Chapter 3
REIGN OF THE INDIANS
Pages 16 ~ 22



From the book
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY, MINNESOTA"
Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge and Others
Published Winona, MN by H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co., 1920
Republished Currently by Higginson Books



Many thanks to Dale Ebersold for transcribing this section.
His ancestors include both Augustine Rocque and Chief Wahpashaw.


From the days of the early explorers, Wabasha County was ranged by the M'dewakanton band of the Dakota Indians, although, so far as it known, they had no permanent villages here. In the forties and fifties of the nineteenth century they had several favorite camping places here, especially in the Zumbro Valley.

The Chippewa, who lived to the northward, made a murderous foray against the Dakota of this region, even as the days of the white settlement in the fifties, using the Chippewa River as their warpath.

The Dakota embrace the principal division of the Siouan family, and are more commonly called by their family name of Sioux, rather than by their individual name of Dakota. In the Siouan family are numbered not only the Dakota proper, but also of the Winnebago, the Assiniboin, the Minnetare group, and the Osage and southern kindred tribes.

The word Sioux, now applied to the whole linguistic family, though by the early settlers applied to the Dakota alone, in the corruption of the word Madouessi or Nadouescious, the French rendering of the word meaning literally "the snakelike ones," or figuratively "the enemies," the name by which the Chippewa and other Algonquin Indians called the Dakota. Dakota, variously spelled, was applied by this branch for the Siouan family to themselves, and means "joined together in friendly compact," an unconscious prophesy of the "E. Pluribus Unum" which was to become the motto of the United States of America.

An important division of the Dakota were the M'dewakanton tribe, who ranged the Mississippi as far south as the Illinois River country. At one time the M'dewakanton had their headquarters about the Mille Lacs region in northern Minnesota, hence their name which means "The People of the Spirit Lake." Evidently driven out by the Chippewa, who obtained arms from the whites, they established themselves in seven villages along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.

The Wabashas were the head chiefs of the M'dewakanton. Their immediate band, in which was probably a mingling of the former Mantanton, became the buffer band between the other Dakota and their enemies on the south. From Mille Lacs they moved to the mouth of the Rum River, near Anoka, Minn., then to the mouth of the Minnesota River, not far from St. Paul, Minn., then to Red Wing, Minn., and then to Winona, Minn., where they established themselves permanently. With headquarters at Winona, which they called Ke-ox-ah, and where the annual games of all the M'dewakanton were held, they had at different times, temporary villages on the Upper Iowa, on the Root River, at Trempealeau, and at Minnesota City.

Three Wabashas are known to the history of Wabasha County. The origin of the dynasty is shrouded in antiquity. But some time in the first quarter of the eighteenth century a powerful Dakota chief married a beautiful Chippewa princess, and by her had two sons, both of whom were raised as Dakotas. The eldest was Wabasha I. Later, returning to her own people, the Chippewa princess married a noted Chippewa brave. One of the children born to this union was Mamongazida, a famous Chippewa chief, who was the father of the still more famous Wabajeeg. Thus the princess became the ancestress of two royal houses, one ruling the M'dewakanton Dakota and the other the Chippewa. Wabasha I was probably born about 1720. In spite of his traditional Chippewa blood, he frequently engaged in fierce warfare against the people of that nation.

Our first real knowledge of Wabasha I (then rendered by the French, Ouabashas) dates from March 9, 1740, when he is recorded as having met Pierre Paul, the Sieur Marin (after commander of a Lake Pepin stockade in 1750-52) on the Rock River, in Wisconsin. At that time Wabasha I and those with him offered to surrender themselves and to submit to punishment for the slaughter by some Dakota warriors of several Chippewa who had been under the personal protection of the French.

After France, by the treaty of 1763, relinquished its titles in North America to England and Spain, the French traders began to withdraw from the Sioux country. The English were slow to take their places because they feared the Indians. The Sauk and other Algonquin leaders continued their fight against the English. The French had withdrawn their authority, and the British had not yet time to look after the Indians of the west. Passage through the Indians of the Wisconsin country was fraught with the greatest danger. And the attitude of the Sioux themselves was suspected by reason of a murder which had taken place about 1761, when a trader, called by the Indians, Pagonta, or the Mallard Duck, was shot while smoking in his cabin at Mendota by Ixkatapay, a Sioux Indian with whom he had quarreled.

The absence of the traders worked a great hardship on the Indians. they had degenerated by contact with the whites. No longer were they the noble lords of the wild who had been able to wrest their living from the forests and plains and streams. They had lost their skill with the spear and with the arrow. They had been taught to depend on the whites for ammunition and provisions. Now they could no longer obtain these articles, and as the result they were reduced to absolute want.

Therefore, the Indians of the neighborhood of Winona, Red Wing, South St. Paul and the Minnesota River held a conference, as the result of which they resolved to surrender Ixkatapay, to promise peace, to beg the traders to return, and to implore the protection of the British. The council selected a delegation of nearly 100 to go to Quebec on this mission, with Ixkatapay as a prisoner. Wabasha I was leader of this party. They went by way of the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers, but before they reached Green Bay one after another deserted. There all but six had turned back, taking Ixkatapay with them. The chief, Wabasha I and five others, true to their trust, kept on their way.

Reaching Quebec, Wabasha I explained the situation and the condition of his people, and offered himself for execution for the murder of the trader, in the place of Ixkatapay, but implored the British to take his people under their protection and to send ammunition and goods at once to his suffering tribes in exchange for the furs that they had on hand. Struck with his noble character the English granted all he asked, and gave him seven medals for the seven bands of his tribe, one of which medals was hung about Wabasha's own neck. It is said that Wabasha I was also presented with a red cap and gaudy uniform (see "Wabasha Poems and Pics 1884").

It was natural that Wabasha I having been signally honored by the British, and having received succor at their hands, should side with the English against the colonists in the Revolutionary War. The British traders were active in instigating the Indians to hostility against the Americans. Wabasha I was recognized as a leading chief. He was directed in his movements by the English commander at Mackinac. In 1779 Wabasha I and his warriors were at Prairie du Chien, awaiting instructions as to whether he should attack the Sauk and Fox for favoring the Americans. In 1780 Wabasha I was the leader of a thousand Sioux, designed to reinforce the British at Kaskaskia and attack the settlements at St. Genevieve, Mo. Wabasha I, who was in the official reports is called General Wabasha, was highly commended by the British officers for his discipline, valor and uncommon abilities, and was mentioned in the war correspondence of the time as commanding a force of Indians in no way inferior as soldiers to the regulars of the British army. Wabasha I was at Prairie du Chien at the conclusion of the peace between Great Britain and the colonies, and promised to respect the fact that war had ceased. During the revolution Wabasha I made several trips to Montreal, and it was especially stipulated that on account of his position as commander of so large a force, his visits to Mackinac were always to be welcomed by the British with a salute of the cannon, the cannon to be loaded with solid shell instead of with blank cartridges.

Wabasha I died of cancer of the neck on the Root River in Houston County, January 5, 1806. There is a traditional story that he had been exiled from the main body of the band by the murderous hate of his brothers, but as he had been in public life sixty-six years, and must have been considerably more than eighty years of age, it seems more probable that he had gradually committed the chieftainship to his son.

Some time before the death of his father, Wapashaw II became nominal chief of the band. He was low of stature, was not a warrior, and is said to have hated war. He was a wise and prudent man, especially in council, and was a strict abstainer from whisky. He highly admired and appreciated the arts of civilization and desired that his people should be profited by them. He was called The Leaf, La Feuille, corrupted to Lafoy and to La Fye. Unless there is a mistake in Pike's map the Wabasha band in 1805 was located on the upper Iowa River, though possibly this was a temporary camp for that year. It was evidently during the early years of the reign of Wabasha II that the band moved its headquarters to the present site of Winona, though probably the Indians had used the prairie site of the city for various purposes long before that date.

Wabasha's braves espoused the cause of the British in the war of 1812. Wabasha II himself was opposed to war, but was sometimes led into it by his hot-headed soldiers. He was with the other Indians at the unsuccessful siege by the British, 1813, of Ft. Meigs, on the Maumee River, in northwestern Ohio. The fort was then held by the Americans under William Henry Harrison, later president of the United States. The Winnebago having killed an American soldier, appointed a feast at which each guest was to eat a morsel of the soldiers body. One of the Dakota, being invited to partake, said: "We came here, not to eat the Americans, but to wage war against them." Then Wabasha II said to the Winnebago: "We thought that you, who live near to the white men, were wiser than we who live at a distance; but it must, indeed, be otherwise, if you do such deeds." The result was that the feast was not held.

After the treaty of peace made at Ghent, December 24, 1814, the British agents in Canada sent invitations to the Dakota chiefs to attend council to be held at Drummond Island, about fifty miles east of the Straits of Mackinac. Wabasha II, Little Crow and others attended. The agents explained to them that the king across the waters had made peace with the Americans and that hostilities must cease. After lauding the valor of the Indians, the British offered them blankets, knives and other goods as presents, but they were rejected. The paltry presents so arouse the indignation of Wabasha II that he addressed the English officer as follows:

"My Father, what is this I see before me? A few knives and blankets. Is this all you promised at the beginning of the war? Where are those promises you made at Michilimackinac, and sent to our villages on the Mississippi? You told us that you would never let fall the hatchet until the Americans were driven beyond the mountains; that our British father would never make peace without consulting his red children. Has that come to pass? We never knew of this peace. We are told it was made by our Great Father beyond the water, without the knowledge of his war-chiefs; that it is your duty to obey his orders. What is this to us? Will these paltry presents pay for the men we have lost, both in battle and in the war? Will they soothe the feelings of our friends? Will they make good your promises to us? For myself, I have always found means of subsistence, and I can do so still."

Beginning with Pike, Wabasha II met all the explorers who came up the river in the next twenty years. He signed the treaties of 1816, 1825, and 1830. He visited Washington in 1824. He was at the head of his tribe during the Red Bird War and the Black Hawk War and at the time of the bringing in of the Winnebago. Every white who came in contact with him spoke most highly of his worth and character. He died about 1836 of small-pox. He was probably at that time about sixty-three years old. Many of his band perished at the same time. The Wabasha band thus reduced in numbers, faded in influence and importance though its head continued to be recognized as the nominal head chief of all the seven bands of the M'dewakanton.

Wabasha II, at his death in 1836, was succeeded by his son, Wabasha III, whose original name was Tahtapesaah, the Unsetting Wind. Wabasha III is the Wabasha best known to the whites. He signed the treaties of 1836, 1837, 1851 and 1858. Like the two Wabashas who came before him he was shrewd and cautious. He was friendly to the whites, but from a sense of justice upheld the Winnebago in their opposition to their removal to the inhospitable Long Prairie country in central Minnesota. By the treaties of 1851 he relinquished his title to all his remaining lands in Wabasha county, but he and his band continued to hunt here at least until 1860. Wabasha III led his warriors in the Sioux Uprising of 1862, but he was opposed to it, and was the first to make proposals of peace even while his nation were still in arms. He finally withdrew his followers from Little Crow's camp, and in his new camp of some 100 lodges, protected many whites and mixed bloods. Before this he had been in friendly communication with the white commanders for some months. He died April 23, 1876, at the Santee agency in Nebraska. With profound grief he had seen the gradual degeneration of his people at the whim of the whites, and well realized the duplicity and theft that the Dakota suffered from all the while men with whom they came in contact. The descendant of an ancient line whose empire had once been larger and richer than many a European nation, he spent his latter years as a lonely old man, refusing to join in the readjusted life of his people, and sadly pondering over the wrongs that had been done him.

Several of the prominent early families of Wabasha and vicinity were related to Wabasha III by marriage and descent. It is in honor of this chief that Wabasha County is named. The neighboring county of Winona was named for his sister or cousin, Wee-no-nah, wife of Mock-ah-pe-ah-ket-ah-pah.

The land in Wabasha County and the vicinity came into possession of the whites through a series of treaties made between the United States government and the Indians. The Prairie du Chien Treaty of 1825 fixed certain boundaries between a number of tribes of the upper Mississippi. The treaty confirmed the Dakota (Sioux) in the possession of vast tracts west of the Mississippi, as well as to certain lands east of it. Wabasha County and the lands opposite in Wisconsin were thus definitely acknowledged by the whites and the neighboring bands of Indians as being under the sovereignty of the Dakota, with Chief Wabasha as reigning potentate.

The Prairie du Chien treaty of 1830 provided for the relinquishment by the Sioux of all claim to land in northwestern Missouri and western Iowa, especially the country of the Des Moines River Valley. A tract of land in the present Goodhue, Wabasha and Winona counties was set aside for the mixed bloods. A neutral strip taking in a portion of southeastern Minnesota was also established. By Treaty of Washington, 1837, the Dakota relinquished all their lands east of the Mississippi, and the islands therein, so the Wabasha County island and the lands across the river in Wisconsin passed from the Indians to the whites.

All the land in this part of Minnesota was relinquished by the Dakota Indians by the treaty made with the upper bands, signed at Traverse des Sioux, July 22, 1851, and with the lower bands signed at Mendota, August 5, 1851. At both places a feature of the gathering was a large brush arbor erected by Alexis Bailly, an early Wabasha trader.

Wabasha, from whom the county is named, opposed the Treaty of Mendota, but seeing the futility of opposition, and realizing that the Ind[I]ans by refusing to give up their land would subject themselves to extermination by the whites, he was the second to sign.

The written copies of the Traverse des Sioux and the Mendota treaties, duly signed and attested, were forwarded to Washington to be acted upon by the senate at the ensuing session of congress. An unreasonably long delay resulted. Final action was not had until the following summer, when, on July 23, 1852, the senate ratified both treaties with important amendments. The provisions for reservations on the upper Minnesota for both the upper and lower bands were stricken out, and substitutes adopted, agreeing to pay 10 cents an acre for both reservations, and authorizing the president, with the assent of the Indians, to cause to be set apart other reservations, which were to be within the limits of the original great cession. The provision to pay $150,000 to the half-bloods of the lower bands was also stricken out. The treaties, with the changes, came back to the Indians for final ratification and agreement to the alterations. The chiefs of the lower bands at first objected very strenuously, but finally, on Saturday, September 4, 1852, at Governor Alexander Ramsey's residence in St. Paul, they signed the amended articles, and the following Monday the chiefs and head men of the upper bands affixed their marks. As amended, the treaties were proclaimed by President Fillmore, February 24, 1853. The Indians were allowed to remain in their old villages, or, if they preferred, to occupy their reservations as originally designated until the president selected their new homes. That selection was never made, and, the original reservations were finally allowed them, Congress, on July 31, 1854, having passed an act by which the original reservation provisions remained in force. The removal of the lower Indians to their designated reservation above Redwood Falls on the Minnesota River, began in 1853, but was intermittent, interrupted, and extended over a period of several years. The Indians went up in detachments, as they felt inclined. After living on the reservation for some time, some of them returned to their old hunting grounds, where they lived continuously for some time, visiting their reservation and agency only at the time of the payment of their annuities. During this period they ranged Wabasha County, especially the valley of the Zumbro. Finally, by the offer of cabins to live in, or other substantial inducements, nearly all of them were induced to settle on the Redwood Reserve, so that in 1862, at the time of the outbreak, less than twenty families of the Medawakantons and Wahpakootas were living off their reservation.

Wabasha County thus passed entirely from the hands of the Indians, and since that date but few have been seen in the county, though some few lived out long lives in the vicinity of Wabasha, became famous local characters, and here ended their days.

As already mentioned, the Prairie du Chien treat of 1830 set aside a "Half Breed Tract" in the following language:

"The Sioux bands in council have earnestly solicited that they might have permission to bestow upon the half-breeds of their nation the tract of land within the following limits, to wit: Beginning at the place called the Barn, below and near the village of the Red Wing chief, and running back fifteen miles; thence, in a parallel line with Lake Pepin and the Mississippi, about 32 miles, to a point opposite the river aforesaid; the United States agree to suffer said half-breeds to occupy said tract of country; they holding by the same title, and in the same manner that other Indian titles are held."

The boundary line of this tract, as indicted on modern maps, starts at Red Wing, extends southwest fifteen miles, turns southeast, enters Wabasha County in section 18, Town 110, Range 14 (Chester Township), and runs southwest through Chester township, Zumbro Falls village, Hyde Park, Oakwood and Plainview townships, to a point in the upper part of section 24, Town 108, Range 11 (Plainview Township); thence northwest through Plainview Township, Wabasha County, Whitewater Township, Winona County, and Watopa and Greenfield townships, Wabasha County, to a point on the Mississippi River in section 18, Town 110, Range 9 (Greenfield Township), the other boundary being the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin. It thus included in Wabasha County the entire townships of Mount Pleasant, Gilford, Lake, West Albany, Pepin, Glasgow, and Wabasha; and parts of the townships of Chester, Hyde Park, Oakwood, Plainview, Watopa and Greenfield. The townships not included, either in whole or a part, were Mazeppa, Zumbro, Elgin, and Minneiska. An exact drawing of the southeast boundary line, however, would place it about two miles farther northwest, as a point "opposite Boeuf River" would be in section 2, Greenfield Township, and it would thence extend southwest through that township, through the northwest corner of Watopa, the southeast corner of Highland, and into Plainview township to a point in the lower part of section 10.

This "Half-Breed Tract," the reservation of which was doubtless made through the influence of the Indian traders and those in their employ who had married Indian women, subsequently was the cause of much trouble which delayed the permanent settlement of the lands involved.

A provision was made in the treaty of August 5, 1851, arranging for the purchase of the tract by the Government for $150,000. This clause, however, was stricken out by the United States senate. Later a list of the half-breeds, mostly the children of the traders, was made out, and script issued entitling each to a certain number of acres, the location within the tract to be chosen by the holder.

When General Shields brought the script to Minnesota for distribution, a great portion of it passed into the hands of parents or guardians of children, and from them it passed into the hands of speculators.

About this time there were probably two hundred families of whites settled upon the agricultural portions of this tract, some in what is now Goodhue County and some in what is now Wabasha County. Some of these people had settled in the tract in ignorance of its limits, or of the fact that its status was different from that of the other government lands. Others knew of the provision of the 1851 treaty, purchasing the lands, without knowing the further fact that the clause had been rejected by the Senate; others were adventurous and were willing to take their chances even though they knew their settlement was illegal; other more cautious ones secured quit-claim deeds from individual half-breeds or permission from the Indian relatives of the half-breeds. These quit claims and these permissions were of course valueless, as the half-breeds had no right except that embodied in the script and could transfer such rights only by transferring the actual possession of the script. Nothing but this scrip would avail in filing on any portion of the land.

The actual settlers had naturally taken up the choicest portions, and in many cases had made somewhat extensive improvements. The soil had been broken, crops raised, and buildings and fences erected by people who were in reality only squatters without legal rights. When strangers who had purchased script from the speculators attempted to take up these improved claims and oust the squatters, the trouble began, and those who were actually in possession effected an organization and resorted to extreme measures to avoid being dispossessed. These actual settlers had the sympathy of all the surrounding population, but holders of the scrip had the legal advantage of the situation, and commenced to obtain titles to farms already improved. Red Wing, where the land office was located, at once became a scene of excitement. Meetings were held by the actual settlers and counsel taken as to methods of procedure. They assessed upon themselves a tax, and sent one man to Washington to demand justice, as they called it, in their behalf. They secured from the land office correct copies of plats of all the townships and fractional townships included with the tract, and every quarter-section upon which a settler had made improvements was definitely marked. Holders of scrip were publicly warned against filing upon such land. At a meeting of those interested in the cause of the settlers, which was held at the Kelly House in Red Wing, March 17, 1856, a vigilance committee of 21 members was chosen to prevent any more scrip being laid upon the land already occupied. This committee was empowered to demand that in every case where scrip had been laid on the land of actual settlers, said scrip should immediately be raised. The members of the committee were men of dauntless courage and muscular power, and devoted their whole time and energy to the work until it was accomplished. Two of them stood as sentinels at the land office armed with loaded revolvers, constantly watching every transaction therein, being relieved by another two at stated times. In the meanwhile the majority of the committee were acting as detectives, arresting and bringing to trial those who had offended, the trial not being before a court of justice, but before the committee. There was at that time no courthouse and no jail, and the lawyers knew that the scrip holders were acting within their legal rights. The holders, however, were threatened and intimidated by the committee and through fear compelled to raise the scrip, though there is no record of any personal injury being inflicted on anyone. That such would have been inflicted in case of continued resistance there is little doubt, as one man was led to a hole cut through the ice in the river, and given his choice either to raise his entry of scrip or be put through the hole, and though he was a man of strength and courage, he found it prudent to submit. There were other cases of the same kind. The excuse for these extreme measures was soon after removed by a decision from the land office at Washington, whereby those who had settled on a tract of this land and made improvements thereon, had the pre-emption and homestead rights the same as on other government lands. The same decision granted to the holders of half-breed scrip the privilege of laying the same upon any other Government land not previously claimed by an actual settler. All the vacant land on the half-breed tract was taken very soon after this decision, the situation near the river enhancing its value. The disadvantage of a few miles from market was considered a great drawback in those days, before the advent of railroads. Few or none of the mixed bloods ever cared to settle on the agricultural land thus set apart for them. Occasionally, a decade or two afterward, there was an echo of the half-breed affair, when some half-breed whose guardian has sold his (the half-breed's) scrip rights, would, upon attaining his majority, demand of the settler on the property that he, too, be paid. In most cases these demands were complied with, the farmers, whose lands had greatly enhanced in value, deeming it wiser to pay a small sum than to undergo the expense of a lawsuit. Thus passed the last vestige of Indian title to the rich valleys and plains of this county, which was once, and for countless generations, a camping and hunting ground of the red men.

The existence of this half-breed tract accounts in a measure for the present flourishing village of Plainview, as the village of Greenwood, which once bid fair to be the metropolis of southern Wabasha County, was within the tract, and titles for awhile were consequently uncertain.

End of Chapter