A Rendezvous with Fur Traders and the Mdewakanton Dakotas

My latest Accessible Arts post is a trip back in history. On May 15, my husband Bill and I attended the Fur Rendezvous in Mendota, where the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers meet. This year the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community joined the annual event. This event commemorates Minnesota’s early fur trading day, when animal pelts were purchased and shipped to China in trade for silk, beads and tea.

“We are thrilled to have the Mendota Dakota join us, it rounds out the history,” said Ted Bores, site supervisor for Historic Fort Snelling and Sibley House Historic Site.

The site marks one of the oldest settlements in Minnesota, from the days before Minnesota was a state. It is where the American Fur Company operated a regional trade with the Dakota Indians, and was home and office of Minnesota’s first state governor, Henry Hastings Sibley.

Three of the four original buildings have no thresholds. The first floors are easily maneuverable with a wheelchair; portable ramps are provided for the steps up to the entrance to Jean Baptiste Faribault’s house.

“We are working hard to get funding for a wider, solid ramp on the Faribault house,” noted Bores.

The ticket counter and gift shop are located in the Hypolite Dupuis house on the corner of Highway 13 and D Street. Inside, volunteers taught native beading art of the Dakota.

The Dakota had two teepees set up on street level, in the yard of the Dupuis House. The site of them brought you back to the 1800s; inside they talked about their ancestor’s lives.

“The fur trading focused around us, we brought the furs to the traders,” explained Jim Anderson, Tribal Chairman. “The traders married into the Dakota people to have access to the fur trade but also for help … they married daughters of chiefs, and that was their labor force.”

All other festivities were down the hill. A person can head down a grassy hill or a steep road around back — too steep for my chair we drove down and parked. On the grounds there is about 10 feet of grass to roll over to get to the sidewalk. This could be a challenge on rainy days.

The Minnesota Historical Society, which oversees the Sibley House and its events, has a wealth of information available about site access for visitors with different disabilities.

All the volunteers are charming and happily share their knowledge. Re-enactors were hired for the Rendezvous and set up a birch canoe, tents, cooking and trading areas. I love re-enactors. They are so into their craft and their persona. We met “Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sibley” and a few fur and bead traders. Watching our video, you will see and hear how much fun everybody had, especially the kids while listening to one re-enactor play Frère Jacque on her recorder.

Upcoming events at Sibley House include monthly, accessible River History Dog Walks and City of Mendota Walking Tours; the Fête de la St. Jean Baptiste celebration June 23; Children’s Day Archaeology, July 9-10; and Labor Day Harvest Weekend. The Mendota Dakota tribe will host the World Peace and Prayer day, at St. Peter’s Church, Mendota, June 18-21. For the Sibley House e-mail sibleyhouse@mnhs.org or call (651) 451-1596. For Mendota Dakota e-mail jim@mendotadakota.com or call (651) 452-4141.

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