Wakan Yanke (Woman Who Sits at the High Place) (ca. 1817-Nov. 7, 1880)

In Prairie des Français on the Rivière Saint-Pierre 1844-1880
by David R. Schleper

Wakan Yanke, or the Woman Who Sits at the High Place, was born in the Minnesota Valley area around 1817 among the large circle of her Dakota relatives. According to some researchers, Wakan Yanke was the daughter of Colonel Menary, a soldier at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and a “Sioux Indian girl.” Wakan Yanke was a close relative of Chief Ŝakpe II.

According to Patricia Jeanine Arnold Cates, the great great granddaughter of Wakan Yanke, her relative might be a full Dakota Indian.

Wakan Yanke grew up as a Mdewakaŋtoŋwaŋ, or an Eastern Dakota member of the Spirit Lake People. She lived along the Watpá Mnísota (or Minnesota River) Valley. Wakan Yanke played with others, helped her family, and sometimes went hunting or fishing. She played with dolls and toys, and she sometimes played Ta-ka-psi-ca-pi, meaning “ball game” and now called lacrosse.

Wakan Yanke, wore long deerskin or elk skin dresses and moccasins on her feet. She also wore buffalo-hide robes in bad weather. Over time, Wakan Yanke learned how to sew clothing using material from the fort.

Dakota women, like Wakan Yanke, were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, she helped build her family’s house and dragged the heavy posts with her whenever the tribe moved. Later, when she was married, Wakan Yanke became in charge of the log cabin built in Tiŋta-otoŋwe near the springs at Prairie des Français on the Rivière Saint-Pierre. Houses belonged to the women in the Dakota tribes. Wakan Yanke also took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

In 1837, she married Oliver Faribault in a civil/Indian ceremony.

Many traders and voyageurs, like Oliver, married into American Indian communities and utilized kinship networks, often trading exclusively within their particular community. “As a result, large communities of individuals of diverse heritage developed, often called ‘mixed-bloods’ or Métis during the period, and many of these individuals maintained ties to both the fur trade and American Indian communities.” Oliver was at least ¼ Dakota, and Wakan Yanke was either full Dakota or half Dakota.

As part of the settlement in an 1837 treaty, each Mdewakanton Dakota village was to receive an assigned farmer to teach them the benefits and techniques of “modern agriculture.” Oliver was assigned to Tiŋta-otoŋwe in the spring of 1839. Wakan Yanke probably stayed at Little Rapids.

Lawrence Taliaferro was a United States Army officer and an Indian agent at Fort Snelling. In Taliaferro Journal, June 11, 1839, he wrote:

“Under terms of the treaty of 1837, each Mdewakanton village was to receive an assigned farmer to teach them modern farming. Oliver’s close relationship with Ŝakpedan, also known as Little Six, led to his being assigned to that position in the spring of 1839.”

In Taliaferro Journal, June 17, 1839, and Aug. 13, 1839:

“Taliaferro recorded that Oliver had nine oxen, four cows, three horses, one bull, one cart, one wagon, two yokes, and bows, two single plows and two double plows.”

It was during this period that Tiŋta-otoŋwe moved from the left bank to the right bank of the Minnesota River. Exact year of the village removal has not been determined.

On Feb. 11, 1844, Oliver married Wakan Yanke, also called Henriette Menegre or Menary, in a religious ceremony (after the 1837 civil/Indian ceremony) at the St. Francois Xavier Sioux Mission, located at Little Prairie on the Rivière Saint-Pierre (St. Peter’s River.) Wakan Yanke spoke Dakota and French, and a bit of English.

Together, they had nine children:

  • Gabriel Olivier Faribault (1838-Dec. 1859)
  • Olivier Emile (born about 1840)
  • Angelique (birthdate unknown)
  • Mary Josephine Jessie (born 1842)
  • Jane Luce (born 1843)
  • Pelagie Eliza (Aug. 27, 1845-Dec. 1, 1937)
  • Sarah-Iréne (born 1847-May 23, 1924)
  • Henriette Luce (born 1848)
  • Lauren Philippe (born 1850)

Gabriel Olivier Faribault, who was born in 1838, probably was with Pelagie’s siblings, as is often done with young Dakota boys, in order to learn the Dakota way of living. He died in December of 1859. Oliver Emile, Angelique, Henriette Luce, and Lauren Philippe all died in infancy or early childhood.

In 1844, Wakan Yanke and Oliver built and established a trading post near three springs, later called Faribault Springs, in the midst of Tiŋta-otoŋwe, a Dakota summer planting village in what was later the east part of Shakopee. The cabin and adjacent warehouse were built on the west side of Faribault Springs, using tamarack logs which were obtained from a swamp nearby.

Oliver Faribault was in his early thirties and Wakan Yanke was about 27 years old when they moved into the area. Mary Josephine Jessie, their daughter, was two years old, and Wakan Yanke was also pregnant with another daughter, Pelagie, who was born in 1845.

Wakan Yanke spent her time as a mother and wife. She took care of Mary Josephine Jessie and Pelagie Eliza, along with Sarah-Iréne and Henriette Luce. Her last child, Lauren Phillippe, died in infancy in 1850. According to purchases in 1845-1846, the log cabin included a cook stove, and from 1842-1845 kitchen utensils included a pitcher, a coffee pot, a wrought iron tea kettle, four tin pans, three tin dishes, a set of blue cups and saucers, a dozen plates, six blue plates, four blue bowls, and a broom.

Oliver died on Oct. 12, 1850, after contracting quinsy while digging out Faribault Springs. Quinsy is an abscess between the back of the tonsil and the wall of the throat. Quinsy is now rare because most people get effective treatment for tonsillitis early enough to prevent it, but in 1850 quinsy often led to death.

The girls were still very young when their father died. Their mother, Wakan-Yanke (Harriet), remained in the home and raised the four girls, Josephine, Pelagie, Sarah, and Harriet. Wakan Yanke preempted a quarter of the land in 1856, but gradually was forced to sell small parcels of it.

Wakan Yanke, also known as Harriet Menegre/Menary Faribault, died of typhoid fever on Nov. 7, 1880. According to the Shakopee Argus, she had been unwell for weeks, but during the past ten days she was apparently improving.

The obituary noted the following:

“Mrs. Harriet Faribault died at her residence in East Shakopee, Monday last. She had been unwell for weeks, but during the past ten days was apparently improving. Except to old settlers she was unknown, of late years never leaving her residence. She was a full-blooded Sioux, but married David Faribault, a Frenchman. He died at Shakopee in 1853. Since then she has lived just at the outside of the city with her daughters. She was probably born at or near this place before visited by white man.”

A few notes about the obituary include that Wakan Yanke was full-blooded Dakota (which is probably true). She did not marry David Faribault, but Oliver Faribault, who was a brother of David. Oliver (and David) were ¼ Dakota, and were also French Canadians who were born in Prairie du Chien, now in Wisconsin. Oliver died Oct. 12, 1850 (not 1853). And the Faribault Post was inside the limits of Shakopee, on the east side just west of Memorial Park.

Eventually, the logs of the original house built by Oliver and Wakan Yanke were covered with wood frame siding. The house was lived in by the Faribault family until the 1949 and was moved to Murphy’s Landing in 1969. Now a historic site, the house is used to interpret the fur trading era at The Landing in Shakopee.

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