Women of Coldwater–Native people at the spring

Many Native people lived at Coldwater Spring in the 1820s and 1830s. They were important members of the community there. Here are their names: Marguerite Bonga, Marie-Marguerite Hamelin, Suzanne Grant, Sarah Marie Graham, Marie Finley, Marie Frances Boucher, and a woman named Stitt, whose first name is not known. The fact that they are not usually mentioned as Native inhabitants of the area around Fort Snelling during that period has to do with the fact that they were women and that they were often categorized by the ancestry and the ethnicity of their European-American husbands, fathers, or grandfathers, rather than that of their sisters, mothers or grandmothers. Yet their Native ancestry was a key factor in their history and the history of the place called Coldwater.

Coldwater Spring, located on the Bureau of Bureau of Mines Twin Cities campus property in Hennepin County, Minnesota, is according to Dakota elder Gary Cavender,  the site of the Dakota “creation myth (or “Garden of Eden”) and the beginning of Indian existence on Earth.” He added: “Our underwater God “Unktehi” lives in the Spring.” Non-native Minnesotans have also claimed Coldwater Spring as  “the birthplace of Minnesota.” The Native and non-Native histories of  Coldwater Spring are drawn together by the story of the women who lived there.

Like much of the area around Fort Snelling in the 1830s, the Camp Coldwater settlement contained a rich mixture of whites and Indian people, intermarrying and living peacefully together. Writing in 1838, a missionary who was seeking to build a mission house and school on the Fort Snelling reservation said that some of the inhabitants of Camp Coldwater were former employees of the traders Benjamin F. Baker and Henry H. Sibley who had married Dakota and Ojibwe women. He wrote:

These men wished for & obtained leave from the commanding officers at different times to build houses for their families, on the reservation, & near the trading houses while they were out in the employ of the traders. Subsequently some of these men left the service of the traders . . . & became farmers & mechanics.

Living at Camp Coldwater, Mendota and other scattered areas, he noted, were now “some 4 or 500 souls, the children of whom, or at least most of them, speak Sioux, Chippewa, French & English.”

Information about the people of Coldwater and the locations where they lived is found in a map drawn by Lieutenant E.K. Smith, who was given the job in 1837 to draw a map giving the location of settlers living throughout the Fort Snelling military reservation. Although the map has been mentioned for many years as a resource for information about possible archaeological sites within the Coldwater area, only recently has the National Park Service acknowledged that the map could help guide further interpretation and archaeological study of the Bureau of Mines site.

On May 11, 2009, Paul Labovitz wrote a letter having to do with the draft Memorandum of Agreement for the treatment of the Bureau of Mines property during restoration of the property. The letter was sent out to members of the public with an interest in the property:

To help with your review, we have also included a brief overview of the historic preservation considerations for the Bureau of Mines Campus. The discussion of the Camp Coldwater Community is based upon our effort to rectify the 1837 Smith Map with the current landscape. Given changes to the landscape and problems with scale, we have to emphasize that map we have included is at best an approximation.

The map included with the letter made clear that MNRRA believes that the residences of Peter Quinn, Olver Cratte, Benjamin F. Baker, Jacob Falstrom (Jacob’s), Pierre Pepin (Papin), and Joseph Raiche (Le Rage) were located on or at the edge of the Bureau of Mines property, surrounding Coldwater Spring. Each of these individuals were connected to Indian families, and their households included members of Ojibwe and Dakota communities in Minnesota.

A portion of Lieutenant E. K. Smith's 1837 map showing Coldwater Spring and surrounding area. This reproduction, like Smith's original map does not correct for the 11 degrees E of magnetic declination that existed in 1837, which would tip the map eleven degrees to the right.

Benjamin Baker, the trader, had his trading post at the spring and built a stone house above it. Early records sometimes refer to the Coldwater area as “Baker’s.” Baker’s wife was the daughter of an English trader named Stitt–possibly the North West Company trader John Stitt–who married an Ojibwe woman from the Sandy Lake area, related to the chiefs Hole-in-the-Day and Strong Ground, both of whom came to Coldwater during the 1820s and 1830s. Her brother William Stitt worked for Baker. In 1836, Joseph Nicollet traveled through up the Mississippi River in Ojibwe country, along with William Stitt and his “kind, elderly mother,”  who Nicollet said was traveling on her own to Red Lake. In 1835 William Stitt had worked as interpretor for Major Jonathan Bean who surveyed the Sioux-Chippewa boundary line. Mrs. Baker died in December 1838 after the birth of her son Robert. Benjamin Baker himself died in St. Louis in 1839. His business interests were inherited by his colleague Kenneth McKenzie, who also had an Ojibwe mixed-blood wife, also a relation of the Chief Strong Ground.

Jacob Falstrom–“Jacob” on the map–was the first Swede to live in the Minnesota region (unless there were some Vikings here long before), having arrived as a fur trader. He was married to Marguerite Bonga, a woman of African-Canadian and Ojibwe ancestry. The Bonga family were involved in the fur trade of northern Minnesota starting in the late 1700s. One source states that Marguerite Bonga was the sister of the Mille Lacs chief, Rat’s Liver, also known as Rat’s Heart or  Wash-ash-ko-kowe, and had many relations at Mille Lacs. As noted below, in relation to another Coldwater resident, Marguerite may have been a sister in the Native sense, which could include the relationship of cousins. Wash-ash-ko-kowe came to the Fort Snelling area in the 1820s and 1830s. On June 24, 1832, Agent Taliaferro wrote:

The Rats Heart — with all his band of Chippeways of Rum River approac[h]ed my house with their Flag flying — with a Pipe. The Chief walked into my house & into my Bed Room with his Pipe — lit — & presented it to me — out of which I smoked of course & gave him, & his people 250 lbs of Tobacco.

Antoine Pepin (or Papin) whose house was located on the western edge of the Bureau of Mines property, was a blacksmith for the Indian agency run by Lawrence Taliaferro. His first wife was Cree or Ojibwe. When living at Coldwater Spring his wife was Marie-Marguerite Hamelin, probably Ojibwe mixed blood or Canadian Metis. Like the other blacksmiths connected to the Indian agency Pepin often made or repaired traps, spears, and other metal goods for Indians who came to Fort Snelling, including some who wintered over near the fort.  Pepin was also called upon to be an armourer, that is to repair guns and other weapons, although Taliaferro complained that he was not skilled at it. Because his work involved fulfilling obligations under various treaties, Pepin was sometimes knows as the “treaty smith.” In November 1835, Taliaferro wrote

A Papin called at the office to shew his hands which were very much burnt & swollen in makeing 100 Traps for the poorer Indians — and as he laboured in great pain — he requested to be excused from the duties of the shop for a few days. As his hands were evidently in a very bad state, and the Indians all of[f] on their winter hunt — except a few straglers — I consented to his request.

Le Rage, located next to Pepin, could be Joseph Reche or Raiche, spelled Raesh by Taliaferro. He was married to Suzanne Grant, the daughter of a well known North West Company fur trader in northern Minnesota, Peter Grant, and Margaret Ahdiksongab aka Marthe Ckear Sky, who may have come from an Ojibwe community in Minnesota. Joseph Raiche supplied wood to the agency and also raised livestock, just like Joseph Buisson, who lived to the north outside of the present-day Bureau of Mines property area. At one point Raich was also assistant to the blacksmith Antoine Pepin which may explain the proximity of their houses. In February 1836, Taliaferro stated that he “Rode out to Camp Cold Water to visit Joseph Reasch – striker for Treaty shop who I found very sick. Doctor Jarvis was with me to see him.”

Oliver Cratte, who lived just south of the spring, and was also a blacksmith for the Indian agency, was married, according to one genealogical source, to Sarah Marie Graham, the daughter of Duncan Graham fur trader Duncan Graham and Susanne “Istag iwin & Ha-za-ho-ta-win” Pennishon. The name given for Sarah Marie’s mother suggests a connection to the chief of one of the villages along the Minnesota River, known as Penition’s Village, although other sources state that she was connected to the family of Chief Wabasha.  Another individual shown on Smith’s map to the north of the present-day Bureau of Mines property, Bisson, or Joseph Buisson was married to another daughter of Duncan and Susanne Graham.

Writing about Oliver Cratte in February 1836 Agent Taliaferro stated:

Oliver Cratte — consulted — and agrees to serve the U States for 4 years as Treaty smith under certain conditions—to be agreed upon and forwarded for the approval of the Com of Indn affairs. He is an excellent armourer, & sm[i]th just such a man as will suit the Indians who are delighted.

Shortly after that Taliaferro stated:

Oliver Cratte takes charge of the shop on the 1st of April under the following agreement: Know all men by these presents that we Lawrence Taliaferro agent of the United States and Oliver Cratte — have enter[e]d into the fol[l]owing articles of agreement for the period of four years unless sooner revoked by the proper dept That is to say —The said Oliver Cratte does hereby agree to serve the United States Indian Dept at the agency at St Peters or elsewhere as Treaty Black smith and Armourer for the Sioux under the 11th art Treaty of July 15th 1830 — & binds himself firmly by these presents to furnish a good & comfortable shop with all nescessary[sic] tools for the same, and all Charcoal requisite to carry on the same shop and that it shall at no time be left without coal or suitable tools to perform the work for the Indians, and he binds himself to work for no other person or persons whatever (except in repairing fire arms for the officers of the United States when not otherwise employed for the benefit of the Indians.)

The fact that Pepin and Cratte were treaty smiths doing work for Indians coming to the fort meant that they would have received frequent visits from Indian people at Coldwater–including relatives of their wives and other people at Coldwater–though exact details of their interactions are not always available unless there was a mishap as when, in 1836, Taliaferro wrote: “Tuesday June 19th A Horse of O. Crate Treaty Smith shot in the shoulder & badly wounded by some Indian unknown with an arrow.”

Another resident who would have had frequent visits from Native visitors to Coldwater was Peter Quinn, whose house was located on the east side of the Bureau of Mines property. He was the Ojibwe interpreter for the Indian agency. His wife was mixed blood Ojibwe. One source says that her name was Mary L. Finnley or Finley and that she was a mixed blood of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe.  She was said to be the mother of their son William L. Quinn, born in 1828, who would later marry a Mdewakanton Dakota woman, Angelique Jeffery or Jeffries, in Mendota on November 20, 1849.  Peter Quinn’s second wife was another Ojibwe mixed-blood woman Louise Boucher, with whom he was married after leaving Coldwater Spring. Quinn was an interpreter for the Ojibwe Treaty of 1837, signed at Fort Snelling. The Ojibwe who came to negotiate that treaty stayed at Camp Coldwater perhaps close to Quinn’s home.  In August 1838, Hole-in-the Day and “3 or 4 of his most daring braves” stayed with  Peter Quinn, just before an attack on his delegation to the fort, as revenge for an attack by Hole-in-the-Day on a Dakota community earlier. The man killed had been mistaken for Hole-in-the-day, because he was wearing clothing borrowed from the chief when he stepped out of the door of Quinn’s house.

Just beyond the Bureau of Mines property to the northeast at a place on the Mississippi River lived Louis Massy or Massie and his wife Marie Frances Boucher, mixed-blood Ojibwe from the Lake Superior region. Her brother Pierre Boucher was described in government records as being related to Chief Buffalo of Lapointe and also the Chief Strong Ground mentioned above. The document states: “Strong Ground is a brother at least according to the Indian mode of estimating relationship, that is, he is a cousin.” Pierre and Marie Frances Boucher had relatives throughout the region. According to the same set of records,  Marie Frances Boucher had worked for many years at the Fort Snelling hospital, “and is much esteemed by those who are acquainted with her.” At the hospital she may have worked with her neighbor at another river landing to the south, Mary Anne Perry, wife of Abraham Perry, who was known as the midwife for the officer’s wives at Fort Snelling.

The stories of the women of Coldwater is only one facet of the Native history of the spring area. There is a lot more to tell later.


Women of Coldwater–Native people at the spring — 5 Comments

  1. I love your article and I have much for you and need your help greatly. I have been working with many incredibly talented people over the course of the past few years. I actually have tons of things to share and really need to speak with you. I descend from people on the 1837 Smith Map on the Reserve and the Pierre Boucher you have listed above and know tons of people that really need information you mention about . Please contact me as soon as you get this!!

  2. How very interesting to learn more about Antoine Pepin. Joseph and Jessie Pepin of Little Canada were my great grandparents. I hope to learn more about their connection to Antoine Pepin.

  3. Thanks so much for this information.
    I descend from Oliver Cratte , who married Sarah Graham Cratte , a daughter of fur-trader duncan Graham. Their daughter, Josephine Scholastica Cratte, the wife of Timothy Fuller, was my mom’s great-grandmother.

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