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A History of Minneapolis: an Overview by Staff at the Hennepin County Library

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Featuring historical photos and items from the collections of the Hennepin County Library, with contemporary photos from the Phototour of Minneapolis by Chris Gregerson.

Mdewakanton Band of the Dakota Nation

Next: Mdewakanton Band of the Dakota Nation (Part II)

Minneapolis history before the middle of the 19th Century is really the history of the Dakota (Sioux) American Indians. It is believed that the Dakota people lived and flourished in the area to be known as Minneapolis before Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth (known as Duluth), and Father Louis Hennepin visited the area in the 1680s. The Dakota bands were well established in the culture of hunting and gathering and were skilled in horsemanship. The other dominant Indian Nation in the area was the Ojibwe.

(Map: Native Nations in Minnesota, 1800-1850

Intertribal fighting between the Ojibwe and the Dakota had a long history. By 1800, many Dakota Mdewakanton had settled along the lower Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers below the sacred site of the Falls of St. Anthony. To help stabilize the relationship between the two nations, in 1825, under the auspices of United States government agents, the Dakota and the Ojibwe agreed to the establishment of a demarcation between their tribal areas. The line ran northwest across Minnesota from the St. Croix River on the east to the Red River on the northwest. Starting in 1848, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation who had been driven from their original lands in Wisconsin were temporarily resettled between the Ojibwe and Dakota to act as a buffer. A significant number of these Ho-Chunk refugees were unhappy with the situation, and quietly managed to return to their homes in Wisconsin against the wishes of the United States government.

(Map: Dakota Place Names in Minneapolis
Dakota name translation English name
Haha Wakpa Falls River Mississippi
Haha Wakpadan Little Falls River Bassett Creek
Mde Maka Ska White Earth Lake Lake Calhoun
Mde Unma Other Lake Lake Harriet
Mdote Minisota Mouth of the Minnesota
(Clouded Water) River
Mini Haha "Curling Water" or "the Waterfall" Minnehaha Falls
Omnina Wakan Wakpadan Spirit Refuge Creek Shingle Creek
Owamniyomni the Whirlpool St. Anthony Falls
Wakpa Cistinna Little River Minnehaha Creek
Wanagi Wita Spirit or Ghost Island Spirit Island
(no longer exists)
Wita Tomna Four Islands (Lake) Lake of the Isles
Wita Washte Lovely Island Nicollet Island


In 1829 a Dakota Mdewakanton village was located on the west shore of a lake that would be known as Lake Calhoun in the area that would become Minneapolis. Cloud Man, also known as Man-of-the-Sky (Ma-hpi-ya-wi-ca-sta), was chief of this village, known as Reyataotonwe (Inland Village) or Eatonville (for John H. Eaton). Cloud Man agreed with the Fort Snelling Indian Agent, Lawrence Taliaferro, to have his band learn to farm using the plow.

Philander Prescott was the government farmer who worked with the Lake Calhoun band. Volunteer missionaries, Gideon and Samuel Pond, were enlisted to work with them. Samuel Pond took the opportunity to write down the Dakota language and compile a dictionary. In 1839, Cloud Man and his band moved to Oak Grove in Bloomington because of renewed conflict with the Ojibwe. Gideon Pond also moved to Oak Grove. Other Mdewakanton villages included Chief Wabasha's at Winona, Wacouta's at Red Wing, Little Crow's at South St. Paul, Black Dog's near the present site of the power plant on the Minnesota River in Burnsville, Pennesha's near the mouth of Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington, and Chief Shakopee at the community of Shakopee. These were the main villages during the years 1805 to 1852 in the area to become southern Minnesota.

Early Map of the Minneapolis area showing Indian paths, Fort Snelling, St. Anthony Falls, Lake Calhoun, Minnehaha Creek, and two Indian villages (circa 1820-1860).
Minneapolis Collection, M0079; Original map at the Minnesota Historical Society.

By 1819, the Mdewakanton traded furs with the American Fur Company at Mendota. In 1838, an agreement with chiefs of the Dakota tribe opened the lands east of the Mississippi River to private ownership by white settlers. By 1839, some five hundred non-native persons lived in the area. The Mdewakanton tribe numbered about 2,150 in 1846. By that time, significant changes in the region had occurred, including the logging of the trees and turning prairie lands into farm land. The buffalo population had been killed off and the populations of deer, bear, and other animals had been greatly depleted. During this same time period, the disease whooping cough killed many. The Dakota were accustomed to living through hard times but now, as they were finding it difficult to find food, they saw the settlers and the soldiers having adequate rations. In a weakened condition due to health, lack of resources and food, life grew harder, alcoholism spread and the debt they owed to the traders increased. The buying and selling of land was a concept foreign to the Dakota but they had become dependent on the goods available at the stores and were in need of monies to purchase the goods. To receive monies from the U.S. government, they agreed to sign a treaty to give up their rights to their ancestral lands.

A teenage Dakota boy posed at opening of a tepee, holding a bow and arrow (1862).
Minneapolis Collection, BR0561

Next: Mdewakanton Band of the Dakota Nation (Part II)