Thursday, August 18, 2016
Who's out back at River Bend (3)
Few tribal people were as quick to give up Native names as the Santees, who did it almost en masse after the Dakota War in a desire to never again lose so much as they had in so little time. That this stone says "Jane Huntsman" doesn't mean the woman buried here had no Dakota name. She did, and the government rolls from her lifetime still list it as "Eotonwicemdezewir," which makes some kind of change understandable.
What can we know about Jane Huntsman, by a simple internet search? She had five children, only two of whom survived into adulthood. A daughter is buried alongside her here, Mary Lightning, who died just four years after her mother did, in 1917. Mary was her daughter by her second husband, her first having given her three children, one of whom, Solomon, also survived into adulthood. The cross at the end of the row is unmarked.
She lived through immensely tough times, tougher perhaps than most Native people on the plains in the era. If her daughter Mary was 61 years old in 1917 (an old register says she was), she was born in 1856, six years before the war. Did her first husband die in the Uprising? I don't know. His name (what records there are give different spellings) is not written among those hanged at Mankato.
Her third husband, Titus Huntsman, was one of those men held in captivity for three years in at Ft. McClellan, Davenport, Iowa, after the war. Marriage records indicate the two of them didn't marry until 1890 or so, and that they were married by ceremony, not simply by way of the Native customs. That ceremony--not to mention her place in the churchyard here--means most assuredly that Mary Huntsman became a Christian believer.
The inscription on her daughter's stone is from Revelation 22:14--"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." I couldn't read Jane Huntsman's stone.
Because her remains are here in the cemetery at River Bend Church, she almost certainly spent several long months in suffering at Ft. Snelling when just about all the Dakotas were imprisoned and many died. After a brutal winter, she was almost certainly loaded on a steamer and sent down the Mississippi to St.Louis, then boarded on a ship that would eventually bring them up the Missouri to west central South Dakota. Many died on the trip; many more died at Crow Creek.
Few white folks lost any sleep about their suffering. It was 1863, and there was something called "the Civil War" after all. Besides, these people weren't just Indians, they were Dakota killers. It's difficult even to imagine what this woman went through for almost two decades.
Eventually, when the Santees were given land at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of them--most old men, women, and children, walked a hundred miles to get there. More died, but there Jane Huntsman, two husbands already dead, found a place that somehow seemed more like home.
Jane Huntsman is a name included on a list of those Flandreau Santees allotted rights to homestead on the Big Sioux River, right there at the bend beneath the church. History tells us that only Christian believers left Nebraska for the big bend. Like all the others, Jane Huntsman became eligible for homestead land at a price--she had to renounce her tribal affiliation. She had to declare, in effect, that she was no longer an Indian, a Native.
Look at the stone. The inscription beneath her name and dates of birth and death is unreadable at least to me because it's worn and weathered, but also because it's written in the Dakota language. Jane Huntsman might well have said she would no longer be an Indian, but in her heart and soul, as in her tongue, she could never be anything else totally.
That this Jane Huntsman is here in the shadow of the old church is, to me at least, a blessing, deeply comforting. She almost certainly died a believer.
But that the inscription beneath the name on the stone of a woman once named Eotonwicemdezewir is etched in the Dakota language--and not in English--well, that also makes me smile.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:22 AM