Tricounty News

More Indian encounters of the normal kind



© Duane Stanley, 2012

We are now just days away from the sesquicentennial of the day that would forever change and define relationships between settlers and Indians in Minnesota. Before reaching that day, we have tried to explore how relationships looked prior to the ultimate confrontation.

One last look at "normal relationships" comes particularly close to home for me. In her record of coming to Minnesota, Julia Frost described the day she went bartering at the Sioux encampment just west of Pearl Lake. Playing a star role in her account, is Mary Stanley, my own great, great grandmother.

I remember when I read this account the first time, and suddenly my family tree was no longer just lists of names and dates, but rather they had been brought to life as extra-ordinary people through Frost's memories. Mary Ann Hillock had been born on Christmas Day, 1821, in County Armagh, Ireland, and as a 10-year-old-with her family-emigrated to the new world, establishing a home in eastern Ohio. There she met and married Thomas B. Stanley and gave birth to four sons, before her husband left to carve out a homestead on the prairie in Minnesota. It would be a year and a half later that T.B. would return to reunite the family and bring them to their new home, just northeast of Pearl Lake.

Frost writes: "Long and cold as was the winter of 1862, it was not without incident; some things that seemed marvelous to us happened in the lonely cabin called the Shadow. One day Mrs. Stanley came over to tell me the Indians were camped west of Pearl Lake, and that she was going to bake bread and take it to their camp to exchange for venison, and if I would like to join her in the bartering expedition she would be glad. Much as I had dreaded the annual coming in of the Sioux to rove over their old possessions, yet I decided to accompany my neighbor, and soon got to work on the biggest baking I had ever done. I worked at it all that day and into the night, and when I was through I had a washtub full of nice loaves. Mrs. Stanley took potatoes, rutabagas, and bread as her barter, and about noon one bright, cold day we started with our bobsleds well laden with our wares. Mrs. Stanley was in fine spirits, the horses were in good trim, and it was a merry load which set forth.

"Though I have spoken of but Mrs. Stanley and myself in this expedition, we really were well accompanied by a bodyguard consisting of our husbands and brother William and Amos. With buffalo robes snugly tucked about us we sped over the snow, making due west for the bluffs. A turn in the road brought us in full sight of the Indian village. It was laid out in long, straight streets; the tepees were either of heavy canvas or skins. This was a very large encampment; when we were in sight and smell of it, the horses threw up their heads, showing the whites of their eyes, and gave loud snorts, so that Mr. Stanley had to pull hard on the lines. After a time they became more quiet, although they continued to stamp, toss their heads, and strain at the bits."

Frost noted later that "People who were accustomed to seeing large bodies of Indians estimated that there were about five hundred in this camp."

She continues her account: "Mrs. Stanley was the first one out; what a woman she was for those far-away days, an ideal wife for a frontier huntsman! She was of Irish descent, with pretty Irish blue eyes, a few freckles, regular features, and animation written all over her small, compact figure; she knew how to make the best of frontier life and get happiness out of it.

"While Mrs. Stanley bartered, I went out to the village of tents and looked over the Indian tepees at closer range. The Indians had scraped off the deep snow and left the ground bare for a floor. Then from the near-by marsh they had brought long, dry grass to spread down over this floor of earth; and lastly, they had carpeted all with blankets and buffalo robes, leaving a space in the center, however, for a small fire. Here the squaws boiled pots of venison and bear meat or dried out tallow, which they used in case of an emergency for food, believing it to be especially strengthening. In one tepee, I saw a squaw beading a pair of buckskin moccasins, while others were preparing venison for 'jerking.' They had great pots of meat over the fire, and strips hung from the apex of the tent to dry. These strips were cut very thin and were called 'jerks'; they were unsalted and dried quickly, hanging as they did directly above the fire in the center of the tent. It seemed to me no meat could be sweeter than jerked venison.

"It was not easy walking about through the snow, and I retired to the bobs to look after the load. As I sat there wrapped in fur and buffalo robes, I watched with interest the busy scene about me. I thought of these North American nomads; every year about Christmas they came back to their old hunting grounds and made great slaughter of deer and bear and all manner of game; sometimes they killed as many as a hundred deer in a single day."

Frost then described the hunters she observed as they returned to camp with the prize their skills had won. Embarrassed, she also recalled that she had been tricked by Indian children who came playing around the sled, and, unobserved by the one who was supposed to be guarding the settler's possessions, stole all but two of the rutabagas from under the buffalo robes. She then concludes:

"My tub of bread brought a tub of venison hams and shoulders, so we felt quite rich, and for many a day we had this good wild meat fried, roasted, and boiled, besides dried and jerked; this latter was good and sweet to whittle off when we were hungry. I must record that the lightness of my bread was not in its favor, for with many dubious head shakes was its weight compared with the solid meat to be given in exchange, but Mrs. Stanley was a good bargainer, indeed exceedingly quick and bright about everything, and as the Indians really wanted the bread and we the venison, in the end all were satisfied."

* * * * * * *

Kimball Days are coming to town. Don't miss it. Beginning Friday, Aug. 10, with "Supper-in-the-Park" from 5 to 8 p.m., serving the favorite menu of hot roast beef on bun, baked beans, coleslaw, chips, cake and beverage; $6.50 adults, $3.50 children 3-10, under 3 are free. It's our only fundraiser. Come and enjoy.

Saturday, Aug. 11, from

7-10 a.m. visit Audrey's Coffee Nook at 30 Main Street in downtown Kimball, next to the Post Office, watch for sign. Homemade cinnamon rolls and juice or coffee. Proceeds go to the City Hall Project. Thanks for your faithful support.

If you reserved "The All School Reunion" event, you'll enjoy the All School Exhibit followed by the Reunion Dinner, all taking place at the Kimball Area High School, (south entrance), and we look forward to seeing you there. Hosting this event is the Kimball Area Historical Society. Reminiscing with old and new friends begins at the great exhibit at 2 p.m. Dinner at 5.

What's next, you ask? The Tuesday, Sept. 25 special event will feature Historian/Author Bill Morgan with an all new "Orphan Train Story" that is extraordinary. If you have ancestors involved with the orphan train, you'll want to be there. All are welcome, refreshments follow, there is no charge. Come, learn more about Central Minnesota lives and landmarks. And keep an eye on this column for details and updates every two weeks. There will be a terrific

Oct. 23, program speaker of "Moccasins on Maine Prairie."

For more information, new and renewed memberships, donations, souvenirs, tax deductible benefit and more, please contact the Kimball Area Historical Society at Box 55, Kimball MN 55353, or call (320) 398-5743, 398-5902, or 398-5250, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . And don't forget you can visit kus on Facebook, too.

Fill your life with history!