Who was Cloud Man?

Committee aims to raise awareness of Dakota village

For decades, Lisa Ferguson regularly passed two large rocks near the south end of Lake Calhoun, oblivious to their significance.

"I’d been riding my bike around this lake since I was five or 10," she said. "I’d been Rollerblading by there and I’d never seen them."

A stone just south of the parking lot at 36th Street and Lake Calhoun Parkway is stamped with a weathered plaque recognizing the Dakota Sioux tribes that once lived there. Another rock to the north of the lot, in front of St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church, remembers the home built by Samuel and Gideon Pond, missionaries to the Dakota.

It was a startling find for Ferguson, a descendant of the Ponds and Dakota chief Cloud Man, who in the early 1800s oversaw a village in the area. But Ferguson wasn’t alone in her oversight. She and distant cousin Syd Beane, also a descendant of Cloud Man, have found that many people are unaware of the memorials and the historical significance of the site. Even fewer know about Cloud Man.

They’re hoping to change that.

With the backing of Mayor R.T. Rybak and the Park Board, Ferguson and Beane launched the Cloud Man Village Committee last summer. They just recently started reaching out to local neighborhood groups with a plan to increase awareness of their forgotten ancestors. 

"It’s important because these were probably the first inhabitants, really, of the city of Minneapolis," Beane said.

Cloud Man’s history in particular is important for other reasons, Beane said. 

Facing a food shortage, Cloud Man agreed with an agent from Fort Snelling in 1829 to farm using a plow. The Pond brothers were enlisted to help the budding agricultural community. It thrived until 1839, when threats from the Ojibwe to the north caused Cloud Man to move his village to the Minnesota River Valley.

"That was a very rapidly changing time much like today," Beane said. "I think this village reflected a variety of different kinds of people and different cultures coming together to deal with that rapid change. How they dealt with it, I think, is important for us to understand, not just for the past but for the future."

The Cloud Man Village Committee, made up of Beane, Ferguson and several Dakota historians, is hoping to share this story through historical markers, a Cloud Man memorial and an annual or biannual event at the Cloud Man Village site. Tours of the area and maybe an archeological survey are a couple other ideas, Ferguson said.

"Right now we’re really just working on building relationships," she said.

The committee has reached out to neighborhood groups in Linden Hills, East Calhoun and East Harriet, per the suggestion of Park Board Commissioner Tracy Nordstrom, a big proponent of improving the recognition of Cloud Man Village.

"I live right near where Cloud Man was," Nordstrom said. "I live right on the east side of Lake Calhoun and the prospect of my own kids and my own neighbors getting a better feel for what came before us, I think, is really important."

Nordstrom said the Park Board has been working on placing more historical markers throughout the park system and will continue to do so. She said she, Commissioner Bob Fine and Park staff would likely meet with the Cloud Man Village Committee in the near future to talk about what the group wants at the site and what its plans are for events.

But Nordstrom said she wants the committee to get community support first. So far, area residents — many who know little or nothing about Cloud Man — have been eager to learn more.

"There is great interest on the part of the board and we’re looking forward to learning more," said Nancy Ward, president of the East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO).

Ward, who moved to the area a couple years ago, said she had no clue what Cloud Man Village was until hearing from Beane and Ferguson. The city can learn from the story, she said.

"It’s such a metaphor for what’s needed now with cross-cultural education," she said.

Linea Palmisano, president of the Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC), said her group is encouraging Beane and Ferguson to apply for a grant from the organization. Many people in Linden Hills are interested in uncovering the history of the area, Palmisano said.

"Weaving that historical sense of place back into our community, in ways everyone can appreciate, would help us all have more context and understanding for the lands we share," she said.

Mayor Rybak said Beane and Ferguson, both distant grandchildren of Cloud Man, are well suited to build that sense of place.

"I hope to have this special spot on Lake Calhoun designated as a part of that history," Rybak said. "And have the interpretation led by people who are connected to it."

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]