Lakeside art to honor Cloud Man Village

Michael Garcia visits a plaque commemorating Dakota history at Bde Maka Ska.
Michael Garcia visits a plaque commemorating Dakota history at Bde Maka Ska.

There is a story behind Cloud Man’s decision to plant a permanent village in 1829 next to Bde Maka Ska, or Lake Calhoun.

As buffalo became scarce, Cloud Man — Chief Maḣpiya Wic̣aṡṭa — traveled on farther flung hunting trips to find food. He became caught in a blizzard near the Missouri River, and he buried himself under the snow for three days to keep warm. While he waited out the storm, he made a pact with God, said Kate Beane, a descendant of Cloud Man.

“He would not be afraid to try something new, because what was going on wasn’t working,” she said.

The decision to try large-scale agriculture became the basis for Cloud Man Village, located east of the lake with boundaries that stretched slightly north of present day 34th Street, east past Fremont and south into Lakewood Cemetery.

Beane and other descendants of Cloud Man are working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on a public art project to honor the Dakota. The memorial will stand on a 60-foot strip of shoreland on the southeast corner of Lake Calhoun. Ideas include a deck approaching the water, an extension of the cedar trees that currently hold a commemorative plaque, and hoop staffs in four spots around the lake. They’re planning a garden of medicinal plants used by the Dakota, perhaps cultivated by Native youth and other community members. Artist selection is underway, and a final concept will go before the Park Board in April.

On a recent warm day in March, Michael Garcia biked to the lake and splashed water on the Dakota plaque, which includes a map in relief that can be hard to read.

“When it dries, everything becomes more defined,” he said. “As the wind’s drying it, you can see the outline of the trees.”

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Garcia has Dakota ancestry, and said he stops at the plaque all the time. When the public art project is finished, he said he’ll bring his grandkids.

“It’s a nice spot,” he said.

Picturing Cloud Man Village

The Dakota constructed Cloud Man Village in a marshy area they previously used as a place to harvest wild rice. They called it Heyate Otunwe, or “the village at the side.”

Image courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Image courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Syd Beane, Kate’s father, said the Dakota lived in birchbark lodges, using tepees for traveling and hunting.

Much of the following history is described in “Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota,” a book by Gwen Westerman and Bruce White in which Kate and Syd served as consultants.

The Dakota at Cloud Man Village had always gardened and harvested food from wild and native plants, but the concept of large-scale farming and living off plants not indigenous to the area was something new. They accepted government seed and farm tools to start planting.

Most of the agricultural work was done by women, to the chagrin of European settlers who wanted men to take a more active role. Artist Seth Eastman painted Dakota women sitting in scaffolds to prevent birds from damaging the crop.

“Each woman has her little field to take care of,” Missionary Gideon Pond wrote in 1839. “The 80 acres which they plant is divided into 50 fields yet all lies or nearly all together.”

Pond said the village of 207 people harvested 2,300 bushels of corn and 200 bushels of potatoes that year.

Instead of preserving food for the winter, the village shared the food with surrounding Dakota people, which frustrated a government agent who couldn’t understand why they gave their corn away.

“During that era, there is documentation that nobody starved,” Kate said.

Aside from relying on agriculture, the village also continued to fish (catching bullheads at present-day Lake Hiawatha) and hunt at places like the Rum River.

The village is the first place the Dakota language was comprehensively written down. Missionaries Samuel and Gideon Pond documented the Dakota language with the intention to translate the Bible.

Samuel Pond, who lived in a cabin where St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church stands today, described one Sabbath morning in August 1835: A man came to borrow an ax, another chopped wood outside the window, and women and children screamed to drive blackbirds out of the corn. He became upset to learn the Dakota would play ball near his house that day, an occasion where hundreds would assemble and no one would listen to his sermons.

A painting by George Catlin of Cloud Man Village. Minnesota Historical Society image courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
A painting by George Catlin of Cloud Man Village. Minnesota Historical Society image courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Dakota played lacrosse against villages all over the state. All able-bodied men played, and women played a form of the game as well on frozen water. The men wore breech cloths, moccasins and body paint while nearly all the villagers watched and bet on the outcome of the game.

Cloud Man Village was abandoned in 1839 due to fear of retaliation from the Ojibwe. An account by Gideon Pond and Stephen Riggs said the killing of a Dakota hunter at Lake Harriet flared into open war in Stillwater and the Rum River, and the Dakota returned to display scalps at the village on 70 poles. They moved to farm in relative safety along the Minnesota River near Bloomington.

The war between the Dakota and the United States began in the fall of 1862, following widespread hunger and treaty modifications that confined the Dakota to an area along the Minnesota River. Gov. Alexander Ramsey called for the expulsion and extermination of all Dakota. Nearly 2,000 Dakota, including Cloud Man, were placed in a concentration camp at Fort Snelling’s Pike Island the winter of 1862-63. Cloud Man and hundreds more died at the camp. (Pike island is open to hikers at Fort Snelling State Park.) Survivors were removed from Minnesota by steamboat down the Mississippi River.

Cloud Man’s descendants reflect

Cloud Man’s daughters married into non-native families. While Syd’s ancestors were exiled following the war, Edina resident Lisa Ferguson’s ancestor Jane Lamont was given away to be raised by Samuel Pond.

“For me, ever since I was little, I heard there was some Chief in our family. But nobody knew information,” she said. “…Lake Calhoun just seemed to suck me in.”

Four descendants of Cloud Man at a recent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting. Pictured (l to r) are Lisa Ferguson, Nate Beulah, Syd Beane and Linda Lamont. Beulah teaches at Northeast Middle School, and he says youth must learn the forgotten history of the Dakota. “People need to know the history of this land,” he says.
Four descendants of Cloud Man at a recent Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting. Pictured (l to r) are Lisa Ferguson, Nate Beulah, Syd Beane and Linda Lamont. Beulah teaches at Northeast Middle School, and he says youth must learn the forgotten history of the Dakota. “People need to know the history of this land,” he says.

Ferguson finally met a history buff who showed her two landmarks near Lake Calhoun. One was installed in 1930 at the southeast corner of the lake to “perpetuate the memory of the Sioux or Dakota Indians who occupied this region for more than two centuries prior to the treaties of 1851.” A second marker installed in 1908 is located on the east side of the lake, highlighting the 1834 dwelling of the Pond missionaries on the hill above.

Ferguson spent years pushing for a better memorial at the lake as well as Lakewood Cemetery.

“For many years all I wanted was some recognition of the village,” she said.

“That village really was the first multicultural, year-round settlement in the city of Minneapolis,” Syd said. “The Dakota people did not have the concept of private property. … This is public land. The Park Board is a public entity, and the land belongs to all of us. … This is going to go on and live beyond our lives.”

To see the public art concepts created by Metro Blooms and Ron Melchert, a landscape architect and member of the Oneida Nation, visit: minneapolisparks.org.

  • Dane Hartzell

    Lake Cloud Man or Cloud Man Lake would be a cool new name for Lake Calhoun.

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