The name of Wabasha rightfully belonged to this locality. Its alienation was not from premeditated design. Before Wabasha prairie was settled, or even a white settler had located in what is now Winona county, the settlement on the "half-breed tract" was called Wabasha. The first post-office along the river was established there and given the name of Wabasha post-office, although it was for a while at Reed's Landing. It having been thus appropriated, but little effort was ever made to reclaim it. But few of the settlers cared about preserving or adopting it in a second-hand condition.
When keelboats and steamboats took the place of the canoes and batteaux in the navigation of the river, the names conferred on localities by the Dakotas and French were quite generally dropped, and less expressive ones usually substituted. Where Dakota or French names have been retained in this state, they have in very many instances been so modified by "Yankee improvements" that it is difficult to trace their derivation.
In this county no distinctive name of locality or landmark given by the French has been retained. Neither is there a single instance where the name given by the Dakotas to mountain or stream, hill, valley or prairie, has been preserved and is now in use by the whites. Nothing designated by the Sioux, the immediate predecessors of the present generation, is now known by its Dakota name.
It is not so much a matter of surprise that Indian names have not been retained, or that they are now unknown to the present inhabitants of the county, if the abruptness of the change of occupants is taken into consideration. When the Sioux relinquished possession of their lands here they at once left this vicinity. The white settlers found the country without a population. The two races were strangers ~ unknown to each other; no association or intercourse ever existed between them.
There are two or three instances where the English interpretation has been substituted for the original Dakota. White Water is the name of a river which runs through the northern part of the county. It is the translation of the Dakota "Minne-ska," signifying "White Water." The village at the mouth of that stream in Wabasha county is called Minneiska. The name of Rolling Stone is another instance. This is an interpretation of the name given by the Dakotas to the Rolling Stone Creek, "Eyan-omen-man-met-pah," the literal translation of which is "the stream where the stone rolls." Its true signification is not known. It was called by the French traders of more modern times "Roche que le Boule." These names were obtained from O. M. Lord, who acquired them from Gen. Sibley.
Wabasha and the most of his people left their homes on the Mississippi in 1852. Nothing marks the localities in this county as evidence of where, for so many generations, their race once lived. Even the old and deeply worn trails, over which they filed away toward the setting sun, are now, like the wakes of their canoes, obliterated and unknown. Some "old settlers" may perhaps from memory be able to point out the general course of these trails, over which they explored the country in their "claim hunting" excursions, and on which they were accustomed to traverse the country until the plow and fences of improvements debarred further use of them.
The Sioux were, by the conditions of the treaty, transferred to a reservation on the head-waters of the Minnesota river. Here they were taught and encouraged to adopt a new system of life and become an agricultural people. It was supposed that some progress was made toward civilization, but, as in many similar philanthropic efforts, the ultimate results proved a failure. The Sioux massacre of 1862 originated with the bands of Wabasha's division, which had given the most encouraging prospects of their becoming "good Indians." The first outrages were perpetrated by some of Shakapee's band. A war party was at once organized with the bands of Gray Iron, Little Crow and detachments from other divisions. The band of Wabasha and the Red Wing band were compelled to participate in the proceedings, and the whole Dakota nation was soon involved in the affair.
This chapter would perhaps be considered incomplete without mention of one of the chiefs of Wabasha's band who was more generally known to the early settlers of Winona county than any other of the Indians who originally claimed this part of the country. The most of the "old settlers" probably remember "Old To-ma-ha," the old one-eyed Sioux, who kept up his rounds of visitations to the settlements until about the time of his death, which occurred in 1860 at about one hundred years of age. When on his customary visits among the whites he was usually accompanied by a party of his own descendants and family relatives ~ from ten to twenty in number. His figure was erect and movements active, notwithstanding his advanced age. His dress on these occasions was a much worn military coat and pantaloons of blue cloth trimmed with red, and an old stove-pipe hat with the same color displayed. He always carried with him a large package of papers inclosed in a leather or skin pocket-book, and also a large silver medal, which he wore suspended from his neck in a conspicuous place on his breast. His large red pipe-stone hatchet pipe, with a long handle, was generally in his hands. It was his usual custom to attract attention by his presence and then allow the curious to examine his pipe and medal, when, if there appeared to be a prospect of getting money for the exhibition, he would produce his pocket-book and allow an examination of its contents, for which privilege he expected, and usually received, at least a dime, and perhaps from the more liberal a quarter of a dollar. This Indian was a historical character. His pocket-book contained his commission as a chief of the Sioux nation, given him by Governor Clark, of Missouri territory, in 1814, who at the same time presented him with a captain's uniform and a medal for meritorious services rendered the government as a scout and messenger. His papers contained testimonials and recommendations from prominent government officials and other persons. Mention is made of him in the reports of officials who had jurisdiction in the northwest territories, one by Lieut. Pike, who was sent by the government of the United States in 1805 to explore the northern part of the "Louisiana purchase," then recently acquired, and to make treaties with the Dakotas. In 1812, when the Sioux joined the English in the war with the United States, Omaha went to St. Louis and gave his services to fight against the British forces. He had the confidence of the military officers, and in all of the frontier difficulties on the upper Mississippi, where fighting was done, he was employed as scout and messenger. When his services were no longer required by government he returned to his Dakota home.
When the Sioux left this vicinity and went to their reservation on the Minnesota river, Tomaha remained to die in the locality where he was born and where he spent his youth. He sometimes visited his friends on the reservation, but never made it his home.