Kaposia Village Recollections
TALES OF THE DAYS WHEN ST. PAUL WAS NOTHING BUT AN INDIAN COMMUNITY (Larpenteur)
[Source: The St. Paul Globe, Sunday, May 22, 1904; transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman]
Not so long ago most everybody in St. Paul was an Indian -a genuine copper-colored pagan Sioux Indian. Auguste L. Larpenteur, the oldest male resident of this city, who is not an old man compared with the patriarchs of Eastern communities – Mr. Larpenteur, who is only eighty-one, looks to be no more than sixty-five, and has fewer wrinkles than many a man of fifty – this active, happy-hearted veteran said yesterday, at his picturesque home, Dale and Rondo streets:
“Why, when I arrived here Sept. 16, 1843, on the steamboat Otter, Capt. Harris, we were received at the foot of the hill which was going to be Jackson street, by practically all the inhabitants of St. Paul – 500 or 600 Sioux Indians, braves, squaws and papooses, wearing moccasins, blankets and breechclouts and complexion. That day the 500 were inhabiting St. Paul, but they usually formed a part of the much larger village of Kaposia down the river, where the stock yards are now located at South St. Paul. After we had struggled through this crowd of red folks, all extending their hands and remarking ‘How’ very pleasantly, we discovered some of the white inhabitants. There might have been a score of them all told.
“When the Indians would leave town St. Paul was such a lonely hamlet those days that almost any night we could hear the roar of the water at St. Anthony falls – now Minneapolis – ten miles up the river, and nearly always we could hear the evening gun fired out at old Fort Snelling.
“The Indians came from Kaposia, which was the headquarters of Big Thunder’s band, and contained about 1,500 people. Their chief, Wa-kin-yan-ton-ka, was the father of his successor. Little Crow, who was afterwards the leader of the Sioux outbreak of 1862 and was killed in 1863.
“Six years before I came here the Chippewas and Sioux had ceded to the government all their lands east of the Mississippi. But in 1843, and for some time later, all the land on the east bank, including, of, course, the site of St. Paul, was still government land, and the Indians ranged all over it, hunting, fishing and doing much as they pleased. So long as they let us alone we few whites had no desire to interfere with our red neighbors.
All Indian Land on West Side.
“But across the river the whole country, except the reservation around Fort Snelling, was still Indian land when I came here in 1843, and it remained Indian land for the next nine years. The Sioux lived there undisturbed at Kaposia. A few families of them were generally camped in tepees over on West Side bluffs overlooking what is now South Wabasha street. Between Kaposia and St. Paul and between St. Paul and the fort the Indians were constantly traveling back and forth in their canoes. Most of the time there was a lot of the Sioux staying on Raspberry and Harriet islands. Of course we had no bridge across the river then; our red friends went over in canoes, the squaws doing all the paddling. Athletics for ladies was quite the thing among the Indians.
“If anybody supposes that the Sioux in those days were half starved, miserable savages, he makes a great mistake. The Indians lived like kings. This whole country was full of game. You could get all the deer you wanted do farther away than Bald Eagle lake or the site of Little Canada. One year at least 10,000 deer skins were brought into St. Paul from a radius of twenty-five miles, and we didn’t notice that the supply was specially diminished.
“In summer the Kaposia villagers raised plenty of sweet corn and pumpkins. They had ducks to eat from March to June and from September to December. They had an unlimited amount of venison. They used to get plenty of muskrats and a good many coons. They ate a variety of wild fruits, and in the fall they reveled in cranberries and wild rice.
Indians Were Frugal.
“The Indians weren’t so improvident as most white people imagine. Wild rice was put away in sacks and kept for winter time. Whenever the braves had good luck hunting and killed lots of deer the surplus meat was cut into strips and hung up to dry. Then it was pounded into shreds till it looked like delicate fine-cut tobacco. Such dried meat was very good to eat, and it would keep a year or two. You could put a roll of it in your pocket when you went off on a journey and take out a bit and chew it from time to time during the day. No army has ever invented a finer ‘field ration’ than the Indians’ dried venison.
“But besides rice and dried meat the Kaposians ate fish and muskrat during the winter, which were both speared through the ice. Yes, bear meat was in season then as well as more fresh venison.
“Muskrat – you may think that unpleasant food, but it wasn’t. Why, a muskrat lives on nothing but roots; his flesh is just like rabbit, only better. I remember that when I was living on Third street, where the central police station is now – when I was living there in the little log house where my daughter Rosa, now Mrs. Harrison, was born in 1847, the first white child born here after St. Paul was surveyed – at that time an Indian had brought in a muskrat to trade for something, and, my wife had gone to visit a neighbor, I cooked the animal myself. When Mrs. Larpenteur returned she was very much annoyed. She thought that if we were going to have a delicacy for dinner I might at least have waited till she got home.
“But though the Indians had no trouble about food they didn’t rely upon their own resources for clothing. They used buckskin for moccasins and sometimes for leggings; nearly everything else they wore had a civilized origin.
How the Indian Dressed.
“A brave might have his moccasins on and his buckskin leggings, both moccasins and leggings trimmed with beads and porcupine quills; he might put feathers in his hair. But if the weather wasn’t very warm, his shirt would be made of calico, generally a gaudy pattern, he’d have short trousers of heavy woolen cloth, dark blue or gray, sometimes scarlet, and above all, he’d wrap around him his government blanket – a very thick, solid blanket, white, blue, gray or scarlet.
“In very cold weather he might have on both cloth and buckskin leggings, and he might use, instead of a blanket, a blanket overcoat, that is, a big coat made with sleeves, etc., from an old blanket, and having a hood that he could pull over his head when out of doors
“On the other hand, if the weather was hot Mr. Indian would leave off his shirt and substitute a cloth breechclout for his trousers. But he’d use his blanket still to protect him from the sun.
“A squaw wore a calico shirt waist, as we’d describe it now. The more gaudy the pattern the better she’d like it. She preferred those flowery effects we used to call the Dolly Varden a few years ago – l mean in the 70s. She also had on a fairly long skirt of blue, gray or scarlet cloth. This would come to her boot-tops, only she would wear buckskin moccasins instead of boots, and cloth leggings instead of openwork hosiery. For some reason the women never wore buckskin leggings at that time – perhaps they thought it looked too bold and mannish. In addition to what I’ve mentioned, the squaw would put on a blanket as a ‘wrap’ and a few beads by way of Jewelry.
“The little folks, being well trained like all Indian children, were taught that they should be seen and not heard. They wore no loud clothing. If the weather was warm, they wore none, or next to none; in cool weather they put on small blankets, leggings, etc., like their parents.
Promenades for Indians.
“You can imagine, then, that Third and Jackson streets looked decidedly gay back in the 40s, when crowds of Indians were strolling about shopping, singing or dancing, the braves each carrying his gun and his tomahawk pipe, his neatly painted countenance, and his tall head-feathers.
“Here is what Prederika Bremer, the Swedish authoress, said of St. Paul, and s he didn’t visit us till 1850:
” ‘The city is thronged with Indians. The men, for the most part, go about grandly ornamented, bearing naked hatchets, the shafts of which serve them as pipes. They paint themselves so utterly without taste that it is incredible.’
“When I said ‘dancing’ in the streets, I meant it; not dancing to hand organs like the New York children, but dancing to their own sweet voices. Almost any day, as I was working in my store at the northwest corner of Third and Jackson streets, where the Hale block is now, I would hear a chorus burst forth outside –
“Ow, ow, Wam-duska! Wam-duska!
Ow, ow, o-o-oow, Wam-dus-ka!”
“I’d go to the door and see several hundred braves arranged in double lines around the corner, jumping up and down nervously and chanting, rather than singing, in tones that shifted abruptly back and forth between low baritone and high tenor. The chorus was calling on ‘Wam-duska,’ that is. ‘The Serpent,’ and The Serpent’ meant me.
“Soon after I came here ‘Old Peg-leg Jim,’ who lost a leg in a fight with the Chippewas, was asking Henry Jackson, in whose store I was employed, about me. By way of explaining something – l don’t know exactly what – Jackson ran his finger in a waved line across the counter. Old Jim jumped at the suggestion. ‘Oh,’ he said, as if my card had just been presented to him, ‘Wam-dus-ka!’ and before many years I was known as The Serpent throughout all the Indian tribes from the Great Lakes to the Rocky mountains.
“So when I come out before my friends in front of the store I would look pleased, say ‘Ho!’ go back and mix up a bucketful of water and brown sugar, take that out, also a tin cup, and invite everybody to drink. The old braves, ‘the elder statesmen,’ as the Japanese call them, would also be invited to take a plug of tobacco, and I would probably present a few plugs to some of the more distinguished ladies of the party by way of keeping up my social status. My guests would all drink the ‘eau sucree’ like so many Parisian dudes, the prominent people would each bite a corner off their plugs, everybody, Including myself, would smile, and the reception would come to a brilliant close.
“My red friends wouldn’t forget my courtesy. The next time I went out hunting with them, and I spent some months in each of twenty-five years at their hunting camps, I was treated to the very best they had. One night, I recall, I ate part of nine different feasts. A number of hunting parties were camped out near Forest Lake, beyond White Bear, game had been plentiful, and the host at every dinner party thought Wam-dus-ka necessary to finish off the function.
“I would like to say here that the Indians were by no means as bad as they were said to be. You hear frightful stories of their devotion to firewater, but there were no more drunkards among the Indians at that time than there were among the white men. Instead of Indians being universally thieves, as they are sometimes called – well, let me tell my experience.
“As often as I lived at their camps, year after year, I always carried with me a lot of merchandise to trade with – powder and lead, and cloth and beads and knives – everything, in fact that an Indian wanted. It was like taking part of Wanamaker’s best goods out to a country village. These things I’d keep in a trunk or box, but the trunk was never locked. It was often open. The goods lay around a corner of the tepee that had been assigned to me. Every one passed in and out of the tepee. The papooses played all over the place, and during the day I would be off hunting with the men. But I never lost one dollar’s worth of goods. Those poor red women were as fond of finery as their white sisters, but ‘kleptomania’ wasn’t fashionable at Kaposia.
Not Subject to Kleptomania.
The Indians weren’t saints, but if they hadn’t been robbed and ill-treated from the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, there would have been very few Indian outrages, perhaps no massacres. The Minnesota massacre of 1862 was a direct result of the Indians being deprived of their annuities and supplies in violation of treaties. So long as the Indian agents were controlled by the war department we never had trouble with the red men. But after the department of the interior got control of Indian affairs and the agencies became the reward of broken-down politicians the Indians were systematically robbed and maltreated.
“Here’s a case of the Indian’s regard for his word: Some years after I came here a boy found a dead Winnebago lying out on the edge of town. Sheriff Lull and the coroner discovered that the man had been stabbed. The sheriff hunted up some other Winnebagos and spoke to She-en-u-zhee-kaw, or Standing Lodge. He said at once, ‘I killed him.’ The dead man had done something or other – l don’t know what – contrary to the Indian code or law, and Standing Lodge was selected to kill the offender.
Kept His Word.
Lodge was placed under arrest but was not imprisoned. The jail hadn’t been finished. He made no effort to get away. As the grand Jury wouldn’t meet for a month Lodge was told that he could go, but he must come back in a certain number of days. He cut that many notches on a stick, went off and came back in time. He waited around and complained because he wasn’t tried promptly. An indictment was found against him, but the trial was continued. Standing Lodge showed up voluntarily at a second term of court, but the case was finally dismissed. Standing Lodge shook hands with everybody, folded his blanket around him, and walked off.
“Of course, the Indians had their unpleasant side, especially in warfare. Ten years after I came to St. Paul I saw an Indian raid take place a few rods from my store and just across Third street from the log cabin called the St. Paul House, afterwards replaced by the present Merchants hotel. The Chippewas, or Ojibways, had killed a Sioux near Shakopee. Then the Sioux braves went over to St. Croix Falls and killed a Chippewa, but lost two brothers of the future chief Little Crow. In revenge a young Chippewa chief called A-luc-en-zis led a party of eighteen warriors over from St. Croix to St. Paul to waylay some of the Kaposia Sioux as they were about to land here at the foot of Jackson street.
“The Indians scouted along the edge of the bank where Sixth street runs now, down above the gas house, and detected a canoe corning up river.
“It contained only one man and two women, but women have all the privileges of men in Indian warfare. One of the women was Old Bets, a famous character around St. Paul, the other woman was her sister. The man was their brother, ‘Old Peg-legged Jim,’ that I’ve spoken of already.
Old Bets in the Canoe.
“The Chippewas hurried down towards Jackson street. But the marsh then between. Fifth street and the river was overflowed and the war party had to run up over Baptist hill, which stood near Sixth and Wacouta streets. So when they arrived opposite the St. Paul house Old Bets and her party were just going into the door of the ‘Minnesota Outfit,’ the headquarters of the American Fur company, a large frame building on the present site of Prince’s block, just across Third street from the St. Paul house. “I was standing outside of my store on the corner diagonally across from the Outfit. I was opening some boxes of crockery just received by boat from St. Louis. I held the plates in my hand. I saw the party of Chippewas coming around the further side of the St. Paul house. They were crouching over, moving slowly, and holding their guns cocked but half-hidden beneath their blankets.
“I had hardly caught sight of them and dropped my plates when all the eighteen men leveled their guns at the Third street door of the Outfit and fired. I heard a scream. The Chippewas ran across the street and into the door, then out again. The whole party ran off toward the Baptist hill, giving a few war whoops or scalp-haloos as they disappeared.
“They had been met at the door of the Outfit by Theodore Borup, who died here the other day. He said to them in Chippewa that they had killed a white man. This frightened them. As a matter of fact they had shot in the back Old Bets’ sister, a harmless old squaw that everybody liked. I got through the door just in time to catch her in my arms as she was about to faint. She said to me in Sioux, ‘See, Wau-dus-ka, I die.’ After she revived she wanted to go home in her canoe. They took her down to Kamposia and she died that same morning.
Old Jim had rushed out of doors and fired a pistol and then a gun at the Chippewas without hitting them. They turned and let go a volley that knocked a piece off his wooden leg.
“Gov. Ramsey sent a messenger to the fort and a Lieut. Magruder, with a detachment of cavalry, hurried off after the Chippewas. He followed them clear to St. Croix Falls and killed one of them with his revolver. The dead Chippewa’s scalp was brought back to St. Paul, but the rest of the raiders got away.”
William Pitt Murray, the pioneer attorney, who came to St. Paul six years after Mr. Larpenteur, agrees with that gentleman as to the character of the Minnesota Indians. “They were all right,” said Mr. Murray yesterday, “so long as they were treated right. If they hadn’t been outrageously imposed upon, robbed and starved, the Sioux outbreak of 1862 would never have happened.”
Mr. Murray recalled with pleasure Hole-in-the-Day, the famous Chippewa chief who prevented his tribe from joining in the outbreak. “He was a very brave man,” said Mr. Murray. “The year after I arrived he came down the river with one or two companions, crossed over to West St. Paul and attacked a small party of Sioux within a few rods of a big band of that tribe. He killed and scalped one of the Sioux and got away unharmed. In twenty-four hours he had traveled eighty miles to execute his raid.
Old Bets a Favorite.
Old Bets, according to Mr. Murray, was a favorite among the early St. Paulites. She spent most of her time begging from house to house. She was presumed to be more than 100 years old, but people that knew her best said she wasn’t ninety when she died in 1873 near Mendota, where she was born. Her name was Aza-ya-man-kawan, or The Berry Picker. One of her sons. Ta-opi, or Wounded Man, was a convert to Christianity and a special favorite of the late Bishop Whipple. After Ta-opi’s death his biography was published by the bishop. Ta-opi was so called because he was wounded in a pitched battle, fought in 1842, at Pine Coolie, close to Pig’s Eye, near Kaposia. About twenty Sioux were killed and ten Chippewas.
The Indian history of St. Paul became less interesting after the ratification in 1852 of the Sioux treaty, by which the Sioux surrendered their lands west of the Mississippi. No longer did the St. Paul newspapers publish such items as that which appeared in the Democrat of May 27, 1851:
“Our citizens were visited on Tuesday last by a company of twenty or more juvenile Sioux, who danced the ‘beggar-dance’ in different parts of town. The young redskins, from five to eighteen years of age, presented a grotesque appearance. They were naked and painted.”
“But the ratification of the Sioux treaty, announced in St. Paul June 26, 1852, aroused a typical rejoicing.
“I was a boy here then,” said J. B. Fanning, of 462 Fuller street. “Bonfires were lighted on the bluffs and a steer was turned loose to please the Indians at Tenth and Cedar streets, where the first state capitol had just been built. The Indians shot the steer full of arrows, and after he had raced around that part of town for a while, followed by us boys, the town marshal ordered somebody to kill the poor beast with a rifle. Then the Indians cut up the meat and held a glorious barbecue to celebrate the fact that their people had lost possession of about 21,000,000 acres of the finest land in America.”
– – 1842 – – Recollections of Augustin Ravoux (Ravoux)
During the spring of 1842, while standing at the foot of the hill, near the log church of Mendota, I saw several Sioux Indians carrying their guns, and running as fast as possible. “Toki da?” “Whither dost thou go?” said I to one of them, who was not only running very fast, but jumping about like a deer. “Raraton Dakota ktepi.” (Raraton the Chippewas, Dakota the Sioux, ktepi kill.) The Chippewas are killing the Sioux,” was his reply, and he did not stop.
A little later I was told that the Chippewa warriors had come in great number near Little Crow’s village, and had killed several Sioux, and that the fight was not yet over. I learned also that all the Indians of the village were in danger of being massacred, because almost all the men were intoxicated, or under the influence of liquor. Some messengers, however, had been sent to Black Dog village, and to other places farther up along the St. Peter river (Now the Minnesota river), to let them know the sad state of affairs at Kaposia. Such news electrified the Sioux and they ran immediately to the place of slaughter to repulse the common enemy, or to die with their friends and relations.
They were indeed aroused by a noble sentiment – sentiment which God has implanted in the heart of man towards his people, his friends and relations, and which will never be extinguished, except, perhaps, in the heart of the brute, who says: “There is no God.”
The situation of the poor Indians at Kaposia saddened me very much, and brought into my mind my sacerdotal obligations. Several men, women and children, unbaptized, are now perhaps dying at Little Crow’s village; thither I must go,” I said to myself; “if I would baptize only one child before his death my trouble would be well rewarded.” I had no horse, but I could then walk seven or eight miles without any difficulty. I took information about the road to Kaposia and started. I went on one mile, when I saw before me two roads, and I took the wrong one. I came down the hill and proceeded along the Mississippi towards St. Paul, until perceiving my mistake, I returned to the place of the two roads, and this time went right.
The sun was setting when I reached Little Crow’s village, where I heard great lamentations and mourning. Many beloved ones had been killed, some others had been wounded, and were in danger of death. Parents, relatives and friends wept bitterly, and made the air resound with these words: “My son is dead!” “My brother is dead!” etc., and repeated the same again and again. Their hearts bleeding with grief and sorrow made them cry in the most lamentable and pitiful manner; and they refused to be comforted, because many beloved ones were no more. Kaposia was then like Rama after the massacre of the children ordered by Herod, and executed by his cruel soldiers. “A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” – Matthew, ii., 18. And Jeremias, xxxi., 15: “A voice was heard on high of lamentation of mourning and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are not.”
I visited the wounded, but as I could not explain well in their language the principal doctrines of our holy faith I had to procure an interpreter. I crossed in a canoe to the opposite side of the Mississippi, where I got my interpreter, a half-breed Sioux, and went back to Kaposia with him. We visited the wounded, instructed them in our holy faith, as much as circumstances permitted, and baptized two of them. At half-past 10 o’clock my interpreter wished to go home, and invited me to leave the village with him, telling me that it was dangerous for me to pass the night there, I refused to comply with his request, fearing that some of the wounded might die during the night, and I desired to be present in order to help them to make a good preparation for death. He went home, and I spent the night in the village, where lamentation and mourning had no end.
In the morning, before I left Kaposia, I saw a few Indians mutilating the corpse of a Chippewa warrior. That scene inspired me with horror, and I went to another place. On the same day, across the river at Pig’s Eye, I saw the body of a Sioux woman who had been killed in the garden of F. Gamelle, her husband. A small piece of her scalp had been cut off and carried away by the Chippewas.
Little Crow, the chief of the village, lost three sons, and a fourth one, being wounded, was in danger of death. He became enraged against the few families that lived at Pig’s Eye, almost opposite Kaposia. He complained that they had given no information to the Sioux of the arrival of the Chippewa warriors, though they could have done it, and prevented the disaster he had suffered. It was, no doubt, an error, but, exasperated by his misfortune, and being under such an impression, he gave orders to destroy all these families the following day, in the morning; so I was told. Whether it was a fact or a rumor only, all these families, except a half-breed family fled away and came to the Mississippi island, crossed by the Wabasha street bridge, to save their lives. The few families then living at St. Paul took also refuge in the same island. During the night Isaac Labissonniere went to Fort Snelling to ask prompt assistance in order to prevent the massacre of some fifteen families encamped on the island. Troops were sent down the river without delay in a barge. Order and confidence were re-established.
I visited several times Little Crow’s village from Mendota before starting with the Frenieres for Lake Traverse, where I spent some days in the fall of 1842.
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