Pike Island – Bike, Hike, or Have a Good Cry.

John Casper Wild 1804-1846, Fort Snelling in the background; Pike Island in the middle; the settlement of Mendota in the left foreground.

Mendota, “where waters meet” was the subject of Monday’s post. Pike Island is plopped right in the middle of the confluence with Ft. Snelling looming to the north and Mendota, a few paddles away.  The Minnesota River flows into Wild’s painting from the left. Note how wide the riverbed is compared to the gorge in the upper part of the image where the Mississippi cuts through the bluffs. The Minnesota flows along the bed of the ancient Glacial River Warren. Where the two join, the much larger Warren undercuts the Mississippi creating a falls. Over the years, the eroding river bed moved the falls up-stream to present day Minneapolis, what we call St. Anthony Falls.  If the painting had more image to the right of the frame, it would include the  eastern end of Pike Island and you would see where these two great rivers join ( Geology and Images ).

Photo from on high

Edward K Thomas oil/about 1850 - Sibley and Fairbault homes by the river, Pike Island and Ft. SnellingHere's another painting completed around 1850, by Edward K Thomas.Pike arrives at, imagine the coincidence, Pike Island. What are the chances of that?

Zebulon Pike arrived at Pike Island  (What a coincidence, Pike Island. What are the chances of that?), long a home to the Dakota, in 1805 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson. He was there to purchase land for the U.S. government. Pike was alarmed to find the rivers firmly in the commercial control of British traders who had numerous posts on the Minnesota, Mississippi, and tributaries. That was soon to change. Here in 1805, Native Amerian leaders ceded about 100,000 acres to the U.S. government. Pike valued the land at 200,00 dollars. When unanimously ratified in 1808, Congress appropriated 2,000 dollars to be paid for the land (Minnesota Historical Society ). Ft. Snelling was constructed on the bluff overlooking the island, one of a string of forts built to protect American interests in the west. Here’s a video clip with historical images courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society –

I’ve included an account of the negotiations between Pike and the Dakota passed on through the Dakota tradition from a recent publication of the Dakota Society of Minnesota newsletter. It’s a somewhat, darkly humorous re-telling of events. (Dakota Society of Minnesota ).

The island right off the foot of Fort Snelling, where young Zebulon Pike did indeed set his own feet, is also named for him. On that island on September 23, 1805, at about noon, a council was held under a shade made from the boat sails on the beach, on the west end of “Pike Island.”

There have been native Dakotas who laugh at the fact the agreement was signed by “only one and a half Indians,” Little Crow and the half-breed son of a trader named Pineshaw, chief of the closest village.

The council held on the island now named after Pike was attended by Pike, interpreter-traders Frazer and Cameron, and Dakotas Little Crow and son of Pineshaw, both of whom signed the agreement as mentioned. Also present were LeGrand Partison, Tamaha, Shakpe, Redwing, and Vivid Lightning.

Little Crow and 150 warriors arrived on September 22 and were camped on the pre-fort hill. The Dakotas entertained Pike and Frazer at their encampment on the hill (where you may have walked and parked your car). At least you will know you climbed a hill that Pike actually did climb by foot! (Can we call it Pike’s Hill?)

Pike’s men, however, were encamped on the northeast end of the island. (Ref. Vol. 1 of “The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike.”)

In the Leavenworth Sioux treaty of 1821, J.B. Faribault, early fur trader and father of fur trading sons, and his wife Pilage were granted rights to Pike Island. After several years J.B. Faribault moved to Mendota and built the stone Faribault home that still stands today. Pike Island is now part of Fort Snelling State Park.

I think it’s interesting to note that, for awhile at least, this land was in the hands of Jean Baptist Fairbault’s wife, Pilagea Native American woman owning at least part of Pike Island again.

Prison Camp or Concentration Camp? –  The Power of Language

Jump ahead to 1862 and the Island history takes a tragic turn. Over 1,600 Dakota men, women, and children were marched here and interred from 1862 to 1864 following the Dakota/U.S war that briefly raged along the Minnesota River Valley. Prison Camp/Prison Compound/Internment Camp  – These are some of the terms used by historians who have written about the events of 1862 to 1864. However, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, who administers the park land on Pike Island and Native American activists, among others, use the term, Concentration Camp ( Photo gallery at the Park ). What’s in the meaning of those two terms? Were the Dakota, legally held, prisoners of that war or was it a chapter in the campaign of extermination and removal of the Native People by the U.S government? Those are my questions but they delineate the controversy between two, seemingly irreconcilable, points of view. It’s an ideological stand-off framed in powerful language challenging the others’ interpretation of events. The words are loaded with meaning and as symbols represent many unresolved issue’s of Minnesota’s past. Who gets to tell the story? Here’s a link to a recent book on the subject – The Dakota Indian Internment at Ft. Snelling, 1862 to 1864 Whichever terms you choose, prison camp, concentration camp, or another, over 300 individuals are believed to have perished. (Monjeau-Marz, Corinne L. (October 10, 2005). Dakota Indian Internment at Fort Snelling, 1862–1864. Prairie Smoke Press)  – At posting, I don’t have a second source to back this figure up.

Reconciliation – A Long Time Coming, and Coming and Coming…

In 1987, the 125th anniversary of the Dakota/U.S war, Minnesota governor Rudy Perpich issued a Proclamation for Reconciliation between Minnesota Dakota and non-Dakota. It was seen as means of encouraging and continuing a healing process between Minnesotans of Dakota and non-Dakota ancestry and featured mutually created activities to foster a better relationship. It acknowledging that descendants of those who died on both sides of the conflict still carry the pain and anger ( Mahkato Mdewakanton Association ). Twenty years later Native Americans continued to focus attention on the events as recounted here in a Native publication – November 7th, 2008 Commemorative March – Lower Sioux Agency to Ft. Snelling

The controversy over the war and how to interpret the events still continues and Ft. Snelling and Pike Island remain front and center as symbols of the ideological conflict. In February of 2010, at a rally at the State’s capital in support of funding Minnesota history initiatives and in particular the renovation of Fort Snelling, activists from the Dakota community and their supporters interrupted the proceedings demanding that the Fort be demolished rather than renovated. Here’s the description posted by the filmmaker of the following clip –

It was a big news day at the Capital on Monday–Gov Pawlenty released his new budget. It was also “Rally for History” Day in the Capital Rotunda, a day set aside to celebrate Minnesota’s history.

Many were surprised then, that for some it wasn’t a day to celebrate. The Rally for History crowd, applauds at the start when the protesters are led away.

For some, it’s a day to mark a genocide in Minnesota. This is the third year in a row, Dakota activists have challenged the funding of Fort Snelling. They find this all the more troubling, given that Gov. Pawlenty announced millions in social spending cuts, the same day.

The Minnesota Historical Society, is asking for $6.7 million to preserve Fort Snelling, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. Activists point out : This fort is a replica not the original, and that this site is not only what is considered a genocide inside the Dakota community, but it is also the site of their creation story, it is sacred ground.

I talked to several activists in the rotunda, including Eric Angell and Dr. Waziyatawin, who explained the Dakota viewpoint. Also, we see in the video their unfurled banners from the balcony, and we see activists asked to leave by State Troopers when they unfurled a banner in front of the Rally for History speakers. No arrests were made.

Pike Island –  Is it a place to hike trails, ride bikes or sit in quiet reflection? Is it a sacred site and a former Native village, home to the Dakota? Is it a historical treaty site and birthplace of modern Minnesota? Does it echo with the suffering cries of those who perished there? Yes.

Image from the Mendota Walking Trail

Pike Island - taken from the Mendota side of the river






This entry was posted in Minnesota River, Mississippi River, Music and Video, Native Americans, Pike Island and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pike Island – Bike, Hike, or Have a Good Cry.

  1. Polydore Vergil says:

    Wow – it was named Pike Island and Zebulon Pike went there! What are the chances?

  2. coreymohan says:

    Corey here – I got a nice note back on this post with a great Pike Island childhood memory. Here it is.
    – “Nice piece on Pike Island. I grew up near there. We would swim over to it as young, foolish boys. There was a small farm on the island at that time. We called the farmer “Red” because he always wore a red feedcap, and gave him a hard time about the impending flood. Also feral pigs running around the island. One time we found an airplane float that had washed up on shore. We turned it into a “peapod” style raft, crawled inside, and headed out for downtown St. Paul. Did you reawaken the memories!”

  3. Geezer says:

    Nice job Corey, another voice for Truth and Justice for those whose ancestors lived, loved, and honored this area for countless generations. Opening this discussion to the injustice and genocide which was perpetrated on these people and these sites, begs recognition of the truth in this matter.

    So much good information Corey. Thanks much,

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