Lesson 8 – Pilot Knob/Oheyawahi

On July 29, 1851, the United States Treaty Commissioners met the lower bands of Dakota Indians in order to negotiate the terms of the Treaty of Mendota.  This important council was held in the upper room of a large warehouse in town of Mendota.  Along with the commissioners and the Dakota, were many local inhabitants from near by St. Paul who sought to witness the opening to settlement of millions of acres of land west of the Mississippi River.  But the accommodations were unfit for such an important council and so they were moved to Pilot Knob.

Pilot Knob, Mouth of the St. Peters River by Seth Eastman, 1846-1848

Pilot Knob is a large hill located just south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.  To the Dakota it is called Oheyawahi or “the hill much visited.”  This is a sacred place for the Dakota because of its historical and cultural significance.  The hill represents a meeting place for the Dakota and is used for ceremonies and burials.  The hill overlooks the Mississippi and Minnesota River valleys including Bdote, a place believed by the Dakota to be the center of all creation.  Today the hill offers a commanding view of Fort Snelling, Minneapolis, and St. Paul.  During the treaty negotiations, Dakota chief Wabasha requested that the negotiations be moved to Oheyawahi so that the Dakota would have a full view of everything they would be giving up.

Today, Pilot Knob/Oheyawahi remains an important and sacred place for all Minnesotans.  It is now protected by the National Park Service and is preserved for its natural beauty and cultural significance.  It also continues to be an important place for Dakota people to return for gatherings and ceremonies.

Excerpt from Ceding Contempt 

The negotiations were moved to a prominent hill called Pilot Knob and located south east of the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.  The hill offered a commanding and fine view of Fort Snelling, St. Anthony, St. Paul, and the two river valleys below.  To the Dakota this place was called Oheyawahi or A Hill Much Visited.  It was a sacred site where the Dakota had traditionally buried their dead.  It was chosen as the place for negotiation by Chief Wabasha because he wanted a full view of everything the Dakota would be giving up if they chose to sign the treaty.

A large arbor was constructed at the crown of the hill where the land levels off.  Underneath was placed a stand and table for the Commissioners while seats, in the form of a half-circle, were placed for the Dakota chiefs.  Once again the crowd was large and varied, but the setting had become much more pleasant than the day before.  The sun was shining and a cool and comfortable breeze moved swiftly over the hill.

When all was ready, Commissioner Lea opened the council by greeting the chiefs and inviting their response to the terms presented the day before.

Visit Pilot Knob/Oheyawahi

Sources:

Rebecca Snyder, The 1851 Treaty of Mendota:  A Collection of Primary Documents Pertaining to the Treaty, (South St. Paul, MN:  Dakota County Historical Society, 2002).

Oheyawahi/Pilot Knob Pocket Guide, http://www.pilotknobpreservation.org/Pocket%20Guide%20Interactive.htm.