Henry Hastings Sibley

Henry Sibly about 1849 proxy imageWas born February 20, 1811 in Detroit Michigan where as the son of Territorial Legislator, Congressman, and Supreme Court Justice Solomon Sibley and Sarah W. Sprout he received a private education including two years in the study of law. By the age of seventeen the adventuresome life in the west lured him from Boston. Young Henry spent a year as a trader in Sault Ste Marie. Then he took a position as a clerk with the American Fur Company at Machinac. After five years, in 1834, Sibley was made a partner in the firm and was placed in charge of the trade with the Dakota Indians. The headquarters were in St Peter's (Mendota). Sibley arrived at Mendota on November 7, 1834.

In 1835 and 1836 Sibley built two stone buildings with yellow limestone that was quarried nearby. One was a warehouse for the fur trade and the other was a large and comfortable house. (Sibley House). This house became the center for trade, hospitality, political meetings and work.

Henry Sibley became a predominant figure in the area and was friends to the Indians, Settlers, soldiers, and merchants. He learned the language of the Dakota and was called by them "Wah-pe-ton Houska" - "the tall trader". He became an important figure in the dealings and treaties made with the Dakota and was involved with both the treaties of 1837 and 1851.

In 1838 as the first one to practice law in this area, Sibley was appointed the first Justice of the Peace west of the Mississippi River by Governor Chambers of Iowa. This was the start of his public career.

On May 2, 1843, he married Sarah Steele at Fort Snelling.

In 1848 Sibley was elected a Congressman representing what was then considered a part of the Territory of Wisconsin. He procured, against much opposition, the passage of an act that organized the Territory of Minnesota on March 3, 1849. It was during this process that Itasca was considered for the name of the territory but Sibley insisted on Minnesota or "Cloudy Water" in the Dakota language.

He was reelected in 1849 and 1850. In 1855 he was elected a member of the Minnesota Legislature from Dakota County. Minnesota was admitted as the thirty-second state on May 11, 1858 and Henry Hastings Sibley was elected the first governor.

In 1851 Henry Sibley headed a group of traders that was part of the official party of commissioners who met with the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of Dakota at Traverse des sioux in July and then the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute bands in Mendota in August to sign treaty's purchasing most of the land in Minnesota west of the Mississippi River. The Indians were to receive $1,665,000 for the land bought at Traverse des sioux and $1,410,000 for the lands purchased at Mendota. Pressure from the traders who would not grant or honor anymore credit and the Indians fear that they would starve signed the treaties opening western Minnesota for settlement.

In 1862 with the Civil War being fought in the south, a Dakota uprising began in the western part of the state along the Minnesota River, precipitated by hunger caused by a crop failure in 1861 and long delays in the distribution of their annuity payments. As soon as news of the outbreak reached Governor Ramsey, Sibley was commissioned as a colonel and was placed in command of the emergency force on August 19, and by the next day he was moving up the Minnesota River on steamboat at the head of four companies of volunteers. Finally on Sept. 23 a decisive victory by Sibley's troops at Wood Lake put an end to the hostilities, scattering the hostile Indians across the plains to the west. Three days later on Sept. 26 Sibley's men obtained the release of 269 white and mixed blood 'captives' who were being held for their protection by non hostile Dakota at Red Iron's village on the south bank of the Minnesota near the mouth of the Chippewa, later known as Camp Release.

Sibley was commissioned by president Abraham Lincoln as a Brigadier General, and later rose to Major General.

Sibley died at the age of 80 on February 18, 1891 at his home on Woodward Avenue in St Paul.

Image courtesy The Minnesota Historical Society (pending)

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