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Dakota life

Three natives in a canoe gathering rice.
Indian Village on the Mississippi near Fort Snelling, 1848, by Seth Eastman. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Many Dakotas consider the Minnesota River Valley to be their spiritual home. The Dakota Indians were the last group of native peoples to live in the valley near the site. Starting in the mid-1600s, they migrated here in successive waves from the north, forcing out the Iowa and Oto peoples who had lived here before them. The Dakotas were drawn to the area to secure their territory of influence against the westward pressing Ojibwe (Anishinabe) and to establish more direct trade with the French and British fur traders.

Chief Cloud Man’s band lived during the period 1839-1853 in terraces along Long Meadow Lake. Chief Black Dog’s village of approximately 600 people was located downriver on the south side of the valley in today’s River Hills area of Burnsville.

Penasha’s Village, the largest of the Dakota villages in this area, was located at the mouth of the Stream of He Who Fears Nothing (today’s Nine Mile Creek), which flowed into the Minnesota River near today’s I-35W bridge. In 1780 this village had over 400 lodges and approximately 1,800-2,000 people. Further upriver were the villages of Eagle Head (present-day Savage), Shakpe (Shakopee) and Mazomani (Carver Rapids).

Map of villages of the lower Minnesota River Valley 1834-1853.
If you look over the river valley from the Pond-Dakota Mission Park, you would be facing south. The Dakota villages along the south banks of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers included Little Crow, Black Dog, Eagle Head, Shakpe and Mazomani. Cloudman, who relocated to the Oak Grove Mission (Bloomington) area in fall 1839, and Pinesha were on the north side of the river valley.

A river valley home

Two natives hunting with spears in winter.
Hunters Spearing Muskrats by Seth Eastman ca. 1850.
Courtesy Afton Historical Society.

The wide valley was an oak savannah abounding in animals for hunting and trapping, including deer, elk, wolf, beaver, muskrat and even bison. Many natural springs flowed out of the rock formations. Women raised crops using digging sticks to plant corn, beans, squash and other crops. They harvested wild rice in some of the shallow flood-plain lakes. In the spring, they tapped maple and birch trees for sugar and medicines. The valley was a great source of building materials, from cedar and basswood trees used to shape dugout canoes and snowshoes to elm and willow trees that supplied bark for their summer lodges.

Sheep standing
Indian Village on the Mississippi near Fort Snelling, 1848, by Seth Eastman. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

During the fall and winter months, the Dakotas lived in tipis sheltered by the bluffs of the valley. They traveled with these tipis out on their annual deer hunt, ranging as far north as the Rum and upper St. Croix Rivers. In the summer, they moved to bark lodges on top of the bluffs to escape the heat and mosquitoes down on the valley floor. It was here on the high, sacred places that they buried their dead on scaffolds.

During the period of the Pond’s Oak Grove Mission (1843-1852), a small number of Dakota attended the mission school and worship services that were conducted by Gideon and Samuel Pond in the Dakota language. However, many Dakota were reluctant to give up their native spiritual beliefs and viewed Christianity as a religion for the white people.

Sheep standing
Ball Play of the Dahcota Indians, 1850, by Seth Eastman.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Following the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota (1851) and in the aftermath of the U.S. - Dakota War (1862-1863), most of the Dakota were removed from this area and banished from Minnesota. They were forced to live on reservations, scattered throughout the Dakotas and Nebraska. Others fled to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The U.S. Government and later some Christian denominations tried to force the Dakota to assimilate through boarding schools that prohibited them from speaking their native language or practicing their native spiritual beliefs and customs. However, some Dakota people continued to live in this Oak Grove area until the 1890s, protected by Gideon Pond and his descendants.

For more information, contact:

Mark Morrison, Recreation Supervisor
PH: 952-563-8693, TTY: 952-563-8740, FAX: 952-563-8715

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