Year of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Jeff Wiltse

Commitee Members

Dan Flores, David R.M. Beck


Alfred Riggs, Dakota Dictionary, Dakota language, Gideon Pond, Joseph Renville, Minnesota, Missionary, Samuel Pond, Santee Normal Training School, Stephen Riggs, Thomas Riggs, Thomas S. Williamson


University of Montana


This thesis is a study of missionary interaction with the Dakota language in the nineteenth century. Specifically, I look at missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) who arrived among the Dakotas of Minnesota Territory in the mid- to late-1830s. I also examine these missionaries’ children who became missionaries to the Dakotas by the 1870s. By studying the missionaries’ correspondence, memoirs, propaganda, scholarship, and religious tracts, I arrive at conclusions concerning how they viewed the Dakota language, how they planned to use it to their advantage, and the changes they imposed on the Dakota tongue as a result. On the whole, I argue that national attitudes and federal Indian policy influenced how the missionaries viewed and interacted with the language. With each new national attitude or policy, new changes came to the Dakota language. Chapter 1 shows how an intense belief that Indians could be spiritually saved before becoming “civilized” convinced the missionaries they should turn the Dakota tongue into a written, Christian language. Chapter 2 details how the missionaries used their knowledge of Dakota peoples and the Dakota language to become recognized scholars in the field of ethnology. In the mid-nineteenth century, the ABCFM missionaries started to accept the false idea that Indians were “vanishing” from the face of the continent. As a result, the missionaries believed that a preservation of Dakota customs and language could serve a beneficial academic purpose, as well as aggrandize their own careers. Chapter 3 explores the careers of the missionary children. After growing up, these children established schools in Dakota Territory and Nebraska that used the Dakota language as a pedagogical tool of assimilation. This, of course, was not a popular choice. Thus, I examine the tension between the missionaries and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials who adamantly pushed an English-only policy in Indian schools. Last, my conclusion offers some analysis of how modern day policies and attitudes toward Indian peoples may further influence changes in the Dakota language. Here, I look specifically at the trend of tribal self-determination and the federally mandated No Child Left Behind Act.

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