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Dakota-Trader Relations in Faribault
The story of Faribault, as it is told in most historical sources, is distinct from the typical narratives depicting the brutal treatment of Native Americans by European settlers. Faribault’s story is one that seems to begin with friendly and close relations between the Native Minnesotans and, at least some, of the settlers. Alexander Faribault, one of the early settlers and the founder and namesake of the city, could trace his roots to the Dakota tribe. He was at least a quarter Dakota, through his mother’s lineage, and in 1825, he married the daughter of a Dakota chief. This heritage meant that he was familiar with the Dakota language and culture and when he arrived in the area, he was quick to befriend the local Wahpekute, who grew to trust him deeply. This connection enabled Faribault to convince the Wahpekute to move their villages from along the Cannon River to the junction where the Cannon meets the Straight River. He set up a trading post here, out of which grew the city of Faribault we know today.
Alexander Faribault, familiar with the language and customs of both the Dakota and the white men, found himself in government service as an interpreter. He thus played an important role in the Indians’ signing of the treaties that swindled them of their money.
Despite the friendship between Faribault and the Wahpekute, their relationship with the city was not without problems. As was the case in many other areas, the government established subversive land treaties with the Wahpekute in 1851. Alexander Faribault, familiar with the language and customs of both the Dakota and the white men, found himself in government service as an interpreter. He thus played an important role in the Indians’ signing of the treaties that swindled them of their money. Faribault received $13,500 from the treaties – the equivalent of $300,000 today, by one calculation. No records exist of Faribault’s thoughts about his role, though historians concur that he probably knew that his friends were being cheated.1
Mr. Faribault had Indian blood in his veins and had lived among the Sioux from childhood. He was one of the kindest men I have ever known. —Bishop Henry B. Whipple
If, however, the Wahpekute were aware of his complicity in the dishonest treaties, they did not seem to hold it against him; and if Faribault appeared to have betrayed his Native friends, his subsequent actions demonstrate his continued concern for the Wahpekute. When the city was calling for the removal of the Wahpekute as a result of the U.S.-Dakota war, Alexander Faribault took a few Wahpekute in and let them live on his land and work in his flourmill. These acts of kindness and courage in the face of opposition led Bishop Whipple to say of him: “Mr. Faribault had Indian blood in his veins and had lived among the Sioux from childhood. He was one of the kindest men I have ever known.”2
Richard J. Steimann, “The Wapacootas and the White Man: The Story of the Early Development of Faribault,” (paper written for an independent interim study at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota), 52. ↩
Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate (New York: The MacMillan Press, 1912), 134. ↩