ON SATURDAY, THE HOME of Faribault’s founder, Alexander Faribault, opens for its 15th annual Christmas open house. The event features the 1853 house decorated for the holidays in the French-Canadian style. Faribault was of French-Canadian and Dakota descent.
To walk through the rooms of this historic home is to feel the presence of the Faribault family, including wife Mary Elizabeth Graham and their children. The Faribaults lived here only a few years before moving to a large brick mansion on the bluffs overlooking the Straight River. With 10 children, I expect they needed more space than the wood-frame house provided.
In April 2020, I visited this cemetery for the first time specifically looking for Faribault’s gravesite. I found it along with a memorial marker honoring him at the graveyard’s entrance.
Race or creed did not color his judgments, the marker states in part. That seems to match what I’ve read about Alexander Faribault. Both his mother and wife were of Dakota heritage, thus he and his children were, too. Alexander, who traded with and befriended the Dakota, later sheltered some of them on his land. Government treaties removed indigenous peoples from their land, including in current-day Faribault. Alexander Faribault served as an interpreter in the signing of regional treaties given his knowledge of the Dakota language and culture. I wonder if he felt conflicted by how the government treated the Dakota.
Today, 216 years after Faribault was born on November 28, 1806, an awareness and acknowledgment that indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of this area is rising. Long before fur traders like Faribault set up trading posts in the region, the Dakota lived here, hunted here, fished here, raised their families here, called this place home.
When I consider the friendships forged among fur traders and the Dakota, I think of the Faribault community today and those who call this place home. This city truly is a melting pot of cultures and peoples. I celebrate that. Some day I hope we can all, like our town founder, view each other through a clear lens without the filter of race or creed coloring judgment.
FYI: The Alexander Faribault House Christmas Open House is from 11 am- 3 pm Saturday, December 3, at 12 First Avenue Northeast, Faribault. The event is free and is part of this weekend’s Winterfest celebration in Faribault.
MY LIBRARY, BUCKHAM MEMORIAL in Faribault, features dozens of art pieces by local artists scattered throughout the building. I’ll admit that I really don’t even notice the art any more in my frequent visits to the library. Like anything, after time, familiarity begets overlooking.
But that all changed recently when I looked across the library to the west by the adult fiction and saw a work of art I hadn’t previously noticed. It’s been there for about a year. Yet, just now, I happened to see Dana Hanson’s original art piece, “Faribault’s Founding Fathers.” I strode across the library toward the high-hanging portrait piece and took pause.
I first met Dana, who specializes in portraits, in 2015 during Faribault’s summer Concerts in the Park weekly outdoor music series at Central Park. Local artists were invited to paint on-site and Dana was among them. She has since moved away from Faribault.
Eventually, her art started showing up in exhibits—at Buckham Center, at the Paradise Center for the Arts and at the Owatonna Arts Center. Her work ranged from faith-inspired to celebrity (like Bob Dylan, Prince and Judy Garland) and Native American portraits and more. In Owatonna, her “Healing the Land” exhibit several years ago focused on the Dakota people.
So when I saw the recently-donated 2019 painting of Faribault’s founding fathers, I was not at all surprised. Dana holds a heart full of gratitude, love and compassion for Indigenous peoples. That shows in her art, including in these portraits of Chief Taopi, a member of the Little Crow Band of the Mdewakanton Dakota Tribe; town founder Alexander Faribault, “friend and protector” of the Dakota; and Bishop Henry Whipple, “Spiritual Father and Humanitarian” and “Advocate for the Native Americans.”
Chief Taopi, who centers Dana’s portrait trio, was a leader among his people and a member of a Peace Party during the US-Dakota War of 1862. Eventually he landed in Faribault, living on land owned by founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault. Taopi and the Bishop forged a strong friendship also. The Dakota chief died in 1869 and is buried at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.
Now, to see these three men honored via a painting in a place of learning, a place of connection, a place where history writes onto pages, reminds me of their importance in my community. In the familiarity of the library and during this, Native American Heritage Month, I need to pause, appreciate and respect those who shaped this place I’ve called home for 40 years.
FOR 38 YEARS I’VE LIVED in the same house, “the Swanson house,” along Willow Street in Faribault. Just below Wapacuta Park, blocks from the home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Wednesday evening I learned information about the park up the hill, about my neighborhood, which left me feeling unsettled and troubled, but newly-informed.
The park atop the hill, according to Susan Garwood, executive director of the Rice County Historical Society, was used by the Wahpekute, one of the seven “Council Fires” of the Dakota Nation, for honoring their dead. Not for final burial of their loved ones in this place which now houses a picnic shelter, playground, disc golf course and basketball courts, but rather for the construction of scaffolding to temporarily hold the deceased. Letters and other documents verify the placement of the scaffolding in Wapacuta (incorrectly spelled) Park.
I had no idea. No idea at all that this hilltop land held such importance in the lives, and deaths, of these Indigenous Peoples who called Rice County home long before French Canadians and others settled here.
But Garwood shared even more unknown-to-me information. After a year, the bodies of the Wahpekute were removed from the scaffolding to a nearby burial spot. That’s the current day Peace Park, located near the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60, Division Street and Willow Street by Buckham Memorial Library. The site, she said, is considered a cemetery, confirmed many decades ago by the discovery of bones wrapped in bark and hide. There were 14 burial mounds and sacred sites in the county, according to Garwood, who said this is closely-guarded information known to historians.
To learn all of this proved enlightening and left me wondering how many others are unaware. And what can be done to raise awareness and respect? Garwood asked the same question during her public presentation on “The Indigenous History of the land that is now Rice County, Minnesota.” She was the first presenter in a new endeavor, the Faribault Diversity Coalition Speaker Series, which will introduce those who call/called Faribault home through these monthly speaking events at the Paradise Center for the Arts.
These first peoples lived in harmony with nature, with the land, Garwood noted. Life changed when fur traders came to the area and a dependency grew as the Wahpekute traded for goods that would make their lives easier. The US-Dakota War of 1862, centered to the west in Redwood, Renville and Brown counties, brought more change, including the loss of life, land and relocation for Indigenous Peoples. That aspect of Garwood’s talk was familiar to me given I grew up in Redwood County.
Garwood focused primarily on the Wahpekute, the first people of Rice County, the “Shooters Among the Leaves.” They were, she said, hunters and gatherers who did not work the land but rather moved from place to place to find food, to sustain themselves. Every lake in the county was home to a Wahpekute village, she said. Rivers, too. Teepee Tonka Park along the banks of the Straight River in Faribault was among their riverside homes. Not far from Peace Park. Not far from Wapacuta Park. Near my home.
IF I WAS TO CLIMB the hill behind my house through the tangle of weeds, wildflowers and woods, I would reach Wapacuta Park. But it’s easier to take the street and then the mowed hillside to this Faribault city park.
Years ago, this was the go-to spot for our family—for the kids to zoom down the towering slide and scale the massive rock in the summer and to slide down the sledding hill in the winter. Today it’s a place to occasionally take the grandkids to play on the updated playground.
To the west, along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Waterville, Sakatah Lake State Park also reflects the Dakota influence in its name. The native Dakota called the land thereon Sakatah or “singing hills” in their native language.
We are a state with many location names tracing back to the Dakota—Mankato, Wabasha, Wabasso, Sleepy Eye, Winona, Winnebago… Even the name Minnesota comes from the Dakota Mnisota, meaning “sky-tinted waters” and referencing the Minnesota River.
On a mid-June visit to Sakatah Lake State Park, rural Waterville, I thought about the Dakota who lived on this land, including at a village on the point separating Upper Sakatah and Lower Sakatah Lakes. I imagined the Wahpekute gliding across the lakes in canoes, angling for fish in these waters.
Then, as I followed the Wahpekuta Trail, I wondered about hunting and berry picking and perhaps mushroom gathering in the denseness of woods.
And, instead of campers in these trees, I imagined tipis.
I have much to learn about the Wahpekute. But at least I hold basic knowledge of their early presence here, of their importance in the history of this place I call home.