Tricounty News

Indian encounters of the normal kind

© Duane Stanley, 2012

The prior column concluded with the account of Mary Greely Street, describing the friendly and trusting relationship her family had with wintering Indians around Pearl Lake. She referred to them as "our elite society." While I have never found a published booklet of her account, Marge Greely, in her year-long history of Maine Prairie beginning March 1949 in the Tri-County News, devoted three weeks to Street's Country Pioneers. She begins the second chapter: "An account called 'Country Pioneers' which was written by Mrs Mary Greely Street has been loaned to me to use in preparing this history. Because many of my readers knew Mrs. Street, I feel that they would appreciate reading her entire article in her own words." I will let the author share some of her own stories in her own words.

Street was born to Martin and Cordelia Greely, who arrived in a prairie schooner pulled by oxen-Tom and Jerre-in June 1856, just a few weeks after the earliest pioneers cut out a trail to the Prairie. The author tells that it was her mother who saw the sparkling lakes from a rise north of the Prairie. She writes, "One of these lakes in particular caught their attention; it was almost round and found to be nearly one and one-half miles in diameter.

"Father said, 'Let us build our home on the shore of that lake.' 'It is a pearl,' said my mother, 'and its sparkling waters are inviting us to come.' There was no road to it, but what cared a true pioneer for such a trifle. Trees were cut, streams forded and when they finally reached this beautiful lake, my mother christened it Pearl Lake, and such it has always been called.

"Here father staked out his claim and with a cross-cut saw, and partly with mother's help, sawed the logs for a home. Their schooner contained their worldly possessions excepting the half dozen chickens which were in a crate suspended beneath the wagon.

"A log house of two large rooms with a generous attic for sleeping was soon made. The bark was hewn off two sides for the logs with an old fashioned broad axe and draw shave. These, with a level, square and hammer were the pioneer carpentering tools for my father, but our house was very comfortable.

"In this home on the shore of beautiful Pearl Lake I came into the world just at the time Minnesota was kicking off her territorial swaddling clothes and just in time to allow me to become a member of the Territorial Pioneer Woman's Club, for which I am duly thankful."

Street took great effort to tell stories of "normal" interaction with Indians, in contrast to the common recounting of terror and atrocities around the Dakota Uprising: "There has been so much said about the stolidness and cruelty of the Indians that very little credit is given them for having a humorous sense. Before the Indian war, they often showed the settlers they could appreciate a joke as well as anyone. They knew many of the white people were afraid of them and often gave them a harmless scare. I well remember many times looking up at night and seeing a number of Indian faces pressed closely against the window panes, and when my mother and I would jump and scream, they would laugh and slide away.

"An Indian came into our house one day when my mother was alone and wanted some of the doughnuts she was frying. She gave him as many as she could spare and what was enough for two ordinary men, but he kept begging for more until finally she was out of patience and told him to go, pointing to the door. He acted very angry and began taking his tomahawk from his belt. Mother reached up to a beam overhead and took down father's sword and swinging it towards him again pointed to the door saying 'Go!' He sprang quickly to the pan of doughnuts and grabbing a handful ran out of the door laughing.

"Another time two men and a squaw came into the barnyard and asked father, in sign language, for some of his stacked hay for their ponies. Father knew the men would not carry the hay themselves as only squaws carry the packs, so he made them understand that they could have as much as the squaw could carry. She bent over and the men began piling hay on her back. Father stood looking in astonishment and dismay at the load she could carry. She looked like a moving hay stack as she went off down the road. The Indian men were much amused at father's wrath at his hay disappearing, and for a long time afterward when they came to the house they would point to the hay stack and laugh, showing they enjoyed the joke.

"A neighbor, who lived a number of miles from us, was in great fear lest the Indians steal her three little children. She taught the children to run and hide under the bed in the living room whenever they knew the Indians were coming. They would flatten themselves on the floor and lie perfectly quiet until she told them to come out. The Indians were too sharp to be long deceived and soon found this out. One day when three Indians were seen coming, the children sped to their hiding place as usual and Mrs. Russell, who was alone, went on quietly with her housework. The Indians walked in and seated themselves on a bench at the foot of the bed. Then they deliberately took out the scalping knives and began sharpening them in great glee pointing toward the bed. Poor Mrs. Russell could do nothing but pretend she did not see them although nearly fainting. In a few minutes they put up their knives and made her understand that they would not hurt her or her children and went on their way laughing."

In the next column we return to Julia Frost's experiences, enjoying her story of bartering with the Indians for venison.

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Last chance to get your All-School Reunion dinner ticket. By the time you read this, we hope you got yours before the extended July 27 deadline. Aug. 11, Kimball High School is the place, 2 p.m. exhibits and visiting begin, 5 p.m. dinner is served. So many friends to see again, so many great memories on display by our historical society. If you would like to donate any photos, school pictures, etc., bring them to the reunion.

What else is ahead? Friday, Aug. 10, Supper in the Park at Willow Creek Shelter 5-8 p.m. Saturday morning, Aug. 11, Audrey's Coffee Nook on Main Street, watch for signs 7-10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, another great special: Historian Bill Morgan presents "The Orphan Train Story" at 7 p.m. Kimball's historic City Hall on Main Street. Tuesday, Nov. 13, the delicious annual holiday special event 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, pot luck. Everyone is welcome and thanks for coming to all society events/programs.

For more information on any of the above, membership, items you have for this column, and/or the permanent collection, volunteering, donations, general information, contact the Kimball Area Historical Society, Box 55, Kimball MN 55353, phone (320) 398-5743, or 398-5902, e-mail kimballhistory, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .