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HISTORICAL NOTES OF GREY CLOUD ISLAND AND ITS 

VICINITY.* 

\ 



BY JOHN H. CASE. 



Grey Cloud island, about five miles long and one to two 
miles wide, is situated in the south end of Washington county, 
Minnesota, between St. Paul and Hastings. It is bounded on 
the west end and south side by the Mississippi river, and on 
the north side and east end by the Grey Cloud creek or slough. 

The name Grey Cloud in the Dakota or Sioux language is 
Mar-pi-ya-ro-to, with the addition of one more syllable, win, 
meaning woman. It was the Sioux name of both the wife and 
the daughter of James Aird, an Indian trader. The wife, first 
bearing this name, was a sister of the Sioux Chief Wabasha 
who took part in the war between the United States, and Eng- 
land in 1812, and her father's name also was Wabasha. She 
was born at her father's village, where the city of Winona now 
stands, and died in 1844 at Black Dog's village, sometimes 
called Grey Iron's village, about six miles southwest of Men- 
dota, on the Minnesota river in what is now Eagan township, 
Dakota county. She was buried in one of the Indian burial 
grounds near their village. Her marriage to Aird was in 1783 
or soon afterward, and they had one child, a girl named Mar- 
garet. 

James Aird was a Scotchman, born in Ayrshire, and is said 
to have been a cousin of Robert Burns, the poet. He came to 
America about 1783, landing at Quebec, and probably in that 
year came to Wabasha 's village as a trader in the employ of 
the Hudson Bay Company. He afterward went to Prairie du 
Chien for the same company, where Joseph Rolette, Sr., was 
at the head of the company's trading post. Aird died at Prairie 
du Chien in the fall of 1819 or 1820. Hazen Mooers, the well 

*Read at the monthly meeting of the Executive Council, May 13, 1912. 



372 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

known trader among the Sioux, who came to what is now Min- 
nesota in 1819, and Aird's granddaughter, Jane Anderson, 
were present when he died. A part of this information was 
obtained from this Jane Anderson, afterward Mrs. Andrew 
Eobertson, who died at the Sisseton Agency in South Dakota, 
or at Brown's Valley, Minn., in the fall of 1905. 

Margaret Aird was married to Captain Thomas Anderson 
about 1805 at Prairie du Chien. He was an officer in the British 
army, and took part in the capture of Fort McKay at that place 
in the war of 1812. He was born at Cornwall, Canada, in Jan- 
uary, 1778, and died at Port Hope, Canada, in 1874. They had 
three children, Mary, Angus M. (an early Indian trader in 
Minnesota), and Jane, who married Andrew Robertson, head 
farmer for the government at the Yellow Medicine Agency, and 
afterward superintendent of Indian schools on the reserva- 
tion, from about 1854 to 1858. 

In the Dakota language Margaret Aird was named Mar-pi- 
ya-ro-to-win, the same as her mother. She separated from 
Captain Anderson after they had been married about eight 
years, and later married Hazen Mooers, who was the first agent 
or trader for the American Fur Company at Lake Traverse, 
Minnesota, building the trading post at that place. Margaret 
was with him there, and also at the next post where he was 
stationed, called Little Rock, in the west part of the present 
Nicollet county, on the Minnesota river. Mooers and his fam- 
ily removed in 1838 from Little Rock to what is now called 
Grey Cloud island. They were accompanied by Andrew Rob- 
ertson and family, and also by Joseph R. Brown, who was well 
known to nearly all the pioneers and traders of those early 
times. They all came there together on the same day. 

Mooers and Robertson took possession of three large bark 
lodges on the west end of the island, which had been vacated 
in the preceding autumn by Medicine Bottle's band of Sioux, 
when they moved across the river to their new village at Pine 
Bend, in Dakota county. Brown built a log house farther east 
or down the river. It was while living on this island, from 
1838 to 1847, that Andrew Robertson named it Grey Cloud 
island, after his mother-in-law, Margaret Aird Mooers, whose 



GREY CLOUD ISLAND AND ITS VICINITY. 373 

name, in its English translation, like that of her mother, was 
Grey Cloud. Margaret died at Black Dog's village in 1850, 
and was buried there. 

The band of which Medicine Bottle was chief had its origin 
through the dissatisfaction of some members of the band of 
Big Thunder and of Little Crow, father of the chief of that 
name who led the Sioux massacre in 1862. Previous to the 
treaty of 1837, their village was on the east bank of the Mis- 
sissippi river about two miles below the present city of St. 
Paul. After this treaty, by which the Sioux ceded their lands 
east of the Mississippi, they removed the village to the west 
bank of the river, where it was known to the early settlers as 
Kaposia, on the site of South Park, near the South St. Paul 
stock yards. A few families of that band left the old village 
on the east side and chose as their leader a noted counselor and 
medicine man named Waukan-ojan-jan, meaning Spirit Light 
or Holy Light, as translated into English by his daughter, but 
called Medicine Bottle by the early fur traders and pioneers. 

They went down the river about eight miles and built some 
large bark and willow lodges on the northwest end of Grey 
Cloud island, where they lived and had their fields and gardens 
until the autumn of 1837. Two of their vacated lodges were 
occupied the next year, as before noted, by Mooers and Rob- 
ertson with their families, and the third one was used by them 
as a storehouse. In May, 1839, these men built two log houses, 
with stone chimneys, near the river, and they farmed a part 
of the gardens and cornfields formerly cultivated by the In- 
dians. That year they raised potatoes, corn, and garden truck, 
some of which they sold at Fort Snelling for the use of the 
officers and troops ; and in 1840 they raised some grain on these 
fields and sold a part of it at the fort. These notes of early 
farming on Grey Cloud island were told to me by Mrs. Mary 
Brown, a daughter of Hazen Mooers, wife of John W. Brown, 
who was a half brother of the distinguished Joseph R. Brown. 
Their marriage was on this island, on New Year's day in 1846. 

In the fall of 1837 or the spring of 1838, Medicine Bottle 
and his band moved across the Mississippi to the west bank a 
short distance farther south, at the place called by the early 
French and Canadian voyageurs Pin de Tour, now known as 



MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

Pine Bend. The meaning of both these names is "The bend 
in the river where the pine trees are." Some of these white 
pines are still standing there on the side of the bluff, being con- 
spicuously seen from the decks of passing steamboats. A large 
village of bark and willow ho/uses or lodges was built at this 
place, and sometimes beside the permanent lodges there were 
many tepees of poles and skins during the spring and fall hunt- 
ing seasons. 

The situation of this village was a fine one for the Indians. 
The marshes and heavy timber on the bottomlands around 
Spring lake and Belanger island, east of them, in what is now 
Nininger township, were full of small game, such as geese, 
ducks, muskrats and mink; and on the high land were found 
the prairie chicken, foxes, partridges and quail, and pigeons 
by the thousands that sometimes nested and roosted in the 
heavy timber on Belanger island. The timber consisted of 
soft maple, cottonwood, elm, hackberry, and ash, most of which 
was still standing in 1856 when I came to Nininger. The wild 
pigeons had their roosts and nests on this island in 1859. The 
last that I saw of their great flocks, which were sometimes one 
to two miles long, transverse to their course of flight, but 
usually not more than fifty feet wide, was in the spring and 
summer of 1871. Flock after flock followed each other, at 
short intervals, sometimes for several days. 

Spring lake, southeast of this village a short distance, was 
alive with large fish, among which were catfish, buffalo, pike-, 
and pickerel, also sunfish and other small kinds. In the win- 
ter of 1856-57 our people went up to the primitive sawmill near 
the junction of Spring lake and Belanger sloughs, shut down 
the gates to the flume, and threw out so many of these large 
fish as to fill half a wagon box. 

The land on which this Sioux village stood, together with 
their gardens and cornfields, was afterward pre-empted by 
"William A. Bissell, the first white settler at Pine Bend, in the 
present Inver Grove township, Dakota county. The village 
was near the river under the bluffs, on government lot 10, 
section 35; and the gardens and cornfields were on the hill, 
on the south half of the southeast quarter and on the southeast 
quarter of the southwest quarter of section 34, Inver Grove. 



GREY CLOUD ISLAND AND ITS VICINITY. 375 

Bissell first visited Medicine Bottle's village in 1849 or 
1850; and in 1851 Medicine Bottle allowed him to put up a 
small log shack under and near the bluff, perhaps a quarter or 
half a mile north or northwest of their village. He moved his 
family down from Red Rock with a span of horses and sled, 
on the ice late in the fall of 1851, and occupied this shack. 
The family had been living with some of the early settlers and 
missionaries at Red Rock, among whom were John A. Ford, 
Mr. Irish, Mr. Holton, and others. In 1852 Bissell built a 
hewed log house, covering it with shingles split mostly from 
oak logs ; and the same year he raised some potatoes, corn, and 
garden stuff. He paid for this land August 6, 1855, and his 
receipt was signed by the government receiver, R. P. Russell, 
of Minneapolis. 

The old Indian trail from Wabasha's village, on the site- of 
Winona, to Little Crow's village, at Kaposia, or a branch of 
this trail, ran into Medicine Bottle's village and out again 
through what was afterward known as Bissell's coulie. Also 
a branch from this trail went to Fort Snelling. Captain John 
Tapper, the first ferryman at Minneapolis, who died in 1909, 
told me that he came over this trail in the fall of 1844 from 
Lake Pepin to Mendota. He said that it was nearly dark when 
he and his companions arrived at Medicine Bottle's village, 
and they stayed there all night. The chief entertained them 
as well as circumstances would permit, and the next morning 
they followed the trail to Mendota and were ferried across the 
Minnesota river to Fort Snelling. 

In 1853 William Strathern of Rich Valley, Dakota county, 
and "William Senescall, took claims within a mile or two of 
Bissell. These two men in the spring of that year ploughed a 
part of the Indian cornfield for Bissell, and he put it into 
wheat. This wheat was cut with a cradle and threshed with 
a flail by Walter Strathern, a brother of William, later in the 
fall or winter. Walter is now living on his original pre-emp- 
tion claim taken in 1853 at Rich Valley. A part of this wheat 
was hauled by William Strathern around by the way of St. 
Paul and Cottage Grove to the grist mill of Lemuel Bolles in 
Afton, where it was made into flour. William Senescall was 



376 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

living at Stewart or Glencoe, Minn., a few years ago; he was 
a member of Company F, Hatch's Battalion. 

Medicine Bottle and his band lived at Pine Bend fifteen 
years, leaving there for the new Sioux Reservation on the up- 
per Minnesota river in the fall of 1852. Both the chief and his 
wife were true friends and neighbors of the Bissell family, and 
just before they left for their new home they came to the Bis- 
sell home to bid them good-bye. They had their faces painted 
and ran out of the house, threw themselves on the ground, and 
carried on their lamentations after the Indian fashion of ex- 
pressing sorrow at the loss of friends or relatives. They felt 
very badly on account of having to leave the Bissells and their 
old home and hunting grounds. Mr. Bissell died at Sauk Cen- 
ter in December, 1871, and was buried there. 

The third and last village of Medicine Bottle and his band 
in Minnesota was one mile west of the government buildings 
at the Redwood or Lower Sioux Agency. He was accidentally 
killed near his lodge or house in this village before the out- 
break of 1862. Outside of his house he had a scaffold erected 
for drying corn, and hanging from the rafters was an iron 
chain with a sharp hook on the lower end. Some of his family 
were cleaning or cutting up a wild duck, and he was feeding 
his chickens, when one of them ran off with a piece of the duck. 
The chief ran to catch it but stumbled, and in falling the sharp 
hook caught him in the mouth, penetrating his brain. He ex- 
pired in a few minutes from hemorrhage. He was attended by 
Dr. Asa "W. Daniels, the government physician at the Redwood 
Agency, now living in Pomona, California, who has supplied 
this account of his death. Dr. Daniels further writes : 

We looked upon Medicine Bottle as a civilized Indian. He lived 
in a frame house, cultivated a plot of ground, did not believe in con- 
juration nor practice it, but possessed considerable knowledge in bleed- 
ing, cupping, and the hot steam bath, and kept medicinal barks, roots, 
and herbs, which he used in cases of sickness. He was an Indian of 
much ability, honest, truthful, and bore the duties of life faithfully, 
and always gave good advice and worthy example to the others of his 
people. 

Another Sioux whose name in English was Medicine Bottle, 
also called Grizzly Bear, a nephew of this chief and son of Grey 



GREY CLOUD ISLAND AND ITS VICINITY. 377 

Iron, took part in the massacre, for which he and the young 
chief Shakopee, called Little Six, having been captured in 1864, 
were tried by a military commission at Fort Snelling and were 
hung there November 11, 1865. 

The site of the city of Hastings was earlier called Oliver's 
Grove, after Lieut. William G. Oliver, who was ascending the 
Mississippi with one or more keel boats late in the autumn of 

1819, but was prevented from going farther by a gorge of ice 
in the bend of the river opposite to this city. The boat or boats 
were probably run up to the outlet of Lake Rebecca, to be out 
of the way of the ice when the river broke up in the spring of 

1820. Lieutenant Oliver was on his way from Fort Crawford 
at Prairie du Chien with supplies for the soldiers at St. Peter's 
camp, now Fort Snelling, among whom was the first settler of 
Hastings, Joe Brown, the drummer boy, then about fourteen 
years of age. 

Oliver passed the winter here with some soldiers guarding 
these supplies. I imagine that he put up a log c'amp on the 
bottomland near where his boats were tied, as it was covered 
with very large elm and maple trees, which with the smaller 
growth of willows and maples along the riverside would pro- 
tect the camp from the northwest wind and also furnish plenty 
of fuel. 

When I first saw the bottomlands on the long island ad- 
joining Lake Rebecca, between Nininger and Hastings, they 
were covered with heavy timber, soft maple, white and black 
ash, elm, cottonwood, and hackberry; and on the lower end of 
the island, next to the river for half a mile, was a dense grove 
of willows and small maples so close together in some places 
that one could not get through them. I was quite familiar with 
these woods and also Oliver's Grove when I was young, be- 
cause my father's stock at Nininger was pastured on these 
bottoms and I had to drive the cows home at night during the 
summer months, sometimes finding them as far down the river 
as Oliver's Grove. 

After leaving the army, Joseph R. Brown commenced to 
trade with the Indians about the year 1826. He had a trad- 
ing post in 1832 at St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, which he left 



378 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

in a boat or canoe on one of the last days of July in that year, 
coming down the St. Croix to its mouth and thence up the 
Mississippi to Oliver's Grove. Here he built a one-story log 
house on what was afterward platted as Lot 1, Block 12, of the 
original townsite of Hastings, at the southwest corner of 
Second and Vermillion streets. This house stood in a beauti- 
ful grove of white and bur oaks. An extensive belt of oak 
woods, including white, bur, black, and red oaks, continued 
thence three miles northwest along the bank of Lake Rebecca 
and on the second plateau above the river, to the home of my 
father, James R. Case, in section 18, Nininger. The grove in 
Hastings extended south as far as to the site of Hon. Albert 
Schaller's home, on Fifth street, where some of its large trees 
yet remain. 



14 



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