservation at Niobrara, Nebraska. Walt Bachman to Clifford Chanku, January 28, 2011; Thomas Williamson to Stephen Riggs, April 7, 1964 and January 12 ,1865, Riggs Family Papers, Boxes 1 and 2; MNHS, Robert Todd Lincoln Papers.

[13] RG 217 Records Of The Accounting Offices Of The Department Of The Treasury Indian Accounts, 1877, 3503E, Box No. 1713. [Outside Cover] Department Of The Interior, July 22, 1864.The within Claim No. 243 of Thomas S. Williamson..

[14] Nancy Williamson to Henry Williamson, April 8, 1868, MNHS Williamson Family Papers

Posted in Catherine Tatidutawin, Jane Smith Williamson, Margaret Poage Williamson, Marion Robertson Hunter, Sarah Hopkins Chaska, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins, Women in Minnesota, Wowinape | Leave a comment

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

Jane’s concern and sympathy for the Dakota, both those imprisoned in Mankato and those who were encamped at Fort Snelling remained strong over the course of the next few months. She was extremely distressed that Robert Hopkins Chaska and Peter Tapetatanka were both among those who had been found guilty and sentenced to death. According to her stories of  the night the family escaped from Pejutazee, Robert Hopkins Chaska was the first to bring them news of the outbreak of the war and Peter risked his own life to help them reach safety.

On November 13, 1862, Stephen Riggs, who went with the prisoners to Mankato, wrote to his wife Mary that “Aunt Jane wrote a very strong appeal to General Sibley on behalf of Robert Hopkins.”[1] Although no copy of this letter has been located, the following day Jane also wrote a letter of support regarding Peter Tapetatanka.

“Dear Sir,

 “Permit me to make a few statements respecting Tapaytatanka. The first evidence we had of the Indian outrage was this man and some others standing out before our door as guard while his sister and step mother were sent in. After telling us of the arrival of a messenger who brought sad tidings of murders committed below and that the perpetrators were on their way up, added with indescribable consternation. If it be known that we told this the bad Indians will surely kill us.

“About one o’clock Tuesday another messenger informed us that the marauders were robbing traders, and had shot Garvie.[2] This startling intelligence soon filled our room with Indian men who came to offer their services. Tapaytatanka with his father then left us to go to Yellow Medicine and, as I learned the next day, they both used all their influence to prevent an attack upon the people of  the Agency. The next morning he again presented himself and before we had time to ask, said, ‘The people of the agency have all started in safety.” Oh, how his countenance glowed when this was announced.

“After the warehouse was broken open he went with his band to get apart, leaving word that if he had an intimation that we were in danger he would hasten to our relief. On he afternoon of Tuesday, the rioters having found ardent spirits somewhere were howling around Tapaytatanka’s house like demons; and both his own and his father’s presence were required to restrain them from deed of violence, but they sent their women to see after us. These women told us that many of the lower Indians were in that drunken band who were expecting to be joined by a party from [unclear] and start out the next morning on a war party. They appeared very sorry it was so. The women would have remained with us during the night but there were others, and we told them we were not afraid so bidding us a very affectionate good night, they left. When they had returned two men from the band, doubtless sent by Tapaytatanka and his father to act as sentinels, came. These two men sat by our door with guns [unclear] with nothing (unless we requested some little service which was always performed with cheerfulness) until we were seated on the wagon when they gave a cordial pressure of the hand and closed our intercourse.

“At the Rapids we were again told of the war party and several invited us to hide with them till they had passed by the way we were to travel. I afterwards heard that when he could not restraint he war party, he went with them till they were off our trail and complaining of sore feet, returned home.

“I suppose none of us can fully realize the circumstances in which our friendly Indians were thus placed. Not wishing to participate in the deeds of Little Crow, many would gladly have fled to our Flag, and espoused our cause but how should they get way and how would they be received? Those were questions not easily disposed of. They feared that the white people, enraged at the crimes already committed, might not distinguish the innocent from the guilty. Some, dreading the fury of the Eagle, proposed flying to the Lion for protection, but how could they leave their comfortable houses and their fields promising so bountifully to repay the labor of their hands and by their way they must be exposed to their deadly enemies, the Chippewas.

“Yours with Christian sympathy, Jane S. Williamson[3]

Jane’s efforts on behalf of Robert Hopkins Chaska and Peter Tapetantanka were successful. Stephen Riggs described the reason Robert had originally been charged and sentenced to death and then wrote, “He would have been executed, if his friends had not interested themselves in his  behalf. Indeed other efforts not succeeding, a letter written by Miss Jane Williamson to President Lincoln alone saved him. God, who makes no mistakes, had a work for him to do in the prison, as he for Joseph in the land of Egypt.”[4]

Peter Tapetantanka was also sentenced to death after his military trial. I don’t know if Stephen Riggs sent the letter Jane wrote about Peter to Lincoln himself or if Riggs used it to write his own request to Lincoln to pardon Tapetantanka. In any case, on April 7, 1864, Stephen Riggs wrote to General Sibley asking for a pardon. He explained to Sibley:

“This man stated before the commission that he had gone with a war party, on about the fourth day of the uprising for the purpose of preventing them from following the trail of the party of missionaries and other who were escaping. After he had passed our trail, and with some difficulty, prevented the part from following us, he returned home. His statement was discredited and he was condemned. But it since appears from independent testimony, that his statement was correct; and that under God, our whole party owe our lives to him. We cannot but desire earnestly that he may be immediately relieved from his condemnation.”`[5]

This is the list of the “friendlies” who were paid a reward following the war because they helped missionaries and white settlers escape to safety or who joined Sibley’s forces to pursue their Dakota kinsmen who had not turned themselves in in 1862. Sketches, Historical and Descriptive, of the Monuments and Tablets Erected by the Minnesota Valley Historical Society in Renville and Redwood Counties, Minnesota. Minnesota Valley Historical Society, Morton, Minnesota, 1902, p. 75.

Sibley endorsed the petition and Peter Tapetantanka was officially pardoned by President Lincoln on April 19, 1864. Both Robert Hopkins and Peter Tapetantanka were Christians and were leaders among the prisoners first at Mankato and then at Davenport, Iowa, in the years before they received their pardons. After the war, they were among those “friendly” Dakota who were each paid $100 as a reward  for helping whites escape.

Jane’s concern extended to all of those who were imprisoned at Mankato and she and Thomas brought paper and pencils and books to the men so they could write to the families being held at Fort Snelling.[6] Their efforts on behalf of the prisoners were not always appreciated. On November 25, 1862, Jane wrote to Mary Riggs, seeking her assistance.

Colonel William Crooks commanded the 6th Regiment under Henry Sibley that marched to Fort Ridgley in August 1862. He served on the military commission that conducted the trials of the Dakota in 1862 and suggested that they shave the heads of the Dakota who were found guilty and have them whipped. Sibley knew that such personal indignities would never be accepted by the Dakota and strongly opposed Crooks’ plan. The city of Crookston, Minnesota, is named after Crooks, who went on to serve in the Minnesota State Legislature. Minnesota Historical Society Collections.

“When Gen. Sybley [sic] was at South Bend I think the prisoners were permitted to write to their friends. Seeing some dirty scraps of paper written on all sides, I went to St. Peter, bought paper and pencils at my own expense and sent them up but Col. Crooks said writing materials could not be allowed them. Knowing the officers would be changed I sent again last Sat. But Col. Miller finding by inquiry that Col. Crooks had forbidden, did not feel at liberty to permit it. Could not Bro. Riggs get a permit from Gen. Sibley. Oh how many weary hours might those in bonds pass writing. It would be more profitable to them [than] looking at the card players.”[7]

Jane’s attempts to get permission to provide the prisoners with books, paper and pencils was ultimately granted and many of the men sent letters back to their wives and families at Fort Snelling. Thomas and Jane took the prisoners Bibles and Thomas continued to walk the twelve miles to Mankato several times a week, while also continuing to care for the wounded who were recovering in St. Peter.

During this time everyone, whites and Dakota, missionaries and settlers, military leaders and the troops, and, of course, the prisoners, awaited the decision of President Abraham Lincoln on what was to be done with the condemned. Over three hundred men had been sentenced to be hanged. Thomas Williamson and Stephen Riggs disagreed on what should happen with Williamson telling Riggs the trials had been totally corrupt and Riggs feeling that those who had participated in the war needed to be punished. Thomas thought that new trials should be scheduled in response to Riggs’ proposal that he seek a pardon only for members of the mission churches. Letters and newspaper articles abound from this period as people expressed their varied opinions.

President Abraham Lincoln played a crucial role in the U.S. Dakota War despite the fact that he was in the midst of the Civil War that was ripping the nation in two. The story of how he determined which of the 303 condemned Dakota were guilty of crimes that demanded execution and his foresight and mercy in granting pardons to those in prison after the execution is one of the most fascinating stories in American history.

Then, on December 6, 1862, President Lincoln issued the order that thirty-nine of the condemned men were to be hanged and directed Sibley to proceed with plans for the execution. I try to imagine Jane’s reaction to this news. I’m sure that she and the Williamsons were relieved that the number was only thirty-nine and not over three hundred, but still the thought of these people whom they felt had been tried unfairly, were to lose their lives in such a travesty of justice must have been a heavy blow.

Jane and Thomas Williamson, upon seeing the list, immediately set to work to get Tatemina removed from the list of those to be hanged. Tatemina, whose English name was translated as Round Wind, was reportedly seventy years old in 1862. He was a brother of Mrs. John Renville and had known the Williamsons at the Lac qui Parle Mission in the 1830s and 1840s. A note by Jeff Williamson in the Williamson Family Tree says that Tatemina was pardoned because of a letter that Jane wrote to President Lincoln. Although no letter has been found, historian Walt Bachman wrote the following to historian Carrie Zeman on January 28, 2011:

“Dr. Williamson and his sister, Jane Williamson, procured the only reprieve granted by President Lincoln to one of the 39 men named on Lincoln’s hanging list, Tatemina. Thomas Williamson gathered evidence that Tatemina had been miles away helping white folks to escape at the time of the alleged murder and his efforts led to a last-minute reprieve telegraphed by Lincoln just a day or two before the hangings. Had it not been for Thomas’ and Jane’s efforts the number hanged would have been 39, not 38.”[8]

The reprieve apparently quite literally did not arrive until a matter of hours before the execution was scheduled. Stephen Riggs wrote to his wife Mary on December 22, 1862:

“He is among the 39 to be hanged. He was baptized this morning by Dr. W. He wished to do it before it was known to him that he was to be executed. I didn’t feel he was a Christian but as the doctor had large hope, I consented. He claims he is innocent and was condemned by two German boys.”[9]

The Mankato Ledger reported, “Two or three hours before the execution, this man was brought out and taken to be with the other prisoners that his case might be reconsidered.”[10] Tatemina did go to prison with the others whose sentences had been changed from death to imprisonment but he was fully pardoned by President Lincoln on August 27, 1864.

On December 24, 1862, the prisoners at Mankato were allowed to have two or three relatives visit them to bid farewell. Thomas Williamson baptized 15 as Christians and Father Ravoux baptized another 21 as Catholics. Only two of those to be hanged refused baptism. The condemned were removed from the other prisoners and Thomas Williamson, Stephen Riggs and Father Ravoux remained with them.

As Christmas Day, 1862, drew to a close, Jane sat down and wrote to Mary Riggs in what is one of the most poignant of Jane’s letters I have ever found.

“Dear Sister Riggs

“Accept my thanks for your favor of the 18 and permit me to say that I feel still more grateful for the Word for the poor despised Dakota which I doubt not was from your pen. I am not flattering when I say we were very much pleased with that article. It would too be more likely to bring Frenier to a right spirit than contradiction or hard sayings. [11]  Oh that we could see Antoine meekly sitting at the feet of the Savior. I too would like to know of his manifesting some sympathy for his younger brother. Oh how I blame myself for not warning Chaskedan and Tapetatanka of the temptations with which they might be associated. I thought of the dangers to which they would be exposed more than the temptations as it respected Caske and I had not an opportunity of speaking to Tapetatanka alone after knowing Little Crow was at the heart of the rebellion. But after walking to Ehnamane’s village, I felt that we could not remain there long without being in danger of having to share the spoils of the traders or warehouse, and this with feeling that our staying would increase the danger of the friendly Indians, induced me to exert my influence to Bro and Sister to leave.[12

“I am grieved that any of them touched the plunder but is it not more to be regretted than wondered at. Respecting the battles, I cannot feel that going into them was murder though it would have been better to have trusted God and stood alone but surely they were in trying circumstances. The buildings at our place I understood were set on fire by boys but the captives told me that those at Hazlewood were burned to keep friendly Indians from using them as forts. Even then if they had identified themselves with the hostile band their dwelling houses would not have been burned. Winonaze and Mrs. Quin [sic] who made their escape just before the battle of Lakewood, said they knew they were running a great risk but Little Crow had said that he would not only kill the white captives but half breeds and friendly Indians if all did not go with him to battle.[13]

While the troops who were on the way to Mankato to oversee the execution of the condemned Dakota, they passed through St. Peter and Jane heard them singing the abolitionist hymn, John Brown’s Body. Once again the great causes of her life – stopping slavery and saving the Dakota had come together in one tragic moment in history.

“It made me sad today when I saw the cavalry pass on their way to Mankato. A company of Infantry have just passed by tonight singing Jno Brown [“John Brown’s Body”]. Well, I suppose soldiers must become accustomed to sad sights but it will be a painful scene to Mr. Riggs and brother. Mr. Riggs was with us Friday night. He was so tired and hoarse that I knew I ought not to tease him and yet I could not keep from talking and asking questions. I need not say that we feel it a great privilege to have him with us a night.

“Mrs. Greenleaf of Shakopee sent a barrel of part worn clothing…. I was not in favor of taking much from the barrel lest they might need it more. But sister taking up a little bundle read “Will Miss Williamson accept this old shawl for the love she bears the Indians.” The shawl though not new it is very pretty. But it was not the value that made me weep like a child, it was feeling that there was still some sympathy for the Indian even among those (copy cut off)…

“Sister says you could not have made a better answer to Mr. Murwin for bedding and under clothes are what we need most though I do think Brother is needing a coat or cloak very much. He lost his cloth cloak and I cannot help feeling badly when he wears the old plaid. Still I do not feel free in urging him to get another at present. He was going to wear it up yesterday but I told him Mr. Riggs would be ashamed of him so he took his overcoat and if it does turn cold I hope will not suffer. For a little while after we came here Brother assisted in the hospital but we do not know that he will receive any compensation. There are more than doctors enough here and neither Sister nor I are willing to have him take license.

“He is far advanced in his 63 year and having to get up at night and go in the cold would probably lay him aside earlier than [unclear].

“Sister is just retiring but she says I must not forget to thank you for the spectacles. They suit her very well and I sometimes borrow them when I wish to see better than usual. With regard to your kind inquiry about our supply of bedding for the winter Mrs. J. Daniels lent us two pair of colored blankets which I think she will not probably call for this winter. Were it not for this we would have to buy or suffer one and although we have tried to economize, our store bill has been large. We bought calico for two comforts but batting was [so] high that we made them too light to be warm. Mrs. G. H. Pond gave sister a good comfort and some other things. In the box from the Constitution were a blanket for Lizzie Hunter, [Elizabeth Williamson Hunter] a quilt for sister, and a coverlet for me though not new.

“We have not as yet seen an opening for Nannie to teach.[14] It is a great comfort to have her with us. Brother rather wished me to try to get a school but I did not think I should succeed and I did so wish to have this winter to rest in quiet seclusion. You know my health was very poor last winter. It is good this. Were there anything I could do for the Indians I would love to do it. Have you seen Betsy or heard from Smiley when at the camp? [15]The last I heard from him was through Mrs. Huggins. Betsy wanted to come with Mr. Hunter when he was down but he could not bring her conveniently. Bro and sister have consented that she should come and I feel anxious to have her near but it would cost considerably to go for her by stage.

“Dec. 26. Ten o’clock is past. The bodies of those 39 men are probably lifeless. But “where are the breathless spirits gone that just have left their clay. Through what vast _____ to us unknown, “now urge their backless way.” There will be a strong effort to have all who were condemned by the commission hung now. I feel very anxious respecting our friends but I know nothing more that I can do only to commit the matter to our Heavenly Father for more faith.[16]

“I took your advice and petitioned the President to pardon Caskedon. Thus I wrote a petition and enclosed Marion’s letter to Mr. Cullen requesting to present it or not as he thought but he wrote me a very kind letter in return saying he would present it the next day.[17] He seems to feel deeply interested in the Indians. There were so few here at the time that I put no name to it but my own. I regretted this but feared to wait less it should be too late. It was poorly done and probably will not accomplish anything. I felt at the time as though it was presumption but wished to do what I could…

“Yours truly, Jane S. Williamson”[18]

Jane Williamson did not attend the mass execution at Mankato on December 26, 1862, but Thomas Williamson and Stephen Riggs were there. Images, memoirs and stories about the mass execution are part of both Dakota and white history in Minnesota in painful ways.

Jane was correct. By the time she finished writing this letter to Mary on December 26, the 38 Dakota men who had been condemned to death had been hanged in the largest mass execution ever held in America. Jane and the rest of the family had apparently not celebrated Christmas that year, not only because Thomas was in Mankato, but because they were struggling financially. Jane and Margaret Williamson were concerned that Thomas was receiving no income from his work with patients at the hospital nor for the missionary work he carried on with the prisoners. They were relying on gifts of used clothing, blankets, and supplies from supporters in Ohio and Nancy Jane had not found a teaching position. Thomas was encouraging Jane to open a school but she expressed her concerns to Mary that she really felt she was not up to taking on that responsibility.

Sarah Totidutawin had known Jane her whole life and she wrote her in 1862 to express how much she misses her and how she and her mother are grieving what had happened to the Dakota people.

Of course, Jane was also in constant prayer for the Dakota families who were living in captivity at Fort Snelling as well as for those men still in prison at Mankato. One quite amazing letter to Jane survives from this time. Robert Hopkins Chaska’s wife, Sarah Totidutawin, wrote to Jane early in 1863. I found the letter several years ago in the Riggs Family Papers at the Minnesota Historical Society even though it has nothing to do with the Riggs family. It has now been re-catalogued and is in the Williamson collection. It is written to Jane and captures the grief and anxiety that were rampant in the Dakota community during this time as well.


“My Sister – Today I write you a letter to tell you how I am. By reason of the terrible deeds which the Dakota nation have committed in these latter times, I am now with my children in a suffering condition and so I am always thinking of you. Because of my sadness I am not strong and seem as if I would be sick. I am continually wondering what will become of me. I have two brothers, but they are constantly doing things which I do not like and thus heed me not. So I have no one on earth to whom I can turn for support and am miserable; but I always remember you and because I know you love me, I always remember you. My mother and I are sad together. I know it is what God wills that will come to pass. Though I have no one on earth upon whom I can rely, yet I trust the One God watches over me; and so as I am able I offer prayers, and when you pray I wish you to remember me…

“I have heard that Mrs. Hunter was about to die soon and it makes my heart very sad. I feel just the same as if one of my own relations were about to die, and so I am sad, and think – could I only see her. If God has mercy upon me I shall see her among the heavenly hosts.

“Now about my husband I want you to tell me whatever you hear as to his condition. His father and two brothers have none of them done anything, but now I hear that they are once again going to hang soon and I am troubled.

“Dowandutawin, your nieces and nephew, I am with you all. That’s all I shall say, 

“I am Wanyahiyawin


“My Brother

“I write you a line to speak of one matter. I am very glad to hear you always visit those in prison.

“My brother – I am now very bad off so I trust in you. What is to become of my husband. I want you to tell me. I want you to let me know whatever you hear as to his fate.

“I would like to say many things to you but am in haste and so shall close.”[19]

Sarah mentioned in her latter to Jane that she had heard that Lizzie Hunter was about to die. That news was true. Lizzie never fully recovered from the trauma and physical conditions she had experienced during their escape; she had lost her little son when John Knox Hunter died in October 1862, and now Lizzie herself passed away on March 11, 1863 at the age of thirty years.

Jane shared the news of her death with Mary Riggs on March 17, 1863.

“You will probably ere this reaches you have learned that the gentle spirit of our loved E. Hunter has dropped its clay tabernacle and we trust she is even now uniting with holy happy spirits in the song of Redeeming Love. Were not brother going down I would give some particulars but you can hear what you wish from him as she approached the river. The prospect beyond was so bright that she longed to be there and prayed for patience to wait till she was called. At one time she said, ‘I know that I am going to My Father’s House but the way seems long.’ I observed to her though you should continue long and suffer much shall I trust you will be enabled to say the will of the Lord be done. ‘Oh yes,’ she said, ‘Our Heavenly Father knows best.’

“She prayed much for her husband and child and our sister. I trust you will pray for them too. Mr. Hunter closed her eyes with his own fingers. When living he loved to do what he could for her and even though she was gone he seemed to feel it a privilege. His little home must look very desolate to him now when he is there alone. He stayed with us Sat. night and was here yesterday and went out in the afternoon to help Henry chop wood when Nannie reminded him he would make himself late getting home. He replied it is pleasanter here than there…

“O, it was so pleasant to have her with us so long and have the means of rendering her so comfortable. She seemed all the time to feel that her cup of blessing was full…Eliza Huggins came the Sat. before and remained till the funeral. Elizabeth was delighted with her singing till she was almost gone. Surely we have reason to thank and praise the Lord for his tender mercy and loving kindness manifested in this bereavement. Pray that we may grow wiser and better thereby.

“The pretty quilt you so kindly gave us lay on her bed. She admired its beauty and we could not have had her bed look so clean and comfortable without it. She spoke of your kindness several times when looking at it. I wish the good people that sent the box from Oxford knew. I feel like praising God all the time. He is giving me all that I could desire now and I can trust him for all that is to come. I asked her if she had no doubt of her acceptance. ‘Oh, no, why should I when Jesus was so kind to all that came to him on earth? He casts off none that come to him. Shall I like to hear his promises read often.’ Again she remarked that praising the Lord for his Redeeming love would be the sweetest joy in heaven.”[20]

As usual, Jane expressed her joy and gratitude for God’s care even when she was in the midst of loss and grief. As we’ve seen throughout her letters in recent posts, she also sees death as a joyous reunion with Jesus Christ in heaven, at least for Christians. Her faith sustains her through the most difficult of times and now the family faces yet another period of transition as all of the Dakota people were exiled from the State of Minnesota by Congress in March of 1863.[21]

[1] Stephen Riggs to Mary Riggs, November 13, 1862. Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B.

[2] The transcriber of the letter uses the name “Gorry” but I believe the person Jane mentions is Stuart B. Garvie who was working in Andrew Myrick’s store at the Lower Agency when he was wounded during the initial attack of the agency on the morning of August 18, 1862. Garvie escaped on foot with a group led by John Otherday, but he did not survive and died on August 21, 1862. Thirteen people were killed in that initial attack and there is no indication why Jane mentioned him in particular but it could be that she knew him or his wife personally. He was married to a Dakota woman.

[3] Jane S. Williamson to S.R. Riggs, November 14, 1862, Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; transcribed and annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.

[4] Riggs, Steven, Tah-koo Wahkan; the Gospel Among the Dakotas. Boston: Congregational Sabbath-School and Publishing Society, 1869, pp.346-349. I have not found Jane’s letter in the Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Riggs had said earlier that Jane had written to General Sibley to seek Robert’s pardon but he now indicates that her letter actually was addressed to President Lincoln.

[5] Stephen Riggs to General Henry Hastings Sibley, April 7, 1864, cited in The Dakota Trials, Including the Complete Transcripts and Explanatory Notes on the Military Commission Trials in Minnesota, 1862-1864 by John Isch, Brown County Historical Society, 2012, p. 136.

[6] Creswell, Rev. R.J., Among the Sioux: A Story of the The Twin Cities and The Two Dakotas, The University Press, Minneapolis, MN 1906, p 76

[7] Jane Williamson to Mary Riggs, November 25, 1862, Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B.

[8] Walt Bachman to Carrie Zeman, email January 28, 2011. Author’s private collection.

[9] Stephen Riggs to Mary Riggs, December 22, 1862. Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B.

[10] Mankato Ledger, March 22, 1916, citing the report of Father Antoine Ravoux from December 29, 1862.

[11] Antoine Frenier had a white father and a Dakota mother and raised at Lac qui Parle. He was one of the interpreters at the military commission trials of the Dakota in 1862. Jane and Mary have obviously communicated about him previously and are grieving that he has reportedly abandoned his Christian faith and is drinking.

[12] Ehnamane was known as Artemas Ehnamani/Walking Along. He was born in Red Wing’s village in 1826 but was living in his own village near Pejutazee when word of the outbreak of war reached the Williamson’s. Jane had gone to that village to see if she could learn more about what was happening and, according to this letter, became convinced that she and Thomas and Margaret should follow the others and attempt to escape. Ehanmani became a Christian in prison at Mankato and eventually was an ordained minister in the Dakota Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church.

[13] Winonaze, also known as Elizabeth or Betsy Jeffries, was married to Joseph Jeffries. Mrs. Quinn is Angelique Jeffries Quinn, their daughter. She was married to William Quinn who was a clerk at the Forbes store at the Upper Agency in 1862.

[14] Nannie is the nickname for Nancy Jane Williamson, Thomas and Margaret Williamson’s second oldest daughter. She was with them at Pejutazee at the time the war began and lived with them in St. Peter. She had been to seminary and was looking for a place to teach school in the area.

[15] Betsy, who is also known as Bessie, was a Dakota child who was taken in by the Williamson’s when her mother died in 1859. Jane named her Bessie Means, in honor of Jane’s cousin Elizabeth Williamson Means, the “Dear Cousin” of so many of Jane’s letters. Betsy was then was about five years old. She had been very ill but under Jane’s care she recovered her health and in Jane’s school report of June 30, 1862, she reported that Betsy was now able to read the Bible in English and Dakota. As Jane writes in December 1862 to Mary Riggs, she is trying desperately to find out where Betsy might be. It is clear from subsequent letters that Betsy did join the Williamson’s in St. Peter by 1863 but then died by January 4, 1867 of an unknown cause. Smiley was Smiley Shepherd, a Dakota boy who had been taken in my the Williamson’s in 1859, along with Betsy. In Jane’s school report of March 31, 1862, she said he was in fine health, loved music and “appears to have good talents,” Smiley’s father was killed at the Battle of Wood Lake in September 1862, and Jane eventually located him and had him brought to St. Peter where he remained with the family until he was a young man.

[16] I have tried to find the source of Jane’s quotation here, and assume it must be a Bible verse, but can’t find it any concordances that I’ve checked.

[17] Marion is Marion Robertson Hunter, who has been described in an earlier note. Mr. Cullen is Major William J. Cullen, who formed the Cullen Frontier Guards in Shakopee on August 22, 1862 and marched with Sibley’s troops to Fort Ridgley. This Cullen was not exactly “deeply interested in the Indians,” as Jane says. Instead, he often boasted of how he’d personally cut the hair of over 70 Dakota men when he became Superintendent of Indian Affairs at the Upper Agency in 1957. Jane may be referring to Mr. Thomas Cullen, William’s brother who was at the Lower Sioux Agency by 1860. John Williamson boarded with his family there and Thomas Williamson described him as the Superintendent of Indian Farming who was an active and energetic Methodist who would welcome a missionary there, according to a letter that Thomas wrote to Selah B. Treat on April 30, 1860 in the ABCFM Correspondence files at the Minnesota Historical Society.

[18] Jane Williamson to Mary Riggs, December 25, 1862. Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B

[19] Sarah Totidutawin to Jane Williamson, Minnesota Historical Society,Williamson Family Papers, P726, Box 1. Sarah and her mother Catherine and her children were in the encampment at Fort Snelling in early 1863. Sarah wrote as Wanyhiyawin. She is usually identified as Robert Hopkins Chaska’s wife Sarah, daughter of Catherine Totidutawin of the Dakota mission. She addresses Jane by her Dakota name, Dowandutawin, which means Red Song Woman, so called because of Jane’s beautiful singing voice and her translation of many Presbyterian hymns into the Dakota language. The two brothers that Sarah mentions are Lorenzo Lawrence and Joseph Kawanke, both of who were associated with the mission at Lac qui Parle and were well-known to the Williamson’s. Lorenzo Lawrence was eventually paid $500 by the government following the war for his role in saving Jannette DeCamp and her children when the war began. Joseph Kawanke was accepted as a Scout by Henry Sibley when Sibley headed west to find and arrest those Dakota who had fled rather than turn themselves in. Kawanke is listed as dying in 1867, but I have not been able to find out what happened to him. Sarah’s husband, of course, is Robert Hopkins Chaska who was in prison in Mankato at this time and was then sent to Davenport, Iowa, where he is often referred to as the spiritual leader of the Dakota prisoners. Sarah and Robert Hopkins Chaska had three children, Samuel, Eliza and Andrew by 1862, although I’m not sure that Eliza lived beyond infancy. She was baptized by Stephen Riggs at Hazlewood in October 1859. Andrew was baptized the following year. Samuel was born in 1854 and was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1889.

[20] Jane Williamson to Mary Riggs, March 17, 1863.. Stephen R. Riggs Family Papers, 1837-1988, Minnesota Historical Society Manuscript Collection, Call #144.G.7.1B.

[21] An Act for the Removal of the Sisseton, Wahpaton, Medawakanton, March 3,1863. and Walhpakoota Bands of Sioux or Dakota Indians, and for the Disposition of their. Lands in Minnesota and Dakota. SESS. III. CH. 119, 120. 1863

Posted in Andrew Hunter, Eliza Huggins Holtzclaw, Elizabeth Williamson Hunter, Jane Smith Williamson, Mary Ann Clark Longley Riggs, Nancy Jane Williamson, Ohio, Peter Tapaytatanka, Robert Hopkins Chaska, Sarah Hopkins Chaska, Wawiyohiyawin/Sarah Hopkins, William Crooks, Women in Minnesota | 1 Comment

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.

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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


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