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The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch - Sleepy Eye, MN
  • Why did the citizens of 1872 name their town Sleepy Eye?

  • In 1872, the Winona & St. Peter Railroad came through the area of land in which our town has now been established. After 1862, more and more families moved into areas of land in which a lake had been renamed; it once was called “Pretty Water by the Big Trees or Minnewashte Chanhatonka.” After the death of Chief Sleepy Eye, the lake became known as “Lake Sleepy Eye” in honor of the chief.
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  • In 1872, the Winona & St. Peter Railroad came through the area of land in which our town has now been established. After 1862, more and more families moved into areas of land in which a lake had been renamed; it once was called “Pretty Water by the Big Trees or Minnewashte Chanhatonka.” After the death of Chief Sleepy Eye, the lake became known as “Lake Sleepy Eye” in honor of the chief.
     
    Chief Sleepy Eye played an influential role in our local history because he was said to be kind and friendly, not only amongst his own people, but he attempted to make peace between everyone. We do know that Chief Sleepy Eye Ish-tak-ha-ba was born in 1780, at Swan Lake in Nicollet County, near Nicollet. He also was described to be around six feet two inches tall, muscular and large in frame. Chief Sleepy Eye also had a dignified presence, narrow forehead with drooping eyelids, which offered the sense to his name – “Sleepy Eye.”
     
    Known as the most important chief at the signing of the Treaty of Traverse Des Sioux in 1851, Chief Sleepy Eye was one of the four Dakota and four Ojibway leaders to visit President James Monroe in Washington, D.C. in 1824. While in Washington, D.C., President Monroe commissioned him a chief, along with the Department of Indian Affairs. At this time, Chief Sleepy Eye also requested if he and his band could remain at Swan Lake away from the reservation. He was granted his request at that time.
     
    However, in the spring of 1857, when the settlers of the Minnesota Valley were thrown into a paroxysm of fear by the murder of some settlers at Okoboji and Jackson by Inkpaduta and his followers, a company of home guards went marching one day, into Chief Sleepy Eye’s camp at Swan Lake and demanded that he move at once to the reservation. Of course being the man of peace, Chief Sleepy Eye left the home of his father and settled at Sleepy Eye Lake, near where the City of Sleepy Eye now stands.
     
    In 1860, some Canadian Indians had engaged the Chief Sleepy Eye’s band along the Minnesota River in a fierce battle and the Canadians took with them a number of women as ransom. After considerable delay, Chief Sleepy Eye succeeded in getting together a creditable number of horses and taking with him a few trusty young Indians from his tribe they started for Canada in an effort to trade these horses for the release of the captives. On this mission he was entirely successful. And it was on the return journey from this trip that he decided to go visit his friend Red Eagle at Sisseton, S.D. (now Roberts County, South Dakota). Just about there, he is thrown off his horse. His back is severely injured and he broke his neck. He died soon after this accident in 1860.
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    Because of the long journey from Canada, Sleepy Eye’s clothes were worn and soiled. Red Eagle had dressed him in one of his own new buckskin suits and buried him.
    The first person to suggest moving Chief Sleepy Eyes’ remains back to Sleepy Eye was Reverend George Pax. The person who took the necessary steps to accomplish this task was A.C. Von Hagen, head of the Sleepy Eye Flour Mill. First A.C. Von Hagen went to the City of Sleepy Eye requesting a spot for Chief Sleepy Eye, but they could not settle on a spot for him. Von Hagen then went to the president of the C & NW Railroad, Marvin Hughitt, who enthusiastically agreed to give a 50 foot square plot with a perpetual easement next to the new brick depot being built at that time, so that all railroad passengers would view the monument and motorists passing by would be in close proximity.
     
    Chief Sleepy Eye’s body had been resting for practically 40 years, but when the party reached the island in Bull Head Lake (Roberts County, South Dakota) where the chief was buried, Red Eagle and his son led them to a spot under a large tree. There was no mark of any kind to identify the place, but Red Eagle, who was then over 90 years of age, placed his hand on the ground and told Daniel F. Alexander Fairbault to sink his spading fork on that spot. He did so, and finding nothing, there was a look of disappointment on the face of Red Eagle; so he stooped again, and moved the fork six inches west, and in going down the second time they hit Sleepy Eye’s skull right in the middle. The grass and weeds were of the same general character in every direction and with the exception of the tree there were no other distinguishing marks.
     
    On Oct. 17, 1902, the monument where Chief Sleepy Eye has been laid to rest was dedicated. Placed – under the monument were bones and records, which were put into a copper box. The monument had been constructed of hard granite about 50 feet high, all joint and the foundation are laid in imported Italian cement.
     
    For the many sacrifices that our Chief Sleepy Eye endured, our early fore- fathers of our town, decided in 1872, to consider the title of our town to be named – SLEEPY EYE.

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