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’s Story
Faribault, August 1864

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 Taopi by reading about his life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

Minnesota's Big Woods.

Minnesota's Big Woods. Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Taopi stepped slowly through the heavy carpet of leaves. Although it was still early, already he was bathed in sweat. His eyes scanned the ground for the five-leaf cluster that told him where to dig. No breeze stirred the leaves of the towering elms that stretched out of the deep ravine toward the brightening daylight. Dew soaked his moccasins and tattered pants. In spite of the heat and humidity, he kept what was left of his coarse shirt fastened as a shield against the hungry mosquitoes. He had given himself a brisk rubbing with strong-smelling leaves after his morning prayers outside his tepee, but the pests still whined about his neck and ears. It was going to be a long day.

Although, he thought, there had been many days worse than this one would be. He shifted the badly worn, triangle-shaped hoe on his shoulder. There were many small mounds of dirt and paths of scuffed leaves on the ravine floor. These were signs that others had been here earlier. There would be little ginseng to be found here. He adjusted his path toward the steep side of the ravine.

 

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

The worst days, he mused, had been those at Fort Snelling. Even now, two years later, the horrible smells remained with him. He still awakened abruptly in the night, thinking he heard the wrenching sobs of yet another family mourning the death of a child. Sometimes he thought he heard the low moans of hungry children.

He glanced around. Nothing but the trees in these big woods, as far as he could see. He began climbing the steep wooded bluff, enjoying the peaceful view. At Fort Snelling, there had been no view. A tall fence surrounded their large and crowded settlement. Stern-faced soldiers had marched in and out of their prison, both to watch over them and to protect them from the angry mobs that gathered outside the fence.

Captured Dakota in fenced enclosure on Minnesota River below Fort Snelling, 1862. Captured Dakota in fenced enclosure on Minnesota River below Fort Snelling, 1862. Photographed by Edward Augustus Bromley (1848-1925). Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Taopi checked his bearings against the sun that now glinted through the trees. He had to be careful not to wander too far. Alexander Faribault had given him permission to dig on this land. But he could not afford to be accused of stealing ginseng from other people’s land. Townspeople were already suspicious enough of the Dakota.

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

He glanced at the base of the tree to his right. A cluster of red berries glowed brightly under sharp-toothed green leaves. Although this was what he was looking for, he hesitated. If he dug the root now, the berries could not ripen and drop off. There would be fewer plants to find next year. But surely by then his claims would be recognized.

Powerful men like Alexander Faribault, Henry Sibley and Bishop Whipple were helping him. The government would finally give him the farmland and money he deserved. Then he could plant his crops, feed his family, and resume the life he had been forced to leave behind two years ago.

He lifted his old spade and swung it downward. The spade bit through old oak leaves, then jarred to a stop, hitting the tough tree roots surrounding the plant. He wiggled the handle of the hoe to loosen it, and swung again. And again. Although he feared it was un-Christian to admit it, it felt good to swing at something. He had often asked Bishop Whipple how he could stop being so angry. He had spent his life as a peaceful man, and had saved many others at risk to his own life. Yet those he had helped imprisoned him. They took his farm. They sent most of his band to desolate lands far away. Even worse, Taopi couldn’t join them in their misery. Some of his childhood companions from other bands felt betrayed by the help he had given the white settlers. They would kill him on sight.

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

Taopi continue to hack at the ground. His body ached from his old injuries. Sweat ran down his back. The kindly Bishop had assured him he was on the right path. He often reminded Taopi that he had chosen such a path long ago. As a younger man, Taopi had become a peaceful farmer of the earth. Although it angered Little Crow and others, Taopi had rejected the traditional ways of his Dakota tribe. He chose instead to cut his hair. He wore the clothing of the white. He lived in a house. He became Chief of his farmer band. Soon, two hundred others followed his path as a farmer. And in the depth of his misery at Fort Snelling, he and others who respected his leadership had chosen to be baptized by Reverend Hinman. At the baptism, he gave his medicine bag to Reverend Hinman. Giving up the bag was a clear symbol of his commitment to the Great Father.

Confirmation of the Dakota at Fort Snelling by Bishop Whipple. Photo by Benjamin Franklin Upton. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Taopi knelt in the rich-smelling leaves. He brushed the loose, dark earth away from the base of the plant. The dirt was cool on his fingers. He tugged and wiggled gently. After a few minutes, the entangled root loosened its hold on the earth and its neighboring roots. He sat back on his heels, waving off the mosquitoes around his head. He gently brushed a bit of the earth off the root to judge its quality. He didn’t want to remove too much dirt. It helped the root retain its moisture, and added a bit of weight when it came time for payment by the pound. The root was small, but in a perfect man shape, with arms, legs and head. Taopi knew it could cure many ills, but his family’s greatest ill now was hunger. When he sold enough ginseng root, he could buy some flour and his family could have bread. It would be good to buy something himself. He did not like to rely on Faribault and Whipple for everything.

Somewhere across a great ocean, he had heard, people who already had enough bread would pay great sums for the root he held in his hand. They, too, understood the root’s uses. Taopi gently placed the root in the leather pouch slung over his shoulder. He wiped at the dampness on his forehead. He realized he had smeared the dirt on his hands onto his face, and shook his head wryly. If only the Bishop could see him now.

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

He had looked considerably different last winter, when Bishop Whipple had loaned him handsome clothing and sent him to the man they called “photographer.” There he had perched stiffly on the edge of a chair and watched some bright flashes of light come out of a big box. Not long ago the Bishop had shown him a heavy rectangle of paper with his picture on it. Taopi would not have recognized himself, but he recognized the borrowed clothes. The Bishop said that he would use the picture to explain Taopi’s plight to others.

This photograph of Taopi was used to publicize his difficulties and those of other Dakota. This photograph of Taopi was used to publicize his difficulties and those of other Dakota. Courtesy of the Rice County Historical Society.

Taopi glanced around for other telltale berries. Finding none, he began up the steep slope again. At least out here, he did not have to explain. He felt that anytime he was not trying to feed his family, he was talking. He had even agreed to travel with the Bishop when he should have been trying to plant crops for his family on Alexander Faribault’s flat land near the river. Instead, he had worn more borrowed clothing, and visited places called Washington and Philadelphia. He talked and explained to staring white people in fancy clothing. They whispered to each other behind their hands. Sometimes he wondered if his interpreter was really telling them what he had said. The Bishop urged him to be patient. He said that these people could help him get his longed-for plot of land. Perhaps he could even get some money from the government to buy good seeds for planting.

Taopi could now hear the thwack of other hoes echoing through the forest. Townspeople who dared to brave an encounter with an Indian could dig in this area, so ginseng had become even harder to find. Taopi and his family had dug roots for the last two seasons. He worried there was little chance of finding enough roots to feed his family today. But he had to believe, the Bishop said. He had to have strength and hope.

In spite of his worry, Taopi spotted another lonely cluster of berries ahead. He would use his strength to dig them out. He would take them as a sign of hope.

The Big Woods | Fort Snelling | Digging Ginseng | Baptism | Explaining | More

To find out more about Taopi's life before he dug ginseng, read Before the Story. To find out what happened next, read After the Story. For clues to Taopi's life in Faribault, follow In His Tracks.

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