Lesson 2 – Kaposia

Lesson 2 – Kaposia

Kaposia was a Mdewakanton Dakota village along the Mississippi River just south of present day St. Paul.  The village was founded in 1750 and led by a succession of chiefs named Little Crow.  For this reason the site was also called Little Crow’s Village.  Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Kaposia was a seasonal home to approximately 400 Dakota Indians.

Engraving of Little Crow’s Kaposia Village published in the New York Illustrated News in 1852

Methodist Missionaries arrived at Kaposia in 1837 and established a schoolhouse, a mission building, and a trading-post.  That same year, the village was moved from the eastern side of the river to the western side as a result of the 1837 treaty with the Dakota.  Once the city of St. Paul was established and settlement along the eastern side of the Mississippi River continued to grow, Kaposia became a hub of activity with many dignitaries, tourists, military personnel and government officials visiting throughout the year.  One such visitor was Frank Blackwell Mayer, a young artist from Baltimore who visited Kaposia in 1851.  Mayer described the village as being “situated on a small piece of bottom land which intervenes between the bluffs and the Mississippi River.”  After spending a few days in the village, Mayer also commented that he had “seldom met with the same number of persons take promiscuously from the ranks of civilized life who possessed so much genuine politeness, gentlemanly feeling and kindliness of manner as the Kaposia Indians.”

Kaposia was moved once again in 1853 as a result of the Treaty of the Traverse des Sioux.  The site is now in present day South St. Paul and is managed by the National Park Service.

Excerpt from Ceding Contempt

“Welcome to Kaposia,” announced Dr. Thomas Williamson upon my arrival to the thriving Indian village.

“Thank you,” I replied as I pulled myself up out of the canoe and onto shore.  “I cannot express how grateful I am to be here.”

“And we are grateful to you,” said Dr. Williamson expressing the sentiment of the Indian people.

As I stepped forward to ceremoniously shake hands with Dr. Williamson, I took a quick look around to gather my first impressions.  I was immediately impressed.  It was a charming little village with probably three hundred souls and half as many lodges.  The village appeared comfortable and quiet with men lounging, women toiling and children playing.

“This is my home,” declared Dr. Williamson as he turned to usher me toward the lodges.

Dr. Williamson, whom I had not met until this day, appeared to be in his early to mid-fifties.  His hair was clearly receding from the forehead but remained starkly black.  His face was stern but resolute and weathered.  It seemed to reflect years of patient toil thereby adequately representing his moniker as the Father of the Dakota Mission.

“Tranquil,” I uttered almost involuntarily.

“Indeed,” responded Dr. Williamson.  “That is an adequate word for this place.”

As Dr. Williamson and I drew closer to the village I could see that it was made out of two types of lodges, one apparently being a summer lodge and one a winter lodge.  The summer house is not much unlike a log cabin.  It is square in shape with a slanted roof reaching nearly to the ground.  The walls are the framework of saplings tied together and covered by interwoven pieces of bark.  From the entrance there hangs a long piece of buffalo hide.  Just above and outside the entrance there extends about eight feet a shed or flat roof supported by posts unhewn.  This would appear to function as a shady retreat for the inhabitants during the hot afternoon hours.  The winter lodges, or tipis, were much different.  The tipi was formed by many long poles which were pegged in a circle and then leaned and tied together at a central point above the ground.  The poles were covered in buffalo hide which were anchored to the ground and a flap was cut to allow the smoke of their fires to exit.  Looking on, the tipi had a very practical and cozy appearance.  Seen all together, the houses were arranged in rows with the tipis intervening here and there, pleasantly varying the angularity and ruggedness of the long succession of Indian lodges.

Read more about Kaposia (pages 18-21)

Sources:

Lois A Glewwe, South St. Paul:  A Brief History, (Charleston, SC:  The History Press, 2015).

Bertha L. Heilbron, Editor, With Pen and Pencil on the Frontier in 1851:  The Diary and Sketches of Frank Blackwell Mayer, (St. Paul:  Minnesota Historical Society, 1986).

“Kaposia Indian Site,” National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/kapoindi.htm.

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