Mdewakanton Sioux Tribe

Mdewakanton (‘mystery lake village,’ from mde ‘lake’, wakan ‘sacred mystery’, otonwe ‘village’). One of the subtribes composing the Santee division of the Dakota, the other 3 being the Sisseton, Wahpeton, and Wahpekute. A. L. Riggs contends that the Mdewakanton are the only Dakota entitled to the name Isanyati (‘Santee’), given them (from their old home on Mille Lac, called by them Isantamde, ‘knifelake.’) In every respect this tribe appears to be most intimately related to the Wahpeton, Wahpekute, and Sisseton. It is possible that the Mdewakanton formed the original stem from which the other 3 subtribes were developed. It is probable that the Nadowessioux mentioned by early missionaries and explorers were in most cases the people of this tribe and the tribes associated with them then living in the region of ‘Mille Lac and the headwaters of the Mississippi. Dr Williamson, who spent years among these Indians, fixes the home of this tribe (who by tradition had once lived on Lake of the Woods and north of the great lakes and had migrated toward the southwest) at Mille Lac, the source of Rum river, which is apparently the ancient location of the Issati of Hennepin. This identifies the Issati with the Mdewakanton and sustains the conclusion of Biggs. After the Mdewakanton came to the Mississippi they appear to have scattered themselves along that river in several villages extending from Sauk Rapids to the mouth of Wisconsin river and up the Minnesota 35 miles.

According to Neill 1 this splitting into bands was due to the influence of French traders. This author asserts that the people of this division were still residing at Mille Lac at the time Le Sueur built his post near the mouth of blue Earth river in 1700, and that their change of location to the region of lower Minnesota river was due to the establishment of trading posts in that section. This would indicate a later removal to that locality than Williamson supposed. Rev. G. H. Pond, as quoted by Neill, says: “When to this we add the fact that traders taught them to plant corn, which actually took the place of wild rice, nothing was wanting to bring the Mdewakanton south to the Minnesota river. Accordingly tradition tells us that this division of the Dakotas no sooner became acquainted with traders, and the advantage of the trade, than they erected their teepees around the log hut of the white man and hunted in the direction of the Minnesota river, returning in the “rice-gathering moon” (September) to the rice swamps nearest their friends.” In Le Sueur’s list of the eastern Dakota tribes the name Issati is dropped and that of Mdewakanton, under the form Mendeouacantons, is used, evidently for the first time.

The whites came into more intimate relation with this tribe than with any other of the Dakota group, but the history which is not of general interest except in so far as it relates to the outbreak of 1862, in which some of them took an active parties chiefly that of the different bands and not of the tribe as a whole. After their defeat by the United States, they and the Winnebago were removed to Crow Creek reservation, Dakota Territory. Subsequently the Mdewakanton and Wahpekute were transferred to the Santee reservation in Nebraska. Ultimately lands were assigned them in severalty, the reservation was abolished, and the Indians became citizens of the United States. In general customs and beliefs they resemble the other divisions of the eastern Sioux.

The tribe joined in the following treaties with the United States: Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, July 15, 1830, by which they and other eastern Sioux tribes ceded a strip 20 miles wide from the Mississippi to Des Moines river, Iowa. Convention at St Peters, Minnesota, Nov. 30, 1836, with the upper Mdewakanton, agreeing on certain stipulations regarding the treaty of July 15, 1830. Treaty of Washington, Sept. 29, 1837, by which they ceded to the United States all their interest in lands east of the Mississippi. Treaty of Mendota, Minn., Aug. 5, 1851, by which they ceded all their lauds in Iowa and Minnesota, retaining as a reservation a tract 70 miles, wide on each side of Minnesota river. Treaty of Washington, June 19, 1858, by which they sold that part of their reservation north of Minnesota river, retaining the portion south of the river, which they agreed to take in severalty. By act of Mar. 3, 1863, the President was authorized to set apart for them a reserve beyond the limits of any state and remove them thereto, their reserve in Minnesota to be sold for their benefit. The new reserve was established by Executive order, July 1, 1863, on Crow creek, South Dakota. See Reservations.

Lewis and Clark (1804) estimated them at 300 fighting men or 1,200 souls.

Mdewakanton Divisions and Bands

Long in 1822 2 estimated the various bands as follows:

  1. Keoxa (hiyuksa), 400;
  2. Eanbosandata (Khemnichan), 100;
  3. Kapozha, 300;
  4. Oanoska (Ohanhanska), 200;
  5. Tetankatane (Tintaotonwe), 150;
  6. Taoapa, 300;
  7. Weakaote (Khenlnichan), 50.

According to the Census of 1890 there were 869 Mdewakanton and Wahpekute on Santee reservation, Nebraska, and 292 at Flandreau, South Dakota. The report for 1905 mentions as not under an agent 100 at Birch Cooley and 779 elsewhere in Minnesota.

The recognized divisions are as follows:

  1. Kiyuksa,
  2. Ohanhanska,
  3. Tacanhpisapa,
  4. Anoginajin,
  5. Tintaotonwe, and
  6. Oyateshicha, belonging to the Wakpaatonwedan division, which seems to have constituted the whole tribe in early times
  7. Khemnichan,
  8. Kapozha,
  9. Magayuteshni,
  10. Mahpiyamaza,
  11. Mahpiyawichasta,
  12. Kheyataotonwe, and
  13. Taoapa, constituting the Matantonwan division, which early French writers spoke of as a powerful tribe associated with but not a part of the Mdewakanton.

The following subdivisions have not been identified:

  1. Town band Indians,
  2. Mankato,
  3. Nasiampaa and
  4. Upper Medawakanton.

Consult Further:


  1. Minn. Hist. Coll., I, 262, 1872[]
  2. Long, Exped. St Peter’s River, 380, 1824[]

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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