The History of the Dakota Mission
In the spring of 1834, Samuel and Gideon Pond, brothers from Washington, Connecticut, arrived at Fort Snelling intending to serve as missionaries to the Dakota. They became the first of scores of men and women who came to the Minnesota River Valley as volunteer missionaries. Below is a brief history of the Dakota Mission and a list of helpful resources.
Building the Mission at Lake Calhoun
Samuel and Gideon Pond did not have authorization to be missionaries when they arrived at Fort Snelling in 1834. Luckily, Indian Agent Lawrence Taliaferro hired them to plow fields and plant corn for Chief Cloudman’s village near Lake Calhoun (now Minneapolis, Minnesota). Undaunted, the Pond brothers built a crude log structure on the east side of Lake Calhoun to serve as their home and a mission station.
They soon discovered that the Dakota language had never been written down. It didn’t have an alphabet. During the winter of 1834-35, the Pond brothers created the alphabet for the Dakota Sioux language and began to translate the Bible into the Dakota language. Learn more about their translation efforts.
Establishing Mission Stations at Lac qui Parle and Lake Harriet
In May 1835, two separate groups of missionaries authorized by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) arrived at Fort Snelling also intending to serve the Dakota. The first party included:
- Dr. Thomas S. Williamson, his wife Margaret, and their daughter Elizabeth
- Margaret Williamson’s sister Sarah Poage
- Alexander Huggins, his wife Lydia, and their two children, Amos and Jane
After organizing the Church of St. Peter’s at Fort Snelling, the first Presbyterian church in the territory, Williamson, Huggins, and their families moved to Lac qui Parle (near present day Montevideo, Minnesota) at the request of Mr. Joseph R. Renville. The second party included:
- Mr. Jedediah D. Stevens, his wife Julia, their two sons, Jonathan and Evarts
- Stevens’ niece Cornelia Stevens
Stevens established a mission station near Lake Harriet (now Minneapolis, Minnesota).
Rev. Stephen Riggs and his wife, Mary arrived at Fort Snelling in June, 1837. They served briefly at Lake Harriet, then at Lac qui Parle until 1842.
Over the next few years, the Pond brothers served at Lake Harriet and Lac qui Parle. Due to conflicts between the Ojibwe and Dakota, the Lake Calhoun mission was disbanded in 1840, and the Ponds moved back under the protective watch of Fort Snelling, settling near Camp Cold Water.
Along the Banks of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers
Two new mission stations were established along the Minnesota River in 1843 –Traverse des Sioux and Oak Grove. Rev. Stephen R. Riggs and his family, returned from their furlough in Ohio in May, 1843 with Mr. Robert Hopkins and his 17-year-old pregnant wife, Agnes. Rev. Riggs established a new station at Traverse des Sioux (now St. Peter, Minnesota) where the Riggs and Hopkins families served until 1851.
In 1843, Gideon Pond and Eli Pettijohn built a double log house at the top of the bluff at Oak Grove (now Bloomington, Minnesota) to serve as both a mission and a home for the Pond brothers’ growing families. Gideon married Sarah Poage (Margaret Williamson’s sister) in November 1837, and Samuel married Cordelia Eggleston (Julia Eggleston Stevens’s sister) one year later. Samuel Pond and his family left the Oak Grove Mission in 1847 to establish a new mission station at Prairieville (now Shakopee).
A Changing Landscape
After the treaties of 1851, the Dakota were removed to reservations in western Minnesota. With the closing of the Oak Grove Mission, Gideon organized the Oak Grove Chapel in 1855 which later became Oak Grove Presbyterian Church. He served as minister there until 1873, just five years before his death in 1878. Samuel Pond remained in at Prairieville and organized a group of believers that became the First Presbyterian Church of Shakopee in 1855.
Williamson moved west with the Dakota and established a new mission at Pajutazee (Yellow Medicine) near Granite Falls, Minnesota in 1852. Riggs and his family also moved west and established a community called Hazelwood in 1854. Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Williamson’s son Rev. John P. Williamson established the Zoar Mission near Morton, Minnesota in 1860. These three mission stations were active until the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War.
Dakota Mission Resources
Here is a brief list of resources about the Dakota Mission and its missionaries. This list will be expanded in the future.
Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas; or, The Story of the Labors of Samuel W. And Gideon H. Pond
Pond, Samuel William, Jr. Boston, Massachusetts: Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1893.
The First 50 Years: Dakota Presbytery to 1890
Adams, Moses N., John P. Williamson, and John B. Renville. Freeman, South Dakota: Pine Hill Press, 1984.
The Dakota Mission
Riggs, Stephen Return. In Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society Vol. III, 115-28. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, 1880.
The Lac Qui Parle Indian Mission
Gates, Charles M., Minnesota History 16, no. 2 (1935): 133-51.
Northwest Mission Manuscripts and Index
Nute, Grace Lee. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society: Minnesota Biographies. Vol. XIV
Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, 1912. Includes brief biographies of Rev. Robert Hopkins (p. 343), Agnes Hopkins Pond (p 607), Rev. Gideon H. Pond (p. 607), Rev. Samuel W. Pond, (p. 607-08), Rev. Stephen R. Riggs (p. 643), John P. Williamson (p. 863), and Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Williamson (p. 863).
A Pioneer among the Sioux: Rev. Thomas S. Williamson, M.D., 1800-1879
Williamson, John Poage; In Home Mission Heroes: A Series of Sketches, 83-105. New York, New York: Literature Department, Presbyterian Home Missions, 1904.
John P. Williamson; a Brother to the Sioux
Barton, Winifred Williamson, New York, New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1919.
Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux
Riggs, Stephen Return, Boston, Massachusetts: Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, 1887.
Dakota Mission Stations in Minnesota
Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet
Lac qui Parle
Traverse des Sioux
(now St. Peter)
(now South St. Paul)
(near Granite Falls)
(near Granite Falls)