Planned as an auto tour, one can attend any or all events. Start times are approximate. The route includes some gravel roads. None of the stops have bathrooms. Please provide your own transportation. Respect others property.
Call the Sleepy Eye Area Historical Society for more information on locations
A statue of Ish Tak Ha Ba (Chief Sleepy Eye) was unveiled and dedicated in Wooldrick Park on July 4th, 1994.
The bronzed statue stands eight-feet tall and is placed atop a Morton granite base surrounded by a brick sidewalk. It is located in the small landscape park next to the post office, on First Avenue North. The statue was sculpted by JoAnne Bird, a member of the Wahpeton-Sisseton Band of Dakota (Sioux) Native Americans.
She was contracted by the Sleepy Eye Area Foundation (SEAF) to do the statue, as she was a Native American with outstanding artistic ability. Later, it was learned that she is also from the same band of Dakota Native American as Ish Tak Ha Ba.
According to SEAF treasurer Judy Beech, Sleepy Eye is the first city in the nation to have a full-sized bronze statue of a person if Native American descent in true likeness.
The project, including park improvements, had a total cost of $200,000. A plaque lists names of contributors to the project. A postcard and print of the statue is also available.
A story from Alec
DeMerce – later known as “Racky” who left his home in Canada early in the
nineteenth century to become a wanderer in the western wilds.
Alec found the Dakota in this area (Sleepy Eye area) to be
friendly and never returned neither to his home nor to civilization.He spent his time trapping and hunting and
who probably was the first white man to know Chief Sleepy Eye. Alec DeMerce had
several Indian wives at different times and raised a number of children.Alec ended up marring Chief Sleepy Eye’s 1st
sister (2nd sibling) “Tate” or her English name Louisa.They had six children together; Rosalia,
Madeline, Jeanetle, Francis, Alexis, John. Alec DeMerce however had two other
children from his previous wives; Dennis and Frank.
One of Alec’s daughters, Rosalie married a man by the name
of Hyacinth Coutourier or “French Cap”, as he was commonly known, was another
French Canadian.A trading post was
located near the lake in about the year 1829 and different traders kept it up
more or less constantly until the Indian Uprising of 1862.We have been often times told about a large
Sisseton-Dakota Indian village as having a long time existed at what we are
familiar with existed at what is now called “Sleepy Eye Lake”.It was still thriving at the time of the
Coutourier settled here in 1856 or 1857.
The lake was called by the Indians, “Bedatasche”, meaning as
interpreted by some, “Big Wood Tree” and by others, “Pretty Water With Big
It was about this time that the lake went dry, after a long
series of very dry years.It soon filled
again, dried up once more, in recent years filled again and has since held its
level.Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba was chief of the
Sisseton’s for many years.He took part
in negotiations for the treaty at Traverse de Sioux in 1851.So far as is known he never counseled the
breaking of that treaty, nor did anything to prevent the carrying into effect
of its terms, though he doubtless regretted the necessity of making it as much
as any of his contemporaries.He, with
many others, looked upon the whites as a force irresistible and as a power with
which the wisest course was to make the best terms possible.
Chief Sleepy Eye died
in 1860, before the uprising of 1862 the village site was not long occupied by
Chief Sleepy Eye’s people, but Hyacinthe Coutourier had not changed his
location.Hyacinthe and Rosalie
Coutourier lived on the shore of Sleepy Eye Lake
east near the tribe’s camp. Their home was
located east of the farm buildings on the Todnem farm.The Todnem farm was directly across the
street from where the St. Mary’s Cemetery is presently.The home of the Couturier’s consisted of 3
rooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs.
A trader named Ross lived in
a small clearing in the grove on the east side of what has since been classed
Ross Lake – a small lake nearly a mile southeast of Sleepy Eye Lake.Mrs. Coutourier was Dakota halfblood – Chief
Sleepy Eye’s niece – and he was a French Canadian was had for years lived with
these Indians; yet on hearing of the intended uprising – friendly squaw had
informed them – they got to New Ulm, the nearest settlement, as quickly as they
could, knowing that the Indians in their excitement and lust for blood would
make no exceptions.Ross took his family
across the Cottonwood River which was heavily fringed with timber and
underbrush on both sides.Hiding in
daylight and traveling only at night, they worked their way eastward arriving
at Mankato without having seen any Indians.A child was born to Mrs. Ross while on route.Their house was burned, probably by the
Indians.The burning, however, did not
take place during the first raid of the Indians, because soldiers who came
through the area shortly after found it intact with guns and ammunition in the
house where Mr. Ross had left them.
When the Coutouriers returned
they also found their house undisturbed, but “French Cap” found three dead
Indians, bound in bark and tied to the limbs of a large oak a few rods
southwest of his house.Thirty-eight
Indians implicated in the uprising were hanged at Mankato on December 26th,
For more information about
the Uprising of 1862; www.browncountydakotawarcommemoration.com
4. Known as the Lake House; owned by Chris Emmerich, father of Mrs. Welcome
5. A small building used as a Barber Shop
6. Known as the White Hotel
7. First National Bank now
8. Known as the Schwieger Butcher Shop now Creative Hair Design
9. Formerly Mrs. Feierer home on Walnut Street
10. The Jailhouse
11. The Wagon Shop
12. Liesenfeld's Livery Barn
13. The Mill Elevator
14. The Original Mill - Called the Roller Mill
15. Was the home of Mr. Callanan, grandfather of John Callanan
16. Home of Gus Remmele, now remodeled and occupied by Art Schmidt
17. Office of the John Hanson Lumber company, later became the Lampert Lumber company. The building was moved to the north of the old Smally hotel on North Fifth and is now used as a machine shop by the Harris Manufacturing company.
18. Was a Gieseke home
19. The Hanson lumber shed
20. Home of Ole Johnson
21. Was a Dombrowski home, now replaced by a modern new home.
22. Was the Barr and Fenske store, then the Scharckel's store
23. Was the Koehne Liquor Store, the the Guldager Food Store
The word “Sisseton” means “swamp dwellers” and the people of
Chief Sleepy Eye spent their lives in or near sloughy places. This could be probably one of many reasons
why Chief Sleepy Eye chose our town to live after he and his band was told to
move from Swan Lake in 1857. Few sloughs are left in Brown County, today due to
the eagerness for drainage. Nowadays, we have to learn to remake sloughs when
and where are needed.
The railroad tracks in Sleepy Eye had to be laid on the
highest ridge of land. This sloped
northward to Sleepy Eye Lake and its widely twisting surroundings. A slough lay along Fifth Street (now First
Avenue) between the tracks and St. Mary’s Church. A large arm of Sleepy Eye Lake spread behind
the low hill at the end of Fifth Street (First Avenue) and was known as
The main part of Sleepy Eye Lake has been dry twice in known
history. The first reported time was in
the 1802. The second time was in the
early 1930s, and there are pictures showing this. Then the lake bed was so dry that several
persons planted gardens in it. One man
missed his small dog and found it barking for help from a crack into which it
Moving toward the south part of town, the land sloped into
innumerable sloughs, some of which became arms of what was known as Ross Lake
during the rainy seasons. Ross Lake was
located for those who are unfamiliar, at the southeast edge of town. People on Ross Lake tied boats to their steps
as the only way to get in and out of their homes.
Ross Lake took its name from a trader who had had a cabin
near it. Warned of the Uprising in 1862,
the Ross family fled eastward toward Mankato, following the Cottonwood
River. Along the way, Mrs. Ross gave
birth to a child. This was one of the
few families which did not return after the region was pacified. The Ross Lake was always small, brushy and
weedy, and it was made smaller and smaller by being filled in until final
drainage and filling removed it entirely, but not before it flooded several
blocks in 1965.
Hotel owner Carl Berg, who came to Sleepy Eye in 1873 to build
the second hotel in Sleepy Eye, chose a site at the southeast corner of Main
Street and Sixth (now Second Avenue S.W.).
He was accustomed to shooting wild fowl from the hotel’s back door. As late as 1890 the Berg children skated from
the back of the hotel southeastward for two blocks.
Ice boating was an occasional winter sport on Sleepy Eye
Lake. In summer many rowboats could be
seen, and a boathouse stood below the park.
Ice skating was popular on Sleepy Eye Lake, the Geschwind Slough, Ross
Lake, the Dumke Slough south of Ross Lake (about the place on which the Orchid
Inn stands), and even occasionally on the Hilleschiem Slough which was in the
southwest part of town and is now a portion of the Hilleshiem Addition. Often
times, Main Street would even be considered a mass of mud.
Have you ever wondered where your feet were walking; if you
could walk the path of history where would the steps lead them to?Our town has much to learn about our history
as we many of us know, but as also many of us realize history sometimes fades
with time.Which brings me to my story;
where did our first ancestors bury our departed here in Sleepy Eye?Any guesses?
To answer this question one would have to say – Our first
park would also be our first cemetery.Of course not to mention that in the early days it was also considered a
natural affair for rural cemeteries and a few family burial plots on the
frontier to take into consideration.However, in our little humble town of Sleepy Eye, our very own park
known as South Park was in fact a small block of a cemetery.Soon enough however, it had become inadequate
for the townspeople.
In 1876 the St. Mary’s Church people had purchased land
northeast of their church to serve as their cemetery.Then on October 4th, 1876, “Home
Cemetery” was organized, at the northeast corner of the town.The name “Home” came from Home Township.
The graves at South Park were then moved from their original
spots to their new coordinating locations at either St. Mary’s cemetery or Home
Cemetery.Stories of course for some
time have risen from time to time that “human bones” have been found in South
Park, though it can be possible.At one
point in time there were severe epidemics on the frontier and some of the
people were poor. Some families could not afford grave markers, except a small
slab or cross of wood which soon deteriorated. With such harsh conditions,
families would simply give up and move away with discouragement and defeat of
the frontier.As each cemetery need
room, more land was added, along with trees in and around them; making both
cemeteries sanctuaries for the loved ones.