Wahpeton Indians (wakhpe, ‘leaf’; tonwan (French nasal n), ‘a village’; hence probably ‘dwellers among leaves’). One of the 7 primary divisions of the Dakota. Historic and linguistic evidence proves the affinity of this tribe with the Sisseton, Wahpekute, and Mdewakanton. Hennepin (1680) mentions them as living in the vicinity of Mille Lac, Minnesota, near the Mdewakanton, Sisseton, and Teton. On his map they are placed a little to the northeast of the lake. Le Sueur (1700) places the Oudebatons, or “river village,” among the eastern Sioux, and the Ocapetons, “village of the leaf,” among the Sioux of the west. As both these names seem to be forms of Wahpeton, it is probable that they are applied to different villages of the tribe, which was subsequently found most of the time in two bands. It was not until Lewis and Clark and Pike visited the northwest that the name appeared again in history. According to the former (1804) they resided on Minnesota river, just above its mouth, and claimed the country to the mouth of Chippeway river, thence northeast to Crow Wing river. Pike (1806) says: “They hunt on the St. Peter’s [Minnesota river.], also on the Mississippi, up Rum river, and sometimes follow the buffalo on the plains.”
They gradually moved up Minnesota river, so that in 1849 they lived north and west of the Wahpekute, their villages extending far, upstream toward its source. They had one of their most important villages in the vicinity of Lac qui Parle. Here missionaries established themselves as early as 1835, at which date the tribe numbered about 1,500 persons. According to Sibley 1 the lower Wahpeton were found on Minnesota river, not far from Belleplaine; the upper Wahpeton villages were on the shores of Lac qui Parle. They were ultimately gathered with the Sisseton on Lake Traverse reservation. The estimates of population vary from 900 to 1,500. In 1909 the Sisseton and Wahpeton together, under the Sisseton agency, South Dakota, were reported as numbering 1,936. They were participants in the Minnesota outbreak and massacre of 1862.
According to Long 2 these Indians were good-looking and straight; none were large, nor were any remarkable for the symmetry of their forms. They were, for the greater part, destitute of clothing, except the breechcloth, though some of the young men were dressed with care and ostentation. “They wore looking-glasses suspended from their garments. Others had papers of pins, purchased from the traders, as ornaments. We observed that one, who appeared to be a man of some note among them, had a live sparrow hawk on his head, by way of distinction; this man wore also a buffalo robe, on which 8 bear tracks were painted. . The squaws we saw had no ornament, nor did they seem to value themselves upon their personal appearance. Both males and females have small feet and hands. The dress of the women consisted of a long wrapper, with short sleeves, of dark calico; this covered them from the shoulders to the waist; a piece of blue broadcloth, wound two or three times round the waist, its end tucked in, extended to the knee. They also wore leggings of blue or scarlet cloth. Their forms were rather clumsy; their waists not very delicate; they exhibited a great breadth of hips, and their motions were not graceful.”
The village consisted of skin lodges, yet they cultivated maize to some extent. According to Pike the tribe devoted a considerable portion of the year to pursuit of the buffalo.
Waddapawjestin and the village of Wahnacsoutah can not be identified with any of these.
- Minn. Hist. Coll., III, 250, 1880
- Exped. St. Peter’s River, 1, 367, 1824
- Minn. Handbk.,140, 1857
- 15th Rep. B. A. E., 216, 1897, and letters