Mary Whipple's_story: 1862
Before the Story
After the Story
In her tracks
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Alexander Faribault's story: 1855
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Taopi's story: 1864
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Bishop Henry Whipple's story: 1867
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


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Mary Whipple's Story
Faribault, August 1862

The story below is an example of historic fiction. The story takes place at a real place and time in history. It includes real people who lived at that time, but some of the characters’ actions and thoughts were invented by the author. You can use the links within the story to take A Closer Look at the history facts and ideas the author used to create the story. You can find more facts about Mary Whipple by reading about her life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to her by following In Her Tracks.

Too Hot | Commotion | Work and Bed Bugs | George | More

Mary Mills Whipple ca. 1865. Mary Mills Whipple ca. 1865. Photo courtesy of the Sibley House Historic Site, Minnesota Historical Society.

Mary Whipple had never been so hot in all her life. She wanted to strip off all her clothes, run through the streets of Faribault waving her undergarments in the air, and throw herself into the cool waters of the Straight River.

There wasn’t the slightest breeze in the yard on this humid August day. Sweat poured down her face. Her hair escaped from its knot in long, wet snarls. Her chemise, blouse and thin wash-day dress were soaked through, too. She was glad she had left off her corset, and was so hot didn’t even care whether any of the divinity students living next door saw her like this.

Mary stirred the sodden cotton lumps in the tub of boiling gray water with a heavy stick, taking care to keep her skirts out of the roaring fire below. It was absurd to being doing laundry on a day like this. But then, there were a lot of crazy things happening right now. She would leave town on the stage tomorrow and needed at least a week’s worth of clothing for herself and the children. And who knew when she would get a chance to wash George’s clothes again?

Woman washing Washing clothes. Johanna Erickson Peterson washing clothes on Lewis Peterson farm, Hamlin Township, Lac qui Parle County, ca. 1910. Photograph Collection. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Too Hot | Commotion | Work and Bed Bugs | George | More

Mary rolled her aching shoulders. She was so tired. She had been awake since dawn, when the faint sound of bells carried through the still air. Even her husband George had awoken, although since his sailing days he usually could sleep through the loudest of tropical storms. He joined her as she peered out the window early that morning. Through the woods, they could catch a glimpse of Alexander Faribault’s French house, where there seemed to be a great deal of commotion. They hardly had time to wonder before a boy came running towards them from between the trees. George met him at the door in his nightshirt. Knowing she shouldn’t appear in her nightdress, Mary listened from just behind the door.

Mary lifted some clothing out of the water with the stick. She saw that there were still grass stains on Muhlenberg’s shirt, but this was no time to be picky. The shirt would be filthy two minutes after her rambunctious young nephew put it on again, anyway. She heaved the dripping bundle into a second tub balanced on the tree stump to her right and fished the last of George’s drawers from the hot water. She somehow found reason to laugh to herself. The town might soon be under attack, but at least her family would have clean underwear.

That was the news the boy had brought through the woods. The Indians were attacking settlers at the Indian Agency in the Minnesota River Valley. No one was certain where they would go next. George threw on clothes and joined the men in town for a meeting. He returned at midday with her brother-in-law, James, both men white-faced and grim. Mary asked 10-year old Clara, who lived with them, to take Muhlenberg and Charlie upstairs. Clara was half Ojibway, and Mary didn’t want her to hear the terrible things people were saying about Indians. Mary met the men in the parlor.

Mary yanked the worst of Muhlenberg’s shirts out of the pile in the second tub. The hot fabric made her raw hands even redder, but she spread the cloth and scraped the gray lump of rough lye soap over the stubborn grass stains. She set the soap aside and began to rub the shirt on the ridges of the washboard. She scrubbed hard, scraping her sore knuckles, but hoping to scour out some of her anger at the high-handed way the men had ordered her to leave town with the children. George usually listened to and respected her opinions, but today he didn’t leave time for discussion.

Too Hot | Commotion | Work and Bed Bugs | George | More

Yet she understood that James and George were concerned about the children’s safety. James had been particularly protective of them since Jane had died this spring. Mary paused to swallow the tears that threatened every time she thought about her sister’s death. Mary had come to Faribault four years ago to be with her. Faribault was barely a town then. Jane’s husband, James, was often gone on mission work to the north, and Muhlenberg was soon to be born. Besides, James’ new mission school needed teachers, and Mary had experience teaching.

The Seabury Chapel and Mission School, 1860. The Seabury Chapel and Mission School, 1860. Mary taught school in this building. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Mary tossed the slightly cleaner shirt into a third tub, filled it with rinse water, and began sorting through the rest of the cooling wash, looking for remaining stains. She had been prepared to teach children, both Indian and white, but nothing could have prepared her for the constant dirt, the winters with temperatures at forty below, the utter lack of privacy, the need to make everything from soap to sausage... nor the bed bugs. No, she mused as she tossed sleeves and collars into the rinse water, none of the coursework at the progressive Argyle Academy of New York could have prepared her for the bed bugs.

Not perfect, but clean enough, Mary thought, tossing the rest of the laundry into the rinsing tub with a splash. She noticed that her favorite flower-sprigged blouse wasn’t in the tub, and realized that George had probably given away some of their clothing again. He was generous to those in need, and she couldn’t be mad at him for that. The cool water in the third tub felt good on her swollen hands. She churned the clothing around to get the soap out.

She should be frightened, she thought, as she began wringing water from a shirt. Certainly the news they had received was horrifying. But she also knew panic would only make things worse, and she had known that a crisis was near. George’s brother, Henry, had spoken with great concern about the suffering of the Dakota the last time he had come for dinner. Mary knew that he would use his brilliant mind and deep compassion to try to calm everyone involved.

Too Hot | Commotion | Work and Bed Bugs | George | More

She wrung out the rest of the clothes and tossed them into the wicker basket. She would hang the wash and hope that it dried soon in spite of the humidity. George had promised to send a girl from town to help her with the ironing and other preparations for the departure. He had also managed to reserve the last spots in the stagecoach going to Hastings tomorrow, and sent word to the proprietor of the Tremont House there that they would need rooms.

Women hanging clothes Women hanging laundry. Mrs. VanderBosch and her daughter on wash day, 243 North Smith, St. Paul, ca. 1895. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Dear George. He would stay behind with the rest of the men to defend the town. No man could leave town without a pass. But Mary suspected this would be the last straw for him. While he felt deeply for the Dakota and Ojibway, she knew that he had long been impatient with the politics at the Faribault mission. He was willing to be here out of loyalty to Henry, and because she needed to care for her motherless nephews. But George longed to return to the Sandwich Islands, a fascinating place that he had described to her in colorful detail during many long, cold winter nights. Perhaps after this crisis was over, the Bishop would finally appoint him to a mission there, where he felt so much at home. Mary couldn’t blame George. She had always longed to travel, too.

In the meantime, Mary assured herself, their hired woman would cook for the men and take care of Flora and Betsy, their dog and cat. With the laundry done, there was really nothing else George would need, except an extra dose of patience and courage. She gave a washtub a mighty shove, tipping it over. The water cascaded into the garden, watering the potatoes and the ripening green beans. She hoped she could return home in time to pick them.

Too Hot | Commotion | Work and Bed Bugs | George | More

For more information, read Mary Whipple’s letter of August 25, 1862, relating her activities and feelings during the U.S.- Dakota War. You can find more facts about Mary Whipple by reading about her life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to her by following In Her Tracks.

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