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


8 Responses to “Chief Sleepy Eye shouldn’t have a mustache”

  1. I was wondering why it was created like that until you mentioned it was vandalized. Too bad. My great great grandmother was full blood Sioux. How she ended up in Northern Canada I’m not sure. Maybe she liked all the men with their mustache’s : )

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      This is quite interesting about your great great grandmother. Did she come from Minnesota or the Dakotas? Do you know when? I did not mention this in my post, but this year is the 150th anniversary year of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862. I’ve always been quite interested in this conflict since my home area lies between the Upper and Lower Sioux Indian Reservations in sw Minnesota. The major battles of the war happened within this region. I also have relatives in the New Ulm area who were warned by friendly Dakota to flee to a neighboring town for safety. Upon their return home, my ancestors found that some of their neighbors had been killed. If you’re really interested in the topic, you’ll find lots of info online during this anniversary year.

  2. Deb Joramo Says:

    We would be more then happy to have everyone come see Chief Sleepy Eye. His monument (which yes he is buried in a copper coffin under the monument), we also would enjoy having you see our beautiful lake in which it was named after our Chief Sleepy Eye, but it was also known at one time as “Minnewashte Chanhatonka” – Or – “Pretty Water By The Big Trees”. We also have a wonderful museum with plenty of historical items of the town in it. We are a little but growing town. More than likely the Dakota Uprising did infact have alot to do with having a cause for Dana’s family moving to Canada. The Uprising was not a good time for the Leavenworth, Milford, and New Ulm area. The town of Sleepy Eye, however was not luckily involved in this since the town was not established till 1872. This does not however mean settlers were not around, but the area where the town would have been known as the Village of Sleepy Eye would have been considered part of the reservation at that time (1862), which is why in 1857 Chief Sleepy Eye was forced to move his people/tribe from Swan Lake to the area where the present day town of Sleepy Eye is today. – Once the uprising came what was left of Chief Sleepy Eyes tribe and other Indian tribes in the surrounding areas either went to the Lower Sioux Agency area, and quite a few went to the Dakotas and others hence went to Canada. Just thought I would put my two bits in:)

    Deb Joramo, Director of the Sleepy Eye Area Historical Society

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Deb, thanks for sharing that detailed info about Chief Sleepy Eye and the history of your area at the time of the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862. Is the monument currently accessible? I noticed road construction in the area when I drove through Sleepy Eye several weeks ago.

      Also, just for clarification, Dana’s ancestors did not live in Minnesota. But I can see how you would misunderstand based on her comment.

      I look forward to stopping at the monument sometime soon.

      • Deb Joramo Says:

        It seems busy around here but YES WE ARE OPEN! The monument is definitely available to see, along with the museum itself.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Wonderful. Thank you, Deb. What are museum hours? Are you open on weekends?

  3. Deb Joramo Says:

    Our hours are Tuesday – Saturday … 10 AM to 4 PM … We are a Free Museum but donations are always welcomed 🙂

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