Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Settling In

THE ARRIVING TALIAFERRO party stayed at the commandant’s quarters in the fort while the mistress and servants set up the agency household. Each morning, the servants left the fort to walk through the village of teepees. The wellused hides that formed the exterior walls of the teepees carried symbolic markings and were darkened from smoke on the inside and dirt and grime outside. Small bundles of sacred beads and feathers called “medicine” dangled from the tepee door flaps to protect the inhabitants.1

The servants aired out the stone house and made it livable. The primary purpose of bringing slaves to the frontier was to make their master’s living circumstances more habitable. The slave men tended to the livestock that had endured the long river passage and unpacked the heavy furniture including Mrs. Taliaferro’s piano.2 Eliza and Harriet set up a workable kitchen in the underground space and cleaned the house of the insects and prairie animals that had burrowed into the shelter in their three-season-long absence.3 Harriet and Eliza stretched stiff new hemp rope between the hollowed out holes of the wooden bedsteads in the master’s second floor bedroom. The agency house, with its central door, four pairs of windows, and pair of chimneys flanking each of its sides was in a sad state of disrepair.4 The master had written to the superintendent of Indian affairs, complaining that when it rained, the “hired man and I have not a dry spot in our houses.”5 The house had to be made winter-tight during the short Minnesota summer. The master also directed that the grounds around the agency buildings be enclosed with split rails. The fence separated the land claimed by the agency from the endless prairie plateau that often served as the campground for traveling Native peoples. The rail fence also protected the agency garden from the cattle that grazed freely on the plateau during the summer. A fence kept the grass around the buildings from being trampled into mud and dust like a common cattle yard. Although the entire territory was under his jurisdiction, the master set his personal boundaries.

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