Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Chief Sleepy Eye shouldn’t have a mustache June 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
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In mid-April I photographed this sign featuring Chief Sleepy Eye on the east end of Sleepy Eye, MN.

HIS EYELIDS MAY HAVE DROOPED, but I’m quite certain Chief Sleepy Eye didn’t sport a mustache.

However, on this sign welcoming visitors to Sleepy Eye, in Brown County, Minnesota, the town’s namesake clearly has facial hair.

I didn’t notice the apparent defacing of Chief Sleepy Eye until now, while sorting through on-the-road photos I shot in April.

I expect that’s exactly the problem. Locals and travelers pass by the welcome sign along U.S. Highway 14 and don’t even notice. We get so accustomed to something that we overlook the details.

Scratching a mustache onto a person’s photo in a newspaper (haven’t we all done that?) is one thing. But marring a Sisseton Dakota chief’s image on a public welcoming sign is quite another.

So who, exactly, was Chief Sleepy Eye?

Born in 1780, this leader of the Swan Lake or Little Rock band of hunters was considered a friend of explorers, traders, settlers, missionaries and others. He was among those signing, albeit reluctantly, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851. In that historic treaty, the Dakota ceded land in exchange for promises of cash, goods, education and a reservation.

From 1857-1859, Ishtakhaba’s (Sleepy Eye’s) main village sat along Sleepy Eye Lake. He died in 1860 while hunting in South Dakota. His remains were eventually buried beneath a granite obelisk monument that stands near the historic railroad depot in Sleepy Eye.

Even though I lived and worked in Sleepy Eye briefly in the early 1980s, I don’t recall ever taking time to view this monument or to appreciate the Dakota chief it honors. Perhaps it’s time to detour a block off highway 14 and educate myself.

FYI: To view Chief Sleepy Eye without a mustache, click here to an image on the City of Sleepy Eye website.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling