Pond-Dakota Mission Park
Pond-Dakota Mission Park is the site of the historic Oak Grove Mission and the 1856 Gideon and Agnes Pond House. Missionaries to the Dakota Indians and farmers and ministers in Bloomington, Gideon and brother Samuel had their roots in Washington, Connecticut. Young Gideon worked as a carpenter and a farmer, and Samuel as a clothier and teacher. During the "Second Great Awakening," one of the 19th century spiritual revivals in America, the brothers heard the call to give their lives to God's service. Their journey led them to Minnesota in 1834 where they served as farming instructors and missionaries to Chief Cloud Man's band of Dakota Indians at Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. In 1843 the brothers followed Cloud Man to the Minnesota River bluff location where they founded the Oak Grove Mission.
Explore this park year-round to learn more about the life and times of Gideon and Samuel Pond, the Dakota people and the missionaries who worked with the Dakota people during the mid-nineteenth century. Step back in time at the Gideon and Agnes Pond House and see what life was like in early Bloomington.
Dakota Language Camp
- Learn about our annual Dakota Language Camp on our Youth Summer Programs page
- Saturdays, 1 - 4 p.m.
Educational programs and events schedule
Please join us for one of the many fun and educational programs held in the house and park throughout the year. Visit the Pond House web page for upcoming events.
The schedule is subject to change. For last-minute changes or cancellations, call the 24-hour hotline at 952-563-8878 or visit the Parks and Recreation Facebook page.
The Pond-Dakota Mission Park has five large story boards telling the natural and cultural history of the Park, highlighting the area's changing landscape, the Gideon and Agnes Pond House, the Oak Grove Mission, Dakota life and the Minnesota River Valley.
In addition, three kiosk panels provide more detailed information about the missionaries to the Dakota in the 1800s.
The story boards contain heavily-researched information, historic photographs, illustrations and maps pertaining to the historic interpretive areas.
At this site, you can look over a tree-framed bluff across 12,000 years of human history where native peoples and Euro-American settlers made their home in the river valley. You may arrive at the site using a freeway, but for many generations the river was the primary travel route along its 335-mile length.
Then and now
Use your imagination as you look toward the bluffs of Burnsville and visualize the great force of nature that carved out this deep river valley. At the end of the last ice age, approximately 12,000 years ago, the great inland sea, known as Lake Agassiz, burst through its banks near present-day Brown’s Valley, creating the glacial River Warren, which carved out the valley of the Minnesota and upper Mississippi Rivers. Today’s Minnesota River is but a small remnant of the glacial river that formed this valley.
Today you won’t see many boats on the river compared to the nineteenth century when native dugout canoes, settler keelboats and more than 100 steamboats plied the waters of the Minnesota River. Today you may see recreational boats or barges hauling grain from elevators in Savage down the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Keep your eyes open for a variety of constantly changing wildlife. No wooly mammoth, musk ox, elk, wolf or bison roam the valley as in times past. Today you may see wild turkey, geese, ducks, deer, raccoon, muskrat, beaver, coyote and fox. There are also more than 90 species of fish in the Minnesota River, although many species have suffered due to poor water quality. Wild rice once grew abundantly in the river and shallow flood plain lakes of the valley, especially in areas such as Long Meadow Lake.
Learn more about the history of the Minnesota River Valley by attending programs at the Pond-Dakota Mission Park site where many cultures have lived and continue to meet.
Many Dakotas consider the Minnesota River Valley to be their spiritual home. The Dakota Indians were the last group of native peoples to live in the valley near the site. Starting in the mid-1600s, they migrated here in successive waves from the north, forcing out the Iowa and Oto peoples who had lived here before them. The Dakotas were drawn to the area to secure their territory of influence against the westward pressing Ojibwe (Anishinabe) and to establish more direct trade with the French and British fur traders.
Chief Cloud Man’s band lived during the period 1839-1853 in terraces along Long Meadow Lake. Chief Black Dog’s village of approximately 600 people was located downriver on the south side of the valley in today’s River Hills area of Burnsville.
Penasha’s Village, the largest of the Dakota villages in this area, was located at the mouth of the Stream of He Who Fears Nothing (today’s Nine Mile Creek), which flowed into the Minnesota River near today’s I-35W bridge. In 1780 this village had over 400 lodges and approximately 1,800-2,000 people. Further upriver were the villages of Eagle Head (present-day Savage), Shakpe (Shakopee) and Mazomani (Carver Rapids).
If you look over the river valley from the Pond-Dakota Mission Park, you would be facing south. The Dakota villages along the south banks of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers included Little Crow, Black Dog, Eagle Head, Shakpe and Mazomani. Cloudman, who relocated to the Oak Grove Mission (Bloomington) area in fall 1839, and Pinesha were on the north side of the river valley.
A river valley home
The wide valley was an oak savannah abounding in animals for hunting and trapping, including deer, elk, wolf, beaver, muskrat and even bison. Many natural springs flowed out of the rock formations. Women raised crops using digging sticks to plant corn, beans, squash and other crops. They harvested wild rice in some of the shallow flood-plain lakes. In the spring, they tapped maple and birch trees for sugar and medicines. The valley was a great source of building materials, from cedar and basswood trees used to shape dugout canoes and snowshoes to elm and willow trees that supplied bark for their summer lodges.
During the fall and winter months, the Dakotas lived in tipis sheltered by the bluffs of the valley. They traveled with these tipis out on their annual deer hunt, ranging as far north as the Rum and upper St. Croix Rivers. In the summer, they moved to bark lodges on top of the bluffs to escape the heat and mosquitoes down on the valley floor. It was here on the high, sacred places that they buried their dead on scaffolds.
During the period of the Pond’s Oak Grove Mission (1843-1852), a small number of Dakota attended the mission school and worship services that were conducted by Gideon and Samuel Pond in the Dakota language. However, many Dakota were reluctant to give up their native spiritual beliefs and viewed Christianity as a religion for the white people.
Following the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota (1851) and in the aftermath of the U.S. - Dakota War (1862-1863), most of the Dakota were removed from this area and banished from Minnesota. They were forced to live on reservations, scattered throughout the Dakotas and Nebraska. Others fled to Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The U.S. Government and later some Christian denominations tried to force the Dakota to assimilate through boarding schools that prohibited them from speaking their native language or practicing their native spiritual beliefs and customs. However, some Dakota people continued to live in this Oak Grove area until the 1890s, protected by Gideon Pond and his descendants.
The river bluff environment has been greatly altered over the last two centuries. The bluff top area was formerly oak savannah with prairie and woodland elements. Natural springs and shallow flood plain lakes in the river bottoms supported wildlife and vegetation that were important to the survival of the native people.
How it happened
Prior to the arrival of Gideon and Samuel Pond in 1843, Native Americans subsisted off the land by hunting, gathering and also farming on a limited scale. The area was more extensively modified by the four generations of the Pond and St. Martin families who farmed, planted orchards and raised livestock on several hundred acres between modern-day Lyndale and Cedar Avenues.
When the Ponds first came here, they saw open vistas of the river valley surrounded by prairie and dotted by stands of burr oak and cottonwood. Deep furrow plowing and grazing quickly changed the face of the land. The wooded areas found on the site today are a result of a halt in agricultural production in the 1960s and the continuing stewardship of the valley by the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge and the City of Bloomington.
Listed below are some of the most prominent missionaries to the Dakota Indians. These missionaries were sponsored by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, a joint venture of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of America. These men and women and their families were some of the earliest Euro-American settlers of Minnesota.
Samuel W. Pond
Samuel Pond was born in 1808. Samuel and his brother Gideon attended revival meetings in their hometown of Washington, Connecticut, and felt a call to become missionaries to the Indians. Arriving at Fort Snelling in 1834, they set up their log-cabin mission at Lake Calhoun near Cloud Man’s village. They devised an alphabet for the Dakota language and became excellent speakers of Dakota. Samuel was a missionary in the Lake Calhoun area 1834-1840, near Fort Snelling 1840-1843, at Oak Grove 1843-1847 and at Prairieville Mission (Shakopee) 1847-1852. He started the First Presbyterian Church of Shakopee for white settlers in 1852. Samuel wrote the definitive ethnographic study, The Dakota or Sioux in Minnesota as They Were in 1834. He died in 1891 in Shakopee.
Gideon H. Pond
Gideon Pond was born in 1810 in New Preston, Connecticut. He arrived at Fort Snelling with his brother, Samuel, in 1834. He was a missionary at Lake Calhoun/Lake Harriett 1834-1836 and 1839-1840, Lac qui Parle 1836-1839, near Fort Snelling 1840-1843 and at Oak Grove 1843-1852. Gideon was known as the best white speaker of the Dakota language and was the editor of The Dakota Friend, (1850-1852). He started Oak Grove Presbyterian Church in 1855. With Dr. Thomas S. Williamson, he baptized nearly 300 Dakota prisoners on February 1, 1863, at Mankato in the aftermath of the U.S. Dakota War. Gideon died in 1878 in Bloomington.
In an article written by Dr. Thomas S. Williamson and printed in the St. Paul and Minneapolis Pioneer Press on January 30, 1878, he states, “370 Santees have settled at Flandreau, South Dakota and are very successful farmers, well educated, many are citizens and most should be but for unjust laws, and a very large proportion are Christians. The reformation among them is largely due to the good seed sown among them by the Messrs. POND, though it was long springing up.
Thomas S. Williamson
Thomas Williamson was considered the “Father of the Dakota Mission.” He was born in South Carolina in 1800, obtained his medical degree in 1824 and a divinity degree in 1833. He arrived in Minnesota in 1835 and started the Lac qui Parle Mission to the Dakota Indians at the invitation of Joseph Renville. Dr. Williamson was stationed there 1835-1846, at Kaposia 1846-1852 and at Pajutazee (Yellow Medicine) 1852-1862. In the years following the U.S.-Dakota War, Thomas met with President Lincoln and advocated for the release of the Dakota prisoners, although 38 had already been executed. By 1866 he had obtained freedom for all the remaining prisoners.
Dr. Williamson and others completed the translation of the Bible into Dakota shortly before his death in 1879. This translation work began in the late 1830s with Dr. Williamson reading a verse in French, then Joseph Renville speaking it in Dakota and Dr. Williamson, Stephen R. Riggs and Gideon Pond all writing it down in Dakota. They would then compare what they had written and agree upon a final translation.
Stephen R. Riggs
Stephen Riggs was born at Steubenville, Ohio, in 1812 and graduated from Jefferson College and Allegheny Seminary. Stephen joined the Dakota Mission at Lac qui Parle in 1837 and continued there until 1843. He then ministered at Traverse des Sioux, 1843-1846, again at Lac qui Parle, 1846-1854 and finally at Hazelwood, near the Upper Sioux Agency, 1854-1862. He was an expert in the Dakota language and published A Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language and several accounts of the Dakota Mission including his autobiography, Mary and I or Forty Years with the Sioux. He died in 1883 in Beloit, Wisconsin.
Jane S. Williamson
Jane Williamson was born in 1803 in South Carolina and was a teacher and an activist in the Underground Railroad in southern Ohio. She worked with her brother Thomas S. Williamson in 1843 at Lac qui Parle Mission, and followed him to the Kaposia (1846-1852) and Pajutazee (1853-1862) Missions. She taught an estimated 1,000 Dakotas to read and write in their own language. In an article in the Minneapolis Journal of July 14, 1900, she is called “Our greatest woman missionary.” Jane was so beloved by the Dakota that many of them named their daughters after her. She gave unselfishly to the Indians and freed blacks and other needy people throughout her lifetime. She died in 1895 in Greenwood, South Dakota.
John P. Williamson
John Williamson was the son of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson. John was born in 1835. He grew up playing with Dakota children and developed a deep understanding of their culture. John graduated from Marietta College in 1857 and Lane Seminary in 1860, both in Ohio. In the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War, he preached among the Dakota prisoners at the Fort Snelling Internment Camp during the winter of 1862-63, where he performed about 150 baptisms. He accompanied the 1,300 Dakota women, children and elderly who were banished from Minnesota and sent to the barren wasteland of Crow Creek, Dakota Territory, in 1863, where approximately 300 Dakotas died within the first three months. He is credited with saving nearly a thousand Dakotas from starvation by persuading the U.S. Government to allow them to go on a buffalo hunt. John continued his ministry among the Dakota his entire life, dying in 1917 in Greenwood, South Dakota.
Other women missionaries
- Cordelia Eggleston Pond, wife of Samuel Pond.
- Sarah Poage Pond, wife of Gideon Pond.
- Agnes Johnson Hopkins Pond, widow of Robert Hopkins, married to Gideon a year after Sarah’s death.
- Margaret Poage Williamson, wife of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson.
- Mary Longley Riggs, wife of Stephen R. Riggs.
- Sarah Amelia Van Nice Williamson, wife of John P. Williamson.
These women, along with others, served as missionaries and teachers and took a leading role in instructing Dakota children who came to the schools. At the same time, they raised their own children in isolated frontier environments.
In the 1830s and 1840s Christian missionaries came into Indian Country, which included Bloomington, with the purpose of converting Dakota Indians to Christian beliefs and white person's ways. This included farming, owning property, receiving a formal education and establishing a money-based economy.
Missions established to serve the Dakota were located in proximity to rivers or lakes by permanent Native American sites. The success of the missionaries in converting Dakota Indians to Christianity was modest until the 1862 U.S.-Dakota war confirmed the authority of the United States government over the land and lives of Indian people, including the prohibition of practicing Native American religions until the 1970s. Indian people today practice a variety of spiritual beliefs and religions.
Dakota Missions of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in Minnesota
The Dakota villages before the 1851 Treaties were located east of New Ulm on the lower Minnesota and upper Mississippi River Valleys. After the 1851 Treaties, the Dakota were relocated to the upper and middle Minnesota River. The Dakota missions on the map date from 1834 to 1862. Starting at the western edge of the Minnesota River and traveling east, the Dakota missions were:
The map above also shows Fort Snelling, Fort Ridgely, the Upper (Yellow Medicine) and Lower (Redwood) Sioux Agencies.
Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet Missions (Minneapolis)
1834-1840 - Samuel and Gideon Pond taught Euro-American farming to Chief Cloud Man's village. They also devised a Dakota alphabet and began translating into a written Dakota language so they could teach the Indians how to read the Bible. Under continual threats of attack from the Ojibwe (Anishinabe), Cloud Man moved his village to the Minnesota River Valley in 1839.
The Lac qui Parle Mission (near Montevideo)
1835-1854 - Dr. Thomas S. Williamson began this mission to the Dakota people at the invitation of Joseph Renville, a Métis trader and influential leader among the Wahpeton and Sisseton Dakota people. Dr. Williamson was aided by Stephen R. Riggs, Gideon and Samuel Pond, Alexander Huggins, Moses Adams and others. They began translating the Bible into the Dakota language in 1835, a project that took more than 40 years to complete. In 1854 some of the buildings burned down, and the missionaries decided to close the mission.
The Oak Grove Mission (Bloomington)
1843-1853 - Gideon and Samuel Pond established this mission near Cloud Man's village in the Minnesota River Valley. After the 1851 Treaty of Mendota, most of the Dakota were removed from this area. Two years later Gideon dissolved the mission and in 1855 founded Oak Grove Presbyterian Church with the help of newly arrived white settlers.
The Prairieville Mission (Shakopee)
1847-1853 - At the invitation of Chief Shakpe, Samuel Pond moved to Shakpe's village, 10 miles up the Minnesota River, where he began a mission and school. With the removal of the Dakota in 1853 to the Lower Sioux Agency, Samuel closed the mission and founded First Presbyterian Church of Shakopee with the help of newly arrived white settlers.
The Traverse des Sioux Mission (near St. Peter)
1843-1853 - Stephen R. Riggs began this mission station aided by Alexander Huggins and Robert Hopkins. It was here that Stephen R. Riggs and Dr. Williamson were interpreters at the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851. In this treaty, the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota gave up their land in southern and western Minnesota. They were removed in 1853 to a narrow strip of land around the Upper Sioux Agency. The mission was closed in 1853.
The Kaposia Mission (South St. Paul)
1846-1852 - Dr. Williamson accepted an invitation from Chief Little Crow to build a mission at his village on the Mississippi River near present-day South St. Paul, where he was joined by his sister Jane. In 1852 the mission was closed due to the removal of the Indians to a strip of land along the Minnesota River in the area of the Lower Sioux Agency.
The Red Wing Mission (Red Wing)
1848-1854 - This mission to Chief Wacouta's village, located at Barn Bluff, was begun in 1848 by John F. Aiton, assisted by Joseph W. Hancock. In 1853 Chief Wacouta's band was moved to the area around the Lower Sioux Agency and the mission was closed.
The Pajutazee Mission (near Granite Falls)
1852-1862 - In 1852 Dr. Williamson and his sister Jane rejoined some of the Sisseton and Wahpeton Dakota from the Lac qui Parle area to form the Pajutazee (Dakota name meaning Yellow Medicine) Mission near the Upper Sioux Agency. He was forced to leave there at the outbreak of the Dakota War in 1862. Many of his converts there were leading members of the farmer-Indian faction.
The Hazelwood Mission (near Granite Falls)
1854-1862 - Founded by Stephen R. Riggs, this mission was located near the Upper Sioux Agency. The mission included a school and numerous Christian Dakota farming families who broke with the communal tribal structures and formed a self-governing organization called the Hazelwood Republic.
The Zoar Mission (near Morton)
1860-1862 - John P. Williamson, son of Dr. Thomas S. Williamson, founded this mission, which was located near the Lower Sioux Agency. Most of its members had been affiliated with the mission at Kaposia. The mission was temporarily closed at the outbreak of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 and resumed operation in November 1862. Shortly thereafter, its members were marched under armed guards to the Fort Snelling Dakota Internment Camp.
After several years at Lake Calhoun and a series of battles with the Ojibwe (Anishinabe), Chief Cloud Man (Marpiyawicasta) moved to the banks of the Minnesota River. In 1843 Gideon and Samuel Pond followed Cloud Man to this river bluff location. Gideon Pond, assisted by Eli Pettijohn, built a log mission house on this site later that year. The two Pond families lived in the log house, which was used as a church and school for Dakota, mixed blood and white students. Nearby were the villages of Cloud Man, Good Road and Kahbodaka (The Drifter) on this side of the river. Black Dog’s village was across the river, near the present-day River Hills neighborhood of Burnsville.
The Ponds continued their work at the mission house, including publication of The Dakota Friend, one of the first religious newspapers in the state and one of the earlier native bi-lingual (Dakota-English) newspapers in the country. Gideon Pond continued to serve members of Cloud Man’s band until 1853, when the treaty of Mendota led to the relocation of the Dakotas to a strip of land further west along the Minnesota River. At this time, Samuel and Gideon Pond resigned from the Dakota Mission and began churches for the white settlers who were flooding into the Minnesota Territory.
The Pond brothers remained sympathetic to the Dakota, though skeptical of their future under the annuity system. In 1856 the Gideon Pond family moved into their newly built brick house, and the mission house was dismantled. The mission house timbers were used to build a barn to the east of the brick house.
In the words of Samuel Pond Jr.
“The site of the Old Mission House at Oak Grove, now in the town of Bloomington, was a beautiful and commanding one. The house was built on the high bluff of the Minnesota, sheltered from the north winds by a rising ground in that direction, covered with a fine growth of ancient oaks. It was flanked at a little distance on either hand by deep ravines, through which flowed ever-living streams of pure cold water. To the south the beautiful valley of the Minnesota stretched away on either hand as far as the eye could see, and often when clothed in vernal beauty must have resembled the fertile plains of Jordan... Here and there the eye of the observer caught glimpses of silvery reflections, where the rays of sparkling sunlight fell upon the silent lake or winding river.”
Quote from Two Volunteer Missionaries (1893).
This house, the centerpiece at Pond-Dakota Mission Park, was the dwelling of Gideon Pond and Agnes Hopkins Pond from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The Ponds served as missionaries to the Dakota Indians, and as farmers and ministers in the young community of Bloomington, Minnesota.
Following a move from the Lake Calhoun area in 1843, Gideon Pond and Eli Pettijohn built a two-story log mission house near this site. Nine years later in 1852, Pond built a wood frame “preemption” house to lay claim to the ownership of the land. In 1856 Pond and some hired help constructed the Federal-style brick house you will see if you visit the site today. Attached to the wooden preemption house, it was constructed from a supply of approximately 60,000 bricks made of clay dug out of the river bottoms. Shortly thereafter, the log mission house was dismantled and the timbers were used to construct a split-level barn.
In 1910 the preemption house was dismantled and a two-story addition was constructed in its place. For over 140 years, the Pond House was home to four generations of Pond descendants. The City of Bloomington purchased the property in 1975 and undertook stabilization work in the 1980s. In 1995 a full restoration of the brick house was done during which the two-story addition was replaced by a replica of the original preemption house.
This house has been maintained as a museum by the City of Bloomington since the completion of the restoration work in 1995. The Gideon and Agnes Pond House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
River Rendezvous takes place annually at Pond Dakota Mission Park and is one of the finest living-history events in the Midwest. Each year in September, guests can experience how Minnesotans lived, worked and played in the 1800s through story-telling and interactive, historically accurate demonstrations and reenactments. Tours of the restored 1856 Gideon and Agnes Pond House are also provided during the event.
River Rendezvous 2022 information will be available in summer 2022.