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

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
Leaving Minnesota and
Its New Tribunals

AFTER TALIAFERRO LEFT St. Peter’s Agency, the full void of his absence was felt. The center did not hold. People who had been part of the agency community for years began to simply drift away. The battles between the Mdewakanton Sioux and the Ojibwa had destroyed the stability of the settled farming communities at the lakes. The Sioux now feared a counterattack from the Ojibwa if they remained there. They gathered their corn, taking what they could carry and leaving what they couldn’t in storage with the Pond brothers. The agricultural communities, so patiently built over several years with Taliaferro’s encouragement, simply dissolved in the aftermath of the Indian battles. With no settled group of Indians at the lakes, it was pointless for the Pond brothers to stay there. Nonetheless, they had promised to care for the Indians’ farm animals over the winter, and the Ponds always kept their promises. Taliaferro’s now 11-year-old daughter also remained with them.1

By the time Agent Taliaferro left, the Methodist mission effort had all but collapsed as well. After the Reverend Brunson selected a site, with the idea that Jim Thompson, the freedman, would serve as the mission’s permanent translator, he installed another minister to head the mission and left. None of the missionaries he brought in stayed long, however. At some point, the freedman and his Dakota wife moved on too. Jim was free, after all, which meant that he could come and go as he pleased. He did not need to rely on the mission pay; he could provide for his family in many other ways. When he left, the Reverend Brunson accused him of laziness and ingratitude, throwing in the gratuitous charge of whiskey selling as well, although there was no evidence of this. Ultimately, Brunson blamed the mission’s failure on the freedman’s departure.2

Things continued to go poorly for Taliaferro’s brother-in-law, H. N. Dillon. It’s unlikely that the young man lasted the winter. At the end of summer, his terminally ill partner died in St. Louis. Without either Taliaferro or Mr. Baker to back him, and with his authority undermined by both the officers’ enmity and the

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