Taopi's story: 1864
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks
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Alexander Faribault's story: 1855
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Mary Whipple's_story: 1862
Before the Story
After the Story
In her tracks


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


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Taopi
Before the Story: 1820-1864

Early Years | On the Reservation | During the War | In Faribault | More

Taopi was born in about 1820. He was a member of the Little Crow Band of Mdewakanton Dakota. They lived along the Mississippi in the village of Kaposia. Today that place is St. Paul.

Village of Kaposia, where Taopi was born. "Little Crow's Village on the Mississippi," by Seth Eastman, 1846-1848. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.
 

Taopi's mother, Azayamankawin, also called "Old Bets."

Taopi’s mother was Berry Picker (Azayamankawin). His father was probably Iron Sword (Mazasagia). His mother was well known to white soldiers and settlers, “not only for her beauty, but for her kind disposition as well as for her bravery.” She later became known as “Old Betsey” or “Old Bets.” She often nursed the sick children of army officers stationed at Fort Snelling. Early St. Paul newspapers also mention her and other family members.

As a young man of about 22, Taopi fought against the Ojibwe during the battle of Pine Coulee (Pine Coulee is now part of south St. Paul). He was injured during the battle, giving him his adult name, which means “Wounded Man.”

Taopi's mother, Azayamankawin, also called "Old Bets." Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney (1822-1886). Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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Taopi, along with most of Minnesota’s other Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands, had to leave their village of Kaposia after the Treaty of Mendota in 1851. They were removed to a reservation near the Lower Sioux Agency on the Minnesota River.

 

A building at the Lower Sioux Agency, 1897. A building at the Lower Sioux Agency, 1897. Photo by Edward Augustus Bromley. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

At the reservation, government agents worked to teach the Dakota a farming lifestyle. The government liked farming. It would keep the Indians in one place, and hopefully out of the way of settlers. During this time, Taopi became a leader of his Little Crow band. Many of the Dakota did not like doing things they way the government told them to. But by 1858, a Kaposian named White Dog decided to form a farmer band. Taopi joined this band. He also decided to dress and live the way white government agents wanted him to. Many Dakota were upset and insulted by Taopi’s decision. They thought these changes were a betrayal of traditional Dakota values.

But Taopi saw benefits to new ways of life. In 1860, he joined with Good Thunder and Wabasha, a Mdewakanton chief. They asked Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple to start a school and mission on the reservation. The government was not keeping the treaty promises. These Dakota men saw they needed more help for their families. They told Whipple, “We are looking into a grave. We hear you come from the Great Spirit to help His poor children.”


Taopi in about 1860. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

It is likely that Taopi felt that Bishop Whipple was very powerful. The Dakota were told at the reservation they were “primitive” and “heathen.” They were cut off from many of their traditional ways of life. They were told that the white settlers and missionaries were always right. When two of Taopi’s children became ill, he gave them to Reverend Hinman, who worked at the mission. He thought Hinman could cure them. But the children died. We do not know what Taopi thought of this. But Bishop Whipple later claimed that “this sorrow led Taopi unto Jesus.”

In 1861, the government agent at the reservation decided that Taopi should be the chief of the farmer band. In his new position, Taopi had even more conflicts with non-farming Dakota. He especially clashed with Little Crow, the tribe’s head speaker. But Taopi did not change his mind. He said “it is the religion of the Great Spirit that makes the white man different from his red brother.”

Early Years | On the Reservation | During the War | In Faribault | More

The U.S.- Dakota War began at the Lower Sioux Agency on August 18, 1862. Little Crow and others began attacking the government agents and settlers. Taopi tried to stay out of the conflict when it started. But angry Dakota ordered the farmers to take off the “white” clothing. They made them put on traditional Dakota leggings and blankets. Throughout the war, Taopi worked to protect white captives. But when the war was over, all Dakota were imprisoned. It did not matter what they had done during the war. Henry Sibley helped Taopi avoid unjust punishment and issued a certificate of commendation. Taopi also testified against Dakota who had killed settlers. But Taopi no longer had a farm or any possessions.

Henry Sibley issued this commendation. It was Taopi's proof to others that he was a "civilized" Indian. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

 

Early Years | On the Reservation | During the War | In Faribault | More

The government planned to send the imprisoned Dakota to a new and desolate reservation. It was far away, at Crow Creek in the Dakota territories. Bishop Whipple knew Taopi should not be sent away with other Dakota. Many were angry at him. They would kill him. So Whipple asked Sibley to permit Taopi and a few others to stay in Minnesota. He also asked Alexander Faribault to let them to live on his land. Everyone agreed.

In spite of this help, the Dakota in Faribault must have been very unhappy. Many townspeople hated them. They sent letters to the newspaper. They asked for the “extermination” of the Dakota. Alexander Faribault took a courageous stance, and wrote a letter to the newspaper, explaining that the Dakota on his land were not hostile. In 1864, Taopi finally went to Bishop Whipple and made a statement explaining his position. The statement was also published in the paper. Taopi’s statement was very brave.

“I hear white men say they will kill me. If it is because the white man has the same law as the Indian-- that when one of his people is killed another must die in his place, then tell them not to shoot me like a dog, but to send for me to go to the public square, and I will show them how a man can die.”

After a while, the townspeople calmed down. For a few years, Taopi and the other Dakota were able to live quietly on Alexander Faribault’s land. They worked in his flour mill. They dug ginseng. They listened to Bishop Whipple’s sermons. They worked to survive.

Early Years | On the Reservation | During the War | In Faribault | More

To find out more about Taopi’s life on Alexander Faribault’s land, read Taopi’s story.
To find out about the rest of his life, read Taopi: After the Story. For other clues to Taopi's life in Faribault, follow In His Tracks.

Most of what is known about Taopi comes from research by historian Mark Diedrich, who has written extensively about Taopi and his mother. Ray Meyer also wrote about the Dakota who remained in Faribault after the war. The information here comes from their research.

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