Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Great Love Story

(Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetary)

Today I'd like to introduce you to some members of my family tree.  Although not close ancestors, per se, I have felt a sense of closeness and developed a bond with Mary ever since I first heard their story.  Perhaps it is that we share the same name, or the beaty of the meaning of her Native American name.  I have always felt close to and loved the Moon.  Needless to say, ancestors or not, theirs is one of the true love stories of the ages and deserves to be told.

My 4th great uncle,Philander Prescott, left his New York home in the early 1800's and settled in what was then "The Michigan Territory".  He became one of the first traders to provide provisions for the soldiers at Fort Snelling.  Once settled, he met and fell in love with the daughter of the chief of the Dakotas, "Man Who Flies".   Her name was Nah-he,no-wenah or "Spirit of the Moon", (such a beautiful name), but she was called Mary.  In 1823, she became the common-law-wife of Philander.  Later, that year, Philander approached her father to ask for her hand.  As with the customs of those times, Philander brought the chief many gifts such as blankets, rifles, whiskey, and ponies, but although the chief relented and gave his blessings after only three days, it took another ten days before Mary consented to become his bride. 

Mary was a special woman.  It was said that she understood both French and English, but chose to only speak her native language, Dakota.  Although a gracious hostess,.Mary always stood silently in the background.  Mary always remained close to her famiily and continued to share their values.  On at least one occasion, she left Philander over a disagreement as to how they should raise thier bi-racial children.  He, in turn, left his wife and children to go South in search of business opportunities, but two years later he returned to his family. 

Despite these disagreements, their marriage is one of the great love stories of the Minnesota territorial pioneer history.  In those days, it was common for traders to live with, then abandon their Native American wives and children, but their marriage lasted for almost 40 years.  Philander was one of the casualties of the 1862 Dakota Conflict, and was brought back to Minneapolis where he was buried in the "Minneaplis Pioneers and Soldiers Mememorial Cemetary".  After his death, Mary moved to Shakopee to live with their daughter, Lucy Pettijohn (*see below).  Mary died there on March 29, 1967 and was buried next t her husband and their son, Lorenzo.  She is the only known full-blooded Native American to be buried in this cemetary. 

(*Lucy Prescott married Eli Pettijohn on January 1, 1850.  Eli invented 'rolled wheat and oats' and founded Eli's Breakfast Cereal Company.  The company was sold to Quaker Oats.)


  1. What a fascinating part of your Family Tree.

    I love it, that she was the daughter of the chief of the Dakotas. As well as the beauty of her name.

  2. Wow! What a great story! Thanks for sharing it. And P.S. love the new blog look!

  3. How interesting to be able to find this out. Learning about ancestors certainly does give us a different view of ourselves and those around us.

    And I too like the new look of your blog.


  4. This really is an amazing story, and how very cool that it is apart of your own personal history too.

  5. I love stories like this! How wonderful that they were together for so long and that she never gave up her heritage!

  6. It's nice to read of a wonderful story that time has not forgot. I'm a direct decedent of Marry and Philander. They are my Great grand parents. As well as their daughter Lucy Prescott Pettijohn. Her Daughter Minnie Viola Rorrison (pettijohn ). Minni viola son Laurence Prescott Rorrison was my Great Grandfather.

    When I came across this article I was happy to know that someone else was keeping their spirit alive.

    Thank you sincerly

    Jeffery R Johnson