A Dakota invitation to come to Coldwater Spring in 1820

Although the National Park Service’s final EIS for the Coldwater/Bureau of Mines property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, contains the statement that “no historical documentation of American Indian use of Camp Coldwater Spring has been found,” (repeated five times in the final EIS, beginning on page 72), there is actually ample evidence of the presence of Dakota, Ojibwe, and other Native people at Coldwater Spring. One example is a birch-bark scroll sent by Dakota leaders to invite their Ojibwe counterparts to meet with them to make peace at “Cold Spring” in the summer of 1820. The scroll is part of a detailed history of such diplomacy at Coldwater Spring.

Although it is not known if the original birch-bark message has survived, Henry Schoolcraft included an engraving based on it in his six-volume compendium Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. According to Schoolcraft the original birch-bark message was left near the mouth of the Sauk River (in between present-day Minneapolis and St. Cloud), a place bordering Ojibwe country, where it was expected Ojibwe leaders would be able to find it. Schoolcraft, who visited the area with the expedition of Michigian territorial governor Lewis Cass, described this message and later took it back with him to Washington. After seeing the message, Schoolcraft and company continued on down the river to Coldwater Spring.

Inter-tribal diplomacy between Dakota and Ojibwe is one of the biggest untold stories of early Minnesota history, particularly as it relates to Coldwater Spring. In the years that following the events of 1820, Coldwater Spring was the habitual camping place of the Ojibwe who came to visit Fort Snelling, the Indian agency, and the nearby Dakota communities. Ojibwe and Dakota traded, danced, and participated in ceremonies there for many years. It is likely that the site was also used for this purpose prior to the arrival of the Americans. Dakota-Ojibwe diplomacy was recorded long before the creation of Fort Snelling. Although the Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro liked to take credit for the diplomacy, in many cases the impetus for it came from the Native leaders themselves, particularly those who had mixed Dakota-Ojibwe ancestry through intermarriage that had been going on for hundreds of years. For Native leaders Taliaferro provided an important intermediary to continue efforts their people had been carrying out for generations.

Agent Taliaferro’s first effort at diplomacy occurred at Coldwater Spring in the summer of 1820, when the military encampment switched from Cantonment New Hope to Coldwater Spring. Taliaferro arrived at St. Peters early that summer and may have encouraged the Dakota who sent the invitation to come to Coldwater Spring. In his journal Taliaferro did not record a narrative of what occurred that summer, but he did leave a record of presents given to Dakota leaders starting in June 1820.

C11 FS pictograph adjusted 5 copy 300x186 A Dakota invitation to come to Coldwater Spring in 1820The invitation sent by the Dakota leaders shows the extent to which they themselves were instrumental in bringing about the diplomacy. Along with the engraving in his multi-volume work, Schoolcraft gave a written explanation of what the figures on it meant.

The scroll containing this inscription . . . as obtained above St. Anthony’s Falls, on a public expedition. . . . It consisted of white birch bark, and the figures have been carefully drawn. Number 1 [at top left], denotes the flag of the union;–Number 2, the cantonment, then recently established at Cold Spring on the western side of the cliffs, above the influx of the St. Peters [Mdote or Bdote]. Number 4 [the figure holding the sword and wearing a hat] is the symbol of the commanding officer, (Colonel H. Leavenworth,) under whose authority a mission of peace had been sent into the Chippewa country. Number 1 is the symbol of Chakope, or the Six, the leading Sioux chief [wearing what looks like a round peace medal], under whose orders the party moved. Number 8 is the second chief called Wamade-tunka, or the Black Eagle. The symbol of his name is number 10 [that is, the figure on the far right at bottom, a black dog, which means this is a reference to the chief of Black Dog’s Village, the closest village on the Minnesota River above Fort Snelling]. He has 14 lodges. Captain Douglas, who had begun the study of this ‘bark-letter,’ as it was called thought this symbol denoted his descent from Chakope. Number 7 is a chief, subordinate to Chakope, with 13 lodges, and a bale of goods (Number 9), which was devoted, by the public, to the objects of the peace. The name of Number 6, whose wigwam is Number 5, with 13 subordinate lodges, was not given. The frame, or crossed poles of the entire 50 lodges composing this party, had been left standing on the high, open prairie on the west bank of the Mississippi above Sauk River, and immediately opposite the point of Hornblende Rocks, which results from the figure-alphabet being precisely the same in both [Dakota and Ojibwe].

As a result of this effort preliminary meetings occurred between the Dakota and Ojibwe at Coldwater Spring in the summer of 1820. Henry Schoolcraft noted on August 1, that “a treaty of peace was this day concluded in the presence of Governor Cass, Colonel Leavenworth, Mr. Tallifierro, the Indian agent at St. Peter’s, and a number of the officers of the garrison.” In his account Schoolcraft makes clear that the garrison of soldiers who had come to the area in the fall of 1819 and had spent the winter on the river bank at the mouth of the Minnesota had moved to Coldwater Spring in the the spring of 1820, to avoid floods. On July 31, 1820, James Duane Doty, future governor of Wisconsin Territory, who had accompanied the Cass expedition, noted in his own diary:

Early in the Spring [of 1820] Col. Leavenworth discovered the fountain of water where the troops now are, & to which they moved as soon as the ice would permit. It is a healthy situation, about 200 feet above the river, and the water gushing out of a lime stone rock is excellent. It is called “Camp Cold Water.”

Records of peace ceremonies between Dakota and Ojibwe, such as the one that occurred in 1820 at Coldwater Spring, abound in historical and ethnographic sources. The anthropologist Ruth Landes in her work on the Prairie Island Dakota (1968: 85-86), records a traditional account of a peace ceremony said to have occurred between the Dakota and Ojibwe or as she spells the name, the Ojibwa. The story says that the Dakota chief was named Shakopee and had a village in an area near the Ford Factory in St. Paul and near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, a place that would have been close to Coldwater. But the story also says that the event took place at Shakopee, which may be the result of confusion in translation or in remembering the tradition. In fact the story recalls many ceremonies that occurred near Fort Snelling and at Coldwater.

The story told that an Ojibwa chief had sent word that “his people were coming to make peace with the Sioux.” The Dakota chief gathered all his villages to meet the Ojibwe. The people came from the east and west.

Some Ojibwa arrived in the advance of the chief; four came with their chief; next day the whole body of Ojibwa arrived and camped at a distance from the Sioux, totaling about 150 men, women, and children. The chief and his companions stayed with the Sioux until the other Ojibwa arrived; then the chief and his men returned to their people. The Ojibwa chief with some chosen men walked forward in a line parallel to the Sioux encampment. The Sioux chief likewise advanced to the Ojibwa. The Sioux lit his redstone pipe [carved starkly and decorated with dyed braids of porcupine quill and downy feathers] and handed it to the Ojibwa chief for a puff. The latter handed his pipe equally choice in style and finish, to the Sioux, inviting him to puff. Each man received back his own pipe after pointing that of the friendly enemy to the six directions. The Ojibwa chief gave his pipe to the Sioux guards facing his camp in a parallel line; and the Sioux chief reciprocated with the Ojibwa guards. Each chief, having returned to his own men, shook hands with the other, saying that they would never war against each other.

Afterwards there was a feast, dancing and other celebrations, lasting through the night. “Everyone was happy when peace was restored. Landes noted that even in 1935 the Dakota and Ojibwe still talked of being enemies, yet “these people made peace, probably as often as they made war.”

Frances Densmore, in her work Chippewa Music, published in 1910 and 1913 provided additional information of these kinds of peace events, from the Ojibwe point of view (Densmore 1973, 2: 126-29). An Ojibwe war leader whose name was the same as his tribe sang her a song that would be sung at a peace treaty between the Dakota and Ojibwe, an event “attended with much ceremony.” This song was sung by both tribes using the same melody but with different words. In it the members of each tribe would sing the praises of the leaders of the other tribe. The Ojibwe version praised Little Crow, Little Six, and Wabasha, in succession. The Dakota would have sung the same song praising Ojibwe leaders such as Hole in the Day and others. After the song the two groups would share a pipe ceremony, dances, and the exchange of presents, exactly the kinds of events that took place at Fort Snelling in the 1820s and 1830s

Many written documents record the interactions between the Dakota and Ojibwe at Coldwater Spring. It is also recorded in the Ojibwe oral tradition. Eddie Benton-Benai stated in his testimony at a hearing in 1999, relating to the Native American claim to the Coldwater area. At that hearing Benai stated, according to a rough transcript (Minnesota Department of Transportation 1999):

Through our oral traditions, our history, recent and older, we know that the falls which . . . came to be known as Minnehaha Falls, that there was a sacred place, . . . a neutral place for many nations to come, and that further geographically define the confluence of the three rivers, which is actually the two rivers, that that point likewise was a neutral place. And that somewhere between that point and the falls, there were sacred grounds that were mutually held to be a sacred place. And that the spring from which the sacred water should be drawn was not very far, and I’ve never heard any direction from which I could pinpoint, but there’s a spring near the [Midewiwin or medicine] lodge that all nations used to draw the sacred water for the ceremonies.

Now that’s in the words of our people of the [Midewiwin] lodge. And the people that are concerned or the people that are identified there are the Dakota, the Sac, the Fox, the Potawatomi, the Wahpeton Dakotas, the Mdewakanton Dakotas, the Meskwaki people as all having used and recognizing and mutually agreeing that that is forever a neutral place and forever a sacred place. That is confirmed in our oral history. And it is difficult even to estimate when the last sacred ceremony was held inter-tribally, but my grandfather who lived to be 108 died in 1942, and I will tell you this, that many times he re-told how we traveled, he and his family, he as a small boy traveled by foot, by horse, by canoe to this great place to where there would be these great religious spiritual events, and that they always camped between the falls and the sacred water place. Those are his words. . . .

Within my physical memory, visiting the Prairie Island Dakota Nation as early as the 1940s, there were still elders in that community in the 1940s who were still members of the Midewiwin Lodge along with the Winnebago of Wisconsin. And my memory serves me to say that there was a great dialogue among our people and those of the Prairie Island Community regarding the lodge, and that’s how we have always known this way of life and practice as the lodge, but meaning the Midewiwin Lodge as a system of belief. . . . The Honorable Amos Owens . . . is the last person of that community I ever heard talk about that mutually sacred place, meaning the falls and the spring from which sacred water is drawn, Coldwater.

The information presented here about the Native history of Coldwater Spring is only a sampling of a history ignored in the National Park Service Coldwater/ Bureau of Mines EIS. For the history that is included the final EIS relies on a 2002 study done for the Park Service which includes the following statement:

In a book published in 1835, Charles Joseph Latrobe stated that “lodges of the Sioux and the Chippewas encamped near the Reservation, or near the trading houses.” These would have been temporary visits, if only because the Dakota and the Chippewa were enemies unlikely to reside near one another except for brief visits to traders, the Indian Agency, or the fort.

The 1820 invitation by the Dakota for the Ojibwe to come make peace with them, along with all the other evidence not included in the final EIS, make clear the inaccuracy of this statement, and of the Park Service’s account of the Native connections to Coldwater Spring.


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